Day 27 – Care Package!!!

This week began with my hand banged up and my finger throbbing from having a splinter. Not the greatest start of a week. 

I haven’t blogged because there are days I just don’t have the time nor the story.

Today was going to be another storyless day. I spent 11 hours in downtown Honolulu in a meeting. Came home and was invited by my neighbor’s for dinner (Alaska salmon!). When I returned to my studio the air conditioner blew a circuit breaker (again).

But the story came when I opened a bulging package and out came oodles of love from my niece, nephew, and their parents!📦

Care package!


A lovely letter from my niece – who asked me to write her notes so we could be writing buddies (!), and so she could practice her spelling. 💌

I received “Holoween” goodies, even though she wasn’t sure if they celebrate Halloween in “hawie.” 

The care package was perfect because I have felt weird about buying Halloween stuff in Hawaii. 

I don’t have a door to welcome trick or treaters and I am fairly positive I won’t be getting dressed up in a costume. The little bit of October love from this package is sufficient for me. 🎃

Especially, my new artwork drawn by my sweet, multitalented niece.


Feeling Aloha! 💞

Pause, Regroup, Go

The pause happened before my 45th birthday last year.

Field trip to Bandelier National Monument.
Field trip to Bandelier National Monument when I was only 43.

Thoughts started badgering me:

What am I doing with my life?

Is this where I want to be?

What have I accomplished?

Is this all there is for me?

I’m almost dead!

My older friends laughed  and called me “youngster” and “silly.”

But I know this restlessness.

I get restless when I need change – not want – but need. For me change is not only an opportunity for growth, it is growth.

The first time I felt this need I was about 12 or 13. I had fallen in love with San Francisco while visiting relatives. Chicago wasn’t my #1 city anymore. I was in love with the Mediterranean climate, the friendly people and the food. Unfortunately, due to my age and other factors, the move wouldn’t happen until I was 21.

City by the Bay

After a few months working at a biotech company, I applied and got accepted to graduate school in the Monterey Bay area just south of SF. I was following my dream of becoming a marine biologist – inspired by Jacques Cousteau.

California was wonderful, I didn’t want to move, but as my graduate career was ending, jobs were hard to find and the techies from Silicon Valley were beginning to make the Monterey Bay area too expensive to live. Through some connections I learned there may be jobs in Seattle – so, at age 25, I moved out of necessity – which is a different kind of need than restlessness.

City by the Sound.

I rolled into Seattle on July 1st, 1996 (yes 20 years ago today!). Life would be good for awhile – but restlessness found me 6 years later, when I was 31. It was a moment in my life where I felt everything stagnated: bought first home, married first guy and got my first permanent job, by age 30.

I lived in the suburbs of Seattle. It felt sterile, isolated, and unfriendly. The marriage began to remind me of my parents marriage.  In short no bueno. I knew there was more to life than what I had and I got out.

While the marriage was ending, I moved from the suburbs of Seattle into the city. A place where I could walk to cafes, to grocery stores and to a beautiful urban park with a lake, trees, and an occasional bald eagle. I felt more comfortable in the city – it reminded me of my city-kid roots.

When I feel restless my first reaction is to runaway and this one was no different.

I wanted to give up:

Everything I was doing

Everything I had accomplished

I wanted to:

Move

Getaway

Leave without a trace…

But that wouldn’t be responsible, it would be a short-lived happiness followed by extreme anxiety.

Third birthday of author...
Third birthday of author…

I needed to regroup, reevaluate, and reassess, my restlessness. I needed to ground my thoughts, take several deep breathes because I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t let down my younger self, and give up on her dreams and aspirations. But what had I not accomplished?

I achieved my goal of moving to Cali and becoming a marine biologist. I spent time at sea studying fishes in Alaska. I now have a great job, I own a house in the city and I have a terrific fiancé.

So what am I to blame this bout of restlessness on?

I look to astrology for answers (cuz sometimes it helps.).  I am a Sagittarrian and Sagittarians are described as travelers, philosophers, and adaptable. In short, I needed a change of scenery, more education and transition my avocation to a vocation.

For education I decided to GO back to school in a discipline complimentary to science, art. My medium is writing and on many levels I have always known I was a writer and have written in some capacity since I was a teenager. For the last 4+ years it has been my avocation. I have taken several writing classes, but they left me wanting more. Finally, I applied to a Masters of Fine Arts program – got in – and hope to graduate with an MFA in creative writing (focus on nonfiction) in 2018.

I’m working on a change of scenery – to a place my younger self wanted to live thanks to a TV show with a hot guy driving a red Ferrari – so I’ll write about it if it happens.

I embraced my feeling of restlessness. I worked to fully understand where they were coming from and I am making changes.  Life feels more fulfilling and I feel less old.

The author and her grandmother 1998

What era are you in?

Have you ever thought about what era your life is in or was in?

I was asked to consider this in a memoir writing class I am taking this quarter. The instructor promised this would lead us to a story or two even…  There was one caveat, the era had to be linked with an obsession.

View from Dolores park, a half mile from my grandmother’s house.

Beginning when I was about 13 years old, I was obsessed with moving to California from my hometown of Chicago. I wanted to go to high school there, I wanted to go to college then graduate school there, I wanted to live there more than anywhere else in the world. Why?

Was it the salty ocean air while walking along Ocean beach? The fog rolling over Twin Peaks bringing cool ocean air inland, on a hot summer afternoon? Was it the sour dough bread? Or was it the cable cars? The natural and man-made beauty that makes San Francisco so special makes everyone fall in love with her, but there was more.

I was attached to my grandmother. She moved to San Francisco, from Chicago, when I was 8 or 9. She was the woman I aspired to be. Beautiful, confident, fiercely independent and unassumingly intelligent.

The author and her grandmother 1998
My grandmother and me outside of her apartment in 1998.

She was also an amazing cook. On one visit, she taught me how to shop for ingredients at different stores in her neighborhood of the Mission district. We would walk to the produce market on the corner of Mission and 24th, selecting not too soft avocados and fresh green cilantro for her famous guacamole. We would stop at the butcher that was within a mall off of Mission between 21st and 22nd, to buy a quartered chicken for her famous arroz con pollo. And on special occasions she would buy freshly made ravioli from the Italian market, on 22nd and Valencia, only a block from her apartment, and cook them up with a sauce she would make from scratch with fresh Roma tomatoes, oregano, rosemary and other fresh herbs.  I had never experienced a culinary world like that in Chicago. Shopping was at a grocery store and dinner was made from ingredients that were from a can or a box.

Life in San Francisco was a rainbow of colors and smells that I had not found in Chicago. My entire being glowed when I was in San Francisco, only to fizzle when I went back to Chicago.

The era of obsessing over moving to California lasted almost 10 years. To an adult 10 years may not sound like a long time. So let me put it into the perspective of a teenager.

It was FOREVER!

I graduated from elementary school, high school and college before I finally moved to San Francisco.

Pause.

And this is where my instructors directions became unclear. I didn’t know what to do with the eras within this larger era or my obsessions within the bigger obsession. Obsessions don’t happen consecutively in my life.

There was the era of obsessing over the older brother of one of my classmates. For two years I suffered with a major infatuation for a tall, olive skinned, guy with black curly hair and eyes that were blue like the Caribbean sea. By the time he noticed me, I was on to my next obsession. I was obsessed with bicycle riding along lake Michigan from the north side of the city, where I lived, south 12 miles to Soldier’s Field or north 6 miles to Baha’i temple in the northern suburb of Wilmette.  I was obsessed with the 1985 Bears! “Da Bears!” I was obsessed with becoming a Marine Biologist, and so on, and so on…

My instructor had us think of a scene at the beginning, middle and end of the era. She said, that is the backbone of a story.

A story?! Easier said than done!

I must have a gazillion stories I can tell. But that is a good thing. And I hope you can find them in yours too.

Keep on sifting!

For now, I have some work to do… I need to sift through all of those obsessions, within those eras, or those eras within those obsessions and tease out focused stories.

This is not going to be a piece of cake.

But it will be fun!

Author and her uncle

Finding Voice

Author and her uncle
The author and uncle Danny summer 1987.

My path to becoming a writer began on a mild Chicago winter day in January 1988. But I didn’t know it. It was the day my uncle Danny died of AIDS related pneumonia.  He was one of those rare authentic adults who was filled with the joy of living. I loved, admired and adored him.

His death inspired my journal writing –  he suggested it a few months prior to his death and his death inspired the content. The sorrow in my soul broke open my heart and inspired me to write without thinking about what was written.

A few months later, my AP English teacher said I had a “gift.” He said my writing sounded like I was speaking. He said there are people who spend their lives trying to do that.

I now know he meant to say my writing had voice, which is something to practice. Instead, I took his observation, his compliment of my creative talent as an accomplishment I didn’t need to strive towards anymore.

I thought, if I had achieved something that others spent their lives trying to achieve, then why go any further? Why pursue this thing that came effortlessly?

Instead, I exercised my analytic mind, I became a scientist.

I went to college, then grad school and studied things that didn’t come easy to me. But they were things associated with another love, the ocean. I longed to play with fish all day. I dreamed of a life swimming around in their watery environment, studying their behaviors, their life history, and their diversity. I didn’t have a job in mind, I just followed my love.

I knew I loved fish, I loved tropical waters and I loved the TV show Magnum P.I. that was filmed in Hawaii.

This girl from Chicago, dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, marrying Tom Selleck and living happily ever after studying Hawaiian fish. But it was hard trying to achieve this dream.  Despite all of this love, I was only a C+/B- student at the illustrious University of Chicago, the school I ended up at because I didn’t apply to the “right” university in San Diego, where I really wanted to go. UofC is a school so anti-social, so anti-anything I had experienced in my previous life as an inner-city kid going to public schools, that my only goal was to graduate so I could continue pursuing my dream of becoming a Marine Biologist some place closer to Hawaii, like California.

For four years, I ignored the better grades I received in those classes that required creative writing and kept working hard at those classes involving solving formulas and equations. I ignored my talent.

My love for the environment and for writing merged on Earth Day 1990. I wrote a comment to a letter someone wrote the editor of the Maroon, the UofC newspaper.  I wrote something about think global and act local, but what I remember most vividly is the feeling I felt when people recognized that I was the one who wrote the comment. I remember where I was – paying for books at the local Cooperative book store and the cashier, another student, recognized my name. The feeling that my words meant something to someone else was powerful. I took it as symbolic of what my future as an influential scientist would be like.  I didn’t think it was something I could have pursued at that moment, change my degree and become a writer.

I wish I kept a copy.

Society didn’t show me a writer role model. No one told me about the importance of sharing one’s writing. My role model was Jacques Cousteau. His colorful, fish filled documentaries I watched on Channel 11, the PBS station in Chicago, were my inspiration. I wanted to do what Jacques did. Although, on some level, I did know that the elusive “Robin” in the Magnum P.I. series, the owner of the luxurious estate Magnum lived on, belonged to a novelist, but I associated that with the romance novels my mother read. Blech! I couldn’t do that, I thought to myself, I’m too smart.

If only I knew.

Note: This musing was written as part of a class on writing memoir – the assignment, called thematic stepping stones, was to look at things in my life that are in conflict and write about it. I chose “creative vs analytic self” and wrote for twenty minutes about the moments in my life this conflict arose. It was an assignment written by Theo Pauline Nester.

bus stopped by roadway stand.

Lost in Analogy…

bus stopped by roadway stand.
Cuban “Dirty Dog.”

Sitting on the bus in my decaffeinated and hungry state – bleary eyed, a mild headache, and a low grumble in my stomach – I tried to absorb the scenery. We rolled through a rural landscape of fields of grass bordered with wooden fencing and second growth forest, a jumble of tropical plants in slightly different shades of green, palms, vines and a coniferous tree or two. There were no directional signs for miles and no street signs at intersections. The Cuban government did provide motivational signs in the form of large billboards with pro-revolution slogans painted with vibrant colors. The road was boring and the only thing keeping me conscious on this tourist class, Greyhound bus look-alike, was the smell of old, dried up urine from the latrine at the back of the bus, a Cuban Dirty Dog.

Did you get the analogy?

In a writing workshop, located in Seattle WA, my classmates didn’t get it. They thought there was an actual dog on the bus, or that the smell reminded the narrator of an experience with a Cuban dog. Lost in analogy was the slang term for Greyhound buses used in my hometown of Chicago IL.

With analogy being so important to storytelling, to bring the reader closer to the story, what happens if the analogy isn’t universal?

It is like being told a joke and needing it explained to you. The joke is lost, poof – lost in translation.

What is a writer to do?

My goal as a writer of memoir and creative nonfiction is to share my story. My words will reflect my experiences, my slang, bits of my personality, but what if you the reader doesn’t get my drift and get’s lost? My goal of sharing my story is lost, as the reader is adrift in an ocean of confusion. Wondering, huh?! I don’t get it…

I don’t have the answer, for now I dropped the analogy to the Cuban dirty dog. In a different paragraph I call it a porta-potty on wheels (changed from my original Honey Bucket on wheels – the name of our local portable toilet provider in Seattle) so that more people in the U.S. would understand the reference.  Or should I call it a porta-John or porta-WC…  Ugh!

Writing on the Santa Fe trail

Writing is hard.

Map of Santa Fe trail. Credit: wikipedia

Riding a horse on a dusty trail for hundreds of miles, in oven hot temperatures, with dust devils threatening you, as they did on the Santa Fe trail almost two hundred years ago, is hard too.

Writing story, whether it be about fictitious werewolves on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State or translating cool scientific research projects or findings, has to be made interesting.

How one does that is through learning the craft of writing. Few people are born with the gift of excellent writing skills. For most of us, we take our basic writing skills (learned in high school or college) and build upon them through attending workshops, seminars, classes or retreats. Some of us are hobbyists who have project ideas in mind – such as a book or magazine article – but have little time to work on them, then there are others who want to learn as much as possible about the different writing genres (e.g., young adult, mystery, creative non-fiction, screenwriting, etc.) where schooling never ends and then there are those of us who want to write as a career.

There is a glamor associated to being a writer. One envisions journalists covering stories in exotic places, of lone writers sitting at their desk in front of a colossal window looking upon an inspiring landscape outside their oceanfront villa or NYC apartment, both composing the next Pulitzer Prize winning article or National Book Award.

Far from this vision is the reality of hands cramping, brain fatigue, constructive critique, and editing, like toothpicks under fingernails, leading to the neural cell crushing rewrite. We only see the sigh of relief, of being set free from the prison of the writing process, when the project has become the final product.

Today I set sail on an adventure to learn how best to translate science for the everyday reader. This is for my “real job” as well as for my “hobby.” I have a great passion to help people not only understand but to be a part of the scientific process, to share in the discovery of new places or celebrate the innovative spirit of scientists trying to understand the world we live in.

I look forward to the lessons I will learn. I am open to receive the wisdom of the science journalists from the NY times, WA post, Nat Geo, who will be our instructors. I am ready for the hard work.

This blogpost from one of  the instructors, Joel Achenbach, sums it up best. He ends his post with these words of wisdom: “A writer is just someone who writes. You don’t need a credential or a fancy resume. You don’t need a lot of special training. You don’t need connections. Just put your hands on the keyboard and start typing. And don’t stop.”

When my head is about to burst while I translate knowledge into story, and when my fingers cramp on the keyboard, I will remember those lonesome riders traversing the Santa Fe trail from Missouri to Nuevo Mexico and remember… there is payoff at the end.

Overwhelmed…

What happens to you when you get overwhelmed?

Do you shut people out? Do you procrastinate? Do you get angry for no reason? Do you want to run away?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

My mental outlook on life has been derailed momentarily. Yes momentarily, because when we get overwhelmed it is only temporary. We have the power to push ourselves back on track, but I am struggling at the moment.

For weeks (perhaps months) I have been trying to get prepared for the PNWA writers conference where I would have the opportunity to pitch my book idea to literary agents and editors. I put my half baked book aside and started preparing my pitch. A 60 second, make or break opportunity, to sell my book idea. No pressure, no problem. After all I watched a webinar by Janna Cawrse Esarey and I felt prepared. All I needed to do is to describe my genre, my title, the book’s setup, the conflict and the resolution in 3-4 sentences that equal 60 seconds or less of time.  I was positively giddy with excitement. No problem, I thought to myself.

Then I started to write it, then I read it aloud to my cats, they sneered, I rewrote it, they still sneered, I rewrote it again, they walked away. What was I going to do? My cats weren’t even interested in my pitch, so why would an agent or editor. I wrote and rewrote, I wrote in third person, in first person (see my blog post), I had a version with some dialogue in it and then I went back to third person. I left it alone for a week, along with all of my other writing. My book was floundering. I was so overwhelmed by figuring out my pitch that I couldn’t write.

Mona the cat
Uninterested cat pose.

My final pitch was going to be bullet points. This is my story, I should know what it is about without memorizing a well scripted pitch. Day one of the conference and I was still adamant about only doing talking points. Then I attended the agent’s panel and the editor’s panel, where they said “Practice, practice, practice.,” your pitch. Basically saying don’t waste our time, but really saying we want to help you if we can.  While I attended a seminar by Janna, that was just like the webinar, I began working on yet another version of my pitch. Version quadrillion, no really. My friend, Alex, said “You nailed it” as we carpooled home that evening.

At home I shut the door to my office and rewrote and recited my pitch until I had a version that made my hairs tingle, my skin sing with joy, I got it, I finally got it. I had been hoping for a pitch that made me emotional, because I knew if I was emotional, then anyone who heard it would be emotional. I memorized it. I don’t remember the last time I had to memorize something… I was so excited. I found my cats and I looked them in the eyes as I recited my pitch and I had them mesmerized, they were so taken by my act, that they just sat there, speechless, then one of them yawned. “Bed time mom.”

pitch session
Waiting in line to pitch.

My nerves were a wreck the next morning. Thunder and lightening and pouring rain, it never does this in Seattle, seemed to heighten my nervousness as I drove back to the conference for another day of seminars and today the Power Pitch Block. For 90 minutes, beginning at 2pm that day, I would have the opportunity to pitch my story to as many agents and editors as I could, for 3 minutes each. Trouble is there were about a hundred other people there, wanting to do the same thing. I was amazed by the civility of the event. No pushing or shoving, no hair pulling, no screaming. We all sat in line and awaited our turn. When the bell rang, like when a horse race begins, you sat in front of your agent or editor of choice and you began your pitch. Intimidating? Only the first one.

After the 90 minutes was over, I had pitched to 3 agents and 2 editors and they were all interested in my story. YIKES, I thought to myself as I left. I have to go home and finish my book. It had to wait until after the conference, because there was one more full day of conference seminars that I wanted to attend.

It is day two post conference and I am writing in my blog… mainly to get this experience out of my head and to hopefully get less whelmed. At least I’m writing right? I looked at my chapters today and said, “you suck” to them, I looked in the mirror and told myself “you suck” as if I am not a good writer. Then I went to my FB page and said, “you’re hot” as I looked at my new head shots that I envision on my books back cover. I am reminded that to achieve my dream, it will take hard work, I will have peaks and I will have valleys. I will be overwhelmed and underwhelmed – can someone tell me what a whelm is please – but in the end I have to remember the goal. It is the goal that will pull me out of my funk. Phew!