Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He’ll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we’ll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known—actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero—the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother’s death bed she asked me “Did I make a difference?” She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren’t filled with hate, or born of ignorance.

My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his ‘sunshine.’ Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father’s melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even wanted to be, but wasn’t. She was childlike in many ways, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments, her expression became sadder and sadder, and my “turn that frown upside down” mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give, but she realized, laying helpless in bed and gasping for every breath, her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.

Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.

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Writer’s Block

…or The War Inside My Head

fhji

I have time to write the 2nd draft of PT. Or, at least, I can make time. But I’m NOT WRITING it.

Why? WHAT IS THE FUCKING PROBLEM?

I CAN’T THINK OF STORY. HELL, I CAN’T THINK other than about my fucked up sitch, in the REAL WORLD, outside of fiction!!

So, what to do with that. I’m thinking enough to write this, right?

Yes.

Then write something else.

Like what?

PT.

Fuck off. Are you NOT hearing me?

Yes. I hear you. OK…so you can’t write PT. Can you write something else in fiction? Non? A blog?

I don’t want to write a blog. I want to write PT, but I can’t THINK!

Hmm, we went over that. You’re thinking right now. Just not about the right thing. So, lets break the problem down. You say you need story for PT. OK. Make some up.

But that IS the problem. I CAN’T THINK OF ANY. Are you deaf, can’t hear me screaming at you? Stupid? What’s your deal?

You. You’re giving yourself no out, no way to hear your muse, let alone create with her. You’re back in algebra, the gates of your brain shutting down, like the steel doors on the Get Smart opening.

Thanks, for stating obvious. You’re not really helping me here.

OK. so, you want ideas for PT.

Yes. Please. Now would be good.

Hmm…dystopian, right?

Yeah, but on the verge. Just a bit forward.

Pitch of important points, in order: Predictive modeling gone wrong; Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Yup. But I got that bit. And that’s not story. It’s exposition.

OK. OK. Chill! Jeez. Give me a minute…

40 years later.

If you don’t shut up, it will be.

So, what happens next…

Storytelling is Truth—Tweaked

Way before writing novels, I was a storyteller. As a little kid, before I could write, I used to come to breakfast and recount tales of going to Disneyland and other elaborate adventures I had during the night with my stuffed dog, Checkers. The purpose was less to entertain then to garner my mother’s attention, a precious commodity given mainly to my manic depressive brother and coiffed sister. The stories I chose to relay often had a point—either I was saved from some peril by a kind stranger because my parents weren’t there to help me, or I saved the day when I climbed the Matterhorn ride and fixed the car engine, rescuing the children stuck at the top to illustrate my prowess and kindness was beyond the pretty face of my sister’s benevolant facade.

Like most writers, I’ve written since learning to write, at first in diaries and journals, now articles, blogs, short stories and novels. Writing, for me, isn’t so much about entertaining, but more about getting my feelings and thoughts out of my head and in front of me to help me decipher them. Sometimes I have an idea or notion I’m convinced is true, then write it down and see the flaws in the logic. Writing about events, interactions, relationships, abstractions, helps me figure stuff out.

Beyond a writer, I’m still, and will always be a storyteller. I use tales as parables, to teach with, to communicate thoughts and feelings, not only to myself, but my kids, my husband, my students, basically most anyone I interact with. I’ve always related stories of things that happened, or, more precisely, elaborating on things that happened…OK, fabricating truths, to communicate, or to fit the lesson. Long time ago, I was told the best way to pull off a lie is to keep it as close to the truth as possible, just “tweak the truth.” It’s easy to pull of a realist tale this way, since most people aren’t paying that close attention anyway. We take what is said at face value, only questioning its validity if it’s too far out there. I find I need to tweak the unvarnished truth more often than not to be heard or believed, as truth is either too boring, or too bizarre—truly stranger than fiction so much of the time.

Fiction is the truth, tweaked. But so are blogs, memoirs, non-fiction, even ‘news’ articles—they are all simply the point of view of the writer/storyteller trying to communicate a feeling or message. Fox News is the Republican point of view, and will give you a completely different take on ObamaCare, then say, CNN. But Truth Tweaked, goes far beyond the news media. Even the most far out fiction like Twilight or Hunger Games resonates with us because they communicate real, true feelings that are familiar to us all. They exploit the truth of our hopes for a better world, a more just society.

Storytelling is the foundation of human communication. Before written languages, sharing stories was how we passed on our history, learned from our experiences, instilled morality into our communities and advanced our race. We all elaborate on our stories, writing them down or recounting an event in our day. We all tweak the truth to serve us, to present an image, teach our children, or convey our fears, desires, dreams.

For as long as I can remember, most every time I tell anyone I’m a writer, they respond with, ‘Oh, I write, too,’ or, ‘I’m going to write my novel one day.’ Used to bug me, spending most of my time and energy honing the craft of writing, I felt dissed by their self-proclaimed association while they invested little to no effort in my chosen, but challenging profession. And while most will never actualize their writing ambitions, the fact is, they too are telling a tale to communicate an image to me, to themselves, that their stories are valuable, their life meaningful, tweaking the truth to serve their needs. We are all storytellers indeed.

Fitting In

Ever been sitting with a group of people, you may, or may not know, and everyone is talking amicably, and you’re sitting there listening, and you feel like an alien? Not a foreign national among a group of natives. More like you’re from another planet. Or they are.

I’ve known I was different for most of my life, always on the outside looking in at the world I live in, but don’t really get. But beyond abstractions like my atheism, there are actual, real differences that separate me from most.

1. I don’t drink alcohol. Can’t stand the taste of the stuff. Wine. Beer. Hard liquor. BLA! Even rum wrecks some would-be-great desserts, like tiramisu. Virtually the first thing that happens at any gathering is the ritual serving of the drinks. I always refuse, which immediately raises suspicions that I’m either a friend of Bill W, or on some fad diet, or a hippy-vegan. The first brick in the wall between me and the group.

2. I don’t watch TV. Too much of a time kill. I average three movies in the theater a year. I don’t watch, or follow sports. Any. Ever. I don’t know the latest shows, any of the actors, or what rock star is trending on YouTube. My kids turn me on to their music, my only source of what is new. And while I download what I like, I suck at remembering the artist’s name, and their faces too, quite frankly. I must have some mental disorder, because people who play no active role in my life just don’t register with me.

3. For the most part, I have no interest in discussing my kids. I don’t want to talk about their schedules, their soccer matches, their summer camps. I’m not interested in other parents sharing the cute, or even bratty things their 5 year old did or said. I’m with my kids a LOT. I don’t want it still all about them when I’m not.

4. As a woman, with other women, I feel particularly off-planet. I don’t care about sales, or shoes. I dress for comfort, prefer my old, soft, often ripped clothes to new. I don’t wear a bra, except when working out, or when it’s mandatory for business. I never wear makeup. I don’t even carry a purse. The diamond studs in my ears have been there for 30 yrs. I wear no other jewelry. I don’t have a lot, and I don’t want a lot, of things.

5. I’m interested in discussing the issues of the day, without being political correct, and with virtually nothing held sacred—an open forum of communication and healthy debate. But it seems every time I bring up global, national, or even local concerns, I create a void in the group’s dialog, this vortex of weighted silence. Either no one seems to have heard of what I’m talking about, or they have no opinion, or they’re too afraid to state it.

The bitch is, I want to fit in, be a part of, integrate as I see others do. Sort of. I just don’t want to DO what most seem to. I really could care less about celebs. And while I like playing racquetball, I’ve no interest in watching someone play sports. Pro athletes work towards excellence 24/7, yet somehow fans take on team victories as their own, while they sit on the couch downing beer. I just don’t get it. The ‘little bit of color,’ my mother insisted was mandatory, make most women who wear makeup look like clowns, or manikins to me. And it’s a rather ironic twist that the media convinces women they need cosmetics to be pretty, especially since it’s a proven cause of cancer, and cancer isn’t pretty. Additionally, I don’t wish to remain ignorant about global to local news, so not to disrupt my personal bliss. We really do need more than the few vocal social advocates we have now. In order for humanity to thrive, now and forward, we all must participate in solving issues of the day for our continued evolution.

Clearly, I am damning myself to the outside looking in. And while it’s unlikely I’ll develop a taste for alcohol anytime soon, I’m hoping through community, and global social media, to find others of like mind, as it’s so often rather lonely out here.