Fathers

It’s amazing to me that 22 years have gone by since my father died of cancer. On a very sunny morning Memorial Day weekend in 1990, he died of metastatic breast cancer, just three weeks shy of his 62nd birthday.

My dad’s birthday and Father’s Day nearly always fall within days of each other. After he died, before my own marriage and kids, my siblings and I used to ignore the whole Father’s Day thing. It was a holiday that didn’t belong to us anymore (stupid thought I know, but we were young.) We didn’t want to celebrate, since he left us way too early. We all tried to ignore it and would sometimes get together at my mother’s house and have a non-celebration about nothing. Although as hard as we tried to not miss him,we did anyway, and let each other know with silent looks and sighs and the occasional raising of a glass up to heaven. It was just empty. Not having a father to celebrate Father’s Day sucked.

Many years have passed and the emptiness is certainly less than what it once was. We celebrate Father’s Day for my husband and my kids love it. But the emptiness of the absence of my own dad, well it still occasionally creeps up on me. That and the fact that I really did not get to know my father in the 23 years we had together. The time was short, I was young and I suppose I just thought I would know him when I was older. But since the cancer changed that for us, I have my very Swiss Cheese like memory to rely on. And sadly memories of him are fading.

I do have some stories from my siblings and the occasional photograph from a cousin that will pique my interest about my dad and his family. It amazes me the amount of people out there who are related to me but whom I don’t know at all. I think there was some where in excess of 40 first cousins in my dad’s family tree.

There are little snippets of his life that my sisters have told me or that I garnered from pictures. For me, the concept that he was this close to moving our family from Connecticut to California for a career in animation is kind of a hoot. He apparently was going to go into digital animation with his cousin back in the 60s. He could have spawned Dream Works!

Or not.

He ended up as an engineer and then settled on a career in graphics. I am not sure exactly what he did but there were large cameras and trips to Germany involved. Again, I didn’t ask.

As far as his family, there are pictures of people I know I am related to, but have no idea who they are. Like a group of young adults hanging out on a stoop in Brooklyn, or other groups of people all smiling. I don’t know who they are. I don’t know what his life was like there and what kind of life he had after his own father died when he was 13 or so.

I would have liked to know where he came from. Where I came from.

I wish I would have told him to write his life story for me so I could share it with his grand children, two beautiful kids he would never even get to meet. There are pictures, but I have so many questions I would have asked him if I had known then that he wouldn’t be around now.

My son is very interested in history, specifically wartime history, and he is beginning to ask questions about the military careers of his grandfathers. All I know about that is my mother received an American flag at my father’s memorial service in 1990. It’s tucked away in a closet at her house. My father was a member of the United States Navy and I have no idea how long he was there or what it was like for him when he was in Korea. There is a picture of my dad in a naval uniform hanging out on a grey ship. He was smiling, so it must have been a good day.

I am pretty sure he went to college courtesy of the GI Bill. And I know he was smart, like scary smart. (I am crossing my fingers about this for my kids.)

Next year, my son will have a project where he will have to portray a Secret Jewel or something like that — someone in the family who did something notorious, or just maybe did something. I wish I had that kind of project when I was in fifth grade. It would have forced me to find out about things that, at the time, I had no interest in. Perhaps then I would have written down my own father’s life, then every June I could celebrate his birthday and Father’s Day by remembering him for who he really was.

Who he was to me back then, I am not sure. Today he is the guy I remember who called the little charred things on the grill “meat” I am sure they once were. He loved to make chili and chicken wings, he was a great animator, a pretty good artist and could give Bob Hope a run for his money in the joke telling department. He did card tricks and played intellectual games with us and made sure most, if not all, of his kids knew the capitals of all the states. He did the New York Times Sunday Crossword in red ink and rarely, if ever, had a mistake. He was fashion forward (not really) but he brought back a pair of clogs from a trip to Iceland or Germany and wore them proudly. (Crocs anyone?)

He was silly and he embarrassed me when I was young. But back then, at least for me as I probably rolled my eyes about everything, parents were to be seen and not heard.

I’ll remember to tell my own kids not to roll their eyes at me, that someday they will want to know ALL about me.

Anyway, today, June 15, is his birthday. He would have been 84. Happy Birthday, Dad. I hope you are toasting with St. Peter, playing cribbage and having a vodka and grapefruit juice — and some burnt short ribs. And Happy Father’s Day, too.

Time to Gush

Today was my daughter’s graduation from kindergarten, full of pomp, circumstance, Patriotic songs and a lump in this mommy’s throat.

Life as I know it is passing by like a speeding train. Wasn’t she just a toddler yesterday? Didn’t she just lose her first tooth? When did she become a ham, so independent and the tallest one in her whole class?

So I took pictures, cried at every song they did (I cry. I blogged this before.) and was in awe of the big girl my little girl has become.

Dressed in her red, white and blue, and knowing every word to every song they sang, she didn’t miss a beat. No longer was she the shy girl she was just a year ago. She took the microphone, sang her loudest and knew every wave and salute there was. She even raised her hand to claim that she too was a Red Sox fan, because the school superintendent said kids at the school who are Red Sox fans do better. And then she raised her hand to say she was a Yankees fan because the school principal said Yankees had a better records this year.

I love that kid.

Yes, today was one of those days that left me feeling blue. My kids are growing up.

My son, who is a fourth grader, got to come to the celebration too, as did all the older siblings in my daughter’s class. He was a proud brother and was excited to share this day with his baby sister. They may fight like banchees at home, but my kids love each other. A teacher emailed me to let me know that my son actually made his day the other morning. After I dropped them off to school late (for what seems like the 100th time this year) they were in the office for late passes when the teacher spied my son opening the office door for his sister before giving her a kiss on the top of her head and sending her off to class.

Here’s me crying more tears, you know?

And here is one last thing to gush about.

My son has told me about a fifth grade boy on his bus who likes to give my son a hard time. It’s been an ongoing issue this year. The kid is kind of a wise guy, not a bully, but definitely a wise guy. I have seen him in action a few times and I figure once this kid gets to middle school, he will see the error in his ways and shape up. One would hope. I tell my son to stay away from him, or ignore his wise cracks. And I think he has for the most part.

So today during the kindergarten celebration, I was awed to see my son walk over to the table where this kid was sitting and plop himself down, eat his snack. They looked at each other maybe once or twice, but neither of them talked.

Huh. Well what do you know?

There it was — my son’s very brave attempt to win over his fifth grade nemesis. And since no blood or tears were spilled, I think it was a success.

In any case, I can gush all day, but then I’d just cry reading about my kids and my eyes would be puffy, my face red and my mascara would run.

I’ll stop this blog about nothing here with one final thought.

Life goes quick so if there are some roses, stop and smell them.

When Is A Blog Not A Blog?

I guess the answer to that would be when you fail to post an entry in over two months. And I call myself a writer. Shame on me.

But wait. There’s more.

It’s not as though I haven’t been writing. I have. A lot actually. Just not here.

On a whim, I signed myself up for an actual writers’ conference, you know the kind where actual people who have actual books go to learn more, schmooze and have some cocktails among like-minded people.

It was a birthday present to myself, and I figured all that good money I earned writing articles in the past year should actually go towards fostering my actual career in writing.

So, I filled out all the stuff, chose three editors I’d like to meet, hit submit and then looked up whether or not book writers who haven’t actually gotten one published should go to a real live writer’s conference. (see a pattern of doing things backwards here?) Anyway, as it turns out, going to a writer’s conference when you haven’t a published book under your belt is actually a REALLY good thing. It said so on the internet so it must be true.

So, did you catch that part about me choosing three editors I’d like to meet? Yeah, I tried to sneak that one in there. Part of this conference was a writing critique where an agent or an editor would read your stuff and tell you what a wonderful writer you are, buy your manuscript on the spot and before you know it, you’d be the next Stephenie Meyer or EL James. Okay, not really, but the writing critique part was true. I  must have been so excited about being a big girl and going to a conference by myself that I overlooked what I needed to do.

A day or two after I hit submit on the on-line registration thingy, I received a very polite email from someone in charge of editor/agent meetings telling me that the first ten pages I wanted an editor/agent to read must be in her hands in two weeks. Hold on a minute! TEN Pages??

Holy Unpreparedness Batman!!

I know I’ve said before that I have the stops and starts of a zillion or so romance novels I’ve attempted in my Word files. Key word being STOP. I haven’t gotten very far on any of them. And then I go to commit to getting the first ten pages of manuscript I haven’t even written to an editor in less than 14 days.

As a former journalist who worked daily on deadlines, I knew I had it in me to write ten pages in two weeks. I just didn’t have a manuscript. Actually I didn’t have much of anything. I must have been on some crazed hormone induced birthday bender to think I could do it.

Well guess what? I did do it. I began writing that book and before I knew what happened, I had more than thirty pages written. I took the first ten, tweaked, revised and reviewed them, even showed them to some friends for their opinions, and was ready to send them off to the conference organizer by the deadline.

I wrote a quick synopsis, a query letter and kissed the overnight envelope with the ten pages of that story that, when done, I knew would knock the socks off an editor somewhere. Yay me.

And then reality hit. What the hell have I just done?

Want to try to ruin a career before it even starts? Do things ass backwards, not well and not even completely. And then, on the weekend you are going to the conference, leave your computer and a copy of the 10 pages you sent at home just in case that, by some chance you are unable to fathom, the editor you are meeting with for a critique doesn’t have anything from you at all.

Have I piqued your interest as to what happened yet?

In a word, or two — A lot.

No, not like a book deal or anything. Not even remotely close.

My foray into the world of writers’ conferences was one of the best experiences in my life. Not only did I have the chance to meet some very talented romance novelists, a lot of those beginning their careers and many more like me who were greener than a pasture in Ireland, as well as a man who makes a living out of steering novelists and screenwriters to very successful careers, I learned more on the art of creating a novel in one and half-days of sitting through workshops and hearing people talk than I could have imagined.

While my meeting with an editor that had made me a nervous wreck for weeks didn’t go well and I didn’t actually get her to critique my writing, she didn’t hate my verbal pitch. So that was good. She thought my idea was pretty good and said I need to see it through to the end.

I came home and realized that it was a good thing that my 10 pages never made it to her. They never would have survived an editor’s critique. They pretty much sucked. And you know what? That’s okay.

Because when I came back home and began to really think my project through, created an outline of sorts and had a better idea of where the story was supposed to go, I started over. And then before I knew it, dialogue was flying onto the page, new characters were being born and I was on my way to writing a better story.

And then came the other thing I learned at the conference. How to tell when you just might be forcing something.

Last week, I was proud to have created more than 200 pages of a story that was but an idea in March. I was proud, but also stuck. I was putting my characters into contrived situations to get them together. I was writing two parallel stories for a project that was supposed to be a romance novel where characters are together. It was as if I were driving in Maine only to realize that I should be in Florida. My story didn’t have a point, no direction and the characters weren’t right for each other.

I sat at my son’s soccer practice in the pouring rain one day last week thinking about my book, wondering if I could actually ever write one. I didn’t want to lose all that good writing I had done, all those characters I love and all that work!

And then I had an epiphany of sorts.

All of a sudden, just by changing one character in the story, I had a plot, a map, a reason for them to be together. I sat in the car, in the rain and wrote the entire idea for the story, with each character’s goals and motivations, conflicts and reasons. And I realized this is more like it.

Now I just have to begin. Again. And it’s been trying. I know what I want to say, but I am having a harder time this time trying to say it.

I have realized that writing a novel is a journey. One that could take a while. And I also realize that this book may not be the one I try to get published. But I have to finish it, if it is finishable. And I think it is.

What the writers’ conference taught me is that I need to write for me. Not to sell a book, see my name in lights (thought that would be nice) or make money. It should be for me, for the love of writing and because I enjoy seeing my words on paper (or in this case, on my computer screen.)

I ran into a friend yesterday who has a great blog about wine and other stuff. We commiserated on the fact that we haven’t blogged in a long time and  I thought that it was kind of like that overdue library book — the one where you know you have to return it and the more time that goes by that you don’t, you know you are a delinquent borrower and don’t want to face the scorn of your angry librarian. (Sorry, dramatic, I know.) She was saying she had so much she wanted to write about and I thought to myself, I wish I did.

Then I realized, I do. I have a blog, I can write about anything I want. And why not write about writing?

So there you have it. In the last two months, a lot has happened. And I do want to write and realize that when I am stuck on something I can’t get out in the novel I want to write, I can just mosey on over here and spill. Spew. Do whatever.

And that is a pretty wonderful thing.

See you around.