Monday, December 29, 2008

Time Tangos On

Doesn't that just have a catchier ring to it?

If one is going to use an image of moving forward to describe time, rather than use one that conveys plodding along wearily or dutifully--not really knowing where one is being forced to go--why not use one that evokes style and grace. Sophistication and self-assured poise...perhaps a hint of mystique and charm. I for one would rather DANCE through life, than march.

This might look like a picture of a simple clock radio, but it is SO much more. This clock was one of my Christmas presents in 1979. I always got to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it was fortuitous that I chose this one, because then I could set it to wake myself up for the first time on Christmas morning. When it went off at 9:30 (in time to get ready for church), the very first song I heard was John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." How cool was THAT?

Nearly 30 years later, that radio is still working perfectly. It has stood the test of time. I can relate so much to that damn clock. That clock is ME.

The celebration of New Year's Eve/Day always sharpens the focus on the passage of time. More so, the older we get. Once past 40, there is so much life under the many New Year's Eves past to remember, all filed away in the memory vault.

Being right in the middle of life--halfway through, if I live to a typical old age--it's kind of exciting. I've lived through enough New Years to see how VERY much life can change in just 3 years. How you can become a completely different person from one decade to the next.

I won't lie. I am wondering what my life will look like at the end of 2009 already. I'm wondering how it will change, which dreams will come to fruition, and who will still be alive. Will my book be selling like crazy, or fading into the background because it just wasn't everyone's cup of tea. Where will I be when I meet my Beloved...the person who just might share the rest of my life?

None of it worries me. It's all just innocent, childlike wonder....and I know enough now to make sure I stay in each moment, as the year slowly unfolds. I don't want to miss one detail.

And now I hear the violins, piano, bass and bandoneons starting up...I've just placed the rose in my teeth. Let's tango.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Writing a Biography

The memoir/biography genre was completely new to me, as a writer, but like just about everything else I've ever done for the first time--it was baptism by fire.

Last winter, my sister-in-law commissioned me to write the life story of my brother, for their seven-year-old son. Since my brother has a terminal illness, my nephew will live most of his life without really knowing his dad, and thus the need for an archival book.

After making a loose outline (childhood, teen years, college/marriage etc..) I set about interviewing my brother in a series of sessions over winter and springtime. These were very precious visits for me, because I learned so much about an era of my family in which I didn't exist. I discovered new and personal perspectives behind legendary family stories in which Tony was the hero or the villain or just a comical participant. One thing's for sure...there was never a dull moment in his very full and very impressive life.

The interviews were a challenge to me, for many reasons. For one, my brother's voice has diminished to a Brando-as-Godfather rasp, and I felt bad having to ask him to repeat himself over and over. For another, I had to revisit his daughter's suicide back in 1998...but that ended up being very therapeutic and not as bad as I thought. The biggest challenge, I think, was the dark shadow hanging constantly over my head of WHY I was writing this book--and having to ask things like, "What words of wisdom would you like to leave your son with?"

When I began the manuscript, I sat in a coffeehouse trying to figure out why in the hell I was so agitated and anxious. I finally looked down at the page on my screen and realized that I was writing in the past tense.....and my brother is not gone, yet. It felt wrong to write as though he were. I started over in the present tense...and then everything began to flow.

I had fun dragging out the many family albums and scanning old photos of my siblings in puffy crinoline Easter dresses, crew cuts, pointy cat glasses and pedal pushers. I relished the sight of them all as tiny, innocent children--younger than their own children are today. I ended up scanning WAY more than I needed for the book, and posting them on Facebook so that some of them (and some cousins as well) could enjoy them.

I loved the emails that came pouring in from family members, after I solicited "Tony memories" from them...especially the grandchildren in the family. These were the quotes and eyewitness accounts I incorporated into the manuscript, verbatim, just like a real documentary.

Writing this biography took me on a journey. Not only did it take me back in time to an era of fin-cars, baseball played in sandlots, the Mickey Mouse Club, and the very first McDonalds...but it also took me through the inner workings of government contracting. It took me to California beaches and mountains, trips to several national parks out west, and even to the Himalayas! My brother did plenty of LIVING while he was young and healthy. With an adventurous spirit that rivals my own, he seized life with both hands and never stopped until the day Multiple System Atrophy took over his body.

I finished the manuscript just before Thanksgiving and handed it over to my sister-in-law to print out for both of them to review. I can't wait to see what they think.

Discovery as a writer: I LOVE writing biographies! But especially when I am close to the subject, as I am my brother.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Audacity

I debated, throughout my entire morning power walk, whether or not to make my next post political. I am not a political person, nor do I like publicly discussing my standpoints and opening myself up to others' criticism or arguments. So I thought, why don't I just stick to basic human desires?

It's obvious to the whole world that our country is in a sad state, economically. And no matter which side of politics people are on, I think they'd all very much like to see things get better...sooner rather than later.

America has been through worse times. Just sit down and talk to anyone from my mom's era--they remember news of people jumping out of windows during the stock market crash of '29. They remember the Great Depression. My mom was a kid at the time, but she recalls, "I remember seeing neighbors borrowing used coffee grounds from people who lived a couple of doors down who were slightly more well was shocking and sad."

Yeah, we had an upset on Wall Street last week, but people still had enough coffee (a Starbucks on every block), and probably always will.

So we can survive this. I know we can.

He had me at "The Audacity to Hope." I could SO relate, because I'm a hopeful person. I once wore a t-shirt (I still have it packed away somewhere) that has this on it:
And while we're at it, I guess I've always been audacious too:

From Websters Online:

1 a: intrepidly daring : adventurous
3: marked by originality and verve

I look at the last three years of my life in which I moved across the country, stepped outside every comfort zone I ever had, wrote a novel, moved back, started my own business, and am currently working on the promotion of said-novel once it's out. Jeezusgawd, if that's not audacious...and the price for such audaciousness is being at poverty level---still. I know dreams take time and more than a little patience for the payoff to finally arrive. Needless to say, I have a lot to be concerned about, economy-wise, as the rest of us.

So I too like to combine audaciousness and hope...transfer them to my outlook on the world, on my fellow humans, and on my country. Followers of Zen Buddhism strive to exist only in the moment, because they believe nothing else exists. Easier said than done. But if I am going to project outside the here and now, you better believe it's going to be a hopeful image.

I see America gaining back the respect of the world. I see the development of alternative fuels (we have SO many brilliant minds in our scientific communities, I've no doubt in their progress). I see people employed and able to make it financially and have a nice place to live. I see people getting adequate health care. I see troops coming home. I see people taking better care of the environment. There might have to be an adjustment period for all this to take place, but again...we've survived worst. I'd like to believe the best times we've ever seen lie ahead.

In Julian Lennon's recent film, The Whaledreamers (I highly recommend it, if you want to feel good about the One-ness of humanity again) there is a quote at the end that says roughly..."there is still a lot of magic left on the planet...the magic that connects us all..."

First, we have to "imagine" it, like Julian's father John suggested to us. Then we have to truly believe in it. Then, and only then, can we make it happen. We all want these same things, don't we?

It does take audacity to go against the riptide of the hopeless and the pessimistic...and it might be hard to force one's self to believe that all this stuff can get better, when it's gotten so, so bad. But it all starts with seeing it in your mind. And I daresay, the audacity it takes to do that is effortless. And a really good start.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dream Big---Take Two!

I've decided to start fresh--have a new and improved "Dream Big" that attaches to my current gmail address.

The old "Dream Big" is still out there...I could never let it go, since it holds the chronology of my entire California odyssey.

I don't know why won't let me transfer the blog to my latest gmail account, but oh well...

I really hope to make more time for it than I have in the last year. I figured I should be a good little writer and keep a proper "regular' blog...especially now that I've got a novel in PRODUCTION!!! (I still get goosebumps every time I say it)

So...a lifelong dream is about to come true--most likely in January of 2009.

Here's to lots of productive writing in the coming days!

*cracks bottle of champagne over the new and improved "Dream Big"*