Monday, May 18, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance

My son just graduated yesterday, on his 22nd birthday. I'm finding it hard to hold all my emotions together: pride, joy, fulfillment, nostalgia, gratitude, wistfulness, admiration, and fear--he's moving far, far away.

When have you experienced a multitude of emotions at once? Can you name them, oh fellow writers?

Friday, May 15, 2015

Comfortable Shoes

Today, I'm here not to write something creative or clever, but to tell a story.

My grandparents were immigrants, as was my father.

I have never given much time to researching my ancestry, but relied instead on stories my father told me. I love his account of what the prior generation--my grandparents I never knew--were like, and what they did. However, come to find out from relatives who are better at research and more devoted to truth than I, some of what my father said was only tangentially related to the facts.

I always believed we were Russian, and that my father came to this country hand-in-hand with his older brother, Peter. I always believed that the two of them missed getting on the Titanic because they never got out of Russia, because my father, as a wee boy, told officials they were emigrating to America.

Some of that didn't make sense, as they came in Pre-Russian Revolution times. But it was a good, romantic story, and I liked it. It made me feel special, too, because what if they'd gotten on board? My very existence hinged on the honesty of a child.


My father also told me his limited memory of Russia was of a long, one-story house with a red tiled roof (a big deal at the time in Ukraine), of a shoe factory the family owned. My father always wore expensive well-fitted shoes, even when he could only afford one pair. He insisted that we do, too.

Only recently did I learn that my grandmother's family were Ukrainian landowners who farmed. Their land attracted my grandfather, who was descended from Cossacks. Yes, there was a shoe factory, and workers, but none of that would have happened without my grandmother's land.

My grandfather was the first to leave for America. He sought a better life--which was wise, because shortly after that, the Russian aristocracy starved the Ukrainians, and the rest of my grandfather's family didn't fare very well. They wrote letters to my grandfather and my father and uncles, pleading for just a few dollars to keep them fed through the last harsh winters of their lives.

In my grandfather's search for this better life, he got a little distracted, at first. Maybe it was the Cossack in him that gave him Wanderlust, and also a resistance to adhering to rules?

Just a year or so after Grandfather arrived in this country to establish himself and then send for the rest of his family--a family already consisting of three young sons--my grandmother learned by letters from friends in the Boston Russian Orthodox congregation that he had "taken up with" another woman.

My Baba got herself on a boat post haste, my father in her arms. She tracked him down and before long was pregnant with my Aunt Olga, who left this earth last summer at 103 years old.

Last week, the youngest of that generation, Sophie (for whom my daughter is named), also left us for whatever is next. She made it to 102 years old.

Sophie and Olga both were at profound peace when they left. Both had unflagging faith and had stayed true to the practices of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Every time I imagine the experiences of the generation just before mine, it blows my mind.

None had the easiest life for the first, oh, 40 or so years. First of all, they had my more than slightly unhinged and volatile grandfather as their dad. At one point, he pitched himself into the Boston Harbor, a desperate man plagued by depression, a man disappointed, I'm sure, that his better life in American involved laboring in someone else's shoe factory. Someone fished him out of the Harbor, but it didn't go well after that. Second, they had a martinet for a mother. But at least they didn't starve.

My father? He did pretty well! He got involved with politics--his lifelong passion--as a very young man. He started law school, and was close to finishing when the Great Depression hit. He was disappointed not to finish, but he had an interesting life, played politics for decades, and watched three amazingly wonderful daughters grow up ;-) The eldest fulfilled his dream in becoming an attorney; the second daughter a dentist and professor of dentistry. I ended up a writer, but oh well, someone has to be the artist (loosely used term). My mom was pretty awesome, too, and beautiful, and he loved her with abandon.

That generation of my family grew up in Jamaica Plain way before JP was hip. Far too young, Aunt Olga lost her one true love, her husband--a post office worker but also a poet, yay him! Aunt Sophie lost a child, and had a rotten first husband, something she confirmed, as the story goes, by hiding in the back of his car while he was on his way to pick up his paramour. Sophie's second husband's family wouldn't accept her because she was Russian Orthodox and they were conservative Jews. For years, they kept their marriage secret and lived in two different households. When his parents finally learned about their marriage, they disowned him, not to reappear until his funeral. Naturally, this loss was something they bore together. She must have been quite a gal for him to have made that sacrifice.

Both of my aunts loved to laugh, as did my father, although he carried with him the family depressive gene. At least he never pitched himself into any large bodies of water ... but when I was a young teen, he sat for months in a darkened room, questioning his life. I guess I am a lot like him and my grandfather. I'm no stranger to Wanderlust, resistance to rules, or depression. He became much happier, perhaps only by learning the dark was not for him.

Me, too.

Despite their humble beginnings, my aunts lived well, and for so long! Their lives ended up very different. Aunt Olga's life remained modest; she worked for the Boston School Department, while Aunt Sophie traveled the world and kept a gorgeous home in a beautiful, upscale community south of Boston, Hingham.

Aunt Sophie had the best shoes. I always wanted "Aunt Sophie shoes," and eventually, I got them, but they didn't fit my inner self. Now, I wear comfortable shoes, as Aunt Olga always did. Surprise--I'm more like her than I thought. But I carry all of their traits.

Aunt Sophie, after losing her second husband (he smoked too much), followed her faith and a "spiritual advisor" to a Russian Orthodox community in California, starting life anew after 60-some years. What a woman. She only moved back to New England when her daughter insisted that she be close by in the years when she might have to be cared for--in her "declining years." She was in her late 80s then, and lived on her own for another 10 years.

My aunts were both inspirational women. Both never missed a day of life. They showed up for everything.

I don't always show up for everything in the outside world. At times, I've been severely disappointed by it, just like my dad and grandfather were, and sometimes I just need to remain cloistered so I don't get to the point of pitching myself into the Harbor. Once, my life required that I be public, and before that, a socialite, if only on a small scale. Now, I'm a recluse at times, but mostly every day, I show up for writing, just like for more than 20 years, I showed up every day for my kids.

Perhaps Aunt Sophie eventually chose quiet and retreat in California because she, too, was done with frippery and outside expectations. I'm not sure--she never said. But I wonder what kind of shoes she wore in California.

I learned from that generation to accept life as it is, to carry on with determination, and to find great joy. My father found it in the garden, my uncle his farm, my aunts their families, friends, and faith. The last of my uncles went to WWI, survived three of the most deadly battles in that war, and ultimately sacrificed his joy. But that's another essay. Suffice it to say I owe him quite a bit, too.

My hope is not that I can live to 100, but that I feel a similar peace when it's my time to go--not a Russian Orthodox kind of faith, or even a Roman Catholic kind, but instead a peace of faith that like the prior generation of my family, in living every day to its fullest, and trying to pass their courage and grace forward, I too have done what the universe sent me here to do.

That generation is now in the next world, whatever it may be. Will I see them again? If so, I hope they will forgive me my frailties. I hope they can see now how much they taught me, and how much I try to put it to use.

I am blessed to have been theirs. I am grateful for my birth into this family. Because of them, and the lessons they gave me that I've finally learned to apply, I am never starving, in any meaning of the word.

Word, Walter, Olga, Sophie, word.

Off for my day in my Sauconys. And prior gen--it's never goodbye. To paraphrase that celluloid font of wisdom, E.T., you'll always be right there.

To those of you who read my blog for prompts, please write about the prior generation in your family.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Stems burst
giving birth
to more than
just fruit
Why is
the quince
so tasteless
when the blossoms
make me
smack my lips

Copyright 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Teen Writing

Teen writers!

I just had my first teen creative writing workshop at the Franklin Public Library (America's first public library!) last night and it was loads of fun! We freewrote and brainstormed about characters and dialogue between girls and their annoying perfectionist parents ... and just got to know one another. There's a lot more to come. If you're in the Franklin, Massachusetts area and between the ages of 14-18, you belong with us every other Tuesday evening.

Above is a great book that gives lots of great tips to serious teen writers. You might want to look for it at your local library, or recommend it to your librarian!

Teens, want a prompt? Today, think of someone who was punished unfairly--at least in your mind. Write about why.

Adults, want a prompt? Think about a day in your past when you were treated unfairly--at work, in a relationship, in the family. Write about how you handled it! Would you do something differently today?

Happy writing!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Noitalever, aka That Light Bulb Moment

My kids used to laugh at me when I would share that I'd had a revelation. Usually I had something backwards until I refined what I'd learned in that light bulb moment.

Hence their term: "The Noitalever." Clever kids. From the mouths of babes and all that.

What revelation have you had, or has one of your characters in your writing had, that proved to be totally wrong, ass-backwards, dumb as a rock?

I'll give you an example. I once woke up believing that I had the answer to all my recent questions about a character. Of course! She will hook up with that cute guy with the hair flop, who will encourage her to write the best poem she was always meant to write, and she'll get a fellowship based on it!

You all would have told me to avoid the hair flop guy, right?

What ends up happening to that character? She falls in "love," writes a dippy poem, doesn't get the fellowship, and has to try harder to figure out who she really is. And of course hair flop guy turns out to be a better friend than boyfriend.

I love it when those characters surprise us. All we have to do is put our fingers on the keyboard, and the surprises emerge.

How about you? Real life "noitalever" or in your fiction? Write it out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Briefly Stated Truths


We've all been told we need a platform to entice an agent or editor. But sometimes, tweeting seems worse than writing, or takes over when writing should come first. Delilah Dawson at Whimsy Dark has some great advice.

For those of you just starting, have you discovered a community on Twitter? We are a lonely tribe. Twitter can amuse, inform, and accompany us on our journey.

Me, I like to post nonsense when I'm not posting that I've posted something new on my blog. What nonsense would you Tweet if you could say ANYTHING YOU WANT without embarrassing yourselves and/or your friends and families?

Enter this information in your journal. 140 characters per faux Tweet. Then get a padlock ... or a good hiding place.

Where do you hide your journal?

Happy writing day!


More practice on writing something brief ...

What are a few of your favorite quotations from well-known writers? Here's one of mine:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring 
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time. 

It's from TS Eliot's "Little Gidding" and I have thought of it repeatedly when life proves it to be true.

If you were to speak one of your truths, something you've learned from your life journey, what would it be? Try out several, and then write one out in 50 WORDS (not characters). Tomorrow, see if you still believe it to be one of the truths you would share with a younger you.

Happy writing!


This morning, I read an interesting quotation from Hannah Arendt:

Nur das ist wahr, dem wir bis zuletzt die Treue halten.

I am hardly a perfect translator (if there is such a thing), and Ms. Arendt isn't hanging around here to help me out, but I take from those words, The only thing that is true is that in which we keep faith. 

Obscure, right? Or is it?

Now let's get a little less philosophical ...

Here's my one and only Dorothy Parker-ish quip:  I have been more faithful to the Red Sox than to any man. 

Haha, right? But it's true! I believed in them in 1967, and I believe in them now. That's pretty long! In 1967, I had a crush on Carl Yastremzski! That's not who I'm crushing on now. (Yes, 50-somethings still do that ... and I'm fortunate to be living with mine.)

Finally, in 2004, 2007, and 2013, the Red Sox validated my belief in them, my faith that they could break The Curse and win the World Series. In 2013, they embodied Boston Strong and I got a maybe too big Sox "B" tattoo to celebrate my 55th birthday.

What else have I believed in that long?

I believed in myself as a writer in 1970, when I wrote a newsletter about my Girl Scout Troop's activities.

I believed in myself as a writer in 1981, when I worked at a publishing house and participated in a writers group. But writing didn't go well for me then, so I had only a wobbly conviction.

I believed in myself as a writer when I started graduate school in English Lit in 1985, thinking that if I read the masters, I'd be able to emulate them. In fact, the masters convinced me that at best I was a minor talent. My faith in my writerly self faltered ...

I have published a lot since then, and certainly I can spin out an essay that will move you, or write a poem that captures a moment or emotion. But I still have not finished a novel--and I've always wanted to write one and polish it to my own satisfaction (or as much satisfaction as any novelist ever feels). I've always wanted to see it published with a real cover and an ISBN.

Last fall, I almost gave up. My daughter in publishing said, You can do this. You are a writer, Mom.

I went back to it. I'm getting closer.

The only thing that is true is that in which we never lose faith.

I believe in unconditional love. My parents gave it to me and I to my own children. And my children return it. They would never judge me for giving up. But they want me to fulfill my dream.

What faith in other faulty, fallible human beings do you hold? Including yourself? You can express this faith in fewer than 140 characters--I know you can.

I believe I will publish an important work of fiction.

The only failed writer is the one who gives up.

To whom have you been faithful since you were ten years old? Or to what idea, hope, goal? Write it out in 140 characters or fewer. Now, expand on it. What does that faith mean to you? Let it be as philosophical as Arendt's or as personal as mine.

See you next week! Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015



This post is a three-part set of prompts! Get your notebook/journal/laptop ready, and then read on ...

On Writer Unboxed, I found a post by Sarah Callender that really touched me. It's about how being on the bi-polar spectrum can be difficult but usually also means you are a very creative person.

Most importantly, Callender points out that if you're on that spectrum, you can live very well! You don't have to be depressed if you take care of yourself. And all those high emotions can be relieved by writing--and can result in really amazing writing, too!

With all the attention lately to mental health and how it can affect someone's work (Germanwings) it's important to realize that mental health issues can be regulated. It took a long time for me to grapple with my own depression/anxiety/bipolar tendencies, but lately they're pretty well under control, at least when I'm not pushing myself to be someone I'm not. As a writer, I'm so happy, as long as I take all the measures necessary to keep myself healthy--medication, exercise, plenty of sleep, avoiding anxiety-ridden situations (like working for a creep).

Have you ever dealt with a mental health issue? Do you know anyone who has? How does it affect your creativity, or another's? Even if you haven't, do you sometimes get so deeply into your creative state that you experience "flow"? What is that like?


Write today about someone you know, or you, yourself, who has been affected by mental health issues or situational depression or anxiety. Tomorrow, we'll examine how writing about that made you feel physically, so keep that in mind as you write!

And if you know someone who is currently going through a  mental health issue or who has a chronic one, reach out. Tell that person you love him or her. If it's you, tell yourself you are worthy of living a joy-filled life. 

Oh, about the crow, pictured above. Check out Sarah Callender's blog. You'll find a wonderful blog and a great explanation of how one word can mean many things.


Today, describe the PHYSICAL feelings you had yesterday while writing about your or a family member/friend's mental health challenges. Reread yesterday's writing. How does your body react today? Take some quiet time to connect with your body. Using words that apply to your physical state only ... no slipping into the emotional! :-)


Today, choose an object or a living thing that represents somehow your physical response to your writing about conquering mental health issues, or living joyously and productively with them. Who cares if you start with something trite or overused ... a track star leaping hurdles, a bear emerging from hibernation ... I'm going to stop here because I don't want to steal them all!

Make the comparison. If you get more than a paragraph, great, but one paragraph is a good start. You can always select two symbols and see how different symbols lead to different descriptions, different meanings!

You've had a great week of writing. Congrats! See you next week.