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Monday, April 29, 2013

Pollyanna Patrol

I was alone in the office, pin-balling between three lines ringing at once and a listen-to-the-birds-in-the-bushes dead-dog quiet.  It was Friday.  Caught up on the week’s work and counting down until my noon departure, during one of the lulls I didn’t have the where-with-all to start anything new…and the computer sat in front of me.

Over the last few days, I’ve concluded it’s time to wean myself from the detailed discourse filling the local newspapers and on line sites relating to the Marathon tragedy.  It hit home on so many levels and it's still too close. I recognize I pour over information in an attempt to gain insight as to why someone would choose to perpetrate such an act.  But now, I get I will find nothing definitive, no matter where I look. There will be supposition of course, and conjecture, and psychologists’ educated hypotheses.  Maybe even a detailed confession will rise to the light of news-media day.  But however much we study or analyze or debate or finger point, we will never know…which in itself becomes overwhelming, a realization of all of the things on which this may have opened the door, horrors I fear we have yet to imagine. 
It’s a anxiety-provoking line of thought.

So, rather than hitting my normal news sites, I Googled an old writer acquaintance, with whom I’ve lost touch, whose words always filled and soothed me, but who I worry may not be writing any more.  Relief filtered through when I found her name on the acknowledgement page written for a book called  The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. 

Hmm…  Happiness, a project? 
By the time I left work, I’d read a blurb on Amazon and planned to buy the book, so more on that later perhaps. At that moment though, the idea resonated. On an afternoon when spring pushed itself from the dead arms of winter trees, I decided for one hour, to make happiness my project. On my way to the car, during the drive to the grocery store and on the subsequent ride home, I paid attention to things that made me feel better inside...things like the florescent shirts of the nursery school kids playing tag on the common and the blooming Bradford Pear trees lining the sidewalks downtown.  Then there were the new cloth awnings that look like teal eye shadow above the windows of the former hardware store, now a renovated bank building.

As I walked to the car, a curly-haired toddler sang in his stroller as his mother pushed him up a small incline. On my drive down Pond Street, jonquils bloomed peach and yellow against a granite stone wall.

At the store, a clerk refused to charge me a requisite $.20 for two packs of oyster crackers to go with my clam chowder and in the parking lot, an attendant in a tie-dyed shirt stacked carriages while singing reggae at the top of his lungs

Such small things really, so I won't bore you with more...other than to tell you I wrote a list, and it was almost two pages long. As I recorded each item, I marveled that in a way, because I'd asked them to, every one of these uplifting details resonated. Oh, sure, I get that on a day when spring isn’t screaming out loud and pointing to itself to make sure we notice, happiness may be more of a project. And the long-term attainment of such a condition requires more than an hour’s commitment.  I wonder though. Like the bloggers at the Kindness Project, who bring attention and methods and ideas toward a better state of being, perhaps all we need to do to entice happiness our way is to open ourselves up to it—to make the effort to be aware of things that hold potential to make us feel good. 
I don’t know about you, but the idea that tuning in might be all it takes hit me like a revelation. One that makes me feel...well, maybe not all the way happy, but definitely full of relief.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


This year, home alone and behind on my April writing quest, I vowed not to turn on the TV for Marathon coverage until I’d reached my word count.  I got distracted writing an article afterwards, and then a late blog post.  A few minutes after 3:00, our daughter texted me from her college dorm room.  

                “What’s going on with the Marathon?”
                “I don’t know.  I haven’t turned it on yet.”
                “There were explosions at the finish line.”

You can’t imagine.  Everyone we know goes to, or knows someone who goes to, or runs the Marathon.  I became a woman with mad thumbs.  I was so frazzled, in trying to text my sister, I got my niece instead. 
“You guys aren’t in Boston are you?”
“No, we are all safe. 

I texted my brother.  

 “Everyone ok?”

Another sister, listening to news in Australia, Skyped to confirm we were fine.  A different niece posted on Facebook that though she’d expected to be at the finish line, they’d had a change of plan.  A nephew, downtown but with no phone service, confirmed his safety on FB too. By the time a blanket email arrived from my uncle’s wife in Pennsylvania, checking on all first and second cousins living and in some cases, running around Boston arrived, things hit home. 

This happened.  Here.  To us. 

Each reply-all email announcing safety brought some measure of relief.  But what relief will there be for those who were injured, who face grueling recoveries, for those who lost loved ones on Monday, and more recently, Friday?  And the rest of us? Whole in body but disheartened in spirit?  How do we comprehend the evil that motivated two young men to injure in such a catastrophic way?

I was born in Boston. I spent my first six-weeks in an incubator in one of the hospitals caring for the injured now…the same place where “Suspect #1” was pronounced dead.  As a young adult, I worked downtown and in the Back Bay. For a long time, my social life revolved around the city, and even now, there are few things my husband and I like much more than taking a ferry ride in for a yummy meal in the North End.  Now though, I will never walk from the subway down Boylston Street past the two bomb sites without a twinge.  I’ll never go to my eye doctor's again without eyeballing the Starbucks where, on my regular trips in, I splurge on coffee.  It was front and center in the Boston Globe on Tuesday, a man dressed in a white hazmat suit analyzing evidence on the roof above.
While it appears my family was untouched by the physical horror, we watched the mayor of OUR city, the governor of OUR commonwealth, the President of OUR United States offer emotional and inspiring tributes in OUR cathedral.  National news filmed OUR streets.  Yesterday, friends in Newton were on lock down.  My brother couldn’t go to work at his job in Cambridge.  The city streets were void of cars.  This happened. This happened here.  This happened to us. 

A day later, with a total of five people dead and so many more lives shattered, I claw for some understanding of how any child, born with hope and gifts and potential could travel a curving road to an intersection, and choose to take such a profoundly wrong turn.

I could dwell on that. I could.

But I choose not to.  In spite of how it hurts, and in truth with some trepidation as to how to move on, I recognize something.  This didn’t just happen to us.  Or better said, it happened to ALL of us.  To everyone across the country who joined us in our grief, to those who have partnered with us, wrote inspirational messages, changed their Facebook photos to “I heart Boston,” to the sports beacons and headlines featuring loyalty to our city, to everyone who became one with us, to the givers, the helpers, the first responders, to those who put their lives on the line, I hope you know how much it means. 

We are one nation, under God, indivisible.   

Your actions gave proof through the long, heartbreaking night that was this week.  Our flag is still there. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mid-Month Update

While the A-Z goes on around me, I’m sticking to my own quest to write 5K per week on my newest project.  I’ve completed almost 13K since the first of April, which puts me ahead of my goal, although I won’t deny it’s been a struggle, since it requires research that steals from the writing time, as does the normal push-pull of day-to-day.  Last week I had to travel out of town unexpectedly, and since the battery is cooked on my laptop, I went 24 hours with no writing, which meant playing catch up on the weekend. 
Then there is this. The trip out of town, personal in nature, touched me in unexpected ways so when I’d finished my thousand words on Friday, I wrote a blog post on the subject.  Once I’d shaped it and tweaked it, I was set to press “Publish” on Middle Passages, until during what was to be my final read it occurred to me the topic was current and universal enough that my essay may be marketable.  That meant more time on edits to make sure it came in just under 650 words, before I sent it off to a local publication.  I was left with hope, a few less words toward my April goal and no Monday blog post.

Sometimes, writing can be like any other hard work, a challenge, drudgery and frustrating in its failure to flow.  Even on a day I feel that way, I have to acknowledge this.  Massachusetts is one of the only states to celebrate the Patriot’s Day holiday.  I have the day off from work. There are plenty of things I could and probably should be doing.  But still, I choose to write.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I Found a Witch

Sometimes life tosses us an amazing story, and today, I mean this two ways.  The first part is Suzanne Palmieri's  WITCH OF LITTLE ITALY.  As I said in my Amazon review, it's "imaginative, fun, magic, sweet, enchanting and enchanted...Her story touches upon them all. Get ready to embrace the impossible, to love the improbable, and to ache a little at the realities inherent in life."

The other story though, is Suzanne's own incredible tale, which you will find here.  In spite of a rocky start, she gives credence to the concept that no matter what life throws at you, if you employ drive and focus and resolution, success will follow. This amazing woman, who almost dropped out of high school, signed four books in one day!

Why does it matter to me?  As a result of a prompt on Suzie's blog, about three years ago, I wrote my first bit of fiction since junior high.  That started me on the road I travel now...one novel in the drawer, one novel out there circulating agent land, and 40K of a third growing on my flash drive.  I have admired Suzy's writing since I found her on line, sometime back in 2009.  Her essays reach deep into me, inspire me, and challenge me to push harder with my own words. Writers need other writers to move us, to support us and to motivate us.  Suzie does that for me each time I read something she's written.  And her book? Well, folks, it's sweet and lovely fun.

Please join me in congratulating this talented woman on the successful launch of THE WITCH OF LITTLE ITALY (which, as you can see by the photo above, you can find under the "EMERGING AUTHORS" sign at Target.)  Her second book, I'LL BE SEEING YOU, written as Suzanne Hayes in conjunction with Loretta Nyhan comes out May 28. 

Read more about THE WITCH OF LITTLE ITALY here or here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A-Z (or a Thousand Words a Day for Me)

This is my entry for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer’s Blog Fest where writers help writers.  To read more entries, click here.

For the third year in a row, I’ve chosen to abstain from Alex Cavanaugh’s A-Z blogfest.  But while I may not be a participant in the Super Ninja’s amazing and popular test, I owe Alex a debt of gratitude.  Each year while others have focused on A-Z, I’ve challenged myself behind the scenes to accomplish my own objectives.

This year, I’m going public.  My plan for the month of April is to write a thousand words, at least five days a week on my current novel with a longer term goal to complete the first draft by Memorial Day.  And because I admire Alex (and his partners) and want to acknowledge the impact A-Z has on me even though I don’t take part, I pledge the following:

I promise to employ ambition, balance, creativity and dedication to ensure this new novel intrigues and excites my potential readers.

I will use my enthusiasm for this story to develop its fantasy aspects in ways that makes it unique, absorbing and genuine.

I will employ hopefulness that the words I write demonstrate ingenuity.

Although I already scrapped 16K out of the first 20K and re-wrote it, I will take out my sharpest revision knife to cut out the excess, redundant and unnecessary language, thereby keeping the story lean, spare and light.

Instead of fussing during my insomniac hours, I’ll spend time employing my imagination to develop captivating plot machinations.  I will be sure the dialogue sounds uncontrived and natural.

I will treat my goal to write a thousand words a day with obeisance, sitting down before 7:00 each morning to crank out what I can before work.  I will return after work to complete my daily goal.

I will demonstrate persistence, and a hold tight to a quintessential belief that I can reach this goal.

If I catch myself failing, I will remount my campaign to achieve a minimum of 22,000 words by April 30, 2013, thereby satisfying my desire to accomplish this quest.  

I will trust myself and my skill as a writer universally and I will look forward to celebrating my victory.

I will be watchful for times when my diligence flags and will do my best to approach this task with (e)Xtraordinary focus and zeal. 

(Whew! That was kind of like speed dating!)
Wish me luck!

Here is hoping all you A-Z participants enjoy your month!