Friday, November 17, 2017

Mother-Daughter Memoir―Review of "Blue Nights"


What makes a memorable memoir? Plot, inner monologue, crazy mothers and drunken fathers? Perhaps, memoirs that most linger in a reader's memory are unflinchingly honest stories of relationships and regrets. 

Blue Nights by Joan Didion is a meditation on grief and regret, illness and aging as told by a woman who cares little if this is a difficult read. Didion sugarcoats nothing and sentimentality has no place in her story.

As she enters the twilight of her life, (Didion is eighty-two) her mastery of the genre―for which she received literary acclaim with The Year of Magical Thinking about the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne―is evident. Didion early on in her career honed the art of the personal essay. The journalistic attention to detail coupled with literary flair provide a compelling narrative.

Blue Nights is dedicated to and about Quintana Roo, the daughter Didion and Dunne adopt. She died in 2005 at the age of thirty-nine. The cause of her death is never clear.

“When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children,” Didion repeats throughout the  memoir.

The little girl whose fear of abandonment goes undetected by Didion is the author's confession that she had scant idea what being a mother entailed, especially mother of an adopted child. This strange girl, this “beautiful baby girl” who Didion muses has bipolar disorder and drinks too much, is an enigma … do we ever really know our children, Didion wonders? So much of their life is spent separating from us, their parents. Or maybe it is just Quintana distancing herself from her mother, an acclaimed writer whose work consumes her.

Vivid memories of a mother-daughter relationship: Quintana on her wedding day: “She wove white stephanotis into the thick braid that hung down her back; the plumeria tattoo showing through the tulle” … Didion finds herself staring at the unexpectedher daughter kneeling at the altar wearing bright red-soled high heels. This is juxtaposed with her daughter dying in the ICU. "This was never supposed to happen to her ... as if she and I had been promised a special exemption ..."

There is self-flagellation and regret. “She had no idea how much we needed her. How could we have so misunderstood one another.” Adopting a child also poses unanticipated challenges and unintended consequences. Quintana’s sister, birth mother and father seek her out when she is a grown woman, throwing Quintana into confusion and Didion into a vague terrain of surprise and acceptance, although much of this has to be inferred by the reader. 

If there is a failing to this memoir, we never feel the intimacy between mother and daughter … no doubt Didion loved her daughter, but moments of tenderness seem to be missing in the narrative, along with conversations of any depth between Quintana and Didion. Why?

In the telling of this tragedy of her daughter's untimely death, Didion discusses her own impeding mortality … the sudden realization at the age of seventy-five that being old has descended with no warning.

“When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children.”

There is the terrible fear of losing one’s balance, the inability to gain weight when she has dropped to a precarious seventy-five pounds, the shingles brought on by too much stress as The Year of Magical Thinking is made into a Broadway production starring Vanessa Redgrave, her friend and a woman who lost her daughter―Natasha Richardson―to a tragic death.  

Blue nights herald the approach of summer, but also the beginning of the days becoming shorter, a gloaming into blackness, an ending. This is the life of a woman who has lost those closest to her―husband, daughter, her own mother, numerous friends―and finds herself wondering whose name to list on the emergency contact page at the hospital.

I recommend this memoir to anyone who wants to read a master wordsmith in the genre … a woman whose honesty about herself is surely the essence of her strength and survival and who allows a personal story to become a universal journey of regret and untimely death.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Travel Writing―Memoir Moments in Morocco

“The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” ~ Saint Augustine

As a writer I work with this―this material of traveling to Morocco and trying to make sense out of a world striking in its privilege for some and not others. Why me and not them?

The average person in Morocco makes 36,000 dirhams a year, which is the equivalent of $3,600. Medical insurance is nonexistent, no potable water, a hole in the ground to squat.

I see a man seated at an outdoor cafĂ© outside the medina in Fez. He is probably in his early 50s, gaunt, a black mustache, sallow skin, his head shakes slightly this way and that as he tries to sip his coffee or tea. He reminds me of John at the end of his life. I mention him to my son as we wait on the street corner for our guide. “He looks like he has cancer,” I say. “Or maybe a stroke,” Alex says. Our burka-clothed guide explains health insurance is nonexistent, hospitals are overwhelmed, doctors scarce and available only to those with money.

“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” ~ John Hope Franklin

Our camels plod along the blue gray shore of Essaouira. A path of silver light leads us on toward the horizon as the late afternoon sunshine sparkles off the ocean. Entering heaven must be like this; the light, the shadowy silhouette of my son who I love like no other astride his camel … our guide leading us forward, his dog Mamouche, a copper-colored imp, scampering at our side.

I’m proud of myself, risking a camel ride, overcoming my fear. I know this is the high point of my trip and a moment forever seared in memory. When I first got on and the animal fell to his knees, I shrieked, I’m scared! I slid forward … and then―UP, UP ten feet off the ground! This fear reminds me what it means to be me … a cautious older woman who must keep her wits and not injure herself. I view the camel’s cap of nubby gray and brown curls. It reminds me of the fake fur lapel on a coat I wore in high school.

"Naturally my stories are about women — I'm a woman." ~ Alice Munro 

Traveling to Essaouira, a bohemian Moroccan beach resort provided a desperately needed change from the previous day spent in the high Atlas Mountains. I had begun to doubt the promise of this trip. The place was cold with tiers of brown rock, snow-capped at its highest point. Still I remind myself, I am in Africa. Africa!



The High Atlas is the second highest peak in Africa after Kilimanjaro and if I hadn’t been sick, I might have taken in the purity of black sky, pinpricks of stars, hikers carrying lanterns as they descended rocky trails. Instead, a head cold and altitude sickness kept me in bed under wool blankets fighting off the chills. I hadn’t been well enough to hike the steep trail to the guest house where a Moroccan family, a young wife who spent most of her time in the kitchen and her tall good-looking husband greeted us and said how lucky I was to have a son as they had three daughters. Instead, I rode a mule up to the house built out of rock, along with my fellow traveler, a woman nearing eighty with a terminal lung disorder. It made me feel old and being sick didn’t help. This illness depleted my energy, left me listless. It will take days alone when I return to Pennsylvania to feel well enough to resume my life and begin writing this.

“Of all possible subjects, travel is the most difficult for an artist, as it is the easiest for a journalist.” ~ W. H. Auden

That’s why Essaouira reinvigorated. Alex and I walked a mile along the sandy stretch of beach to the camels; the warm Atlantic waters swirling around my feet and ankles offering a baptism of renewal.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” ~ Maya Angelou

The day before High Atlas had been spent in Fez, an ancient city, everything white and cream, no contrast, like a sandy slightly lopsided wedding cake baking on the hillside. Touring winding alleyways in the medina, the old city, left me unprepared for a marketplace teeming with feral cats and flies clinging to bricks of green and pink nougat. This, I thought, is where it all began, here in Africa, a place that to this day is another world; mules and donkeys carry their burdens to marketplace; a decapitated head of a camel, a kufi on its head, advertises a camel burger shop. I have this realization … people need to survive, to make a living. Who am I to judge?

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” ~ Rudyard Kipling

Our guide―a woman wearing a sea green head scarf and a white modified burka revealing her face―leads our little group of travelers to a truly horrifying place in the medina known as the tannery.

The stench is overwhelming from the carcasses of animals being turned into an array of handbags, jackets and shoes, belts and wallets and we had been handed a sprig of spearmint to hold to our noses so overwhelming the smell which is hard to describe although one word comes to mind―death―death of the innocent; sheep, goats, cows and camels whose sole purpose in life resides in being turned into a $100 handbag for a woman to sling across her shoulder as she returns to Fifth Avenue in New York, another planet from this place.

I quickly avert my eyes from the chalky gray pools in vats below the viewing balcony where the hides are dried and colored. I stumble into a small room filled with tourists. Thousands of handbags and leather goods hang from the ceiling and line the walls, pink and turquoise, bright reds and blues, bags studded and burnished brown … pointy-toed slippers, wallets. If the beach at Essaouira is heaven, then this, I think, must be hell. I console myself with the thought that I haven’t bought anything made out of real leather for years and know I never will again.

I have many other impressions of this trip ... the cooking school which trains destitute young women to make a living ... the eerie chants emanating from the loudspeakers in the mosques ... the call to prayer that awoke me at 5 a.m. every day ... the hospitality of the Moroccan people ... more for another day .... 

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Writer Takes a Blogging Break To Travel and Explore

Ever since I turned twenty and boarded that PanAm flight to London by myself to explore England for three weeks, I've always wanted to travel. After my husband died, I took the boys on a sixteen-day tour of Italy and fell in love all over again with Europe.

Life requires energy and in the end is too big to miss. Writers have always come this way ... the romantic streets of Paris ... expatriates who craved something else―at least for a time―to get as far away from where they grew up as possible.

I've blogged about a writer needing a break and heard others say the same in the Women's Writing Circle. In that spirit, I am devoting the next three weeks to travel and decompressing so I will not be blogging after today until Nov. 13.

To the many who read my blog (over 6,000 views a month from all around the world), and who take the time to comment and tell me how much they enjoy this "place to share our stories," I promise that after I return from Morocco, located on the northern tip of Africa, I will blog again.
***
I travel internationally because the world waits .... And if I don't do it now, I never will.

Traveling to Nepal, Russia, China, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, England, the Czech Republic, and Brazil as I've done in recent years means seeing what's on the other side. It's a matter of curiosity. As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones:
“This is your life. You are responsible for it. You will not live forever. Don't wait.”
And this:
“I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. No one will know what has passed through me ... I write because there are stories that people have forgotten to tell, because I am a woman trying to stand up in my life ... I write out of hurt and how to make hurt okay; how to make myself strong and come home, and it may be the only real home I'll ever have.”
Travel affords opportunities to write stories, to explore the inner life, to gain perspective .... It offers a valuable lesson. I've learned no matter where you go, we're all alike, we all want the same things: family, enough money to afford a decent place to live, community and relationships. The world in all its brilliant diversity is―not surprisingly―one of similarities, commonalities, of oneness.

I think of the little Nepalese boy with a kite cobbled together out of trash (candy wrappers and tissue paper); the young woman in Hong Kong fluently speaking Mandarin and English as she took us to Lantau Island to climb the steps to the Great Buddha; the Russian teacher who graciously offered us a tour of St. Petersburg and reminisced how much she had loved her visit to Philadelphia ...

It takes effort to pack, to plan the right itinerary, make arrangements for the dog and a pet sitter who will be staying at my house, get to the airport, sleep in another bed, sometimes without the "comforts" of home ― such is the adventure of travel ... moving out of the comfort zone, as anyone who travels the world knows.



I look forward to bringing back memories of medinas with tiny alleyways and historic mosques ... maybe, if I'm lucky, an Egyptian cobra dancing in a basket ... learning to make couscous (this trip features cooking  ... just call me Anthony Bourdain) ... the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara spread out below, riding a camel ... touching the spiritual within, away from the Episcopal chapel tucked behind cornfields where I attend church regularly.

So, see you in mid-November unless you follow me on Facebook or Instagram. I have my passport, my camera, my lightweight summer clothes ready to pack as I leave at the end of this week ... most of all, an eagerness to see a new part of the world, and then come back here to write all about it.

How about you? Do you have a travel experience to share that helped shape your work or your perspective?

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Nursing Home Visit, A Woman Alone: A Memoir Moment





A coloring book and colored pencils. Fogged window panes obscuring views of orange streaking the maple trees. No outside world, just the one here ... inside.

A hot dog cut into bite-sized pieces.

When I first enter the nursing home, she cries out “Susie!” I rush to her and hold her close. She buries her head against my chest and weeps … what is it, I whisper?  She feels such relief to see me; she lives in the throes of anxiety, each day on the precipice of a fast-moving disease, like the wild fires out West―some say it is Alzheimer’s, others, dementia. No matter. Flames incinerating her.

“Are you a relative?” It's lunchtime. A woman slides the tray of food in front of Paula. “She’s been my best friend for fifty-five years,” I say. “You’re not a relative then,” she says flatly. “She’s my sister,” I say with defiance.

A friend has accompanied me for truthfully it took all my strength and courage to get here, to face this. Be prepared, the nurse says before we even enter the room, confirming my worst fears, the dread dragging down my arms, my legs. When was it you last saw her? Five months, I think. The nurse repeats, be prepared.

The words echo another time, another place where he lay dying. Be prepared. A sunken hollowed-out shell of a once vibrant man. I loved him. Now this. I love her. The beautiful girl who validated me, who saw me through lonely nights after his death, our phone conversations rippling with laughter and her astute observations about the world and the people in our little orbits …. The crazy news editor, the narcissistic lover, the abusive parent.

A friend has agreed to accompany me on this visit. She’s an RN, a long career behind her, her instincts and understanding of patients, illness and the medical system impressed me. I wanted her opinion because I still couldn’t grasp that Paula was what they said … Alzheimer’s?

We’ve tried everything her nurse goes on as if seeking salvation. It's very unusual for someone her age to have the disease accelerate this quickly. All kinds of medications have been tried to control the anxiety, but nothing seems to work. I want to scream … Wouldn’t you be anxious if your life had been stripped from you?

***
My friend pulls out the coloring book she suggested I bring for Paula and which she picked up at Michaels, the craft store up the street from me. Barn quilts.

“Here, girlfriend,” she says in a soft tone. “Let’s color. Isn’t this pretty?” she points to a picture of a barn, a horse, flowers and grass. “I have one of those,” Paula says of the coloring book, looking away with disinterest, but not rude. She has never been rude to anyone as long as I've known her. The ugly plump hot dog sits on her plate beside limp French fries.

Paula picks a fry off the plate, studies it, a slight frown creasing her brow. The streak of ketchup perhaps? Thoughtfully, she places the thing in her mouth and chews … slowly.

“It’s good she still has an appetite,” my friend says as if Paula isn’t in the room. She spears a piece of hot dog with the fork and says, “Here, girlfriend. Eat.” My friend uses “girlfriend,” a lot with me and other women. That’s okay. I know she means well or I wouldn’t have asked her to come with me. Blanche DuBois depended on the kindness of strangers. I have always depended on the kindness of women.

After, a few more bites, Paula weeps … whispers … “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.”

“I know what you mean,” I tell her, reaching for her arm. I stroke it. I am desperate to recapture some of the old rapport. And it's true. I often am at a loss. “I don’t know what to do either,” I say. A flash of her old self … that sweet smile, a chuckle. “Yes,“ she says.

Her downhill slide is stunning since last I saw her in this nursing home where cobwebs lace activities calendars in orange and black decorated with cut-outs of jack o lanterns ... each day marked ... Mass, sing-along, movie time.

She hasn’t colored anything yet, while my friend and I try to stay cheerful staying within the lines … the vertical beam of the barn in brown, the flowers. I select a rose-colored pencil. Isn’t this a pretty color? You know me. I always loved the color rose, I say. Paula nods. She looks down at the fork in her hand.

She is in the belly of the beast now. “Stand up? Can you stand up?” I ask. Paula nods. Yes. The wheelchair is something new. Last time she moved and walked quickly and with ease. I try to help her stand and some ungodly high-pitched beeping sound splits the air. A young Asian woman with an apologetic smile rushes over. I'm sorry, I mumble. The chord attached to Paula has come loose from the wheelchair. It’s enough to stoke the anxiety again and the effort to stand evaporates.

Would you like me to visit more often? Her large beautiful blue eyes take me in. “I think that is a good idea,” she says solemnly. I love you, I say. I love you too, she says. Then the weeping starts and her mantra, I don’t know what to do.

Before I leave, I wheel her down the hallway toward her room. “She can’t be in her room alone,” a nurse sitting behind a station on the floor declares in a firm voice. “Besides, she needs to be showered now.”

Paula begins shouting. “No! Dammit, no! I don’t want a shower.” She keeps repeating and shouting Dammit. Good for her. Good for you, girlfriend. Helplessly I watch the nurse wheel her away.

Author's Note: This is a continuation of A Woman Alone: A Memoir of Reflections and Writing.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Is My Life Too Boring To Write? ... and Other Questions

She felt memoir was a bit “restrictive.” She didn’t want to be confined to reality, she said, at least not in her writing, because throughout much of her childhood, she struggled with boredom. So, she wanted to write fiction now because it lent drama and imagination to her work; a platform to write “dynamic” stories.

I understand her feelings. I have written both memoir and fiction. I enjoy the freedom of fiction, of not being tied to things, specifically, not making things up.

Does that mean memoir lacks imagination and drama? Or, maybe, more to the point, is my life too boring to write?

Believe me, I have asked this of myself many times. I think of all the women who have written the stories of their lives … their “boring” and “ordinary” lives, including Abigail Thomas and May Sarton

I have heard writers attempting memoir in our Women's Writing Circle read arounds and critiques. The craftsmanship might not have been there, the telling of it perhaps drawn out, but how fortunate I am that I have been privy to their readings, their “moments of being.”

Still the question haunts many a memoir writer, whether first previewing a work in a writing group or considering publication. Is my own life too boring to write? There’s this pessimism that our lives aren’t interesting, or, at least, unique. (No, I am not Kim Kardashian.)

Have my “dramas” and crises been experienced by many and, therefore, do they enter the realm of the mundane? And, as much to the point, assuming that the fear of the mundane, the trite, is overcome, do I have the talent as a writer to bring my life to the page and offer up a good―even a great read for publication?

I think of what Salman Rushdie said recently on an NPR interview when asked if “anyone can be a writer?” Rushdie, a novelist and essayist, responded that while anyone can learn “the craft” of writing, not everyone is a writer. This is a hard truth for many to swallow. The writer, he said, instinctively pays attention to detail, knows how to really listen to others, and drinks up all the sensory and real and intuitive … this cannot be taught. I agree with him.

Back to memoir. Are we constrained by a lack of imagination and chained to “reality?” … to “accuracy”? While it’s true there must be a dedication to the truth in the genre, we are given free rein to recreate from memory a time, a place, an event and a moment. In this way it becomes a creative expression, one brimming with imagination by the very nature that it lies in the past.
As this article in Frontiers in Psychology notes: “Reflecting on past events and reflecting on future events are two fundamentally different processes, each traveling in the opposite direction of the other through conceptual time. But what we can imagine seems to be constrained by what we have previously experienced, suggesting a close link between memory and prospection. Recent theories suggest that recalling the past lies at the core of imagining and planning for the future.” 
Therein, perhaps, lies the healing power of memoir; as we remember the past, we are led on to imagining and planning for the future. This is an act of self-discovery, of unearthing hidden treasure.

***
A point to consider: While men have always explored action in their narratives … the country music star singing “on the road again,” or whatever other manly pursuits he’s been up to … women often have been relegated to the inner monologue, the inner life, so to speak. And how beautiful the writing is both in memoir and fiction! If this lacks drama, lead me on.

In the final analysis, just write it ...
however you want to write it. Journal it, write it for your eyes only, publish as fiction or memoir, if you must. But write it. 

How about you? Have you felt your life is too boring to write?

Monday, October 2, 2017

Trepidation, Dread and the Discovery Of Writing


As I listen to writers in a memoir workshop I’m leading about writing difficult subjects, I think how we share this in common. We’re on a journey of self-exploration … survivors who seek transformation and willingness to embark on the quest. Who am I? Deep diving allows us to become another creature of sorts.

We talk about secrets; how we avoid revealing our deepest secrets out of dread that, "If people knew that about me, they wouldn't like me."

We talk about feminist author Carolyn G. Heilbrun who wrote "what has been forbidden to women is anger" ... our trepidation that writing stories of action and accomplishment will be branded "unwomanly."

We talk about myths. The little girl believed the myths―you fall in love with Prince Charming and live happily-ever-after; you suffer in silence, your reality and pain stored in the hold of the conscious and unconscious mind.

We talk about poetry. And then we write.

I become the one with the crenellated fans that Adrienne Rich writes about in her poem “Diving Into the Wreck.”

“I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail ….”  Rich writes. And now: it is easy to forget what I came for among so many who have always lived here swaying their crenellated fans between the reefs and besides you breathe differently down here.

I look up crenellated. Hard, embattled ... like me and many I have known. Building a wall, stone gray battlements as unyielding as the buildings at West Point John wrote about in his memoir.

I am a woman alone, surviving the memory of the night his mother threatened to kill whoever entered his ghostly hospital room and cross her unholy path ... the night he died and I wasn't by his side. A secret I haven't shared until now.


I write about the wreck … the cancer … “I wish I’d never met you …” my life not how I imagined. “The thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck… the thing itself and not the myth,” Rich writes.

I come for the woman alone, to support and succor her … hoping to demolish the wreck. Old age beckons its bony finger. As one of our writers puts it, aging alone after the death of a husband comes with a tinge, sharper at times than others … a blade slicing through flesh, leaving the wound of depression.

Some might say I have it easy, indeed, they have even told me this as though owning a lovely home, Lily by my side is more than any woman should want or expect. After all, I’m not swabbing campsite bathrooms as some in their mid-seventies must do ... they have no savings to speak of, and so they appear on the front page of the Washington Post in a story about the "new reality of old age in America."

I do not ascribe a value to the idea that one person’s pain is deeper or worse than another’s
. Pain is pain and it immerses us―sooner or later. And that’s where writing comes in. It eases the burden of the wreck … the myths that wreaked havoc … the secrets that led to the many defenses and contradictions. The trepidation we will be branded unwomanly. 

Write it as memoir. Write it as fiction. Just write it. I think of my father who wore a mask of composure until the day he died. "We don’t air our dirty laundry." His face stares back at me, a mirror image of my own repression. Then I gather with a group of writers and with their words, reflections and insights, I discover the courage and the freedom to write and take my place among them.

*****

I’d like to share a sampling of comments from our writers following our Writing About Pain, Loss and Other Difficult Subjects memoir workshop:
I came looking for ways to establish a “writers’ life” and left understanding more fully that the key is in sharing our humanity in authentic ways.

I came into the Writing Circle today filled with trepidation.
The thought of exposing my vulnerabilities to strangers filled me with dread. I left with a sense of expectation and confidence because I found exposing my vulnerabilities to daring fellow strugglers was so encouraging.
I really enjoyed the workshop. Hearing other women’s stories and the courage of them sharing, encourage me to write and share my stories too. I never imagined that I would write stories or share them. The Women’s Writing Circle has made it possible for me to open up.

I brought pain and hope for different perspectives and resolution on my grief. What I took away? Pain is a universal truth that we all share and we are all hiding with our secrets and wear masks to cover our true authentic selves … and when we delve into our deepest, darkest parts and unravel and reveal the pain that has held us back forever and ever, it is then that we become free because we realize we are no different from anyone else … we all have secrets that make us human.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Diving Deep Into Memoir―Writing the Difficult Subjects

How different my life would be if I’d been into that guy from Lancaster County. He really liked me, he wanted a wife, he gave me a tour of his house, including his collection of electric guitars …. And then he told me he liked Sarah Palin. He wore Old Spice.

In a series of reflective memoir essays about the woman alone I’ve been writing (and sharing on this blog), people tell me they want a chapter about being single and dating again. 

I consider myself somewhat an expert having listened to women and their stories now for over two decades. And I’ve had a lot of experience myself. In my memoirs, Again in a Heartbeat, and Morning at Wellington Square, I wrote about dating again after being widowed ... but I was a lot younger then. I will say this … dating at fifty-three, or sixty-three … it's not like dating in your twenties or thirties or even your forties. You’re not young anymore.

As writers, we recognize a journey that might be the stuff of a stand-up routine. It’s so painful, we have to laugh, if we can … the subject of Saturday’s memoir workshop I’m teaching here at my home. How do we write about difficult subjects?

Diving deep is not for the faint of heart. Nor is analyzing the events that led to an outcome in our lives we never anticipated. The divorce, the death, the broken childhood, sometimes leads to a mad scramble to immediately “right the ship.” If you find yourself unexpectedly single again, it can feel like wearing mismatched shoes and hoping no one notices that you're hobbling around the room.

I consider Internet dating the embodiment of  “if you keep doing it and expect a different result, that’s the definition of insanity.” Sadly, I admit I recently tried it again, signed up for a dating website and within a few hours about a dozen guys contacted me … a guy from California, no less. Makes it tough to meet for coffee. 

I will say this. I’ve known older women who swear by the Internet. A woman in her early seventies insists that when she met this man on Match a couple years back, it “was just like Kismet.” She married him. I’ve heard her use the "Kismet" analogy several times. “What a great story!” people enthuse. Now before she goes to bed at night, she eats half a dozen chocolate chip cookies and drinks two ice cold glasses of milk she takes out of the freezer. A new twist on happily-ever-after.

I recently heard a Jerry Seinfeld comedy routine.
I don't know about you, but I love Seinfeld. He takes the ordinary life and makes it personal, real, hilarious, brings us back to the child within each of us. He says women want flowers. Flowers go a long way. I agree with him. I was in a relationship with this guy for a while and he brought me a small wood carved ghost because he knew I liked Halloween. Who does that when they want to romance a woman? Brings a ghost, but thinks the roses aren’t important?

I do understand that mismatched-shoes-feeling … sometimes, there was a sense that others viewed the single woman with suspicion, even a threat. Early on, the invitations to the couples’ parties stopped. Many women have told me this. Surviving this turn of events after being part of a couple for seventeen years came―at least for me―from hours, days, months, years alone growing up with two parents who had little interest in bringing the outside world into our home. Without a contemplative mind, we fail to see the larger picture.

For Dad, an exciting night was reading Thackeray, drinking a dry gin martini and falling asleep in front of the television. I will always be grateful to my parents for their off-handed parenting and appreciation of the finer things in life. Self-sufficiency and learning to enjoy your own company is a great gift.

Writing is an elixir … a purifying of the spirit, the body and the mind. Putting the events, the moments down on paper―what led to the wreck―the lost expectations, the disastrous relationship, the desperation? Writing is the surest way of diving deep and unlocking the treasure.

One of my favorite writing prompts has to do with objectivity and distance. The prompt goes like this: Who was I to my mother? … Who was my mother to me? Writing from two diametrically opposed perspectives like that forces the writer to confront the “other” head on. Another way is to write in second or third person, unless the ‘I’ narrative is a fictionalized account, a “super eye in the sky,” so to speak.

Getting back to the guy from Lancaster County; What could she do when she WISHED she could settle for Sarah Palin and Old Spice? Take a road trip. Get a dog. Take a selfie of the person she loved the most.

How about you? What techniques do you use when writing the difficult subjects?