Jan 16

Let Me EntertainYou

My husband asked what I was writing about this month. After I answered him, I could tell that he wasn’t impressed—probably not even slightly interested—with my subject. “Finding iPhones,” I said. He smirked, and I knew he was thinking: boring. So, I gently reminded him that “I’m a writer. If I do my job well, then the story won’t be boring.”

But after finishing the piece, I worried that Greg was right. Doubt had crept into my writing process like it does just about every month. I lose the ability to discern whether my personal essays and memoirs will spur smiles, indifference, or yawns.

I’m a practical person. I know that none of my writing will ever be perfect, that’s just not possible. So at the very least, I aim to entertain. Then I revise as much as possible before having to part with my little darlings—my painstakingly crafted articles. Pushing deadlines and my editor’s patience, I eventually let go and watch my little ones fly. This month, after three long days of trying to improve my article and after going off on tangents into unrelated topics, I realized that even I was disinterested with what I had written.

Friend and fellow Deadwood Writer, Diana Hirsch, says “blogging is supposed to be fun.” The first time she said it to me was when I was struggling to transform my jumbled thoughts into a structured idea that wouldn’t put readers to sleep. She may have presumed I wasn’t enjoying the creative process, but that wasn’t the case. I can . . . and do . . . sit for hours writing, because I like most everything about it.

Introspectively, I analyze relationships and reflect on life. I savor the peace and quiet of researching and indulge in sipping coffee throughout the day. I thrive on the challenge of organizing my material into something clever and orderly; of shaping stories, revising them over and over. And—just like I adore holding a book and flipping pages—I love printing my finished articles so I can pass them between my fingers too. I lay the pages out, scan them for errors, and dot them with red ink where needed. I’m sorry for the trees I murder. But there is something wonderful about the feel of crisp paper with knife-like edges; the sight of black ink being constrained by white, one-inch margins; and the sound of pages clicking in place as I line them perfectly on top of one another and then bring them together with a swift tap or two against the surface of my desk—prepping them for stapling in their upper-left corners.

My little darlings are unlike other writers’ self-indulgent brats—superfluous material, screaming to be cut out from the current body of work and saved for a more befitting purpose. My babies comprise the entire article in its imperfect yet finished form. They are born from each letter and every punctuation mark I type and handcraft with love for you.

Dear readers, you are the driving force behind my efforts to raise good children. I want you to find something encouraging or useful in what I write. If I can entertain you or make you smile at some point, I’m ecstatic, but I’m about as far from Gypsy Rose Lee as one can be. I’m not a natural showgirl or a well-known author. I’m a writer battling against mediocrity in my blogs.

Palumbo, Fred, photographer. [Gypsy Rose Lee, full-length portrait, seated at a typewriter, facing slightly right/ World Telegram & Sun photo by Fred Palumbo]. 1956. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/94511004/. (Accessed January 06, 2017.)

Many of Hollywood’s leading ladies have stepped onstage to sing the lyrics to the iconic “Let Me Entertain You.” The song was inspired by Gypsy Rose Lee’s popularity as a burlesque dancer. This is how I like to remember her: as an author.

Because you’re important to me, I’m not going to succumb to the pressure of a due date, the one thing about writing I don’t like. Deadlines stress college students, journalists, businessmen and writers of all kinds—in this case, me—who could use just a little more time to finish respective projects. Merriam-Webster hints at the origin of “deadline” with this dreadful definition: “a line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot.”

Imagine: A prisoner, whose only chance for escape involves crossing a line that’s being guarded by expert shooters. He knows that crossing that line will most likely result in his death. He frets. He schemes. He hopes. He commits, knowing there is no turning back. No return; no surrender. There is no undoing what he’s about to do. At best, he’ll succeed and live a long life on the run. But doubt creeps in as he faces the fact that his attempt at freedom—at crossing the deadline—will probably result in death.

This month, I hope you’re relieved to find out that you don’t get to read a boring account of the iPhone I stumbled upon while Christmas shopping . . .  just because I have a deadline. I’m preserving any good impression you may have of me by killing my darlings.

 

Photo credit: Palumbo, Fred, photographer. [Gypsy Rose Lee, full-length portrait, seated at a typewriter, facing slightly right/ World Telegram & Sun photo by Fred Palumbo]. 1956. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/94511004/. (Accessed January 06, 2017.)

 

Jan 15

Summer Camp – Part Two

 

Still on two week National Guard duty at Phelps Collins Air Base in the 1960’s, I was a lowly Airman Second Class manning our medical infirmary late at night. Sometime after ten o’clock, with the outside floodlight casting a harsh glare over the parking lot, several cars pulled up. Anyone arriving that late could only mean trouble, and I wasn’t due to be relieved for hours. A flight-line officer stepped inside, somehow looking a little sheepish.

 

I stood and saluted. “Yes, sir; what can I do for you?” He seemed hesitant and stood leaning against the door frame, appearing disconcerted instead of seeking care. Then it struck me. He was, in fact, drunk as a skunk.

 

“Hmm. Is a doctor in, Airman Reed? We have someone outside who damaged himself.” “Damaged himself”? Was this “officer-talk” or perhaps something more serious like a self-inflicted wound? What was going on? He arranged a lopsided grin and continued, “Ya see, he was ridin’ his motorcycle through the barracks”.  He stopped, trying to think of another way of saying it, but gave up. “He hit a bunk-bed and crashed.” He stopped again, to see if the story was registering, but thought better of it.

 

I stared at him, dumbstruck, amused. Was this what officers did with their free time? I was curious but could only blurt, “Through the barracks? A bunkbed? Crashed.” Should I write any of this in the log book so it could be reviewed later? “So how fast was he going? Is he hurt? How badly? Is anyone else hurt? Who else have you notified?” was all I could get out.

 

A second officer appeared, adding, “Yeah, ya see, the bike fell over on him after he hit a wall after he hit the bunk bed, an’ he’s not feelin’ too good. Nah, nobody else got hurt. Too much.” They both stood there like I might make it all better.

 

“OK, but if he’s out in the parking lot, you better bring him in here. I’ll wake Doc Cooper and start making out an accident report.”

 

“Accident report? What accident report? Is that really necessary?” They took a few steps, realizing the entire incident was about to be officially recorded. I could only suppose upper command normally took a dim view of drunken motorcycle riding through barracks resulting in crashes and injuries. He and his pal hadn’t had time to come up with a better story, so I left them to ponder.

 

After rousing our doctor, I returned to find Captain Motorcycle supported by both arms and one good leg in the anteroom. The remaining limb was oddly twisted. He lay on the couch, moaning, while more officers arrived, milling about, trying to maintain solemn faces. Doc Cooper arrived, yawning and scratching, accompanied by Senior Master Sergeant Joe Polak.

 

After a brief examination of the offending leg, Doc observed “Well son, you’ve got a broken leg and a torn rib cartilage.” Everyone seemed surprised at the news, as if anticipating a different verdict. How could this be? In the harsh light of an overhead light bulb, the evening was suddenly less fun. “This man has to be taken to Wurtsmith. I don’t have the facilities here. You might as well start the paperwork.”

 

Wurtsmith United States Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan, fifty miles south, had one of the few military hospitals in Michigan. Since the accident occurred while this officer was on active duty, it was about to become a lot more official than a National Guard infirmary could handle. The same thought suddenly occurred to our inebriated Captain Motorcycle.

 

“But I can’t have a broken leg.” he wailed. “I have to be at work next week. I’m only an insurance salesman,” he protested. “My boss’ll never unner stan’.”

 

Doc Cooper was all business. “Look, young man. No matter how much you argue, you still have a broken leg. It needs X-rays and proper setting.”  He turned to me. “Put him in the blue ambulance, the Pontiac.” He thought for a minute. “They won’t let anyone onto the base unless the driver, at least, is in uniform, with active duty orders.”

 

Joe glanced at me. “Reed’s the only guy here who still has a copy of his orders and wearing a uniform at this time of night. Guess who gets to drive to Oscoda?”

 

Doc said, “He can’t sit in the passenger seat.  He has to ride on his back in the stretcher with one of his friends up front with you driving. Here’s the paperwork and my number here. I’m going to bed. Have fun and report back in the morning.” 

 

I went out and backed the ambulance around to the infirmary door to pick up our new passenger. Captain Motorcycle’s buddies picked him up, still protesting, maneuvering him into the parking lot. We opened the back of the ambulance, extracted a complicated chrome-plated stretcher, and unfolded it before spreading a clean sheet over it. His friends helped strap him down and it took four of us to maneuver him inside and more time to latch it in place so it wouldn’t roll around once we began moving.

 

It was now after eleven and we were ready to start. I had a massive headache and it was an hour drive south on a northern Michigan two-lane blacktop, not to mention all the paperwork I might face. Remaining well-wishers crowded around, and I started the engine. One of Captain Motorcycle’s less-inebriated friends said he would ride with us.

           

Then a small voice was heard. “Hey, fellas. Let me outta here. I gotta pee.”  I shut the engine off and got out. Everybody helped unlatched the stretcher and get him outside. It was going to be difficult un-strapping him, getting him back into the infirmary restroom, and then reverse the entire process. After some discussion, it was decided to carry him around a corner of the building, still strapped in the stretcher, lean him against the infirmary wall and tilt him forward to do his business.

 

One of his friends thoughtfully observed, “One of us has to unzip him and get it out so he can go. Who’s going to do it?”

 

There was a moment’s silence before another piped up, “Look, I’m his best friend, so I’ll unzip him, but there’s no way I’m doing anything else down there. I’m not that good a friend.”

 

Captain Motorcycle spoke up. “Guys, I can’ hold it mush longer. Get a han’ free an’ I’ll take care of it. But, hurry up!”

 

Everybody inspected the night-time sky and parking lot gravel for a few minutes, before reassembling patient and stretcher in the ambulance. I drove toward Alpena, hurtling down U.S. 23 a little over the speed limit with the roof-mounted red light turned off, since it would only add to the evening to be stopped by a curious Michigan State Policeman.  

 

Captain Motorcycle had sunk into silence, and I knew his officer-friend was working desperately to come up with a story for Wurtsmith. There wasn’t much traffic and we flew down through Black River and Alcona approaching Harrisville. Everything was going to plan except officer-passenger wanted to turn on the flashing red emergency light and siren every once in a while to see what it was like.

 

That was before he spotted a distant late-night roadside tavern with all its lights on. He turned around and asked, “Hey, Buck. You wan’ some more beer? This might be the las’ one for a while.” With an affirmative grunt, I was ordered to pull over and wait in the ambulance while he returned with a six pack. Before I was back on the road, they were opening and downing as many as they could.

 

Soon nearing Wurtsmith’s entrance, I was offered one of the last cans, but politely declined, thinking at least one of us should be sober. Especially myself, the driver, since I assumed the United States Air Force looked even less kindly than Michigan State Police upon inebriated ambulance drivers. The Air Policeman manning the entrance couldn’t believe what he was seeing, but my active duty orders were accepted and we found our way to the base hospital. After finally depositing two drunk and one damaged officer long after midnight, I realized Summer Camp was over for Captain Motorcycle-Insurance Salesman, and I had a long drive back to Phelps Collins with only a six-pack of empty Miller cans for company.

Jan 10

Under the Table

Frederick St. John, or Rick as his friends called him, pushed open the heavy carved door of his restaurant, On the Rocks. A cab had dropped him off at the front saving him some time. It was peak in the dining room, and he was late. As soon as he cleared the doors, his pounding headache made a grand entrance, reawakened by the rush of voices and music. “The singles mixer, shit!” He’d have to make an appearance. But later. He rubbed his temple. The party was in full swing, and the bar side of the restaurant was hopping. He kept on walking avoiding those who wanted a piece of time he didn’t have to share.

He glanced down at his phone when it pinged again. Urgent emails beckoned, one fire to put out after another. He pulled up the next one as he bumped into somebody, apologizing while wanting to swear, not about the collision but the emails. Expletives tumbled to the edge of his tongue, but luckily the patrons couldn’t hear what he was thinking. He squeezed his phone tighter. The special reserve vodka he’d ordered for a private party had burned up in an auto accident. The driver was unscathed, but the loss of the delivery was the least of his problems.

Scrolling back, he re-read another message through again for the hundredth time. He’d gotten another call from the assisted living director. His father who he’d placed there recently decided it would be fun to go skinny dipping. In January. The director had sent another email trying to schedule an appointment. His wayward and frisky father would be the death of him. The message had included a very visual recounting of what had happened. Rick tried not to laugh.

He loved his father and would do whatever he could to keep him comfortable. The man lived life as if it was his last day on earth, tending to listen to whatever fun was whispering his name. Rick shook his head, barely squeezing out a smile.

A breathy voice came from out of nowhere. “Hello, Mr. St. John.”

Rick looked up. A perky…very perky, blond he’d hired to replace the previous hostess he’d mistakenly slept with stepped in front of him. What was her name? He smiled and stepped to move around her. He promised himself this time he wouldn’t let his need for release–time outside of his mind–lead him around like a hound catching a scent. She didn’t get the hint as she wrapped her arm around his and pressed against him.

“How are you this evening, sir?” He gently took her fingers and peeled them back off his arm to force her to back up, but had to immediately drop them otherwise he would have had a handful of double D’s as she turned into him to get closer. “Jesus!” He took a step back, but she followed.

“Listen…awe…” Shit, what was her name?

“Crystal,” she said with a pout.

“Listen, Crystal, I don’t have time for,” he waved his hand between them, “so,” he flicked his finger back to the hostess stand and continued, “get back to your station and make sure our customers stay happy.” He winced when her eyes widened, and they quickly lowered with the most wicked smile he’d ever seen. He licked his lips, really tempted to use sex as a numbing agent, but no. He couldn’t get involved in another meaningless relationship.

“Yes, Mr. St. John. Whatever you say.”

Would she really make his customers that happy? Jesus, what had he been thinking when he hired her? Oh, right. He hadn’t been thinking.

“Go on.”

She curled her lip down in what looked like a very practiced move to show disappointment and walked back to where she’d been when he’d entered.

Rick continued to move to the other side of the building putting the new hostess out of his mind right after he decided he would hire a man next time. Fewer distractions that way.

The bar connected to the restaurant by a long arched hallway. Ricky loved the transition. By the time a patron arrived at the dining side, the sound was more sedate, more intimate. Mounted on each section of wall, iron sconces held large candles. Flames cast shadow and light as they danced and flickered across rough fired brick walls as a customer moved through the final archway. He had a thing for rustic-contemporary design and his architectural designer had taken his ideas and returned with a fantastic plan. On the Rocks, had opened with good hype and continued to give him great returns. The most important of them, his customers loved it too and often returned for the food and atmosphere. He hoped any who met at the mixer wandered over in pairs to dine in.

He made eye contact with Casey, his bartender, and hit him up with a chin lift toward his office and a sign to meet him in five. Rick needed to figure out where his vodka for the private party was going to come from before he even considered the discussion he would have with his dad. A naked dalliance in a private area was one thing, but in the retirement center’s pool, that was a different matter.

Casey had just turned to talk to his bartender when his eyes widened, and he smiled, quickly turning away. Rick tried to catch his reflection in the bar’s back mirror when he suddenly looked down to see a very nice, very well rounded ass, sticking out from under a table. “What the hell!” He was so taken aback by what he was seeing, and the instant reaction his body was having, he didn’t respond as quickly to the woman attempting to stand up. She let out a squeak as the table rattled from the impact of her head, which gave him an armful of soft and very pliable female as she stumbled into him. His fingers took hold of her hips and then his arms wrapped around her as her momentum carried her backward. His meeting with Casey forgotten, Rick was consumed by all the luscious curves and warm body he held in his arms. But that changed in an instant when she pulled out of his grip and stepped on his foot causing her to turn awkwardly. He had to shift quickly to get a better hold on her, but he rammed his knee into a chair, which caused the now wiggling female to turn his way. And as sure as he was that his dad would again cause mischief, he knew that he was going to wind up with his ass on the plank floor.

“Ompf!”

“Ohh!”

With his arms, full of woman, he tried to stop the ringing in his head and nausea that settled in his gut after he hit his head on the floor. Rick groaned. His headache was no longer an annoying ache, but a throbbing avalanche of astronomic proportions.

As the woman started to twist again attempting to get off him, his body reacted in a very inappropriate, but exciting way. So, he did the only thing he could and held on tight, whispering in her ear, “Don’t move, little sprite,” It did nothing to help his sexual response to her, as he hardened and she shivered in his arms as his words seemed to tickle her ear. Well, that was interesting, he thought. He squeezed a little bit tighter, and she shivered again. Well, well, that was interesting too, but all too soon he remembered where he was and decided to end his agony, the good kind, which he could use right about now to help rid him of his headache.

Rick rocked forward, and groaned, bringing them both up into a sitting position where he was overwhelmed by the scent of her. She was musk and flowers, and he wanted nothing more than to inhale her as he spread her out on a bed of satin, devoured her, pleasured her until she couldn’t take any more until she screamed out his name.

“What the hell!”

Rick looked past the woman’s hair that caressed his cheek to see an infuriated man looking down on them.

“Sorry man. We were just trying to untangle ourselves.”

“Duncan, would you please help me up?” the woman asked. There was something vaguely familiar about that voice, Rick thought.

Duncan, now confirmed an asshole because he crossed his arms staring down at them both. Rick helped the woman up off him. He quickly got up and straightened his dress shirt, dusting off his slacks when he heard a gasp. When he looked up, he fell into a tumultuous ocean of dark blue eyes. Rick blinked and glanced over every curve and dip of the petite woman in front of him. As his eyes moved their way down her petite body, he couldn’t help but lick his lips wanting more than anything to have the restaurant empty so he could make this encounter more private. Rick would push her back and lay her out on the table and slowly untie the siren’s red dress she wore. Uncover every inch of her pale skin so he could fill his hands with her ample breasts, touch and taste her as he gave them as much pleasure as they both could handle and then he’d do it all over again. When he made his way back up from his long perusal, he noticed her breaths coming fast and hard.

She took a step forward, and he finally looked up to see her face was now a lovely shade of red.

“Ricky?” she said. She took another step toward him.

There was a moment when he still couldn’t recognize the face that went with the voice, but then she smiled, and his eyes narrowed, and then widened as he recognized a distinct dimple in her cheek. “Olivia?” He said her name again, “Olivia. Oh, my God!” This time he took a step forward. When he went to reach out and touch a face he barely recognized now, he found himself on the floor again, this time, with an aching jaw.

“Duncan!” Olivia screamed. When she would have come down to him, the asshole grabbed her and pulled her close to him.

“What the hell, man!” Rick said. He got up from the floor, again, and pressed forward getting into the assholes face.

That’s when Casey stepped up, “Everything okay here?”

“Yeah,” Duncan said. His mouth twisted and pinched. “We’ve lost our appetite. Come on Vivvy. We’re leaving.”

“Vivvy?” Rick mouthed to Casey.

“Duncan, we just got our food, and I need to find my mother’s necklace, the clasp broke again.”

Rick laughed not looking away from Duncan, still unsure of what the guy would do next. “You still haven’t gotten that fixed.”

Olivia looked over and gave him one of her smiles, the ones that had only been for him, but it suddenly turned sad. He wanted to know what had happened so he could fix it and make her smile again.

“Screw the necklace, I said we’re leaving.”

“But…”

That was all she got out before the guy grabbed her arm and started pulling her toward the front door of the restaurant. Rick went to go after her, but Casey held him back.

“Let go, Case.”

“I’m going to kick that guy’s ass, man.”

Casey pulled him around. “Find the necklace,” he pointed under the table, “and I’ll make sure she’s okay.”

“I should go after her.” He began to step around his closest friend, his fists curling into balls. Why would Olivia put up with that guy? And what was with him calling her Vivvy? She hated that. Or does she? But her grandmother called her that. She still must feel the same way. Rick wouldn’t know, though. He hadn’t seen her in at least eighteen years.

“I’ll do it,” Casey said. “Find the necklace. I’ll make sure she’s alright. The boyfriend’s bad news.”

“No shit.” He looked toward where they disappeared through the exit. He turned back to his friend. “How long has she been in town? Where’s she been? Did you talk to her?” Her parents had moved away, no notice, nothing, he remembered. He’d lost the first major crush he’d ever had, his body just awakening, and he had wanted to take that ride with Olivia. God, how he had wanted her to be his first. But he’d lost her, and part of himself, when he found out, they had gone.

“Alright,” he heard himself saying.

As soon as his friend rushed to find out if Olivia was okay, he searched for the necklace under the table. He pulled out his phone to light up the floor and forgot about all his worries, his father, the restaurant, everything. All he was focused on was finding Olivia’s necklace.

“Got, it!” He backed out to find Casey standing over him laughing.

“Shut it, asshole,” he said as he rubbed his head. Casey informed him that Olivia had ridden off with that Duncan asshole in a cab.

“Was she okay?” Rick asked.

“Nope,” Case replied. “She’ll kick Duncan to the curb, now that she’s seen you. Or we can hope. She’s been in the restaurant a couple of times since she’s moved back into her grandmother’s house. I’m surprised you haven’t run across her actually.” He ran his fingers through his hair and pulled. Rick knew that was a sign that Case was worried. “That guy is a prick. Not once have I seen him treat her right.”

“She’s moved back home?” Was his first words, but then he understood what Case was saying. “Is that guy hurting her?”

“I don’t know. But I’m keeping my ear to the ground, so to speak. So far I haven’t seen any evidence that the Duncan’s hitting Olivia.”

Rick nodded and took a few even breaths to put a lid on his temper. Casey would never let her leave the bar if he knew that she might be in trouble. However, since Casey had put his two sense in where it didn’t belong, protecting his girlfriend at the time, the dumbass he’d beaten the shit out of had pressed charges, he now minded his own business.

“Anyway, yeah, she’s moved back home.” The man crossed his arms and surveyed the dining room. “I’m surprised you hadn’t heard. Her grandmother finally bit it. I can’t believe it hadn’t been sooner. That woman was the true meaning of an evil bitch.”

Rick nodded. “I’ve been busy if you hadn’t noticed.”

“Too busy if you ask me. You need to delegate more. Let someone else deal with the club side of things. I know you enjoy the dining side more.”

Rick let Casey’s words fade as he thought of Olivia as a teenager. She was beautiful then, her innocence always at the forefront. It was one of the reasons he’d taken to her so quickly, his teenage hormones letting him know that she was worth every embarrassing hard-on he’d gotten in gym class when he thought of her. But he also remembered the way Olivia’s grandmother was the few times Olivia had invited him over. If the old woman scared the crap out of Rick, he couldn’t imagine how Olivia felt at the age of sixteen. It must have been why they moved away. Something awful must have happened. What could it have been, he didn’t know, but he was willing to find out. He wanted to know Olivia again. He needed to know her again. Gripping her necklace tighter, he headed for his office to dig up as much as he could about Olivia James because seeing her again made something deep in his chest ache for something more meaningful than a one night stand.

 

Wendi Knape’s books on Goodreads

Hot Blacktop
Hot Blacktop (Hot Blacktop #1)

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Jan 08

A Russian Roulette of Writers

When the hygienist said it would be a few minutes, I reached into my bag for a book or story packed for such an occasion—a few stolen moments of reading. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout mingled there in my oversized and heavy purse with my Nook, spare change and crumpled receipts. My short story group selected the book to examine short stories compiled into a novel.

 

A World Literature Illiterate

The dentist’s usual routine—rush in, smile, check teeth, smile, rush out—stopped at the sight of my book. He asked, “What are you reading?”

I told him about the short story group.

“If you want to read the best short stories, you should read Russian authors,” my Russian dentist said.

“Our study group reads mostly American authors,” I said, embarrassed at my limited knowledge. I hadn’t read many of the American writers until I joined the group several years ago. My discovery of authors like John Cheever, Tobias Wolf, Antonya Nelson, George Saunders and Jhumpta Lahiri was still new and fresh.

I remembered a few foreign authors. “We read James Joyce—Irish.” Dubliners, of course, duh. “And Gabriel Garcia Marquez—South American.”

The dentist sighed and examined me through his ultra-magnified glasses zooming into the tiniest imperfections in my teeth, pores in my skin and crevices of my soul. “If you want to read a real story, read Chekov, the greatest short story writer.”

 

Required Reading

A few months later, I visited the dentist again. Study guide in hand and prepared to redeem my reputation, I announced, “We’re studying Chekov this month. And this one.” I point to the page. “He’s Russian too?”

“Nabokov. Yes, he’s Russian.” The dentist, his eyes downcast, said nothing more.

“Have you read ‘The Woman with the Dog’ by Chekov?”

“Yes, yes, of course. At my home in Russia, we had a library of more than three hundred books. First edition books. Valuable, but all stolen.” He shook his head.

I imagined his family living in Russia during the cold war years and wondered what forced them to leave. “Do you want to read our lesson? We’re studying stories retold or written in homage to another work. The Chekov story is recast by the author Joyce Carol Oates. And Lorrie Moore writes ‘Referential’ based on Nabokov’s story. Have you read ‘Signs and Symbols’ by Nabokov?”

He looks at me again through those magnifying lenses attached to his glasses, piercing through my ignorant American inquiry. “I read it in eighth grade.”

I tried to remember what I read in eighth grade, on those late nights sitting in my bean bag chair next to a pole lamp I rescued from the trash. My middle school friends swapped vampire novels and other contraband. My college-aged brother left behind his anti-war books like Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.

But what did I read in school? Did I read in school? Overall, my eighth grade literature was entirely forgettable compared to what I read at home after my parents went to sleep. My dentist’s superior schooling trumped the American mandates for my entirely forgettable eighth grade year.

 

Biased To Domestic

My dentist politely declined my outline and expressed no interest in the other writers. Instead, he tore a scrap of paper from my file, unfortunately not the part with the amount I owed him, and wrote Bulgakov and his novel shown in the photo above. “This is the best. Read this.”

The conversation haunted me for several weeks until I studied an article about Americans bias to invest domestically when greater returns existed elsewhere. I wondered if greater reading returns came from abroad also. There was only one way to know.

The idea of reading the best of Russian writers piqued my curiosity and is one of my New Year’s resolutions. About Chekov and Nabokov, my dentist later confessed that he wanted the literature in Russian and not translated into English. I sympathized, hoping he can read some English, because I was trusting this guy with my teeth.

 

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Jan 06

Born to Write?

“The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I continue to write hoping to complete a 75,000-word story this year. Is this my true talent or an unrelenting drive? I write a monthly blog, short stories, and memoirs, but I want to do more. Do I keep the possibly unattainable goal of becoming a published novelist? Or should I admit this may be too much to hope for? Do you feel the same way and does this prevent you from achieving your goals?

I’ve tried to let go of the dream, but stories continue to invade my consciousness. Plot ideas come to me from tidbits of overheard conversations, intriguing quotes I’ve read, and scenes from books and movies. Of course, real life is rich with possible scenarios for novels.

For example, a family member told me the convoluted story of an estranged couple and their narrative resonated with me. That couple allowed memories of past relationships and current intruders to prevent them from consummating their romance. I plotted their romance, added a little spice and intrigue, and gave them a satisfactory outcome. The word count fell far short of what is expected of romance novels.

I put the manuscript aside knowing my work didn’t meet the criteria. But I can’t let the story go because it has many elements of stories that I like to read. I call them delicious romances with a little meat in them. More intrigue must be added, but it’s not easy without putting in too much fluff. I struggle writing longer manuscripts because I fear failure.

Discouraged from continuing my “hobby” of writing, I continued in secret. Shorter stories and memories were easy for me to complete without unwarranted attention. I knew if I failed at publishing a full-length story, then I would have to hear, “I told you so.”

I heard the following statement from the movie “Sing.” “Don’t let fear stop you from doing the thing you love.” Because writing gives me pleasure, I’ll repeat the quote to myself for encouragement as I continue to pursue my creative goal.

My commitments for 2017 are as follows:

  1. Continue blogging.
  2. Read a minimum of one book per month.
  3. Enter a writing contest.
  4. Finish writing this romance.

What are you committed to do this year?

 

 

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