A Lazy Eye? Why me?

I have a lazy eye. It’s no big deal to me after all these years. But when one of my patients asked me about ten years ago if I’d found this ‘handicap’ a detriment in my career, I knew I’d und…

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Sonny Goes Solo

Usually I speak of Sonny and Thor in the same breath, as if they are one entity: sonnyandthor. Today, I relate the story of Sonny’s solo adventure. The other morning, he discovered the front gate o…

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A Tale of Two Scenes

Has this ever happened to “real” writers? (Even with a couple of published books under my belt, I still feel like a pretender. The pickle in which I find myself may explain why.)

I have started two stories (at different times) that are like conjoined twins; two individual stories with different plots and characters. Somehow I gave them the same beginning. To give both stories a chance at life, one of those opening scenes will have to be surgically excised.

My duplicate beginning is as follows.

A married sister keeps setting her single sibling up on blind dates from hell. After one last date which unfolds as my first scene, the sister on the receiving end calls it quits. From that starting point, the plots go their own ways.

Unfortunately, I like both scenes–which are themselves quite different–equally well. (I am, of course, an entirely objective critic of these creative expressions of my very soul.)

What can I say? I hate to cut my own words. Yet, I must be ruthless.

In the first story, the blind date turns out to be the sister’s prince charming. He goes on to rescue her after she crashes her car, and they fall in love.
In the second, the matchmaking sister never does get it right. The protagonist, quite by accident, meets her true love spontaneously. The catch is she doesn’t know until later that the man works with her sister’s husband, and the sister had him lined up as the next blind date.

Although I do like the lighthearted scene I wrote for the first story, I also find that removing it will do no harm to the plot: our heroine’s car accident, subsequent injuries, and love for the paramedic who brings her solace in her darkest hour. The story could begin with the heroine’s car crash (after her double shift at the hospital), on a winter’s night on icy roads. Nothing vital will be lost–either to the heroine or the story. By the same token, starting with the action may hook a potential reader and keep her interested.

As for the second plot, I believe the blind date theme fits in with the rest of the storyline. I could skillfully combine the best elements of both scenes to make one grand opening for my second book. There now. Problem solved. I have two distinct stories, as well as two separate sets of characters and settings.

We have safely separated our twins.

Now, on to Scene Two…

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Sonny Goes Solo

Usually I speak of Sonny and Thor in the same breath, as if they are one entity: sonnyandthor. Today, I relate the story of Sonny’s solo adventure.

The other morning, he discovered the front gate of the house was ajar. Perhaps the pizza delivery man had neglected to close it the evening before. Perhaps a young school child had deliberately opened it that morning on the way to school to see what mischief might ensue. Perhaps Sonny is just that amazing that he managed to nose open the tricky catch. No matter how it happened, the gate opened and Sonny left the yard in an unsanctioned walkabout.

I used to have a dog–Scooby was his name–that would take off in a flash if he saw an opportunity. He always returned after an hour or two, until one Saturday he didn’t. There were some sleepless, worry-filled nights about that, I can tell you. I imagined all sorts of scenarios, mostly of Scooby lying in a ditch somewhere, suffering terribly. Later, I found out that he had left town and been adopted by a very nice family. Six months later, he left his second home and found his way back to me, having realized, I can only assume, that there’s no place like home.

But this is about Sonny–my daughter’s dog; the daughter who has given me a home. She used to kennel her dogs while she was at work, but I enjoy their company during the day so she leaves them out. I assured her that I would take good care of her dogs. *Sigh*

That morning, I had just let Sonny out. (Thor decided he had nothing to do outside, so remained with me and Max). Busy with Monday morning chores, I didn’t notice anything unusual until I called Sonny to come in. The sound of silence in the yard was deafening. It still wasn’t quite déjà vu all over again (a la runaway Scooby), but it was suspicious. After walking the entire perimeter twice, and checking under the porch, I had to face facts; Sonny had left the yard. But how? It’s completely fenced.

After checking the three gates-—escape hatches, if you will—-I discovered the front gate was ever so slightly ajar. Sonny could easily have nosed the gate open wide enough to slip through, and the gate would have swung (almost) closed behind him.

I felt terrible. My first thought was a vision of Sonny lying in a ditch. The second was how would I face my daughter? Wasting no more time in denial, recriminations, or fear, I began driving around the neighborhood. How easily could a big, black husky hide in the snow? Because he’s a friendly dog, I checked the nearby school yard where a lot of youngsters were enjoying recess. No dog in the mix. No panic either; obviously he hadn’t been there. He must be keeping to the alleyways. I prayed as I drove, trying to keep my panic under control.

After touring the neighborhood without a sighting, I decided to head home. On the off chance that Sonny might return in my absence. I had left the front gate unlatched. I reasoned that If he couldn’t get back in the way he left, he might decide to keep on going. As I drove up our street, my heart stopped. There he was, casually sauntering along the sidewalk towards the gate! He had no idea how relieved I was to see him, but my effusive greeting must surely have made him suspect he’d done something quite wonderful.

As I lay prostrate on the couch recovering from Sonny’s adventure, I debated whether or not to tell my daughter about it. Guilt settled it. The moment she walked in, the story came tumbling out, like the sad confession of a cheating husband. Fortunately, since all ended well, we were able to chuckle about it.

Rest assured, I am on guard; from now on those gates will have round the clock surveillance.

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Birthday musings…

It was my birthday recently. Which one is strictly on a need-to-know basis, but I will say this; it was my first birthday since retirement. It was a strange day. Over its twenty four hours there were both up and down moments. After some serious wrestling with my advancing years through one long night, I had a small epiphany.

Retirement is a milestone most of us hope we can afford when the time comes, although the odd person will adamantly declare he will never retire, talking about it as if it’s an enemy to be fought to the death. I, on the other hand, longed for it as I might a friend whose arrival time kept being pushed back. Since my elusive friend made it to the station, however, I’ve discovered that in a funny kind of a way, it came with a bit of luggage. That is to say, the end of my career wasn’t all retirement entailed.

Let’s look at motherhood for a moment.

We know that a mother is a mother as long as she lives. However, when her little ones become adults, a mother’s role undergoes modifications. I really hadn’t thought too much about that until, at retirement, I moved in with one of my daughters. (She doesn’t live with me, I live with her; it’s a distinction we both make.) She took me in to her home and gave me a lovely room with complete freedom to enjoy the amenities she pays for–although I help where I can, of course. Perhaps because we were under the same roof again, I found myself in “mother mode”. I forgot she’s been a capable adult taking care of herself for many years. Habits die hard, I guess. Gently, she reminded me that before I moved in with her, she managed to pay the bills and keep a roof over her head for a long time.

I found her to be most thoughtful of me. She texted me often, ostensibly to let me know whether she would be late getting home, or tell me her plans. I thought all my admonitions of years gone by had finally paid off. Then I noticed that if I failed to answer her text, she immediately phoned the house to make sure I was okay. This was new. Finally, it dawned on me that rather than me watching over her, she was keeping tabs on me. Looking back, it all began after I scorched a pot I left on a hot burner and forgot about it until the aroma of something cooking reminded me. She was calling to make sure the house was still intact, and I was still standing.

It didn’t bother me; rather, it amused me to see the shoe on the other foot. Being of advanced years, I didn’t catch on right away that it also meant my role as chief cook, bottle washer, and caretaker had undergone a subtle change. I was no longer in charge of the household; I was a guest, an invitee. On the surface, that might seem ideal; retire from your job, and be taken care of for the rest of your days by your grown up children. (I have three; they can take turns spelling each other off when necessary.) It’s not as easy as you might think.

My small epiphany

As my birthday approached and sleep eluded me, I couldn’t quite pin down what troubled me. I only knew I felt sad. Then it came to me; I was grieving. My career was over, the child-rearing portion of motherhood was over, and a good deal of my autonomy was gone as well. Moving in with my daughter was mutually beneficial, it’s undeniable. Yet, I am here by her grace. On my part, I intend to love, support, and if solicited, advise her, but not to take over. (That intention will apply to all my children, should I be passed around; because who knows how tiresome I might become in my dotage?)

The long night of wrestling ended at first light. I resolved to enjoy the new arrangement. What comes down the road remains to be seen; but for now I move cheerfully into the next phase of my life. Maybe giving up control isn’t so bad. To be honest, serving in an advisory capacity is far easier than being head of the company.

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What makes a good story?

My daughter informed me the other day that if I wrote a book that began with, “It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out and a maid screamed,” she would most definitely read it. Shortly after she said those words, my favorite TV show, Murder She Wrote, came on. You may recall the popular series about Jessica Fletcher, a feisty middle-aged mystery writer-turned sleuth that ran for 12 years, with three TV movies following its cancellation. Well, all rules of fiction were broken in that episode. It began with a dark and story night in Cabot Cove. Within minutes, a shot rang out and someone screamed.

By George, I believe my daughter’s on to something. But you see, she’s a reader, not an editor.

Ever since I began to study writing seriously, I’ve learned that the dark and stormy night gambit is anathema to editors. Cries of, death to the writer of such clichéd, hackneyed pulp go out across the land.

We were told in school never to use contractions or clichés in creative writing. But you can’t swing a cat without hitting them all over the place in popular fiction of all genres. So, what is a writer to think?

Do we sacrifice readability for literary perfection? Do we litter our stories with clichés, mixed metaphors, overdone similes, and contrived plot points? Is there a happy medium?
Frankly, I believe that although an opening such as my daughter prefers might grab a reader, he or she will only continue if likable characters come alongside. We will only care about the stormy night, the shots, and the scream if they are affecting a character we like.

Someone once said that there are no new stories, just different angles. I don’t know if a real person ever said it, but a character from a TV show did, and I remember it, because I liked the character. See?

The harshest criticism an editor ever gave me was that she found my main character cold and unlikeable. Not that my opening was a cliché. Not that my plot was thin. Not that I used too many contractions. No, the main character just didn’t appeal to her. Right there, my chance for manuscript acceptance ended. The editor stopped reading. No matter how good my writing might have been, my story failed for lack of sympathetic characters in the first ten pages.

With a heavy heart I admit that this, ahem, character flaw in moi may be insurmountable. What with my hermit tendencies and my solitary life, I’m challenged. The thing is, writers keep writing. Even as we live in fear we have no more books in us, we slave over a story we hope and pray will knock your socks off and make your hair stand on end. (Which I’m doing right now).

So, please stay tuned…

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Beyond retirement, or, Is being a hermit a legitimate occupation?

Life is full of People. In fact, it is impossible to live in this world without relating to someone, at some point, for some reason. Often, I wish it weren’t so. Relationships are hard work for me. Always have been. I gave up my childhood ambition to be a hermit when I was informed I would still have to earn a living. I chose an odd career for a hermit–nursing. Happily, for over forty years it worked.

Now it’s time to revisit my original career choice. I believe I have what it takes to make a fine hermit. Allow me to make my case.

A while back, my sister and I had a conversation about the way one’s personal world seems to shrink as one gets old, uh, matures. It reminded me of the old Star Trek Next Generation episode when the Enterprise began closing in on itself and one by one the crew disappeared, leaving only Dr. Crusher… My sister was not referring to that TV show of course, merely pointing out that as we age, our social circle tends to grow smaller. We retire. Old friends may sell their homes and move in with their kids thousands of miles away; young friends with growing families no longer have time to spare much of it for us. And tragically, our circle narrows through death. Whatever the reason, it happens. It probably doesn’t have to, but it requires effort to reverse the trend.

I’m someone who doesn’t mind her world shrinking. (i.e. doesn’t have the energy to stop the process). I’ve led a busy, active life that was littered with people; all sorts of folks paraded through my life over the years. As fulfilling as that parade was, it’s not particularly troubling for me to watch the last float go by. I can now head home for a nice quiet cup of tea and mull over things.

I must say that so far hermit-hood looks grand!

But as usual there is a fly in the ointment. I’m beginning to suspect, sadly, that being a “legitimate hermit” is like trying to put a genie back in its bottle; i.e. impossible. In a world full of people how does one do Hermit-ing? Short of going to the wilderness–been there, done that. It was full of people, too–I don’t know how to really excuse myself from all society. For one thing, I live with my daughter. I have two other children who still require my social interaction. There are other family members who tug at me on Facebook, and to whom I must at least click, LIKE, once in a while. there are grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, oh my. And my two siblings–I can’t just cut them all off. That would be cruel as well as impolite! On the other hand, have I overestimated my value to said family and friends? Hmmm.

Perhaps I’ve underestimated my desire to be a true hermit. I just don’t have the courage–why is that the word I chose?–Surely I meant, desire –to completely cut myself off from people. I just want to downsize my social obligations, I guess. (Again, “obligations”; is that how I view relating to people?)

In summary, I’ve concluded that I’m a pale imitation of a hermit at best, or seriously schizophrenic and in need of intensive therapy and strong medication at worst.

Well! After that exhausting exercise in futility, I’m off to Starbuck’s for a pleasing beverage and a little people watching…

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