Thursday, March 20, 2014

Embracing The Power of Bare Arms

A few days ago, I went shopping for the just-right dress for an upcoming important occasion--our first-born's college graduation. I quickly found the just-right dress, nice but not too dressy for a crowded, sweaty sports arena on a late-spring afternoon.

Then I spotted another dress.

It was pale blue. Fitted bodice. Peplum waist. A-line skirt. Not the usual, loose-fitting style I go for, but so, so pretty.
Sharon Short in THE dress that inspired "Embracing The Power of Bare Arms."

It wasn't quite right for wearing to graduation. I didn't need a second dress.

On the other hand... both dresses were on sale. I even had a 50% off coupon. More importantly, I felt a sudden longing to try on something a little different, in both hue and style, from what I usually wear.

So I tried it on. The blue brought out the sparkle in my blue-green eyes. And it fit like a dream. I even thought, I look HOT in this dress. And I never think that about myself.

But then, as I stared in the mirror, a horrid feeling came over me. Not about budgets or the foolishness of buying a dress for an as-yet-to-be-determined event. But about the fact that the dress was also... sleeveless.

I have decent enough arms. I mean, they're attached, and they function, and my skin is smooth, but I'll admit it, I'm a bit chubby. Which means my arms are a bit chubby. Not particularly muscular.

I started to hang the dress back on the rack with its mates, but it was so pretty, that I just... couldn't. I toted it with me to the register. Maybe, I thought, if the coupon covers both dresses...

It did, but I was still wavering. "Sorry," I said to the check out clerk--a slender, beautiful sixty-something woman with a terrific smile. "I'm still trying to decide. I don't really have an occasion in mind for this dress."

"I do," she blurted. "I've been staring at this dress for days. It's so pretty! And I have a wedding to attend in a few weeks."

Now, most women hate the idea of showing up at an event only to discover another woman is there in the exact same dress. (Well, not the exactly exact same. That could be awkward. And crowded. But you know what I mean.)

I didn't know the clerk. There are no wedding invites on my social calendar. So the likelihood of us showing up at the same event at all, what's more wearing matching blue dresses, is pretty slim. Nevertheless, I was about to put the dress back after all--and trying to think of a non-awkward explanation--when she leaned forward and blurted again, "But I can't wear it. Because of my arms."

She looked so sad, so shamed.  So I did some blurting of my own. "What's wrong with your arms?"

Her eyes widened. "They're... they're flabby. They look... old."

Now, there was something about the notion of this beautiful woman, who'd lived long enough to no doubt experience and survive and grow from life, feeling so ashamed about her body--just as I had moments before with my worries about chubby arms--that incensed me. I wasn't angry at her. I was angry for her. I was angry at the cultural voices that whisper in the backs of the minds of middle-aged and older and chubby and not quite perfect women that only young and beautiful counts. Only the young and beautiful and--oh, God, please, the smooth and firm and slender, too!--need feel comfortable (so whisper those voices in slithery, demeaning tones) in lovely arm-baring dresses, no matter that women of all shapes and sizes and ages might be and even feel beautiful in such clothing, if only we could ignore those silly voices.

Well, I thought, screw that.

So I said, "My arms are chubby." I pushed the dress toward her, determined to buy it. "But I'm wearing it. Proudly. And you should too. Shouldn't we get to wear what we want sometimes, without worrying about what other people think, without hiding ourselves because, hey, we've lived awhile, and maybe it shows here and there?  You've probably survived a thing or two, just like I have. That merits an occasional reward, right?"

Her eyes softened she stared at the dress. She said, "I've survived cancer. Almost a year now."

I couldn't respond right away. Finally, though, I said quietly, "Congratulations. You will look beautiful in the dress. Your arms will look just fine. I hope you get the dress."

She nodded, smiled, and said, "I think I will."

I don't know if she did or not. But I hope so. What's more, I hope that I'll wear mine to some future occasion, and this woman will be there too, in her copy of the blue dress. I hope we recognize one another, and that we laugh, two women happy to see each other wearing matching sleeveless dresses. And I hope we hug one another with our bare, beautiful, powerful arms.

UPDATE 3-25-2014: This post has proven very powerful to women... more than a thousand have read it, it's been shared on the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop blog, and soon after its publication, women across Facebook began discussing the post and sharing photos of themselves in their own sleeveless dresses! To that end a new Facebook Group, Embracing the Power of Bare Arms, has formed as a rallying point for women to share their own 'bare arms' stories, photos and encouragement.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Day in the Life of the First eGumshoe... and a FREE ebook

Today on Dru's Book Musings: Patricia Delaney shares what she's been up to the past several years.  Along with the post is a drawing for a free print copy of the first Delaney novel or of my most recent novel, MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA.
 The first book in the series (and my first published novel!), Angel's Bidding, is FREE as an eBook via Amazon, March 8-12, 2014.

The Patrica Delaney 'eGumshoe' mystery series marked my launch into publication in the mid 1990s. Patricia was a 'most unusual sleuth,' as several noted mystery writers noted at the time, in part because she used computer research (databases, listservs, chat rooms, and so on) to aid in her investigations. At the time, that most definitely made her high-tech and cutting edge. Now, her 1990s computer and technological skills--pre-dating the Internet as a standard resource, social networking, Facebook and Twitter, iPhones and apps--are positively historical. Yet, I like to think Patricia's stories, while now providing a glimpse into a period that launched our technological age, still ring true, revolving around timeless issues of the human heart central to story-telling in any era.
The first book in the series, Angel's Bidding, is FREE as an eBook via Amazon, March 8-12, 2014.
The next two books in the series, Past Pretense and The Death We Share, are available as eBooks on Amazon, and are $2.99 each.
If you get a chance to read Angel's Bidding, let me know what you think of Patricia. My writing style has grown and changed since my first published novel, but I'm still fond of the character who helped me launch my publishing career.
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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Calling all audiobook lovers to sign up for my email newsletter

Are you an audiobook lover? If you are... you'll want to sign up for my eNewsletter. The sign up form is to the left or visit my Facebook author page at www.facebook.com/SharonShortAuthor. 
I have some fun free offers for audiobook lovers! Aw heck, sign up even if you're not an audiobook lover. I have fun stuff for everyone! <smile> The next issue is going out Saturday, March 8, so you have until midnight March 7 to sign up!
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Monday, March 3, 2014

Now that the Oscars are over... How THE WOLF OF WALL STREET Reaffirmed My Story-Telling Values

The Oscars for 2013 movies have wrapped up, and I'm pleased with the results. Though my two favorites of the nine films nominated--Nebraska and Philomena--did not receive any Oscar love, I was pleased with the overall results, particularly the Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress wins for 12 Years A Slave,  and the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor wins for Dallas Buyers Club. 

Of course, the movie I liked the least, The Wolf of Wall Street, didn't receive any Oscar love either.

Truthfully, "liked the least," is putting a bit mildly. I thoroughly, viscerally detested that film. I hated that film so much that I posted an uncharacteristically negative rant against the film on my Facebook page after watching it. I try to be fairly positive in my social networking commentaries, partly because I am a fairly positive person, and when I am feeling whiny/grumpy/sour, I don't think I'm improving the world by spewing negativity. There's plenty of snark-i-tude out there without me pointlessly adding to it. So I rarely go there.

But The Wolf of Wall Street most definitely inspired me to go there. I posted, for example, "if the goal was to create a 3-hour misogynistic grotesque orgy of decadence, in which the only point seemed to be to show... a "protagonist" who has no moral core and isn't even an interesting anti-hero, then that goal was met." 
 
I later commented on my own post that 'decadence' was too nice of a word for what the movie portrayed, and that I meant 'depravity.'

I shared that at some point, to alleviate my frustration with the film, I started popping a Whopper candy in my mouth for each eff-bomb, but within a matter of minutes ended up chipmunk-cheeked.


I even suggested that folks could watch this clip from another, very different movie, Clue, and substitute in the phrase "this movie" for "her" to get a sense of the intensity of my reaction to Wolf of Wall Street.

All of which is witty, maybe even funny... but, I've come to realize, not particularly useful analysis of why I had such a deeply negative reaction to Wolf of Wall Street.

I thought I'd gotten over it--hey, maybe I just didn't like the film (that's OK) and maybe I was just in the mood to rant a little on a public forum (also OK, in very limited amounts of course) but then we went to an Oscar watch party last night.

And even the brief clips of The Wolf of Wall Street inflamed the same, deeply negative, visceral reaction that I'd had in watching it the first time around.

Now, when something causes such a strong, visceral reaction--whether negative or positive--it's probably worth examining why, just to see what you can learn from it. It's not particularly useful, Mrs. White's funny scene notwithstanding, to go around simply saying "I hate that SO MUCH!"

So...
1. Let's start with the simple explanations. Maybe it was simply that the damned movie went on and on and on for three hours. (Actually, in retrospect, I find the length a bit clever; I think that excess was an ironic wink-and-a-nod to the excesses portrayed in the film.) But... nah. I've watched all the Harry Potter films... three times. I don't even find the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings movies to be too long. I can handle long.

2. Could it be the Whopper-chipmunk-cheek-inducing eff bombs? Nah. Foul language doesn't bother me in films.

3. Moving on to explanations with a bit more depth. Was my reaction based on scenes of people acting like awful, cruel jerks? No, I don't think so. 12 Years a Slave had plenty of scenes of cruelty and I found that movie to be a moving, well-acted and well-told and important story. I can handle disturbing scenes.

4. Was my reaction based on the Wolf being an ignoble, outside-of-the-law, protagonist? No, I don't think so. Michael Corleone in The Godfather certainly operated outside-of-the-law, but he followed his own code, for reasons that he felt supported his family and community.

5. So, maybe my reaction was based on the Wolf operating outside-of-the-law AND doing so for selfish purposes? No, I don't think so. I loved, loved, loved the TV series Breaking Bad, even after it was clear that Walter White had moved beyond operating on his own code to support others, and only to attempt to satisfy his never-to-be-satiated need for control. 

6. But Walter White, ultimately, was portrayed as victim of his own moral blindness, of his constant rationalization of his choices. He redeems himself (somewhat) in the end by admitting this, by helping his partner Jesse, and he faces justice. The Wolf never sees anything wrong with his actions; he's incapable of doing so. He doesn't face justice--just a cushy bit of time at a 'prison' outfitted with country-club tennis courts, followed by a second 'career' in being a 'motivational speaker.' So maybe that's my source of outrage... but no. I could handle that portrayal IF it was meant as an expose of just how craven, how spiritually depraved (yes! there's that word again!) Wolf and his cohorts and the system were...

But the film didn't come off as an expose. None of the real life fall out in the lives of every day people from the grotesque, narcissistic choices of Wolf and his ilk was ever shown. And I think that's what outraged me... that in the end, the audience for the film becomes, by watching the film, the very same dupes who bought into the Wolf's schemes and penny stocks. We're the rubes who don't know any better, complicit in the very system that played on the craven version of the American dream--extreme wealth that's promised to come easily, through no effort other than falling for hollow promises and clever sleight-of-economic-hand--that plunged our economic system into calamitous decline in '08.

We, in fact, become part of the film, part of the story, all over again.

I don't like that. I don't like being a rube, and I don't like being complicit in letting myself play a role like that. I don't like feeling as though I was tricked into playing that role simply by going to a film.

All right, but what does the above analysis have to do with how watching a film I very much disliked (and still dislike) reaffirmed my story-telling values?

Well, story-telling, whether in film or on stage or in prose, should set out to achieve one or more of the following goals:
  • Entertain--depth is not required to meet this goal (although it's certainly welcome). Die Hard was entertaining, though not deep.
  • Educate--12 Years A Slave met this goal, showing us what being a slave was actually like, rather than the cleaned-up unrealistic versions portrayed in movies like Gone With The Wind.
  • Inspire or Motivate--For me, the Johnny Cash bio-pic, Walk The Line, is (in addition to being entertaining and educational), very inspirational. As a young twenty-something, I watched Chariots of Fire numerous times; I'm not a runner, but the story of being motivated from within to achieve goals gave me courage as I launched (and sometimes lurched) into the adult world.
  • Move (Achieve Catharsis)--to feel compassion or empathy for characters, and thus reconsider how we see others in a more grace-filled, kind way (Nebraska, 12 Years A Slave, Dallas Buyers Club all, for me, fulfill this goal). 
  • Moralize--I know, some people see "Hollywood" as itself depraved, morally corrupt or bankrupt. I disagree. I believe most films have a moral core and message, even the lightest films; even, for example, in movies such as The Hangover. Seriously. It's not explored deeply, but it's there--the value of friendship and watching out for one another. It's hard to find a film that doesn't have at least some moral core. It's a TV example, but I'll reference Breaking Bad again: that TV series is a morality play... a brilliantly done morality play.
Because The Wolf of Wall Street is narrated by a main character who never shows us the ill-effects of his choices, other than he gets in trouble briefly, who never learns compassion, who never feels regret, who never gets punished, who isn't particularly funny or interesting (I have a theory that all narcissists are boring) and thus doesn't really entertain us, who goes on-and-on for three whole hours, and who puts us, the audience, right back in the role of rubes... the movie fails. I suppose some viewers found it entertaining. But 'entertaining' by itself doesn't usually make a film worthy of an Oscar nod. That requires a film to also educate, inspire, motivate, move or moralize.  Obviously, the Academy saw something in The Wolf of Wall Street that I didn't. But for me, the movie failed in every measure of story-telling.

Oh, sure, it's clever. But it's clever in the sense of an artist spray-painting doggie doo-doo gold, watching as audience member eagerly picks it up, and then chuckling, "ha, ha, see? All that glitters isn't gold!"

And to me, that's not story-telling. Or art. That's just breaking the trust of the audience member, who rightfully had every expectation of being entertained, educated, inspired, motivated, moved, and turning the audience member into a rube.

Whew. Thinking through all of the above has worn me out a bit. It's time for a break. Maybe re-watching Clue...
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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Goodreads Giveaway of SANITY CHECK starts TODAY!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Sanity Check by Sharon Short

Sanity Check

by Sharon Short

Giveaway ends April 01, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win
Enter to win a copy! Here's a sample to whet your appetite...



A few days after we got our new dog, I laid down the law: a never-before-experienced, super-sanitized cleanliness shall reign upon our household!
Cosmo, our beagle
This was because I discovered that when a beagle shakes himself, fur goes flying everywhere. Including onto the table and countertop.
So, I called everyone together and proclaimed: We shall clean and sanitize the kitchen countertop and table with disinfectant before cooking/dining!
We shall have color coded sponges—the pink one for cleaning the cat/dog food bowls, the blue one for cleaning countertop/table... and of course the sponges shall be sanitized in hot water after each use!
And we shall teach the dog the all-important commands—Down! and Sit!—so that said dog shall refrain from begging in the kitchen or at the table!
After I proclaimed these quite reasonable commandments, several things happened.
The kids and husband gave each other long, knowing looks.
The cats snickered.
The dog hid.
Still, I persevered.
And made it through an entire day, following my own rules. Then, as I stood in my kitchen, proudly surveying its sparkling clean, super-sanitized floor and countertop and sink, my 11-year-old daughter came in and said, "Mom, weren't we supposed to make deviled eggs for the church potluck tomorrow?"
As we boiled eggs, the dog came into the kitchen. I said, "Sit!" He did, on my super-sanitized floor. Then gave me a look that barked, "Lady, I'm not so sure about living here, you know?"
My daughter and I cut the boiled eggs in half (on our super-sanitized cutting block), and put the yolks in a small (super-sanitized) measuring cup.
My daughter started mashing (with a super-sanitized fork) mayo and mustard and seasonings into the egg yolks. The dog, licking his lips, stood on his hind legs. "Down!" I said. So, he lay down and heaved a weary, bedeviled sigh.
And for the first time that day, I could empathize with the dog. After all my cleaning and sanitizing, I was weary, too.
So I said to my daughter, with years-of-cooking wisdom, "Dearie, let your smart, ol' mama show you a little short-cut!"
I got out the mixer and put just one beater in the small measuring cup that held the egg yolk/mayo/mustard.
The dog stood again.
And I took my hand from the measuring cup handle to point at him and say, "Sit!"... just as I turned on the mixer... thus turning the little measuring cup into a madly spinning Tasmanian devil that wildly flung egg yolk everywhere—on the floor, the counter, the ceiling, my daughter, me, the dog...
Desperately, I yelled at the mixer: "Down! Sit!"
It didn't heed my plea, and neither did the dog, who happily jumped up and down in a little dog dance, while yipping a little dog song: Hurrah! Hurrah! At last, cleanliness is not reigning! But deviled eggs are—raining, that is! Doggy manna from heaven!
My daughter unplugged the mixer.
I picked up the blue super-sanitized sponge.
And the dog eyed me with a look that woofed, "hey, maybe you're OK after all!" then started licking up deviled egg yolks from the floor.
I'm so glad I sanitized it for him.
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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Get a "Sanity Check" ... for .99 cents! (eBook "Countdown" Deal)

Ever have a day on which the dog ate your lipstick, and you discovered that your houseplant has fleas? Yeah. Me, too.

(I wrote about it...)

Sanity Check is a "Countdown" deal for .99... ebook version... for a few days on Amazon!

If you get a chance to read it, I'd love to hear back from you about what you related to... and what made you laugh.




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Monday, February 17, 2014

Writers Sharing Stories of Heirloom Items (Mine--A Union Stamp Booklet From My Dad.) And A Chance for You to Win Prizes!

Today I have a guest post on Susan Meissner's blog. Her new novel is A Fall of Marigolds,
and, she says, "To mark the release of A Fall of Marigolds this month, I am happy to welcome writer friends to the blog to share with you a story about a family heirloom that is precious to them. An heirloom scarf is what ties two women together in A FALL OF MARIGOLDS, and heirlooms are what tie these blog posts together. At the end of the month, there will be a fun giveaway. Enjoy!"

The guest posts she's been sharing have been wonderful, fascinating reads about how items from the writers' families mark It's about my dad's union stamp booklet, what it came to mean to me, and its role in my research for My One Square Inch of Alaska. Leave a comment on Susan's site--here's the link--to enter to win a copy of ALASKA for yourself or (if you already have a copy) as a gift to give someone else. 

Here's a photo and a quote from the post to pique your interest:

When I look at that union stamp booklet, I can only imagine my father’s strong, muscled hands, his thick fingers, already permanently stained with grease, holding those delicate stamps—mostly pink–as he dutifully licked the backs and stuck them in each month.  I can only guess at the nervousness and optimism and pride he must have felt upon leaving a good union job to start a machine shop.  I can only guess at the emotions that came later. 

I think about how unknowable, in many ways, those closest to us can be, perhaps must inevitably be. How the facts of family stories are so often made vague and opaque by shrouds of time and, yes, pride...

Again, be sure to comment on the post on Susan's site for a chance to win a copy of My One Square Inch of Alaska for yourself or (if you already have a copy) to give as a gift.


And don't for get to check out Susan's terrific new novel, too!

In any case, I hope you enjoy the post: 
http://susanlmeissner.com/this-odd-little-artifact/
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Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day! Two Writers Share Insights You're Sure to LOVE!

Happy Valentines Day!

'Tis a good day to write about LOVE.  And one of the things I love most in my writing life is when authors I meet through professional endeavors end up becoming my friends as well.

This is, I'm happy to say, the case with Dayton area authors Martha Moody and Erin Flanagan. I've interviewed both of them for my Dayton Daily News Literary Life column; Martha's interview is posted below, and I have a link to my interview with Erin, previously posted.

They each have a lot of wisdom and insight to share from their personal writing journeys, so read up!

Inside Montage Cafe. Doesn't it look cozy?
Next Friday, February 21, at 7:00 p.m. the three of us will be reading and doing a Q&A session at the delightful Montage Cafe, 527 South Broadway Street, Greenville, Ohio. The event is being sponsored by Friends of the Greenville Library, but the event is free and open to the public, and all are welcome. Here's a link to the Facebook Event Page for details.

Now, for that interview with Martha:

Dayton area novelist Martha Moody is well known for “Best Friends,” “Office of Desire” and “Sometimes Mine,” acclaimed, best-selling novels about the challenges and rewards of personal relationships, all set in present time.

Now, Moody is taking a sharp literary turn with her newest novel, “Sharp and Dangerous Virtues,” set to release on Tuesday from Swallow Press (Ohio University).

On the surface, this novel is a complete departure from Moody’s previous literary creations; it’s a literary dystopian novel, set in 2047 in Dayton. The novel’s plot is based on a future tragic, but not altogether implausible, situation; as described on her website (www.marthamoody.net): “in response to food and water shortages, the U.S. government has developed a successful agricultural area — known as ‘the Heartland Grid’ — just north of the city. The Grid and its valuable human and agricultural resources are now being threatened — or possibly, seduced — by a multinational enemy force, and all of America feels threatened, too.”

And yet, “Sharp and Dangerous Virtues” renders its tale through realistic, intimate portrayals of characters and relationships: a family struggling to remain together, a couple in the Grid, a once-powerful water commissioner, a church janitor made into a scapegoat.

Martha Moody
“I started writing this novel in 1998 shortly after my first novel found a publisher,” Moody says. “My other novels are thematically big, but I wanted to write a novel that, while still thematically big, also that created a whole new world and a huge range of characters.”

Moody and her husband have four sons, ranging from high school age to a recent college graduate. “I don’t want them to live small. I want them to live by and embody virtues that can change the world. The characters in my novel embody virtues — curiosity, audacity, generosity, perseverance — that can help or hurt the world, depending upon how the virtues are used. To write about something that big, I knew I needed to create a world.”

Moody was inspired by a multitude of interests and events to create, over the years, the world that serves as the stage for the story in “Sharp and Dangerous Virtues.” Sighting military tanks rolling down a main street while she was on the way home from the grocery one day served as the creative spark that inspired Moody to ask herself the ‘what if’ questions that often lead writers to creative territory. She’s fascinated by the biographies of local inventors and the virtues they embodied to achieve great accomplishments.

Moody says, “I had no idea if it would ever get published. My agent retired, and my new agents were supportive, but told me that several science-fiction publishers thought the novel was too literary, while traditional non-science-fiction publishers weren’t sure how to market this novel. Fortunately, my agents were persistent and took the novel to Swallow Press, a part of Ohio University Press, which takes risks with established authors who want to try something different.”

With the publication of “Sharp and Dangerous Virtues,” Moody says she’s fulfilled her ambition of creating a story that is large in every literary sense — theme, world and characters.

Erin Flanagan

And here's a link to my interview, re-posted earlier this year, with Erin.

We'd love to see you at our Greenville event!
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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Getting Real about Story-Telling (and Validation)

By now, I write mainly because story-telling-with-words is a major part of who I am. It also makes me a saner, better human. Most days.

I've always heard the advice that good story-telling requires truth, so I won't lie; I'll admit that I want validation that this story-telling-with-words that I've made my life's work isn't just the equivalent of shouting into a void and hoping to hear an echo of my own voice. I want validation that I've reached, even touched, people, in some core way.

Validation, though, demands proof. So it's easy--and yes, human--to equate that validation with sales, high rankings, good reviews. And yes, I want those things. I wanted them yesterday, and I want them today, and I'll want them tomorrow.

But last night, I was a guest at a university class for teachers working on their master's degrees for teaching middle school and high school reading. I was so honored that the class read MY ONE SQUARE INCH OF ALASKA (a second year in a row!) and wrote papers about how my novel might be taught to teen readers. It was certainly complimentary and validating and delightful to hear teachers discussing my work--its theme, character motivations, imagery, and so on.

But then one of the teachers, who'd been quiet throughout, spoke up.

This teacher said she taught mainly at risk students, in an inner city setting. She's a busy woman--teaching and in school herself and, I'm sure, tending to her own personal and family life. So she read ALASKA on rare breaks--lunch, planning period, etc.

Her students noticed. They were curious about what she was reading. She told them about the class, about ALASKA, and then she began reading ALASKA with several of her students, 7th and 8th graders, and a few high schoolers who come in as helpers.

My impression from the teacher's description was that she and the students took turns reading her copy of ALASKA aloud to one another, because she said that over the days they read the novel, they were eager to come back the next day and the next day to finish the book. They liked the clear writing, the flow, and the way the end of one chapter 'hooked' them to the next. (Here I pause to give a nod of thanks to my years of practice writing mysteries.)

Well, this image--at-risk, inner city students gathering with their teacher on breaks to read my novel--was in and of itself enough to leave me gobsmacked. Agog. And, I admit it, quickly approaching a teary-eyed state I might not be able to dismiss as merely due to, say, allergies.

But then the teacher went on to talk about the discussions she had with her students about ALASKA. How these young people were excited to read a story that doesn't have a perfect happy-ever-after ending, that's bittersweet, and yet, that's hopeful. She was funny as she talked about them saying, "I hope that writer doesn't give Donna an easy way out!" because they don't have easy ways out. She said the girls--young women--were relieved Donna wasn't rescued by a boyfriend, but that she relied on her own gumption to help her younger brother succeed. She made me laugh (thankfully; a good antidote to the rapidly-approaching teary eyed state) when she said, "if you'd have had Jimmy rescue Donna, they'd have probably found you just so they could say, you've gotta be kidding me!"

(I rather liked that image--12-16 year-old females tracking down an author to demand just why in the world she let the heroine get unrealistically rescued by a boy.)

This teacher added that my novel resonated because her students, like Donna, had to grow up too fast, taking care of younger siblings, often while lacking parental support... and yet, she added, ALASKA made them think about the adults (aunts, grandparents, teachers) who do step in and provide that crucial role-modeling. Finally, she talked about how my novel made these students talk and think about the theme of 'small choices,' both in the novel and in their own lives, and how, maybe, they might seek their own metaphorical 'square inch of Alaska,' and seek their own dreams... but knowing it's OK if dreams don't turn out as perfectly as we, well, dreamed them. It's OK to simply pursue a dream, and get at least part of it right. Get a little further, touch a few more people, do a little better than we might have if we hadn't tried to pursue that dream at all.

I didn't burst out in tears after all those comments, at least not in that moment, and thankfully not in front of everyone.

I hope sharing this experience in a public forum doesn't come off too braggartly.

I'm sharing it because just an hour before the class, (here's that damned honesty thing again), I'd felt pouty about any number of publishing things: what if this, why not that.

Then... as luck, or the universe, or perhaps just my Google calendar would have it... a teacher shared with me, in a quiet, pragmatic, non-fawning yet heartfelt way, her own story, of people gathered round to read aloud my story to one another, the way humans have done since time out of memory. Story-telling and tell-me-a-story isn't just in my d.n.a. It's in every human's d.n.a.

Stories connect us. Stories show us the way. Stories remind us of what we already know.

Her story reminded of what I already know (but tend to frequently forget): that all I can really do is tell-my-stories-with-words. Try to remember the whole  point of story-telling--illuminating some small slice of the human experience. And try to remember that real validation is the rare, wondrous, humbling gift of discovering one's story really did touch, in a core way, fellow humans.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Zipping Down the Bunny Hill of Life



The recent snow... and watching skiing on the Olympics... reminded me of this experience and column, captured in my Sanity Check collection.
Enjoy!



Several weeks ago, our 16-year-old casually mentioned a new MTV show called “The Buried Life.”
The concept is simple: four 20-something guys made a bucket list of 100 things they’d like to do before they die. Then, they went around the country doing them, and for each item on their list, they help someone achieve something on his or her list.
When our 16-year-old brought this show up, it was in that “oh this doesn’t really matter” tone that teens use when something actually does matter to them, but they don’t want to be too obvious about it.
So I replied with, “huh, sounds interesting; guess I could watch it with you” in that “oh this isn’t that big of a deal” tone that parents use when they sense a chance to spend time with their kid, but don’t want to blow it by being too obvious about it.
What I wanted to look like...
It turns out that the show is fun and inspiring—so inspiring, that our daughter and I made our own lists.

Which both happened to include skiing.
The down hill kind.
Which our daughter decided to take seriously. Which our other daughter and my husband also thought sounded like a fun family adventure.
(Have I mentioned before that my husband and children are all athletic and fearless… and I’m the exact opposite?)
But there was no way I was going to look at my 16-year-old and say: “aw, I was just kinda kidding about that skiing item on my bucket list, and I’m not doing this with you.”
Thus it happened that I found myself—a non-athletic, physically risk-averse, middle-aged, not particularly fit woman—at the top of a ski slope.
Utterly terrified.
Completely clueless—even though we took a ski class.
Finally, though, it was clear that the 5-year-olds on the bunny hill were getting annoyed with me, and I’d have to go down on my own or they’d push me down.
What I actually looked like...
So I told myself—I had to do this. For my daughter. For my friend who has cancer who told me I can do this, who lit up with a big smile and said, “Skiing makes me feel so fully alive!” For my other friend who used to ski and do athletic things, who now fights MS.
I held the images of these people in my mind, took a breath—and went down that hill.
Then fell, tumbling butt over head.
The 5-year-old pros on the bunny hill thought it was hilarious.
Our 16-year-old quickly progressed to the medium hill, and then the challenge course, skiing with big sis (the only one of us who’d skied before.) My husband did just fine on a beginner hill.
But I—knowing my limits and being realistic—stuck to the bunny hill—determined that by the end of the day, I’d make it down, without falling.
And, finally, I did.
I actually skied down without falling four whole times!
And while I can’t say I fell in love with the activity, or ever felt that “fully alive” sense my friend mentioned (I stayed in the oh-thank-God-I-didn’t-break-a-leg range of emotion)... I did realize, after awhile, that I’d transitioned from being determined to do this on everyone else’s behalf… and became determined to do it, just for me.
Which, in itself, is a pretty “fully alive” feeling.
And just goes to show that courage and inspiration can be found… even on a bunny hill.
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