A PIANO BY THE WINDOW

Leftovers - For this week’s writing challenge, shake the dust off something — a clothing item, a post draft, a toy — you haven’t touched in ages, but can’t bring yourself to throw away.


I started playing the piano when I was four and by the time I finished high school, I played pretty well. Well enough to impress a few people, mostly those who weren’t schooled in the finer points of classical music.

I followed through by majoring in music at college where I learned how deficient my music education had been. I had a lot of feeling for music and a deep, abiding love for it. What was missing was solid technique and high-end sight-reading skills. By the end of my sophomore year, it was obvious to everyone — especially me — that my future as a classical pianist would never happen. Being almost good enough in classical piano is not good enough. And so I moved on.

The grand piano my parents gave me was too big for the living room of our first house as well as for the much bigger second house. I gave it a bedroom in our first house, but had no place for it in the colonial we bought next.

I reluctantly sold my piano.

Life happened. I moved to Israel, lived there 9 years, moved back to the states. Moved seven more times in two years. Then, Garry and I married and settled down.

I missed having a piano. Whenever I was in a house with a piano, I would sit and play. Probably that’s why Garry bought me a beautiful electronic piano for my birthday 23 years ago. A tidy little instrument with a big sound and a full 88 key keyboard, it fits snugly under the dining room window and never needs tuning.

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I have played it, forgotten it, then rediscovered it over and over during the decades since it became part of my life.

A couple of years ago, I began to practice again, only to discover that after just a few minutes, shooting pains made me stop. It was arthritis in my hands. I have arthritis almost everywhere and it had gotten worse. Gotten so severe I wouldn’t be able to play unless I had surgery to remove some of the calcification. But other stuff got in the way of getting my hands fixed. The surgery never happened.

The piano lives in front of the dining room window. It needs a more thorough cleaning thank I’ve been able to give it. Sometimes, I swear, I hear it softly calling me. I feel guilty when I look at it. It deserves better than to sit alone gathering dust.

I could sell it, I suppose. But many generations of electronic instruments have come and gone. By modern standards, the piano is almost antique. I don’t think it would be worth much on the market. In any case, why should I sell it when it’s so easy to keep?

If I sold it, I’d never own another. Though I don’t play now, maybe I’ll get my hands fixed one of these days. Then I could play again and my piano will be waiting under the window, bright with sunshine.

You never know. Sometimes life surprises you.

IN LOVE WITH THE PIANO

Strike a Chord - Do you play an instrument? Is there a musical instrument whose sound you find particularly pleasing? Tell us about your experience with the instrument of your choice.


My mother believed that children needed not just food and a roof over their heads. We also needed culture. Books. Ballet. Music. Which included playing an instrument.

She had grown up poor on the Lower East Side where so many immigrant groups settled after passing through Ellis Island. They didn’t have much. A tiny flat, two adults and six kids. And a piano.

Piano-OpenNo one knew where the piano came from, but it seemed to have always been there. There was no money for lessons, but my mother taught herself to play. Not brilliantly, but well enough to bang out a tune and sing along.

When she and my father bought the house in which I grew up, a piano was the first major purchase. First a Baldwin spinet which fit neatly in a corner of the living room.

Eventually, I outgrew the spinet and for my 14th birthday, I got a Steinway living room grand.

Some of my best memories of childhood are little me, sitting on the piano bench with my mother as she sang. Mom sang all the time. Sang, hummed. Half the songs I know I learned because my mother sang them. I don’t think she realized she was singing. It was just her way.

When I was four, my brother was deemed least likely to succeed at playing an instrument. He wasn’t completely tone-deaf, but close. I, on the other hand, could pick out his lessons with two fingers, even though I was tiny and my feet swung, unable to get near the pedals. My piano teacher (formerly my brother’s piano teacher) said “Let him go play stickball. I want her.”

And so began my musical career.

I was a small child. Thin, short, buck-toothed, wildly curly hair. Not a particularly pretty girl. I improved some with age, but classical beauty was never mine. The piano did not care. If I could hit the right keys, it would sing for me. There was no admittance fee to the world of music other than hard work. If you had it in your heart and hands, the piano was yours.

I progressed quickly, though I was never technically as good as I needed to be. I was a good interpreter, but not a great performer. The biggest problem were my hands. Tiny hands. To this day, I can barely reach a 9th with either hand. Most classical music was written by men. With big hands. From day one, I was at a disadvantage unless I was playing “small music” which fit into my little paws. My favorite composers were Chopin and Beethoven, but I had to pick pieces to find those my hands could manage.

Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique” was my performance piece. It was a loud piece, one of the few that made the family shut up and listen. I never got used to being asked to perform, then having all the aunts engage in a lively discussion while I played. It’s a family thing, I suppose.

I never fully conquered Beethoven, though I got close. My hands were small and I lacked the physical strength to take over the piano. It was a struggle. I didn’t notice I was struggling until I got to the Grieg piano sonata in e minor Op 7. When I was a kid, it had yet to be recorded. My teacher thought I was the one to do it.

NOTEIn the preceding performance by Glenn Gould, you hear only the first movement of this sonata. There are three more movements, totaling 28 pages of music. I actually like the later movements best. Glenn played everything too fast, including this piece.

I never worked so hard in my life as I did on that sonata. I practiced until I thought my hands would fall off and every once in a while, I managed to get it right. It was a big piece of music. After months of trying, I knew I would be almost good enough to perform that piece.

I majored in music at college for the first few years, but it wasn’t happening. Almost good enough in classical piano equals not good enough. Because for me, it was piano or nothing  – and I didn’t have it — it was over. I moved on.

I still have a piano. An electronic one. The arthritis in my hands has stopped me from playing, probably forever. Still, music, especially classical music, is embedded in my heart and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO LET THEM SHOW

Thoughts on your true colors by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

“You with the sad eyes

Don’t be discouraged

Oh I realize It’s hard to take courage…”

It’s hard to grew up with the perception that you are different from everyone else, even if it is not really so. When you do not know much about the outside world, the world inside you can make you sad. “Why am I not like everyone else?” you may wonder.

“Why am I so different?”  Thoughts like this can lead to sadness. Even though you try to act happy on the outside, your eyes might give you away. 75-RainbowNK-2 There is no way to know that being different is not necessarily wrong when your emotions are telling you otherwise.  Worse yet, other people are telling you that different is wrong, even if only in an indirect way.

“Cut it out.”

“Be a man.”

“Grow up.”

“Stop crying.”

“Why can’t you be more like your brother, cousin, sister, uncle, ____(fill in the blank.)”

“Don’t you like sports?”

“Don’t be a sissy.”

“Only a queer would wear that shirt, pants, shoes, ____(fill in the blank).”

Some seem hard-wired to accept the criticism as they grow up. They look like everything just rolls right off of them. They smile while they hurt. You may think, “Every kid is teased as he grows up. It’s just part of life.” Yes, we all get teased, but some of us are different from the majority … and can’t cope with the teasing.

“In a world full of people

You can lose sight of it all

And the darkness inside you

Can make you feel so small…”

With a limited view of the world, and lack of experience dealing with the emotions tossed your way, you can feel small, insignificant, different. And different seems bad when you are trying to find your way. What is inside you has dark colors and no glow.

“Dear god,” you may silently cry in the loneliness of a dark room just down the hall from the regular people, “please make me like everyone else.” The prayer might be repeated until you are empty of tears and they no longer wash down your face.

“But I see your true colors shining through

I see your true colors and that’s why I love you…”

If you are different, but not in a bad or destructive way, unlike the majority, you need someone to reach out and tell you it’s all right. Someone, anyone, needs to explain that different can be okay. Each can possess unique characteristics that make them special, important, creative, fun. And everyone is worthy of love.

“So don’t be afraid to let them show: your true colors…”

Encouragement is needed to let friends, neighbors, and especially young ones know that each has his own gift. We can’t all be the same. We can’t all do the same things. There is nothing wrong with singing a different tune, being a different kind of person. Diversity can be strength. All the pieces can come together to form a perfect picture. When all the colors are put alongside each other, they can bring everyone joy.

“True colors are beautiful like a rainbow.”

If all this seems a bit cryptic, then let’s just say it is tough to grow up different and hiding who you are. The song “True Colors” has taken on a rather symbolic meaning in some circles since it was first recorded by Cyndi Lauper. Contrary to what some belief, it was not written by Lauper and was in fact the only song on her True Colors album she did not have a hand in writing. Nevertheless, it resonated with her and years later she co-founded the True Colors Fund to wipe out LGBT youth homelessness.

John Legend sings this for kids and teachers. You can find a Cyndi Lauper version and some thoughts on Pride in who you are on the Sunday Night Blog today.

UNDERSTANDING GEN X AND Y … SAY WHAT?

Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ

I’m Gen W. So I assume my parents (may they rest in peace) were Gen V, which generation is pretty much gone. My generation — aka The Baby Boomers — have become … trumpets and drumroll … The Older Generation.

My 6th Grade class.

This is so weird. I was always the youngest kid in my class, the wunderkind, mature for my age. Now I’m just mature. Or at least old. I don’t know about mature. I think I’m still a kid wrapped in a messed-up body. When I look in a mirror, I don’t see the me I am. I see a composite of all the mes I’ve ever been.

Gen X, my son’s group, are now in their late 30s and early to mid 40s. What an odd bunch they are. So many of them grew up convinced they were destined — and deserving — of everything. Some of them got the message that to achieve that glorious destiny, you had to work. A bunch of them, including my kid, didn’t clearly hear that part of the message … or, having heard it, felt they were exempt. Probably my fault. Everything is my fault, right?

I provided a good example. I worked hard and long. The kid’s father worked obsessively. All the adults these Gen X-ers knew as they were growing up worked long hours. We collectively believed in education and work. It would redeem us. We were willing to serve our time as grunts before expecting to be promoted. Yet I remember hearing my son say “I don’t want to waste my life working all the time like you, my father and Garry.” Say what? That was when I knew we had a serious disconnect. Garry was insulted. I was too but hey, he’s my kid. I can’t stay mad.

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Well, he’s sorry now. A lot more than a dollar short and many years late. The “success will come because I want it” didn’t work out and belated quick-fix education became worthless when the economy collapsed. I tried to warn him. I have friends with similar kids. We all tried.

As for Gen Y, my granddaughter’s age group? They think it’s all about their personal happiness. They are entitled to a stress-free life. Anyone who forces them to do anything which doesn’t give them immediate satisfaction is a bully or an abuser. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are clueless. It’s scary the nonsense they believe.

Clueless or not, reality will bite them in the ass. We will pass away. So will their parents. They won’t be able to run to mom for comfort when the mean boss tells them they have to work weekends. Or find themselves working a lifetime of minimum wage jobs and living in grinding poverty.

It makes me sad. There are so many who are doomed to disappointment and failure because they don’t get it. It must have been me, us, our generation. We wanted to help them have a good life but somehow omitted the connection to achievement through personal effort and dedication.

Who knew it would backfire in such an awful way?

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  3. Really! How much more :-) (for my US friends) | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
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  5. Daily Prompt; Generation XYZ | Journeyman
  6. Internet Monsters: a very Grimm tale… Daily Prompt | alienorajt
  7. Maiden – Mother – Crone – Honoring Lifestages | Shrine of Hecate – Ramblings of a New Age Witch
  8. Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  9. Mentoring: A Strand of Three | Live Life in Crescendo
  10. daily prompt: Generation XYZ | aimanss…
  11. Generation XYZ | Flowers and Breezes
  12. How Young are you? | Cascading Dreams
  13. GEN X VS. GEN ALPHA | DANDELION’S DEN
  14. Why Me vs Me Me Me | Reinvention of Mama
  15. Talking ‘Bout Yer Generation | The Shotgun Girls
  16. Learning from my 4-year-old | A mom’s blog

ALTERNATIVE MOTHERING

My mother hated housework. She did it only under compulsion and had a terrible attitude. She was also a dreadful cook and hostile. The kind of cook who tosses food on the table, glares at you, daring you to say anything other than “Thank you Mom” while choking on overcooked veggies and overdone meat.

I’m pretty sure she wasn’t entirely sold on the motherhood thing either. But having birthed three of us, she did the best she could. Nurturing didn’t come naturally to her, though she made an effort. Her mother hadn’t been much of a nurturer either. It was an apology in the form of a story. I understood.

On the up side, she was a fantastic mentor. She loved books, she loved learning. She an infinite curiosity about how things worked, history and art. She loved movies, laughter and trips to Manhattan, which we called The City. It was just a subway ride away.

As soon as I was old enough to have a conversation, we talked. Not like a little kid and a mom, but like friends. She told me stories. About growing up on the Lower East Side when horses and carts were common and cars were rare. How, when she was little, she lived at the library. If she stayed after dark, she’d run all the way home because she thought the moon was chasing her.

Mom grew up doing pretty much as she pleased. In turn, she let me do pretty much as I pleased. Freedom and a passion for knowledge were her gifts to me. Wonderful gifts that have lasted a lifetime.

Portrait of Annabelle

Portrait of Annabelle

Some of my happiest memories were the two of us walking through Manhattan arm-in-arm. Like pals. Buying roasted chestnuts from the vendor in front of the library. Sitting on the steps in the shadow of the lions, peeling chestnuts and talking. Going to the ballet, which was Balanchine’s company. That was one of the great things about growing up in New York — how accessible the arts were.

Our local ballet company was Balanchine. Our local opera was the Met. If we wanted to see a show, we went to Broadway. We had the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, the Guggenheim. And back then, museums were free and the rest was easily affordable, even for a kid on a tiny allowance.

I admit I skipped school, but I spent my stolen time at the New York Public Library, deep in the stacks looking for interesting stuff about Louis XIV (I had a thing about Louis). Or I stole away to spend a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Cloisters. I never had to worry about getting nicked for playing hooky. Cops didn’t look for kids at libraries or museums.

I didn’t get a lot of hugs, but I got Annabelle for my fifth birthday, tons of books and a Steinway grand piano for my 14th birthday.

Mothering comes in many shapes and sizes. Because of her, I am me. Thanks Mom.

YeahRight! Link

WHEN DID I GROW UP?

When I was in my late twenties, we had a couple of friends who were in their 50s. One day I asked Betty at what point she felt “grown up.” By then, I was working full-time as a writer. I never worked professionally as anything else — I was always an editor, writer or both. I was raising a son, taking care of a home and had been married for more than ten years (married at 18).

At the Hall of Fame, September 2013

At the Hall of Fame, September 2013

Betty looked at me and said “I’ll let you know.”

When I was a child, I wondered when I would feel grown up. Through all my working years, I never entirely lost the feeling I was only pretending to be an adult. I did adult things, had adult responsibilities. I was a mother, in charge of making my son into a responsible citizen … but I felt like a child wondering when the world would discover I was a fraud.

It turned out getting older and having a child made me responsible, but it didn’t make me mature. I continued to wait for someone to see through me and realize I was really just a kid, playing adult games.

Now, I’m a senior citizen. We live on social security and pensions and barely scrape by. How ironic that we finally feel grown up. I don’t know exactly when it happened. It just slipped by and I never noticed. It took getting old to get it done. Now, finally, we have no one to depend but each other. More of our lives are behind us than ahead of us. We no long feel like frauds, pretending to know what we are doing. We actually know what we are doing and we don’t like a lot of it.

What comes with the package? We are impatient with the angst of the young. I listen and try not to show my restlessness, try not to say what I’m thinking, which is “Oh puleeze! Get over it. Move on!” I have zero interest in gossip, fashion, current trends in anything other than history or philosophy. I’m still interested in politics, but my perspective is very different. I’m far more cynical than I ever imagined possible.

I like my dogs better than most people. I don’t miss parties and don’t worry about being popular. The only people whose opinions matter to me are my few really good friends and some of my family.

I am not anyone I recognize anymore, but you couldn’t pay me to be young again. I would love the body and physical health of youth, but not the brain. Yikes. Imagine suffering through high school again! Root canal sounds better!

 

A MEMORY OF COLD

I grew up in a very old house. It started — sometime in the late 1800s — as a 4-room bungalow with an attic. At some point, the attic was turned into an apartment with one bedroom, a living room and a kitchen. Tiny. There was also a miniscule balcony where perhaps one person could stand and gaze out over the countryside. Downstairs just grew from the original four rooms to seven, all added on to one side of the house or another. There was no order or reason to the design. Eventually, the dining room had no windows having been enclosed by added rooms on all sides.

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After my parents bought the place, it was under constant renovation for years. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t being remodeled.There was always a project. One year, bad planning and a slow-moving contractor left us without a wall in the dining room through the long, freezing New York winter. We all wore overcoats from November till April when finally, the new room was added. Apparently they couldn’t pour the cement foundation for the addition in freezing weather.

With all this renovation going on, you’d think they’d have put in a modern heating system at some point, but they didn’t. It was an old converted coal burner. The radiators were antique cast iron relics from the turn of the century. Maybe older than that.

The old furnace barely heated the first floor and for all practical purposes, the second story was unheated. I was cold in that house. I developed a peculiar love-hate relationship with bathing. I loved being in a bathtub full of hot water. It was the only time I was completely warm. But getting in or out of the tub was awful. The bathroom was frigid and I was a tiny, skinny little kid. Bony. The kind of kid that in a Jewish family is always being urged to eat. Another story for another time.

Even today, I have trouble convincing myself to get wet. I have a knee-jerk reaction on a visceral level. Getting wet means being chilled to the bone. After I get started, I’m fine… but getting started requires some strange head games.

It’s odd how unconscious memories live on in our bodies. I have physical memories that elude my conscious brain. There are many reasons for this and a lot of things I can’t remember are best left forgotten. But this one thing … I remembered it.

I had a very cold childhood. In so many ways.

HERE’S TO US … WE MADE IT!

I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the 1950s, but there are some truths worth remembering and revisiting.

I grew up in a very different world. Play meant using imagination. It mean physical activity. Jump rope, hide and seek, tag, Stick ball (no one owned a real bat). Stoop ball, jacks. Building a “fort” or climbing a tree. Cowboys and indians. Toys were simple, not electronic. Getting a new doll was a real thrill. She never needed a reboot, unless you count having to find her lost shoe.

If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school. It didn’t mean you weren’t scared. I was plenty scared. It simply wasn’t a parent problem … it was mine. Yours. Ours.

Marilyn - Senior YearYou didn’t get a lot of pats on the back for “trying hard.” You might get an “attaboy” for doing exceptionally well, but you were expected to do your best. Nothing less was acceptable. Doing your best was your job. You took it seriously.

You learned your lessons in elementary school so you could go on to junior high school and then high school. You had to do well in high school because if you didn’t, you couldn’t get into college. We all knew — with 100% certainty — if you didn’t go to college, you wouldn’t go to heaven.

My son commented the other day we are raising — speaking of my granddaughter’s generation — a bunch of weenies. We are protecting from them everything, effectively from acquiring the coping skills they will need to survive when mommy isn’t there to bail them out.

I said this to my granddaughter too, because she needs to hear it:. No one gets a free pass. Even being rich doesn’t guarantee bad stuff won’t happen, that you won’t get sick, lose a loved one, a child, or for that matter, your own health. Nothing prevents life from happening. Pain is part of the package. Learning to deal with adversity is called “growing up.” If you don’t learn to fight your own battles, when you get “out there,” you won’t survive.

Just about every family has some members who didn’t make it. The ones who never got a real job, formed a serious relationship, accomplished anything much. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong … and usually, we have a sneaking suspicion the problem isn’t what we didn’t do. It’s what we did too much.

I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring. Nor am I an advocate of corporal punishment. But I think it’s important to recognize we didn’t get strong by being protected from every pain, every hurt. We didn’t get everything we wanted the moment we wanted it. Or at least I didn’t. If I got one really cool present, that was a big deal. Now kids get so much, it’s meaningless. They don’t appreciate anything because there’s always more where that came from.

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So, in memory of the good times, the bad times, the hard times, the great times. The schoolyard battles we fought and sometimes lost. The subjects we barely passed or actually failed and had to take again. The bullies who badgered us until we fought back and discovered bullies are cowards. Getting cornered in the girls’ room by tough chicks with switch blades, wondering if you can talk your way out of this one.

Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid, fat kid, short kid or whatever different kind of kid in a school full of people who don’t like you. Getting through it and out the other side. Being the only one who used big words and read books when everyone else was watching American Bandstand. Being the klutz who couldn’t do those dances and never had the right clothing or hairdo.

Then, finally, getting to college and discovering the weirdos and rejects from high school were now the cool people to know. Magically, we were suddenly part of the “in crowd.” Metamorphoses. No longer were we outsiders. What had made us misfits were now the qualities that made us popular. And eventually, successful.

The fifties and early sixties were not idyllic. Especially if you weren’t middle class, white and Christian. Yet it was a great time to be a kid. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom. We had time to play, time to dream. Whatever we lacked in “things,” we made up for by having far fewer rules. We were encouraged to use our imagination. We didn’t have video games, cable TV, cell phones and computers. Many of us felt lucky to have one crappy black and white television with rabbit ears that barely got a signal.

We learned to survive and cope, and simultaneously, learned to achieve. We weren’t scared to try. We screwed up enough to know if it didn’t work out, we’d get up, dust ourselves off and try again.

When we got out into the world, for at least a couple of decades, we had a blast.

Here’s to us as we limp past middle age into the laughingly so-called golden years. We really had great lives. We’re still having them.

Interview with SOLSTICE HIGH author Ardash Vartparonian

Ardash Vartparonian

The author of Solstice High discusses this and future books!

Publisher: Strategic Book Group
Urban Fantasy/Sci Fi/Young Adult
360 Pages

Solstice-High

An interview with Ardash Vartparonian, author of SOLSTICE HIGH

Serendipity:  I felt like I was reading the first part of x-men. Do I feel a series in the works?

Ardash Vartparonian: I’m actually really glad you brought this up; whenever people ask me what my book is about I answer that, in a nutshell, it’s sort of like ‘X-Men meets Gossip Girl’. I’m a big fan of X-Men, from the movies to the comics, and I’m not ashamed of announcing that it has definitely influenced my work. The line I draw between X-Men and Solstice High is that while X-Men has always been seen as a metaphor for minorities, the powers in my book are a metaphor for the struggle teenagers go through trying to discover themselves. One of the reviews I’ve had on this tour commented that the supernatural side of the novel doesn’t always seem the central aspect, and I agree wholeheartedly.

It’s obviously a really big point, and the plot point the whole novel spirals around, but at its heart I think the book is more about these four kids coming to terms with themselves, and the bumpy road that it entails.

Solstice High is a trilogy, so your suspicions are spot on. I wrote this novel chapter by chapter with a fragmented skeleton of its entirety in mind rather than knowing what would happen every single chapter. When I first started writing, I planned on it being a stand-alone book. The thing is, the closer I got to finishing, the more I realized I didn’t want to finish, I didn’t want to say goodbye to these characters I had created. I felt their stories could go on. They had more to say and live through.

So I decided to not address some issues and they would be answered in later books. The second book is finished and so is the first draft for the final book. I’m hoping to make a bit more noise with this first novel before releasing the second.

Serendipity:  Will you “age” the kids — like Harry Potter aged — with the series?

Ardash Vartparonian: When I first started writing the book I had planned on making the kids a year younger, juniors rather than seniors in high school. Then I decided to make it a lot more intense and cram all three books into one school year.

The first book takes place over nine weeks, the second in just two. It’s faster and more furious than the first, but I liked playing with that. In the first book, I had to introduce the four kids and flesh them out. The slower pacing allowed more introspection. But with the second, I barely allowed the kids a chance to breathe before all Hell breaks loose around them.

The end of the third book shows the plans the four kids have for their futures when they finish school and go out into the “real” world. They are only plans of course.

One thing I wasn’t happy about with the final Harry Potter book was how fixed the endings were for Harry, Ron and Hermione. I would have preferred the book without the epilogue, allowing me to imagine what the future held for them.
So, no. I’m not aging the characters. All three books take place in the same school year, but I believe the end will be satisfying. I’d rather readers imagine how Matt, Rochelle, Daphne and Jonas’ futures play out, though I’ll definitely show what path they are on after school.

Serendipity:  Are you planning to add more characters to the core group? Or is this going to be a closed set?

Ardash Vartparonian: In the second book — because of plot points I don’t want to spoil — the character set expands and you get a deeper look into characters introduced or briefly mentioned in the first book. Bethany and Abigail, for example, while simultaneously introducing new characters. They aren’t new to the school, but new to readers.

The four main characters are still the four points of view in the next two books: Matt, Rochelle, Daphne and Jonas. As soon as I knew I was going to write a second and third book, I decided I wanted to expand the character scope.
I had to pace myself. I didn’t want to overcrowd the book with too many characters by the third book. But there are always ways to make room for new characters and remove older ones, if you know what I mean. LOL.

Serendipity: What about babies?

Ardash Vartparonian: The only baby in the books will be Harmony’s. The second book takes place in just two weeks and the baby doesn’t arrives until the third book.

When I thought Solstice High would be a stand-alone book, I planned on having Devlin force Harmony to terminate her pregnancy which would have given her a motivation to turn against him. I ultimately decided it would be too dark and touchy a subject. I wasn’t sure I was comfortable or ready to tackle it. It also gave me another plot point for the next two books.

Harmony’s baby is quite an issue. It will be the first baby born to someone with active powers. What does that mean for the baby? Or Harmony? I decided to tackle the questions I thought would be particularly interesting to explore.

Serendipity:  What decided you on making one of the characters unashamedly homosexual? This is the first openly homosexual “superhero” I’ve met. There have been a few who were probably in the closet, but Matt is obviously what he is. Did you think the world was ready or was there some other reason?

Ardash Vartparonian: To be honest, Matt being gay was never debatable for me. He just is. When it came to writing, I was at first a bit cautious about love scenes between him and Julius — as opposed to the relative comfort I felt writing about Rochelle and Jonas for example.

Then I thought “You know what? Screw it! It’s (when I was writing) 2007!” I decided I would treat Matt just like I would a straight character with the same exposure. Equal treatment in things like love scenes even if they might be sensitive subjects. Matt being gay for me doesn’t make him special. It’s who he is. So I made to give treat him the same as a straight character. All his successes and failures are unrelated to his sexuality. They grow out of his persona.

To be honest, Matt is my least favourite character. It has absolutely nothing to do with his sexuality. It’s purely based on his personality. His self-pity and angst. I’m sure I like him least because out of the four, he resembles me the most, personality-wise … when I was his age. I always find it interesting when someone says Matt is their favourite. I’m thinking “Really?”

There will always be — at least for the next few decades — people who have a problem with a gay main character. That doesn’t bother me. If you have a problem with it, don’t read the book. It’s that simple. I’m not going to turn Matt into one of those two-dimensional, “sexless” gays portrayed in lots of literature and television as comic relief. Or just add a gay label on his head and not explore that side of him to sell more books.

I think the world is ready for having a gay super-powered character. Authors need to create more of them so they become part of the norm instead of a ‘special’ character as in ‘oh, right, him, the gay one’. There should be more gay characters, but I don’t think their sexuality alone is what should make them stand out.
Marvel Comics are handling this issue quite well in their Young Avengers comics. These feature two gay teen characters who are a couple. I think we are ready for this and need more of it.

Serendipity:  Since Solstice High loses its infrastructure, will the kids finish their education somewhere else?

Ardash Vartparonian: Solstice High will be opening its gates again in the second book right off the bat. In the book, only a few weeks have passed. I won’t say whether or not it stays that way, but I think the school has become almost a character of its own. For 17 to 18-years-old, whether you like it or not, and if you realize it or not, the building where you are going to school is a huge part of your life. It’s not just the amount of time you spend in it. It’s what goes on there too. High school inevitably ends, but it leaves a lasting impression and may even influence the person you are.

About the author:

Ardash Vartparonian was born in London, but raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the age of 18 he began his début Ardash-Vartparoniannovel, Solstice High, and continued writing throughout his last year of school and first year of university, where he moved back to the UK to study English Literature at Edinburgh University. Now a fourth year student, Ardash enjoys going out with his friends, watching horror movies and reading fantasy books while trying to keep up with his university work.

Find out more at http://sbpra.com/ardashvartparonian/

Buy Solstice High:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Book Depository

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Growing up super strange – SOLSTICE HIGH

Solstice High by Ardash Vartparonian

Publisher: Strategic Book Group
Urban Fantasy/Sci Fi/Young Adult
360 Pages

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Reading Solstice High was an interesting experience for me. As a grandmother, my high school years are long past … but I have a not quite 17-year-old granddaughter going through the angst, misery, insecurity and social anxieties which seem an inevitable part of the high school experience. No matter who you are or what family you come from, no one is comfortable in his or her own skin at that age. You have to make decisions affecting the rest of your life, yet you are completely unready to make those decisions. Even the most mature teenage is overwhelmed as they try to do what they must and become who they should be … while their hormones rage. Everyone feels like a freak.

Solstice High isn’t your average high school either, nor are Matt, Rochelle, Daphne and Jonas typical anything. Four students beginning their senior year enter a locked room. An unknown gas is released and each begins to develop strange, unique powers. Super powers. Each copes in his or her own way. Some welcome the changes. Others see them as torture.

The plot is less important than the characters. Most books about teenagers are written by authors long past that stage of life. Solstice High is unique and far better than the typical books of this genre. The author was just 18 when he began writing the book. He isn’t far past it now. For him, the experience of being a kid and coping with its problems are fresh. This perspective makes Solstice High much better than the usual book about a bunch of teenagers discovering their powers. It makes them real. Kids with problems, trying to fit in and having no easy time of it. Add in rapidly developing superpowers and you have a bunch of kids whose lives are a fury of chaotic emotions

They support and help each other as one terrifying experience after another forces them to use their newborn powers as well as their creativity and intelligence to survive. The school principal is the villain of the piece. He has an agenda that has nothing to do with education. The school is a laboratory and all the students potential lab rats. The four youngsters must fight him, improvising as they go. Meanwhile, they still need to get decent grades and cope with dysfunctional families.

Ardash Vartparonian writes with authority and compassion. His closeness to his characters brings them to life in a way no other book aimed at young adults has done … at least not in my experience. This isn’t Twilight. It’s not Harry Potter. The magic is there, but so is suffering humanity. It’s a wonderful book for kids. Good for adults too, especially if you have teenagers in your life. It’s an up close and very personal look at the real world of high school. Read it then pass it to a teenager who’s having a hard time. Probably any teenager you know. It might help them.

This is the first book of a trilogy. The author promises the next two books will be even more intense. Hard to even imagine!

Tomorrow Serendipity will feature an exclusive interview with the author. Don’t miss it!

About the author:

Ardash Vartparonian was born in London, but raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At the age of 18 he began his début Ardash-Vartparoniannovel, Solstice High, and continued writing throughout his last year of school and first year of university, where he moved back to the UK to study English Literature at Edinburgh University. Now a fourth year student, Ardash enjoys going out with his friends, watching horror movies and reading fantasy book while trying to keep up with his university work.

Find out more at http://sbpra.com/ardashvartparonian/

Buy Solstice High:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Book Depository

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Marilyn’s Dirty Dozen

John Howell’s “Rule is as Rule Does” got me thinking about life and how we invent rules as we go. I make rules for myself and I follow them. But I hate rules, so the only rules I follow are mine, all born of hard lessons.

What rules? I’m glad you asked.

I’ve had a life in which the light at the end of the tunnel was always the headlight of an oncoming train. At one point, I got so stressed I could barely breathe. Something had to give if I was going to survive. I had to change. I had enough issues without stressing myself to death.

I began by getting a tattoo, a symbol of life. It was an acknowledgement of change, an acceptance of survival and the possibility I might have to do it again. The tattoo is a large phoenix in full flaming color. It’s one-of-a-kind, designed for me. I had it put toward the back of my left calf. I didn’t realize it was going to be quite so big, but I’ve come to like it. I was 57 when I got my only piece of body art. Tattoos are more permanent than most marriages, so if you’re going to get one, make it something you won’t find embarrassing later in life. Spelling and punctuation count. A typo in a tattoo is forever.

My left leg

It is difficult to shoot a picture of the lower back of ones left leg. Remember: Blue jeans leave ridges. If you want a picture of a your own body or some part of it, getting someone else to take the picture is better. Both terriers were really excited when I took off my jeans and socks. I’m pretty sure they thought it was a game. Bonnie figured she’d score a pair of socks but I outwitted her and put them up on the desk. Hah! Asking Garry to take the picture seemed weird and required too much explanation. So I snapped it myself. Awkwardly.

I never wrote my rules before, so this has been an interesting exercise. I don’t expect you to follow my rules, but they are pretty good ones. They grew out of decades of doing everything wrong, worrying myself into ulcers, simmering with anger at injustice, and getting frantic over every ecological or political crisis.

Marilyn’s Dirty Dozen

  1. Laugh often. Have friends who laugh with you.
  2. If you can’t fix it, don’t brood about it.
  3. Have pets. Cats, dogs, chickens, ferrets, bunnies, reptiles, bats or birds. Anything but spiders. I don’t like spiders.
  4. Don’t argue with stupid people.
  5. When you know you’re wrong, give up and apologize.
  6. Worrying is a waste of time. Whatever you are worried about, something else will happen.
  7. Staying angry at someone who wronged you hurts you, not them. They aren’t losing sleep over you. Forget it. Move on.
  8. Be a gracious winner. People may sympathize with a sore loser, but everyone hates a gloating winner.
  9. The path less traveled is often a dead-end. Before going down unmapped roads, make sure you can make u-turns in tight spaces.
  10. When you have a choice, do the right thing. When you have no good choices, do the best you can. If you have no choice, run for your life.
  11. Brutal honesty is inevitably more brutal than honest. Be kind.
  12. If you’re an artist, do your thing. Talking about it doesn’t count.

Live your life. You are unique. Celebrate!

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75,000 Hits – Wow. Gee. Golly.

Yesterday I passed 75,000 hits. In the not very distant future, I’ll cross the Rubicon of 100,000. What does it mean? It’s nice to have substantial numbers. If after all this effort, I didn’t have something to show for it, I’d probably give up blogging. It has been an interesting and sometimes exhilarating year.

Dogged determination got me through a lot of it while trying to work out a formula to create high quality content — every day — and still leave time for the rest of my life. It eventually paid off. Most importantly, it got me writing again. When I started blogging, I hadn’t written anything but email in years. Writing is good for me. It gets my mental gears meshing, makes me reconnect with the world.

Serendipity got off to a slow start. Although I began it in February of 2012, it was well into summer before I began to take it seriously, post regularly. Last June, I was thrilled to get 40 hits a day. I couldn’t imagine getting 75,000 hits. Ever.

I caught some lucky breaks. A couple of my posts hit at a perfect time, a little ahead of events. Pure luck. The rest of it, though, was a determined effort to figure out a way to create good, interesting content and still have time for a life.

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Posting daily makes it tempting to just put something, anything out there. For a long time, I reblogged a lot. I’m a pretty good curator and I think I chose good material, but ultimately the sheer weight of so much stuff became a problem. I had to rethink my approach.

I decided if I need a day off — or I just don’t have time to put something together properly — it’s better to rerun my own material. Some of you commented on my reruns; some think it’s cheating. Frankly I can’t see how reblogging someone else’s posts isn’t cheating, but reworking ones own material is. It doesn’t make sense. Every television station reruns shows all the time, so why can’t Serendipity rerun posts? I have favorite pieces I’d run every day if I could get away with it. Gradually, over the past few months, I’ve been limiting reblogs and reworking my articles and photographs. And deleting, deleting, deleting.

And, like distant thunder, the numbers keep rolling in. By the time you read this, they will have chugged along, heading toward the next milestone.

Change is constant

I’ve been changing Serendipity slowly but steadily. Without fanfare and some folks haven’t even noticed, but if you look at past months, the difference is pretty obvious. There is always a price to pay when you stop providing what your audience has come to expect. In my case, it resulted in about a 20% drop in traffic, though it’s picking up again. I think it was a worthwhile trade. Serendipity is a better site. Better designed, better material.

There’s less of a “kitchen sink” feel to it. More focus on reviews — books, movies, television and technology. More stories, less philosophy. More photo essays but in total, fewer posts.

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I’ve deleted hundreds of old posts — more than 300 so far and lots more to go. I was storing over a thousand articles. It was too much. Even with all the deleting, there are too many posts, but deleting has to be done slowly and carefully for technical and aesthetic reasons. I’m working my way from earliest to most recent. It’s hard to let go. I fall in love with words. It hurts to throw them away, but everything gets old. We all have to clean house.

Staying fuzzy

After a full year of daily blogging, I am finally seeing a shape emerging, a sense of what this thing I’m doing is and maybe where it’s going. It’s soft and fuzzy, but I don’t need it sharp. Edges become boundaries. I want the freedom to change directions whenever I feel like it. I don’t want to commit to a course. Life already has too many restrictions. Commonsense, personal inclination and good taste should suffice to keep me on track.

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This blog is my free space. It is intentionally amorphous. I gave Serendipity to me as a reward for years of following rules I hated, stupid rules enforced by ignorant people. Now, if the rules are stupid or ignorant, they are my own and I have no one to blame.

75,000 is a big number

Numbers have great symbolic power. It’s those tens and fives , numbers that match our fingers and toes. I blithely ignored 71,000, 73,000 and have watched the ascent past 74,000 to the nice round 75,000.

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What can you expect in the next months and years at Serendipity? I’m not sure. I’m going somewhere for which I have no map. We’ll go there together and see what we see. I’ll write stories about it, take pictures along the way.

You can count on book reviews. Stories. A rant or two. Technology, gadgets, movies. Lots of photographs. I’ll try to make you laugh, cry, buy cool gadgets. I hope you’ll hang with me because you — all of you — friends, followers, occasional visitors have changed me and my world. You’ve introduced me to art, movies, books and ideas. I’d never have found all this great stuff without your nudges, hints, suggestions.

Change is ongoing. I may find something fascinating and new or may go back to things I’ve allowed to get dusty. It’s a messy erratic unpredictable thing, this business of living. Serendipity is alive. Messy. Like me.

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A coming out story

Marilyn Armstrong:

Being a different kind of kid in America is hard. And this is a good post about it.

Originally posted on Sunday Night Blog:

Last year at this time a facebook status, some stories in the news and a number of You Tube videos on “coming out” compelled me to write on a topic I might have otherwise avoided.  As you will see below, I could not find a dramatic You Tube video at the time on the harrowing coming out story to which I referred.  I subsequently found it and posted it in a follow-up article.  I have linked it to Angel‘s name here if you would like to see it.  It is a tough 12 minutes.

Despite everything that has been in the news lately, I thought I would shy away from this topic. It is often a political hot potato fraught with emotional arguments that have little to do with rational thinking. There seemed no reason to be another voice among the already countless raised voices. Then I caught a…

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Daily Prompt: Million-Dollar Question: Why I Blog, But You Play Golf

A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. Writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I suffocate. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how to start. They want me to tell them how. Because they asked the question, I’m reasonably sure they will never be writers. If you are a writer, you write. No one has to tell you how or when. You will write and you will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.

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I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a book. It was as if a switch had been thrown in some circuit in my brain. Words felt right. Putting words on paper was exactly the same as speaking, but took longer. I didn’t mind the extra time because I could go back and fix written words. Being able to change my words and keep changing them until they said exactly what I wanted them to say was the grail.

I was awkward socially and my verbal skills were not well suited to my age and stage in life. I was not good at sports and no one wanted me on her team. In retrospect, I can understand why. But when I was a kid, it hurt. Games and other social activities let you become popular, make friends, and do those other things that matter to youngsters. I couldn’t do the regular stuff … but I could write and I could read and that gave me wings. I might be a klutz, but words let me build my own worlds.

I was consuming adult literature when I was so little that my mother had to run block with the librarian to make sure I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. I had to be told to stop reading so I would eat, sleep, or go outside. If I was writing, nothing could stop me. Some things never change.

If you are going to be a writer, you know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand how to build a plot  and produce books that publishers will buy, but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it.

Writers have words waiting to be written, lining up for the opportunity to get put on paper or into the computer. It may take quite a while for you to find what your special area will be, fact or fiction. However it sorts out, you will write, professionally or as a private passion.

There are many gifts. Talent comes in an endless number of flavors. If you have the soul of a musician, you’ll find a way to make music. The same with painting, photography, drawing, running, hitting a baseball or throwing one so that it just skims that outer corner of the plate at 96 miles per hour. Mathematics, engineering, architecture … creativity and talent are as varied as the people who use it.

Gifts are given to us. It’s up to us to use our gifts as best we can. Not everyone is gifted, Plenty of people would give anything for gifts that you may take for granted. What is easy for you may be impossible for most people.

So my advice to all hopeful writers is simple. Write.

Don’t talk about it. Do it. Write a lot, as often as you can, even if most of it is awful and you never show it to anyone. Sooner or later, you’ll find your way to where you should be. If you don’t write, it is your loss, but it may also be the world’s loss. You will never know how good you can be if you don’t try.

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This blog is my way, in retirement, to find an outlet for the millions of words stuffed in my head, seething restlessly through my brain. Blogging is freedom in every sense. I have no deadlines to meet other than those I set myself. No editor is looking over my shoulder, I can write about anything and I have no word count to meet.

I hate golf. I can’t figure out why anyone would want to walk or ride around an enormous lawn hitting a little white ball. I can’t think of anything more boring … but I know a lot of golfers and they live for it. The rest of the week is just a pause between tee times.

So, if you don’t get why I write, that’s okay. You don’t have to get it. That I get it and can do it and other people actually read it … that’s enough for me. You do your thing, I’ll do mine. If I believe in anything, I believe with all my heart that we should all be what we were meant to be because that is the only route to any lasting happiness.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction — 15, The World Is Mine!

It’s a moment of pure joy, a moment of revelation. Caught in the camera’s lens, the caterpillar emerges from the chrysalis.

A moment comes when suddenly, you know you’ve changed. No more the kid, you’ve moved up a rung on the ladder to that perfect place, a real teenager. Finally, you’re old enough to go out and do stuff with your friends.

Happy 15 Kaity

You can go all kinds of places, like the mall and the movies. You can start to think about going on a date … well … maybe not yet, but soon. Meanwhile, you can wear makeup, put blue and pink stripes in your hair.

You’re young enough to be silly, old enough to have privileges. You’ve got friends, a cell phone, and soon you can learn to drive. You’re perfect. The universe is in balance. Today you are 15 years old … and the world belongs to you.

Happy birthday Kaity!

My how you’ve grown …

The seminal bonding event between my husband and my granddaughter took place on a sunny afternoon on Martha’s Vineyard. Garry and I were renting an adorable little house in Oak Bluffs. It had its own beach on Nantucket sound, on the inland side of Beach Road. For those of you that know the area, it was more or less behind the hospital.

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It had two bedrooms, a generous open area for the kitchen, dining area and living room. It had a large screened porch and a wood-burning fireplace. A long wooden staircase let down to the water. We could afford it, which was amazing even back then, the best vacation deal we ever got.

For three years, we rented it for 4 weeks, 2 in June and 2 in September — off-season. Thus it was less expensive than it would have been during the “high summer” months of July and August. The house had heat, too, so in theory, they could have rented through most of the year, but they didn’t, closing it up at the beginning of October.

Kaity was little, just about a year old. We invited the kids down to join us.

Kaity was the baby who laughed. The first true sign of individuality was her sense of humor. She laughed. She cackled. She couldn’t quite talk, but she made jokes.

Garry hadn’t spent much time with The Baby until then. He was still working and his schedule was horrible. Even when he wasn’t working, he was so tired, he wasn’t in any condition to do much except sleep, watch a game (whatever team was playing), and maybe read the sports section. On the Vineyard, though, he relaxed. It was the only place he really took a deep breath and stopped stressing. He could turn off the beeper, remove the watch, and just chill.

We chilled together. Two weeks on the Vineyard and I could barely remember what I used to do before I got there. By the third day, I gave up wearing shoes. By the end of the first week, underwear. Long skirts, loose tops, no watch and the hours of the day were marked only by the movement of the sun.

And there we were, all on the lawn overlooking the sound. Kaity had a bunch of marshmallows. At some point she decided it would be a hilarious to stuff marshmallows up Garry’s nose. Remarkably, Garry let her, starting a tradition of giving Kaity anything she wants without question that continues to this day.

When she decided to suck the marshmallows off his nose, bonding was complete.

This has become a family story, told and retold at every family get-together for the past 15 years. Today, her mom found the photographic evidence. She showed them to Kaity, now 16, who rolled her eyes and said “OH GOD,” which seems to be what teenage girls say about baby pictures.

The pictures were taken on an automatic film camera by my daughter-in-law and they have faded badly over the years. I scanned them, then did what I could with Photoshop. Think of them as misty memories from the distant past.

1) Marshmallow ATTACK!

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2) Mm, yummy!

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3) That’s was GOOD!!

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4) Grandma, do you like marshmallows too?

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So now, let’s move forward in time, flipping through the pages of the calendar like the sleazy opening scene of a bad movie.

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My, how they grow.

She still like marshmallows and her grandfather continues to adores her. Me too.