Tag Archives: writer’s life

Harriet…

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Let me tell you about my friend Harriet. I met her at the bus stop coming home from Mom’s group last summer. She’s an older woman whom you might call petite if you hadn’t yet had the privelege of talking to her. She wears gigantic sunglasses, boy cut hair dyed ink black, and almost always a leopard print blazer with significant shoulder pads. Any normal person would be dwarfed by the ensemble, but not Harriet.

We began talking over my children, little conversation straters that they are, and kept chatting like this, at the bus stop, five minutes every Wednesday for a few months. She used to want to be an actress. But she became a mother and dreams changed. She became the writer of a TV show for kids and had a wonderful long career. She reminds me every time she sees me that my path might change from what I want, what I expect, but to keep writing, keep at it.

I hadn’t seen her in months. But the other day, there she was, leopard print blazer over mauve velvet pants.

“How are you doing, Harriet?”
“I’m 79.”
“Yeah?” I say.
“Well I’m feeling old. I’m suddenly old. I was middle aged for a long time but now I’m old.”
“How old were you when you began feeling middle aged?” I asked.
“27.”
“27?!”
“Yes.”
“So, what age was your zen age?” I asked, “At what age did you say, ‘ok, I’m here, finally, I am how old I feel.”
“70.”
“70?!”
“Yeah.”
“So, everybody caught up and just stopped caring,” I said.
“Exactly right,” she said, “Everybody finally stopped caring with me.”

So, take Harriet’s word for it, my people. There’s hope.

This Morning…

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The beautiful San Francisco spring has sprung and this morning the weather was perfect. So, I hustled two babies through breakfast and into shoes. We were going to meet some friends at Crissy Field.

I drove past Lake St. and the elegant signs that forbid tour busses and vans over ten passengers from going further. I turned right on El Camino Del Mar where every house presents a lavish example of a particular style. The houses hide the view, but at the intersections the Golden Gate Bridge appears large and startlingly close. Then the houses stop halfway down a block where they meet the Presidio woods.

The road twists left as soon as its free of the confining lines of the neighborhood and in a breath we’re on the bluffs with the ocean’s arms open wide below us. All of the hills and ups and downs of the city are lost to the long flat line of blue horizon. The smell is salty and woodsy, the eucalyptus and cypress leave a tangy sensation in your nostrils. In the quiet moments when I stop at a cross walk the cacophony of bird noises breaks through.

The breeze is cool through the window, unchanging in temperature even as you slip from shadow to sun between the trees. Drawing a curving path through the Presidio I still have to follow the google map directions. The roads run into each other and stop, I have to make three turns to continue in the right direction.

We pass clusters of brick houses left over from the Presidio’s army post days. The yards are trim, sloping up from short stone walls. I find myself wondering as I always do what it would be like to live in one of these red brick houses with clean white trim and large square windows, to live in a forest at the edge of a city. The bikers and tour busses are scarce on a Friday morning at just past nine.

We turn left out of the Presidio onto the long flat road that demarcates the water’s edge. I make a wrong turn, of course, because I’ve only been there a zillion times and have to turn around. And then we arrive in the small parking strip tight up against a steep slope over hung with peeling eucalyptus fingering the breeze.

The Warming Hut is open, people emerge with their paper cups, all plastic pieces one hundred percent compostable. The dogs are off leash, the only law the responsible citizens of San Francisco tend to ignore. Trim people jog by and there are many mothers with babies like me. Fishing lines trail off the pier. Pelicans fly overhead like an arrow, of one mind pointing towards China Beach and their breakfast. We’ve seen them there in the mornings dropping suddenly from the sky, slapping the water in a feathered sort of belly flop. Apparently, all more graceful methods of catching fish have been proven less effective.

And as we walk down the sandy path we see that someone has plucked some order from the stony beach and tall rock pinnacles precariously balanced rise here and there in stiff salute. I’m told by my friend that it’s the work of a quiet old Asian man. The Chronicle did a piece on him. He said it was his zen.

The sun can only be friendly in the company of the breeze. It warms my right temple and winks at me over the rims of my sunglasses. I keep my sweatshirt on and take my shoes off. The bright red bridge consumes the view to my left, quite unaware that she is an icon. The sailboats go in and out under her like indecisive chicks. Alcatraz lies low over my daughter’s shoulder. Sometimes the waves get louder and I look up to catch the disappearing wake of a cargo tanker already distant. And the rounded shoulders of Marin across the bay tend to ignore me, as they always do, facing the sea, always out to the open sea.

And we play in the sand and make new friends and we run away from the waves and then we run into them and we get incredibly dirty and eat sandy cheese sticks anyway and squeal when the water insists on slurping the sand out from beneath our toes.

And I remind myself again that I live here in this beautiful place and I’m alive for this beautiful day and these are my beautiful people. And I think in recognizing it and going to all the trouble to write it down and describe it to you I have done something that works in this crazy long history of the world like gratitude. I hope so, anyway, because I am grateful.

On the Horse…

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I am happy to follow-up and tell you that the elementary school rehearsal yesterday went very well.

I am back, as they say, on the horse. After careful review of what is going to be rehearsed on Monday I have asked for another go at blocking and choreographing the scenes. The director kindly assented.

All of this may not seem like much, but it is indicative of much growth.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in second grade I inadvertently won the privilege of standing in front of the entire school and reciting a poem. I hadn’t known it was a contest.

So, after the kindergartener and the first grader went, I got up on stage in front of all the K-8 graders in my school and recited my poem. I then sat down to watch the rest.

I will never forget what happened then. A fifth grader got up to recite her poem. She trembled and stuttered and burst into tears and ran off the stage. The girl may or may not have vomited. It certainly looked like she was going to.

I was mortified for her. How embarrassing! I didn’t even know that sort of reaction was possible. It was horrifying.

A couple more lucky speakers recited and then, a few moments later, everyone applauded as the teacher announced that the girl from fifth grade was going to try again.

The teacher said, “How brave of her!”

I clapped for the girl, but I didn’t buy it. The girl had run off the stage. “Brave” was something they said to trick her back up there. And I remember thinking, with my advanced second grade wisdom, that if that sort of thing ever happened to me there is no way you’d get me back up on that stage.

My heart found nothing brave or admirable in that moment.

Now, I am significantly older and, as with most things, when you practice not being perfect every day you just get better at it.

My inability to fail prevented me from doing a lot of things. It’s taken a long period of indoctrination to reverse it. In fact, I now find a special pride in my ability to fail miserably, experience rejection, and try again, even if it’s an elementary school production, even if it’s a novel.

So, here we go, keeping on, practice, practice.

Girding my Loins for Rejection…

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Well, I just sent off a query e-mail with picture book manuscript attached.

There you go, little bird. I have chopped you, trimmed you, cut off your wings and reattached them in different places.

I have sat on you, exposed you to critique, and shamed you publicly in front of my writing group.

Honestly, we’ve kept such company these past few months that I’m not sure I can look at you for a while.

So, go fly little picture book bird and find an agent.

If you don’t come back, well, I’ll patch you up again and try someone else.

… so much hope for 872 tiny little words to carry.

Book Release (!!!) for Natalie Pagel’s RUINS…

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I met Natalie Pagel a few years ago. I heard she was a writer and so the invisible spark of camaraderie bound us together almost instantly.

I soon learned from our circle that Natalie had written a book. She had finished it, bound it at Kinko’s and passed it around to her friends and family. I got her phone number from a mutual friend and she soon received a phone call from someone she barely knew (me) encouraging her to not spend any more money at Kinko’s when she could go to Create Space and publish her little book for free, and maybe have all those friends and family actually buy it off of Amazon.

(Please, authors! You are better than Kinko’s!)

Her story has lived through several transformations since then and is now (hooray!) available on Amazon.

I would like to introduce Ruins: The Perfect Place to Build Indestructible Life by Natalie Pagel!

I have read it through twice now, and have begun a third time. It by turns makes me cry and laugh out loud. I just made my husband listen to a particularly funny page. I won’t tell you what part (parts) makes me cry, because that would be a spoiler. But I will tell you the funniest part for me is right around rock bottom when she also gets ants. You know the kind of day she’s talking about, people.

It is Natalie’s story, and her family story. It begins with Natalie in a place of righteous self-assuredness, financial success, and a very sure view of God and the world. And, then life happens, as it does to most of us. But it seems to avalanche over Natalie and her husband all at once, tragically and, at times, comically.

To give you a sense of her journey I give you a piece of hers that I love called “The Grand Canyon”. She tucked it away at the end of her book:

 

The Grand Canyon

Everything was working against it, and yet for it. Violence and isolation, woven into endless stretches of time, were a part of the very intentional and very intricate process of its coming-of-age.

Shifting and reforming from below as foundations moved, and from above as suffocating deluges added insult to injury, its absolute rock-bottom gave way to new depths.

Relentlessly the elements persisted. Even its own crumbly-clay fabric was used to carve out its deep, deep chasms.

Yet despite its cursed existence, it is anything but a futile wasteland. No, it is a wonder of creation-inspiring and majestic. A banner of beauty. A fingerprint of salvation. Breathtaking from every vantage point.

Bidding still, that nature run its course.

Engraved by the hand of destruction at the hand of the Creator, it is not empty. Patiently and skillfully sculpted, it is not forsaken.

Its gashed and gorged landscape is full-teeming with color and light and life.

I absolutely love this. Because people come from around the world to see the beauty of a place so harshly brought about. Are we prettier for that which has been carved from us? Is the rebuilding of Jerusalem sweeter for having been in exile in Babylon?

And I like this version of testimony best, that tells the whole story, not just the pretty parts, which my honest and beautiful friend Natalie certainly does.

I’ll be popping on here this month to give you excerpts as I read through her book again.

In the meantime, head over to Amazon and buy it for yourself! And then, please, leave a glowing review! Also, head over to her blog at http://www.illuminatethetruth.com and follow her story as it continues to get written.