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I’m Still Here

How many times have I said that? (I know, I know)

I’m not a Stephen  Sondheim fan (I recognize his genius, but his music doesn’t resonate with me).

It’s been 364 days since my last blog post. That was about how I felt since the death of my friend 15 years ago. I have sisters (more on them in a bit) but that was the loss of a soul sister. Given the number of blunders I’ve made in that time, I think I relied too heavily on her superior common sense and smarts for guidance and didn’t really work to develop my own.

2003 was a suck-ass year.

Followed by 2005.

So was 2008.

And 2015.

2018, too.

I self-diagnose as having situation depression. It manifests as a form of emotional paralysis: I don’t want to do anything. Everything is overwhelming. I just want to hibernate until things are better. I don’t want to be medicated because that won’t resolve the issues (and that goes for drugs and alcohol. They don’t solve the problem, so why bother?).  I can’t afford to go to a psychiatric hospital because I don’t have insurance or the means to pay for it (or a regular prescription. That shit’s expensive). And I don’t want to be on meds anyway. (Sort of a middle finger to Big Pharma)

I looked for an image for this post of a woman wrapped in chains to illustrate the point. However, the ones I found (including strait-jacket photos) were all a bit too BDSM to use. Yeah, no.

Lost a good-paying job in March. Managed to scramble, financially through most of the year, but found another job in September that pays 63% less. No, that was not a typo. Call center. White collar work, but not a living wage. I have never been so over-managed in the 34 years I’ve been a working adult. At any given time, at least 4 people can be monitoring a phone call located in Florida, New York, or Mumbai. The task does not play to my strengths: problem-solving. And my co-workers tell me it’s obvious to them that the manager does not like me. At all. However, I did win a 43″ Sharp smart TV at the Christmas party, so there’s that.

The way out…

In the time in between jobs, I SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED a course in Web Design and Program Development. Me. I learned HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, JavaScript, JQuery, some graphics work, PHP, and MySQL. The JavaScript and the PHP  haven’t stuck too well, but the coding community is extremely supportive, in terms of fora (plural of forum), chat rooms, and websites to learn/practice coding.  I made what I think is a kick-ass website for my final project (no, I’m not providing the link right now. It’s supposed to be uploaded to here somewhere, but we’ll see if I was successful). Starting wages for web development are still about half of what I was making in mortgage due diligence, but more than what I’m making now.  And I can create tools for folks to complete better, more accurate mortgage reviews.

I am standing in my own way in terms of lacking self-confidence. Potential employers will give you puzzles to code and I am too chickenshit to complete them. Practicing code on a website in order to refresh memory and boost confidence.

And, once again, I need to find a home. (And save my stuff in storage. Seriously. If anyone reading this has a spare $150,000, that’ll pay off all my debts and purchase a nice little condo for me with enough to move CA storage stuff to FL, furnish home, acquire two kitties).

I’ve been ready to throw in the towel for eternity for months. I’m serious.

This week, an old wound that I’ve been trying to heal by ignoring it has reopened. This is where my sisters come in. One of them posted an old photo of the two of them wearing hats from my grandmother. I remember when the picture was taken. In the posted photo, I was cropped out. I’m being erased from my family. And that broke my heart.

I imagine they would say this is all my fault due to issues I had with my mother, but 20 some years ago, I could see that the unity and bonding that my dad wanted so much for us wasn’t going to outlast him. I thought I had worked towards healing old wounds and rebuilding relationships, but I was wrong. Back in 2000, at my sister’s wedding, her co-workers challenged me when I said I was her sister. They pointed at my other sister and said, “No, that’s her sister over there!”

How nice. Of course, she has family pictures all over her houses, but I never saw myself in any of them. Granted, we had a bad relationship as kids. After I moved out, I discovered that she had broken some of my collection of horse statues (including Breyer collectibles which appreciate in value. Dumb fucking move). I don’t think it was accidental. Nor was cutting up my prom dress to make an 8th grade graduation dress without asking me (Thanks, Mom. You knew better). Her boyfriend/husband was not very friendly and the first time I saw her kids beyond being little babies, they thought it was great fun to hit me with duck decoys while their parents stood by and laughed. I should have known.

Of course, the usual comment that follows is “Well, you hold a grudge.” Actions speak louder than words. My words, your actions.

The cropped picture brought it all home. If you bitches wanted to hurt me, you fucking did it. Congratulations. I hope you’re happy with yourselves. You tried to trap me into moving home and being a caretaker for someone who disliked me only slightly less than you did.

Why was it decided that my life and happiness mattered less than yours?

Whatever. You can block me on Facebook, refuse to acknowledge my existence, not communicate with me unless you want something (which has been the case since we were teens. I only exist if I’m useful to you. The sad smile and tears with “We really should be closer” only comes out when the wine flows. I’m willing to be closer, just not on your terms). However, like science, whether you like it or not, I’m still your sister. Those were my parents. I don’t even know what you did with the bodies. NONE of you had the maturity, courage, or grace to reach to tell me my mother was dying, was dead, the date/time of the memorial, or even offer me the pictures of myself from the hall. I didn’t want money (this was a discussion I’d had with Mom several times. And Dad. Because he and I were both ATTORNEYS who had studied wealth transmission, we knew the best estate planning was to spend it all (including transfers) during your lifetime). All I wanted were the cross-stitch pictures I’d made for them, the photos of me as a baby and little girl, me with Ralph, my graduation pictures, the Fidelity publicity photo of me wearing a headset. That’s it. My stuff. Given the treatment years prior of my collectibles, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were tossed the first day of cleaning out the Rutland house. And I’m pretty sure I was lied to about them.

Anger is like  drinking poison and hoping it kills the other person. I have to forgive you for myself. I can also forgive you because you have to live with yourselves. I don’t.

I have been working on some short stories. I will finish those sumbitches if it kills me. Which is ironic because they’re supposed to be funny erotica, not Swedish death metal (shout-out to a friend). And not under my name. Someone I respect told me I need to focus and commit to something, then success will follow. Also commented that the comerotica (comedy + erotica. Portmanteau word. May catch on. May not) would be successful. I can do that.

And that’s the state of me right now.

Still here. The Iron Rose will bloom again.

 

 

Since You Left

February 1, 2003 was the worst day of my life, but I think you know that. I’d like to think, if the situation was reversed, it would have been equally as devastating to you.

You left.

I don’t kick myself because I had turned off my phone and didn’t get the call when Ellen made it. This wasn’t Dad or Gram with some warning that they were about to leave. You and I had a great conversation the day before. Truth? I was surprised as hell that you picked up the phone. That almost never happened. You know how, after someone has suddenly left, the stories come out? “Just out of the blue, Jeremiah called/dropped by/sent an email/text/Facebook comment and the next day, he was gone.” That phone call the day before was one of those stories. I don’t remember what the hell we talked about, except I was light-headed after giving blood, and you ragged on me for being an airhead blonde because of it. And I said, “Fuck you.” You said, “Fuck you.” . And a bunch of other shit. Our usual shit. I think I forgot to say, “Talk to you later.” That was odd. I always sign off a phone call that way. Maybe that was another sign that, no, I wouldn’t talk to you later. Or ever again.

It’s been almost fifteen years. I lost you, I lost Toulouse, I lost my housing (through my own folly). That was the last time I had a home of my own. 2003 was a real festering turd of a year. And I am not recovered from it. Your departure is still a raw, oozing wound. It doesn’t heal. It won’t heal. I don’t want it to heal. I don’t want to get over losing my soul sister.

Yeah, sister. You have one of your own. I have two. I think it’s fair to say, we were closer to each other than to them. I couldn’t and cannot talk to Kathy and Laura like I could talk to you. I was like the alien in the midst of the Thatcher family. We kept each other’s confidences. We talked about stuff that would get me puzzled and dismissive “You’re weird” looks from K&L. You and me, though, we got each other.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I needed you more than you needed me. You had my back. Maybe I took it for granted. Yeah, I did. I have no idea what it was I did for you. Made you laugh? Got you into some Lucy & Ethel type capers? I think maybe part of my ongoing, decade-and-a-half-long grief is guilt. Guilt for taking, for not giving back enough, for being selfish. I took your presence in my life for granted, and I also took it for granted that we would be on the Earth together for decades. 1979-2003, not even a quarter-century. it’s not fair.

You’ve missed a lot. You missed me coming in third on Jeopardy. You missed me on “Reba.” (and Ms. McIntyre was kind and gracious when I almost burst out crying all over her because you would have loved that I was on her show).  I needed to talk to you about what I saw of Dad with dementia and how scary that shit was. You weren’t here to consult over the issues that drove the final breaking wedge between the rest of the Thatchers and me. If ever I needed a soul sister, that was then.

You should have been here to torment me on my fiftieth birthday. I should have been able to mock you on YOUR fiftieth birthday. Coward. You skipped Earth before that milestone. Forty years was enough, I guess.

By the way, I’m the one who put the yellow rose in the bouquet that was the center of your memorial service. Ellen went along with it. And I’m sure you dumped the picture into that bouquet. Our final “Fuck you” to each other?

You’re the one who kept my feet to the fire writing. I should have been able to consult you about publishing. By all rights, the first copy should have gone to you, not just the dedication.

I still have trouble referring to those closest to me as “best friend.” That’s your job, and fuck you, Bitch, you quit on me. What happens if I call someone else “Best Friend”? Is she going to quit on me, too?

I’m angry, still. How dare you leave? And should I feel guilty over being angry? Doesn’t change the fact that I’m angry, bereft, abandoned. Yeah, you were over a year younger than me, but you had more big sister energy. I feel like I’ve been  cut loose since then, tumbling from a plane without a parachute in a high wind. It’s not your fault, but I wonder if I’d have been blown around so much or made so many bad decisions if you were still here. Or maybe you would have ended the friendship because I’m too much of a pain in the ass.

I don’t know. You had a lot of nerve to be able to get tanked, barf,  and not have a hangover the next day. Such a bitch for being smarter, better self-disciplined,  and more responsible than me. How dare you have your shit together.

Whatever.

I miss you. Every day. I just thought you should know.

 

 

 

09/14/2017

In “Slaughterhouse Five,” Kurt Vonnegut describes the hell of surviving the firebombing of Dresden (In Slaughterhouse Number 5. Sorry if that’s a spoiler), then emerging the next morning. Billy Pilgrim is surrounded by manmade destruction on a nearly incomprehensible scale. In the middle of this hellscape…

…a bird starts singing.

In the middle of death and devastation, life reasserts itself.

I live in South Florida and Hurricane Irma came through last weekend. The winds picked up on Saturday, getting stronger through the day and the main event lasted most of Sunday. I could hear hollow booms from time to time. I knew my home was well-positioned for winds coming from ESE (home is in a condo building on the WNW side) and the household had taken steps to prepare.

Before the storm hit, as we were clearing the porch, I was watching the Muscovy ducks and white ibis that hang out in the canal behind the house. The water level had been lowered in anticipation of heavy rain and the birds were probing for worms and bugs. I wondered where they’d go for shelter, whether they’d be able to survive a Category 4 hurricane.

Once the wind started, I put up a pretty good show of being cool and brave for those around me. And for myself. In the wisdom of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Whistle a Happy Tune, putting on the performance convinced me, too. It seemed like the winds wouldn’t stop increasing, that the water level in the canal behind the house wouldn’t stop rising, one more good gust hitting a palm tree would bring it down.

Let me tell you, it was a long damn weekend. And the nights were worse. No quietly whirring fans to block the noise of the wind. The dark seemed even darker. But I could see the silhouettes of trees under assault from 80 mile an hour gusts. I could hear thunder. Lightning flashed. With no power, I was keeping my phone off to save battery. We had been getting tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, lightning strike warnings, but with the phone off, I wouldn’t hear or see them. Sleep was fitful.

I had had a chorus of people on social media telling me to evacuate, and when it became clear that I wouldn’t,  telling me to check in and be safe. Every few hours, I’d turn on the phone and post, starting with “I’m still okay,” describing the conditions, and finishing with “I still have gummy bears.” (I’d started a running joke about gummy bears being among necessary hurricane supplies. More than a few people agreed). One of the last posts, when the winds really did start to ease, I reported that the gummy bears were gone. There were expressions of sympathy.

The winds died down. The rains stopped. We still didn’t have power, and it was cooler outside than in. My roommate and I ventured out to see the damage. Huge trees had fallen into some of the other buildings in the neighborhood, crashing through porches, landing on roofs. Here was the source of those booms I’d heard.  These buildings faced directly into the storm and many units had tattered or missing screens. No golfers were out on the course; too much debris.

We were lucky. Our electricity was out for 36 hours. The internet was fully functional a day later. I wouldn’t call it PTSD, but as I’ve been working, I’ve heard a deep “thrum” and checked the trees to see if the winds have returned. They haven’t; it’s the fan. I know they haven’t, but I still check the trees to be sure.

Tonight, 3 days later, I went to the store to pick up a few things and I stood in the parking lot for a moment. It was a normal September night, warm, humid, pink and orange sunset. The frantic energy was gone. It was quiet. But for the leaf litter and branches on the ground, you wouldn’t know what had gone on.

The morning after the storm, I looked at the canal. And had my own Slaughterhouse Five moment. Amid the downed branches on the other side of the canal, there were the Muscovy ducks and white ibis.

Life reasserts itself.

Good Bones

Still need readers/reviewers. Contact me if you want a free bracelet. Approx $50 value.

I’m good at writing. (Should be a bit better at self-editing, but…) I have an BS in Secondary Education with a teaching minor in English (and one in Social Studies) from the University of Vermont College of Education and Social Services Class of 1983. I took courses in Creative Writing and Expository writing and got top grades. I’ve had pieces published in the Vermont Cynic (UVM student newspaper), Boca Raton News, on NPR (they read one of my letters on the air), the Miami Herald, and was supposed to have a short humorous essay published in the Boston Globe – on September 12, 2001. I’ve written comedy sketches that were performed, short pieces on Dog News Team and two filmed sketches on there, too.

https://youtu.be/qNs1WzQsybg

https://youtu.be/gZWlZsh_dzY

(I just watched them again, and I still think they’re funny)

I’ve also rewritten resumes, edited term papers, edited letters (Yes. People who want to chew out someone else and get results. They come to me. I just sent a nastygram to the Florida Division of Corporations based on the actions of one of their lower level functionaries. And I freakin’ won. 12 years of customer service experience paired with 3 years of legal writing education – I get results).

Bottom line: I have credentials. I can walk the walk. Or write the writing, if you prefer.

I have a couple of tall stacks of books written by friends I’ve made in the indie author world. My intent is to read and review. The blurbs promise stories that should keep me turning pages. The concepts are great: these stories have good bones. (You’re saying to yourself, “I know there’s a ‘but’ in there somewhere” Well, here it comes) The execution…

…leaves a lot to be desired.

 

Image result for 1960s jaguar

This is a 1960 Jaguar convertible. It’s a beautiful car, a sexy car. You can see yourself flying down the Pacific Coast Highway in it (Or cruising A1A out here).

The truism about the Jag back then was you didn’t buy one, you bought two: one to drive and one for parts. If you watched “Mad Men,” you saw Lane Pryce try to commit suicide by inhaling carbon monoxide from his Jag’s exhaust.

He failed. He failed because the car wouldn’t start. And it was a new car.

You can have a great concept for a story, okay? You can dream up a riveting plot with intriguing characters that your audience wants to cheer for. However, you may not know how to effectively execute it. And that’s where you’ll lose readers like me. Bad mechanics, like poor grammar (unless  it’s in dialogue. That’s the only place to get a free pass), too many cliches, clumsy foreshadowing, not enough foreshadowing, continuity errors, anachronisms, or just plain being a rehash of someone else’s story that was a runaway bestseller but yours has enough details changed to avoid copyright lawsuits (Don’t get huffy. They exist).

“Well, what do you know?” You hardly sell any books and Gracie Twinkletoes just published her 25th Amazon #1 in Shapeshifter Science Fiction Military Romance! Why should I listen to you?” (Accompanied by a hair toss) It’s a fair cop. If I had to live on the proceeds of my book sales, I’d be dead before finishing this post. In fact, I would have been dead 4 years ago, but that’s beside the point.

Gracie Twinkletoes doesn’t know the difference among (and yes, that is correct because it’s more than two words) your, you’re, and yore. Or two, to, and too. Gracie talks about her characters “laying around” when it’s “lying around.” If you’re “laying around,” you’re putting down something, like pillows, candles, mousetraps, land mines, what have you.

Image result for dress shabbily

This adage is applicable to writing as well. Okay, let’s go with the clothing analogy because it’s easy to visualize. Let’s imagine we’re all in an office where the dress code is business casual (no jeans, flip flops, or tank tops). What stands out more in this environment: a guy in khakis and a polo shirt or the guy who wears a pressed suit and tie?

Image result for polo and khakis

 

 

Image result for suit and tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the casually-dressed guy, but in a world of casual dressers, the man who looks prepared to sit down with a CEO gets noticed. It’s why people study the works of Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Herman Melville, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I cringe when I read misspelled and  ungrammatical Facebook posts by authors and writers (that includes lifestyle bloggers, too). I get angry backlash if I point out the errors, usually along the lines of “It’s only Facebook. So what?”

It’s taking concepts from your head and putting them into words. It’s writing. It’s your craft. It may not be a book, but it’s you practicing your craft. Too many misplaced “yours,” “tos,” “aparts,” or BTW, OMG, LOL become bad habits; bad habits that will creep into the works you want to offer in the market place.  Practice is about honing your craft. Practice is about unlearning the bad habits. When you call yourself a writer or an author, ANYTHING you put to paper (or computer screen) is your craft.

I am mediating a panel on “Punctuation and Grammar and Why They Matter” at Indie Book Fest’s Industry Day on September 29th.

Okay, think of it this way: you get only one chance to make a first impression. Why not strive to present the best version of yourself even if it’s just a quick Facebook post about something crazy that happened at the grocery store? You never know who’s reading (like a top editor or literary agent that has entree into the major publishing houses. The ones that offer big advances).

As I’ve tried to read some of the stories in those two tall stacks of books, I’ve wanted to get a red pencil and edit the hell out of them. I’ve wanted to sit down with the writers (outside of a review) and say, “Look, this has the potential to be fantastic, but…,” or “instead of saying this here, say this instead,” or “don’t focus so much on the details unless they’re important later on.” Some of these folks are dear to me, and I don’t know if having a discussion like this will hurt their feelings. Some are selling more books than I am, and to a few, that’s all that matters. Fine.

If you are a writer, whether books, blogs, or essays (which is a blog post), I can help you become a better writer. If you listen to me, we can boost the quality of your work. I am offering my services as a copy editor and content editor. I don’t have a fee schedule yet, but if you submit a sample to me (there’s a contact form on this page. Use it), I will critique it for free. I know my stuff. You will learn something.

So, in  conclusion, bring your Jag convertible (or newest manuscript) to me. I can get that baby roaring down the road in no time.