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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Weekly Writing Challenge: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (linesbylinda.wordpress.com)
- weekly writing challenge: truth is stranger than fiction. (lifewithcal.wordpress.com)
- Weekly Writing Challenge: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (dailypost.wordpress.com)
- Weekly Writing Challenge: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (fattiesplayer.wordpress.com)
- Weekly Writing Challenge: Truth is Stranger than Fiction (jolenehansonphotos.wordpress.com)
- Weekly Writing Challenge: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction (retiredruth.wordpress.com)
John Howell’s “Rule is as Rule Does” which I reblogged the other day got me thinking about life and how we invent our own rules as we go along. I make rules for myself and I follow them with almost religious fervor. But I hate rules and resent them. I was born rebellious.
The only rules I follow are my own. What are those rules? I’m glad you asked.
I’ve had an interesting life in which the light at the end of the tunnel has pretty much always been the headlight of an oncoming train. At one point, I got so stressed I could barely breathe. That was when I realized I needed to do things differently. I had plenty of problems without stressing myself to death.
I began by getting a tattoo, a visible symbol of my life. It was an acknowledgement of change and in a way, an acceptance of my survival and the likelihood of having to do it over again. I didn’t know at the time how right I was. It is a large phoenix tattoo. It’s a 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 quite like it. I was 57 when I got my piece of body art. It’s my only tattoo. One shouldn’t make permanent life decisions in a hurry or before one is old enough to know ones own mind (that’s a rule too). A tattoo is more permanent than most marriages, so if you’re going to get one, make it neutral enough so if life changes a lot, it won’t be a highly visible embarrassment for long decades to come. Spelling and punctuation count. A typo in a tattoo is with you forever.
I never really formulated my rules before, so this has been an interesting exercise. I don’t expect anyone else to follow them, though they aren’t bad and I don’t think they would hurt anyone. They come out of years of doing everything wrong, of worrying myself into ulcers, of simmering with anger at injustice, and being frantic with concern over every ecological or political crisis. I never learned anything the easy way. These dozen rules work for me.
- Laugh often. Cultivate friends who share your sense of humor.
- If you can’t fix it, don’t brood about it.
- Have a pet. Cats, dogs, chickens, ferrets, bunnies, reptiles, bats or birds. Anything but spiders. I don’t like spiders.
- Don’t argue with stupid people.
- When you know you’re wrong, give up and apologize.
- Worrying is a waste of time. Whatever you are worried about, something else will happen.
- Staying angry at someone who wronged you hurts you, not them. They aren’t losing sleep over you. Forget it. Move on.
- Be a gracious winner. People may sympathize with a sore loser, but everyone resents a gloating winner.
- The path less traveled frequently winds up at a dead-end. Before traveling down unmapped roads, be sure you know how to make u-turns in tight spaces.
- When you have a choice, do the right thing. If you don’t have a choice, do the best you can.
- Brutal honesty is inevitably more brutal than honest. Be kind.
- If you’re an artist, do your thing. Talking about it doesn’t count.
One rule to rule them all:
Make your own rules and live your own life. Everyone is unique. Celebrate your difference.
- Jewish burial hope has film star Drew Barrymore seeking tattoo removal (thejc.com)
- Incredible Misspelled Tattoos (oddstuffmagazine.com)
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.
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!
2) Mm, yummy!
3) That’s was GOOD!!
4) Grandma, do you like marshmallows too?
So now, let’s move forward in time, flipping through the pages of the calendar like the sleazy opening scene of a bad movie.
My, how they grow.
She still like marshmallows and her grandfather continues to adores her. Me too.
Thank you Tom Curley for sending me the clip and reminding me — we really did make it!
I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the 1950s, but there are some truths that are worth remembering and revisiting.
We lived in a very different world, where play meant using imagination and physical activity, not technology. If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school anyhow. It wasn’t your parents problem … it was yours.
You 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. That was your job and you took it seriously or else.
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. And we knew if you didn’t go to college, you couldn’t go to heaven.
My son commented the other day that we are raising — speaking of my granddaughter’s age group — a generation of weenies. We are protecting from them life, from acquiring coping skills they will need to survive when mommy isn’t going to be 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 that bad stuff won’t happen to you, that you won’t get sick, lose a loved one, a child, or for that matter, your own health. Nothing prevents life from happening to you. Pain is part of the package and learning to deal with adversity is called “growing up.” If you don’t learn to cope, don’t learn to fight your own battles, when you get out there, you won’t survive.
Just about every family has a few members who didn’t really make it. The ones who never got a real job, formed a serious relationship, accomplished anything to be proud of. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong … and usually, we have a sneaking suspicion that is wasn’t what we didn’t do that’s the problem. It was that we did far too much.
I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring. I’m not that hypocritical, but I think it’s important to remember 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 certainly didn’t. If you got one really cool present for your birthday or Christmas, that was a big deal. Now, most kids get so much they don’t appreciate any of it.
So, in memory of the lives we lived … 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 that bullies are cowards. Getting cornered in the girls’ room by one of those toughs with a switch blade and wondering how you’re going to talk your way out of this one …
Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid or whatever kid in a school full of people who don’t like your kind … and 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. And finally, getting to college and discovering that the weirdos and rejects from high school were now the cool people to know … and magically, we were suddenly part of that group. No longer were we outsiders. The same stuff that 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 a middle class white Christian kid … but it was a great time to be a kid of any kind. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom, time to play, time to dream. Whatever we didn’t have in the way of “things,” we made up for by having far fewer rules and limitations. We could use our imaginations. We had to: we didn’t have video games and many of us were lucky if there was one crappy black and white television in the house with rabbit ears that barely managed to get a signal. We learned to survive and cope, and simultaneously, learned to achieve. We weren’t scared to try. We’d screwed up enough to know that 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 move past middle age. We really did have great lives.
My granddaughter and many of her friends are having big problems in high school. Their problems are identical to those of my generation but this generation is even more clueless than we were. They have no idea how to cope. They are like those monkeys raised with wire mothers, at a loss to relate to other monkeys.
They don’t know the difference between a real friend and a casual acquaintance. The glib labeling from social media is, for them, the real deal … until they discover it’s not.
Becoming a misfit in high school is easy. If you are different, you are going to have social problems. How large these problems loom is a function of the vulnerability of the individual.
In the “good old days” when I was growing up, rumors and lies spread no faster than however long it took to pass the word from person to person. Today, with the click of a mouse on a Facebook page or mobile phone, the same meanness, backbiting and gossip that has always been with us can be distributed instantly to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people. It’s the same stuff, but it gets around faster.
Schools can’t deal with the problem. It’s too amorphous. They can’t control the Internet, text messages, and social media sites. It’s so easy to pick on someone. It doesn’t even have to be intentional.
A moment of pique, thoughtlessness, a casual reference, ordinary gossip can do an enormous amount of damage to a fragile adolescent ego. The electronic world is as real to them … maybe even more real … than traditional relationships. I’m not sure they understand there is a difference.
I’ve watched the dynamics of this first generation of young people for whom cell phones and computers are as ordinary as electricity was for us. I’ve watched them sit together in groups preferring to text each other rather than talk. I’ve wondered how in the world they would ever learn how to have a real relationship, to make the kind of friends that last a lifetime.
The answer is that they haven’t learned. They are lost.
They are starting to pay the price of hiding behind electronic communication. They have used it as a substitute for face time, conversation, of really being with other people.
Shy kids have had no motivation to get over it. They can’t handle even the simplest conversation. They don’t get it that people can be two-faced, dishonest, and just mean and that it isn’t personal. People are what they are. We older people could help if they let us, but we’re fossils, stupid old people suggesting they talk to each other, spend time together, that you can’t become “best friends for life” by exchanging emails.
They’ve relied on words alone, out of context of the rest of the package: facial expression and body language. They have never learned to “read” people. They can’t see when someone is lying.
Growing up is hard. Being a teenager is rough. It was as true 50 years ago as today, but we never had the choice of hiding behind a computer.
A lot of young people have had only minimal contact with other kids. There are a lot of forces at work, not only the hyper-availability of technology but also the fearfulness parents, the limited availability of free time, the overly structured lives kids have. They can’t just hang out. They aren’t encouraged to do stuff independently.
If my generation suffered from unwillingness to discipline our kids, this generation of parents not only doesn’t discipline kids, they smother and over-protect them from life itself. They label everything as bullying. They do not encourage their offspring to face problems and assure them they can handle it, that you don’t get emotional strength by avoiding life. Instead they buy into the endless psychobabble and make their kids feel even more helpless.
I’m not surprised at the problems. Despite my son and daughter-in-law’s contention that kids are meaner than they were, I don’t agree. Kid, people, are no different than they ever were. The difference is that parents are afraid to let their kids work out their problems. They don’t let them grow up. Sometimes, I think they don’t really want them to grow up, as if they want them to stay permanently dependent and childish. They have no idea how much they will regret it.
It’s natural to want to protect your children from hurt, but you shouldn’t protect them from life.
Life hurts. Life is also wonderful, rich, rewarding, exciting. But never pain-free.
There’s no turning back from technology. Nor would most of us want to dump our computers and cell phones. There does need to be a better balance. Technology won’t produce relationships. Exchanging words is not bonding. Sending texts and emails can’t establish closeness.
No one gets a pass from pain. Money won’t buy it. Private schools won’t keep life away. There’s only one way to become a survivor — experience. These kids need to get out and live. Put the cell phones away and talk to each other. Get involved. Let life happen to them, be swept away by events and emotions. Learn that feelings are manageable … with practice.
They aren’t getting the message. Maybe if they read it on Facebook?