Don’t Shoot! Oh Wait, I Need Photos

Some cultures are said to believe that when a photographer takes your picture, he is stealing your soul. I think my dog might believe that, too.

It was time for new author photos. I had been using the same ones for years. My hair is grayer now. I have a new book, Seal Rock Sound, to sell, and I didn’t want people looking at my photo and saying, “Is that you? You look different.” I hired local photographer Chris Graamans because he does terrific work. We did the deed last week.

For me, getting author photos taken is on a par with getting my teeth cleaned. I’m going to have to live with these pictures for years. They’ll show up online, on the back of my books, in articles about me. They have to be good, and I’m all too aware of my imperfections. When I asked Chris if he could shave off 20 years and 30 pounds, I wasn’t kidding. He just smiled.

As Chris brought in his light stands and umbrellas, backdrop and camera and commenced to take pictures, Annie acted very strangely. She usually says hello to visitors then lies down, but she kept walking around him and brushing against me. I don’t know if she was trying to protect me or begging for attention, but it was strange.

I wonder. Humans (and some monkeys and apes) are the only animals who bare their teeth when they’re happy. For most critters, it’s a sign of aggression when they’re getting ready to attack. Again and again, even though it felt strange, I forced that smile, showed off my massive choppers. I have seen myself not smiling and don’t like the way I look.

We all want to show up with perfect skin, perfect hair, a slim figure, a perky nose and maybe some dimples. I’m going for “friendly.” Or maybe “interesting.”

We don’t see ourselves the way other people see us. I know that. Other people may not even notice things that look terrible to me. Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I’m horrified. Do other people see that? How can I show my face in public? Of course, it could be the other way around, too. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.

You can’t photograph a soul, a spirit, the essence of who you are, and no, the camera does not kidnap one’s spirit. It only captures the outside shell that holds it.

But if you’re going to be a writer, you have to have photos.

As a reader, I always look for the author’s photo. I want to know what the person who wrote this thing looks like. Frankly, if they’re too attractive, I don’t trust them. So maybe this will work out all right for me.

People are drawn or repelled by pictures. Sitting at my table Saturday at the Florence Festival of Books, I saw very clearly that the front and back covers are the most important things when people are strolling around with a few dollars to spend on books. If the front cover doesn’t grab their attention and the description on the back cover doesn’t make them want to read more, they’re moving on. They’ve got 40 more booths to visit.

If they pause long enough to talk to you, you need to be able to tell them what kind of books you write and what they’re about in just a few words. Do not make people stand and listen to the whole story when they didn’t even ask for it. The man at the next table was great at this. He writes “Humorous murder mysteries” about a professional wrestler turned private detective who runs into Big Foot in the woods while on a case. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

One author said her books are like Clan of the Cave Bear but rated PG. Another said he writes “biker poetry.” Another offers “inspirational nature photo books”.

With my many different kinds of books, I’m still working on how to sum it all up in a few words: true and fictional stories and poetry about childless women living alone on the Oregon coast? No, that’s still too long. Suggestions?

Have you had your picture taken lately? How did it go? Feel free to share your stories in the comments.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Let’s Sing Some Songs About Hair

What songs would PD play? That’s the question I kept coming up against in my novels Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound, featuring piano player-singer PD Soares. Recently widowed, she has left her home in Montana and headed west, determined to be more than a church choir singer.

Although she does have a day job, PD’s music career is moving along. She’s singing and playing with a band called Seal Rock Sound that includes her roommate Janie and several other friends. Their repertoire includes everything from Chuck Berry to Bob Dylan to Willie Nelson, with a little Grateful Dead thrown in. At a rehearsal in Chapter 5, they go from “Ripple” to “Blue Skies” to “Peaceful Easy Feelin.’ ” Plus some songs that I had to find online because I am not PD. I am considerably older and tend toward country, bluegrass, gospel, and some new age piano stuff. That’s not going to work for PD and her band. She likes jazz, blues and rock. Her audiences are not going to go for “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

When a friend throwing herself a pre-chemo party demands “hair” songs, PD and Janie come up with a list. Who knew there were so many songs about hair?

“I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”

“Hair” (from the musical)

“Hair” (Lady Gaga)

“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” (South Pacific)

“That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine”

“I am Not My Hair”

“Farrah Fawcett Hair”

“Hairspray” (the musical)

Do you know any others? Let’s add to the list.  

I had a blast writing the hair party chapter. If you want to know what happened, pick up a copy of Seal Rock Sound at Amazon.com or order it from your favorite bookseller.  

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Spending the night with Charles T. Pap (CPAP)

Stuff white toy bear is shown wearing a CPAP mask with straps around his head and a hose coming out the top of his head to demonstrate how it looks.

I call him Charlie. Charles T. Pap for formal occasions. No, it’s not a boyfriend, dog, turtle, car, or a character in one of my novels. It’s my CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure. People wear these machines to keep them breathing steadily during the night when they would otherwise intermittently stop breathing due to sleep apnea. This is hard on the heart and other organs. It also robs sufferers of good sleep so, like me, they keep falling asleep during the day.

You might have slept with someone who has it. They snore and snore and then . . . silence. Then maybe a snort and more snoring. They may even snore so loudly they wake themselves up. I have done that. I have also recorded myself snoring. My husband, who did not snore, was a saint to put up with that. I’m pretty sure my mother had it. She snored like crazy and fell asleep often during the day, just like me.

Ironically, my brother and I brought home our brand new identical CPAP machines on the same day in June, so we compare notes. He tried another model before and gave up after a few days, but he’s sticking with this one because he has heart trouble and isn’t ready to die in his sleep. Me, I’m just tired of being tired.

You can’t get a prescription for a CPAP machine without having a sleep study. I wrote about that here in May, complete with embarrassing photo. You can read it here. The study showed that I stopped breathing about every 30 seconds when I slept on my back, less often when I lay on my side. Not terrible, but concerning. Just sleep on your side, you say? I thought I did, but it turns out I spend a good portion of the night on my back.

I will not be posting a photo of me wearing Charlie strapped around my face. It looks ridiculous. You have a hose running from the machine to a nozzle on the top of your head, another strap behind your head, and more straps holding a rubber nosepiece that looks alarmingly like a hospital intubation tube. In the model I have, my mouth is free, but many older CPAPs cover both nose and mouth. Nope, nope, nope, not for me.

The sleep doc gave me three months to try out the CPAP and see if it helped. If it didn’t, I could give it back and be done with it. Oh, how I wish that were the case, but I know I sleep more soundly with it on, with Charlie breathing moist air into my nose all night. Dang it.

Charlie takes almost as much maintenance as my old dog, who is catching some extra z’s beside me as I type. Clean these parts every day, these other parts once a week, refill the humidifier tub with distilled water daily, replace the filter, the nosepiece, the mask, and the hose at different times and the whole thing every few years . . .

My brother is more meticulous than I am. Every morning he puts a little baby shampoo on his finger and washes out his facemask and humidifier tub. I do it about once a week. I’m still trying to figure out how to get it dry by bedtime. It’s damp here on the Oregon coast. Last night near midnight I was standing in the bathroom in my nightgown blow-drying the padding on the sides of the nosepiece. When I put it on, water dripped onto my lips and chin for the first hour. Combine that with restless legs and a brain full of too many TV shows, and I didn’t fall asleep till the wee hours. To entertain myself, I watched videos on my phone on how to clean my CPAP.

At my telemed appointment tomorrow with the sleep doc, we will discuss my experience with the CPAP. Charlie is connected to the internet, and the doc will have a print-out of my numbers, hours of usage, oxygen saturation, etc. They know what I’m doing in bed! Well, at least with Charlie. They don’t know why it’s so off and on some nights and a steady seven or eight hours on other nights.

Sleeping hooked up to a machine, with a mask on your face and a hose coming out of the top of your head is weird and unnatural. Having Googled CPAPs online, I’m receiving lots of ads for less invasive machines and alternatives to CPAPs. I am not uninterested, but I am still hoping my relationship with Charlie will work out.

I got used to wearing curlers in my hair every night and sleeping with a headgear attached to my buck teeth in my teens. I can do this. Maybe. Experts say one-third to one-half of people prescribed CPAP machines quit or never bother to start. I know I never wanted this, but Charlie is here, and I’m hoping we can get along.

Have you or a loved one used a CPAP machine? How did it go? Were you able to stick with it? Why or why not? Any advice for this CPAP rookie?

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Where Can an Old Lady Get a Safe Non-Sexual Hug?

Did that question make you laugh? I get it, but I’m serious. For those of us who live alone, hugs are few and far between. Covid didn’t help. Now when I meet up with a hugger, they tend to ask first. “Do you do hugs?” What am I going to say? No! Don’t touch me? We wrap our arms around each other and hope our vaccines and immune systems are working.

Have you heard that people need hugs like they need food and air? No matter how old we are, we still need to be touched, to be held, just like we did when we were babies. In fact, I have read that we need at least four hugs a day. Some experts say we need 12. Show of hands: How many of us have had zero hugs today?

A Psychology Today article on the benefits of hugging says that hugging reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune systems, and releases a pleasure hormone called oxytocin.

It’s no wonder so many of us long for a real hug, the kind where you both hold each other, no one holding back, no hurry to end it. You hug long enough to smell a hint of deodorant, soap or sweat, the mint on their breath. Even if their belt buckle is pushing into your stomach and your breasts feel squashed, you hold on because it feels so good.

Or at least that’s how I remember it.

People are suspicious of hugs these days. With Covid, it makes sense. But even before Covid, full-out hugs were outlawed in the workplace, between teachers and students, or in any situation where someone might cry, “Sexual abuse!” That’s a valid concern, even if the teacher just wants to cheer up a little kid who’s crying because his turtle died. Nope, at best, all they can give is a quick sideways squeeze. Or a fist bump, like a priest I used to know. We can’t blame any priest for wanting to avoid any suspicious touching after all the clergy abuse that has happened in the past.

But we need hugs. While being hugged, you feel held, loved, safe. It feels like home. My late husband Fred was famous for his hugs. When he hugged you, you knew you’d been truly hugged. My friend Terry does that, too. But Fred is gone, and I don’t see Terry very often.

So where is a girl supposed to get a hug? A Scoopwhoop.com post suggests that we find the the people who embrace with abandon and ask for hugs. We can also offer hugs to people who seem to need them, asking, “May I hug you?” But yes, these days, it’s not a simple question, and is a hug as good if you have to ask for it?

Wikihow has a post on how to hug in various situations. Do we really need instructions? Maybe after all this pandemic time, we do.

There are some hug substitutes one can try, such as weighted blankets, stuffed animals, and body pillows. You can wrap your arms around yourself and squeeze, but it’s not the same.

In some locations, you can hire a professional hugger. Read about it here: https://www.eatthis.com/professional-hugger/ And here: https://cuddlist.com/ and here: https://www.cuddlecomfort.com/ Is that weird? Would you ever hire a pro? Isn’t this a little like prostitution?

Check out this video of a little boy hugging residents at a nursing home. “Boy offers hugs to lonely senior citizens.” It will make you cry. You know those old people don’t get a lot of hugs.

Maybe the best way to get hugs is to give them. To a human. I hug my dog Annie all the time. She looks at me like what are you doing? She does not hug back.

In this time when Covid is still happening, we need to be careful. If you are blessed with a romantic partner, you have a built-in hug dispenser. Likewise with your children, except maybe for their teenage years. But if you live alone? All I can recommend is to hug where you feel comfortable. Offer a hug and you will usually get one back. It’s okay to say, “I need a hug.” We never outgrow the need to be touched.

Where do you get your hugs these days? Are you someone who initiates hugs or do you shy away from hugs? Who is the best hugger you know?

Photo by Marcus Aurelius on Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

New Novel, Seal Rock Sound, is Here!

Book cover for Seal Rock Sound shows a rocky shoreline, dark clouds reflecting on blue water at sunset.

Seal Rock Sound, the sequel to Up Beaver Creek, has officially been published. PD is back.

PD Soares survived the death of her husband, relocation to Oregon, and the disasters that occurred shortly after her arrival at her new home up Beaver Creek Road. Now she can relax and pursue her music career and maybe even a little romance, right?

Wrong. New challenges are coming like sneaker waves. Can you love a man who doesn’t love himself? What is wrong with her mother? And how do you recover when the town that calls itself “the friendliest” proves not so friendly after all? Our red-haired, piano-playing heroine is tough, but is she tough enough?

Book cover for Up Beaver Creek shows a creek running through dense bushes and trees, all very green and blue.

Of course she is, but it won’t be easy.

I’m already making notes for the third book in the series because I just can’t let these people go.

This is my 12th book. Does it get easier to produce a book?

No.

That’s probably not what you want to hear. “Oh, sure I just pop them out like pancakes.” Maybe not pancakes. My pancakes are always burnt or half raw. Let’s say muffins. I’m good with muffins.

Here’s the thing. With each book, I am more aware of the mistakes I need to avoid, more conscious of the pitfalls of careless editing or shallow research. With a sequel, it’s even trickier because every detail has to be consistent with what I said in the previous book. Were Donovan’s eyes blue or green? Which one of Janey’s boyfriends helped her move? Did the house PD and Janey shared have a fireplace, wood stove or radiator? Conflicting details can destroy a good story.

My years of newspaper writing make me a faster writer than many. I don’t agonize over every word or spend an hour writing and rewriting one sentence. I spent too many years knowing I just had to get the story finished by deadline. There was no time for angst or perfection. Now I’m learning to break that habit.

I used Allison K. Williams’ book Seven Drafts this time, and I think I will use it with every prose project from now on. Because I did the seven drafts, this may be the best writing I have ever turned out.

Each draft asks the writer to look at ONE aspect in depth. For example, one draft is devoted to making sure the story makes sense in the order it is written. Does every chapter serve a purpose? Is something missing? Is this chapter too short or two long? Does this scene belong in this chapter or another one or do you need it at all? Do the beginnings and endings of each chapter grab the reader’s attention and make her read on?

Another draft is devoted to characters. Are they all necessary? Who are they? What do they want? What conflicts are they dealing with?

We move on to setting. Can a reader who has never been there see it clearly? Does the time and place play a role in the story? Oregon coast winters are wet and windy. How does that affect what happens to PD and her friends?

After dealing with the larger issues, the drafts get down to unnecessary words, vague language, and words we tend to overuse. This is where we make the writing sing.

All these drafts take a long time, but they pay off.

Once the writing and rewriting are done, production begins: formatting, layout, cover design, drafts, proofreading. It is amazing how the human eye works. Several people proofread this book, and we all found different typos.

Finally the moment comes when you click “publish” and order author copies. You pray this book baby has all its fingers and toes, that the pages aren’t upside down and the cover looks as good in person as it looks on the screen, that the page numbers are where they’re supposed to be, and you don’t see any big ugly mistakes. When your first copies arrive and you see that your book is all right, you hold it to your bosom and weep.

You’re done now, right? Wrong. Now you have to sell it. And that’s a whole other chapter.

Next time you pick up a book, whether it’s in a bookstore, at the library, or in a bin at the thrift shop, consider what it took to turn an idea into this product you hold in your hand. If you’re a writer, don’t let that stop you. Just take it one step at a time.

You can order both Up Beaver Creek and Seal Rock Sound in paperback at your favorite bookstore through Ingram, the distributor used by most booksellers, or in paperback or ebook formats at Amazon.com. I am available for readings and talks live or online. Tell your friends.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Is That You? You Look Different on Zoom

I parked at the community center in Keizer, Oregon last Sunday, climbed the stairs to the little theater where the Mid-Valley Poetry Society reading was happening and did a double-take. Is that T? And J? And  . . . ?

Oh my gosh. It was surreal. Many of the faces were familiar, but I had only seem them on my computer screen on Zoom. They towered over me or were smaller than I expected. They hugged or held back. They limped or bustled. It was like going into a blind date where you have only seen a photograph. In person, they look different. “John?” “Sue?” 

As people venture out of their pandemic hideaways, suddenly we’re three-dimensional, without the flattering lighting, the carefully arranged backdrop, and the option to turn the camera off. Now they can see all of us. When they saw me, did they think she’s heavier than I thought, and I didn’t know she wore glasses? 

I have made wonderful friends on Zoom, including people from all over the world. I feel like I know them, but it’s not the same. It’s a snapshot, not a rounded picture. As I learned last month when I attended a poetry convention in Ohio, meeting on Zoom is not like eating breakfast with other poets, noting how they choose cereal and fruit or pile on the pancakes, whether they are chirpy or sullen in the mornings. It’s not like meeting in the hallways, elevators, or swimming pool. Sure, you still get the words of the speakers, but you don’t connect as people. Mostly you’re staring at your own stupid face wondering why your hair looks so bad. 

Zoom has its advantages. I have talked to people in the UK, Australia and Dubai, as well as across the US,  whom I could probably never meet in person. It’s COVID-safe, much cheaper and easier than traveling, and somewhat anonymous. But we’re becoming a nation of screen people. Even when someone is standing right in front of us, we’re staring at our screens. We’re raising a generation of young people who don’t know how to socialize, how to sit with someone, look at them, and converse. They only know how to Zoom, and that’s sad.

I also discovered that performing in real life as opposed to Zoom is a whole different thing. My two poetry chapbooks were born during the pandemic. I have done readings on Zoom to promote them but none offline. When you’re reading on Zoom, you’re more focused on the technology and your own face than the audience. Because they are muted, you can’t hear if they laugh or cheer or gasp.  Nor can you hear any applause, just maybe catch a glimpse of waving hands. 

You don’t even know whether they’re listening. If you look at all the people in their squares, many are moving around, playing with their pets, or checking their phones. You’re background noise. I’m one of the worst offenders. I can’t sit still when I’m at home with an endless to-do list. And who’s to know if I’m checking email or washing dishes while I listen to your poems? 

But in the theater, meeting room or living room, the audience has to sit and pay attention. The performer can look out at them and see them listening. When I read at the open mic last weekend, the applause was like a loud rain after a long drought. So beautiful. I had to deal with a tricky microphone and blinding stage lighting, but just to stand there and proclaim my poems and feel my words going into the air felt so good. You don’t get that on Zoom. Now I’m longing to get up there with my guitar and sing. Church has been my only gig since March 2020.

I attended a conference in Ohio last month. It was a hybrid, in person and on Zoom. Giant screens showed the people attending online. They could see where the camera was aimed, but they couldn’t see all of us. They didn’t taste the food. They didn’t sit at the tables while we did the cut-up poem exercise, fighting over the scissors and glue sticks and laughing at the mess we were making. I ended up with a poem I liked. Did they? And who was there to admire it?

Sitting in the courtyard drinking wine, lounging on soft chairs close together and really listening to each other’s poems was a whole different experience from hearing them online. 

We don’t even realize everything COVID has taken from us. We have lost loved ones in the pandemic, yes, but we also have lost a way of life. It’s not over. This may only be a temporary break before we go back into isolation. The news is full of rising case numbers and new variants. Some cities are reinstating mask mandates. We all want the pandemic to be over. It isn’t, but we’re pouring out of our houses. We’re traveling, we’re meeting, we’re hugging. Stop? It’s like trying to put ketchup back in the bottle.

On my trips to California and Ohio last month, I found myself surrounded by strangers, mostly without masks. I had no way of knowing whether they were vaccinated, whether they were infected, whether they had just been with someone who was sick. If we get COVID, we get COVID seems to be the philosophy now. 

I suppose there’s a limit to how long we can sequester ourselves in fear before we have to crawl out and see what’s left, see who is left. 

Meanwhile, what a gift to walk into a room, see someone you’ve grown to admire on Zoom and fall into a hug. Oh my, they’re so tall. They’re so real. They’re so three-dimensional, with arms, legs, clothing, and warm skin. It’s not the same. It’s wonderful. 

Are you meeting Zoom friends in real life? What is it like for you?

Read about it:

“The Rise of Deja Zoom: Meeting Your Virtual Friends IRL” https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/12/deja-zoom-pandemic-friendships-virtual/620869/

“Dating Over Zoom? Don’t Be Surprised If Those Online Sparks Fizzle in Person” https://theconversation.com/dating-over-zoom-dont-be-surprised-if-those-online-sparks-fizzle-in-person-138899

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Can’t I Just Talk to a Human Being?

Photo by Tim Douglas on Pexels.com

All I wanted was a sandwich, a glass of iced tea, and a temporary escape from the airport crowds. This restaurant seemed like a good place to set down my bags and sit awhile.

I slipped into a booth and looked around. No menus, no servers. Instead, a plaque with a QR code was glued to the table. Diners were instructed to scan the code with their phones, click on the website that appeared and order there. At that point in my travels, I was so tired of computerized machines that I left and went to the other sit-down restaurant near my gate. Same thing. Three workers chatted in the corner. I walked up to them and shouted over the ear-hurting music. “How do I order?”

“Oh,” said one, we ‘opened’ that table over there. Just scan the code and order on your phone.”

I walked out of that place, too. When I’m hungry, I get cranky.

I had plenty of time. My flight from Columbus, Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina was delayed. I had received two text messages about it.

I wound up eating a microwaved egg sandwich at Starbucks because I could order from an actual human. It wasn’t good, but their iced tea was fine. I sheltered in a leather chair typing on my laptop about the frustrations of an app-centered world.

I’m starting to fall behind. I don’t have blue-tooth earbuds in my ears, although I do sometimes talk to myself out loud. I have a laptop and a smart phone, but sometimes, oh horrors, I write with a pen on paper. And I failed at both Uber reservations and airline pre check-in.

The convention center didn’t have an airport shuttle. I tried to schedule an Uber ride, which meant downloading an app on my phone that I will have no use for at home. When I tried to set up my pickup, it seemed to be working. I paid $48 for a “medium-quality” car to arrive at 10:15 a.m. A map came up on my screen. I had already given them my name, location and destination. Was that it? I hoped so.

I hauled my bags out front and waited. And waited. I watched a mama robin feed her chicks in a nest above the bricks at the entrance. I said goodbye again to new poet friends who wished me a safe trip. I watched families arrive with children in bathing suits. 10:15. 10:20. 10:30. 10:45. Two friends from New Mexico came out. They had an Uber booked. They knew the name of the driver and the make of his car. I knew nothing. Clearly I had screwed up. My friends invited me to squeeze in with them. Whew. On my way.

When I tried to check in for my flights, Columbus to Charlotte and Charlotte to Portland, I couldn’t make it work. Unlike every other passenger flashing his/her phone, I checked in at the airport and presented the wrinkled paper boarding pass I got out of the machine. Failing the seat-reservation function, I wound up in the dreaded middle seat on the six-hour flight to Portland. I couldn’t figure out the app to watch a movie, but I had a book to read.

Back in Portland, I was not yet free of apps and screens. My car, which had been parked at a hotel park-and-fly lot (booked online), roared like it was about to explode. Thieves had stolen the catalytic converter, the doo-hicky underneath that filters exhaust emissions. I called AAA road service. They texted me an app to watch their progress on my phone. I watched them drive in the wrong direction but had no way to tell them. Two hours later, “Ray” arrived and drove me and my car to Corvallis, using his GPS to guide him on the most circuitous route.

Portland Police Department’s non-emergency line is so busy they won’t even let you wait on hold. You file your report online. After I called my insurance company, I was bombarded with emails and texts about my claim. I thought I rented a car online, but when I got to Hertz, I had done it wrong, so we had to start over. I was so frustrated I cried right there in the waiting room at University Honda.

My rental car, a 2021 Ford Escape, had so many computerized controls, it took three Hertz employees to help me figure out how to shift into reverse so I could get out of the parking lot.

I’m home now. I’ve got my car back, my good old, not-so-computerized car. I know it’s a virtual world these days. I’m writing this on my computer. Like everyone else, I’m forever checking my phone, but sometimes I just want to put the damned thing down. Sometimes I really need a kind human to ask, “How are you? What can I get you?”

Some interesting reading about online ordering in restaurants: https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-mobile-ordering-restaurants-0913-biz-20160912-story.html

https://www.foodandwine.com/fwpro/post-pandemic-dining-role-of-cell-phones

Had a run-in with an app lately? Please share in the comments.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

As Old Trees Fall, New Life Begins

Once so thick only a snake or rabbit could squeeze between the trees and shrubs, the wooded property beside mine fell prey to bulldozers in June 2022. In 12 days, it went from heavily forested to bare land, exposing my house and leaving robins, garter snakes, and white-tailed rabbits to find other homes. The new owner plans to build a house and eventually plant some new non-native trees.

For every tree that fell, I ached. It was a life ending. At the same time, I marveled at the increasing view of the sky and the sunset, of the moon and stars. I felt a warm comfort that my new neighbors arrived just a few days after I told God how worried I was about aging alone in my isolated house and put my future in His hands. Instead of being hidden away where no one could hear me if I called for help, I can now be seen by anyone coming down my street. When I walk on my deck now, instead of a wall of trees, I see my neighbors’ houses and all the way to the next road. I am exposed. No more naked hot-tubbing. When I wander out in my nightgown, people can see me. It’s a trade-off. The animals are adapting, and so will I. After all, someone cleared my property back in 1967 to build my house, and someone razed the orchards to build the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s what happens.

Yesterday, a big truck took the bulldozers away. The workers were gone. No more noise. In this lull before construction on the new neighbors’ house begins, Annie and I walked the cleared property, adding our footprints to the tracks of the heavy equipment. We found remnants of past lives: beer and soda bottles, pieces of shingles, a bit of rope, a flat football. We found the lid that blew off my compost bin in a storm years ago. We found a garter snake curled in the leaves that remain on my side of the property line. A gray and white bird I had never seen before sang from a tree in my yard, and a turkey vulture circled lazily in the warm air.

There was a particular alder tree I had asked the neighbor to save. No, he said. It has to go. The trunk remains, reddish gold. I counted the rings. About 35. It was a young tree, but as the neighbor said and as I could see from the fallen branches, it was rotten inside and would not have stood much longer. Its sister tree on my side of the property line reaches slim and leafy into the June sky. A yellow warbler darts between branches. So be it. Life is a book with many chapters. You can’t know the whole story unless you turn the page.

I still startle at the sight when I drive into my neighborhood. I will miss the blackberries I picked and baked into cobblers and muffins in past years. I will miss the rabbit that snuck out of the bushes for brief visits, but I also love the late-day sun that pours into parts of my house that have ever seen the sun before. Life goes on.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Old Tape has Me Dancing in my Den

If you can’t name these artists, you’re probably too young to remember them–or what came before DVDs

Sammy! Liza! Frank! 

Once upon a time, everyone would know who I was talking about, the same folks who wouldn’t think it odd that I watched these once-beloved performers on a VHS tape last night. Yes, I still have a machine to play them.

Home-recorded off a PBS show in 1989, the tape featured Sammy Davis, Jr., Liza Minnelli, and Frank Sinatra. I didn’t even remember I had it until I got desperate for entertainment and started sorting old tapes.

I no longer wanted most of them. I threw away a bunch of homemade tapes and set aside some store-bought ones to give away, but this one I settled in to watch. 

I’m keeping this tape till I die. Oh wait. I don’t have to. The same show is online at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443514/. You can buy it on eBay, watch excerpts on YouTube, and look, Amazon has the VHS tape for $40. Who knew this bootlegged tape might be worth something someday? 

From my late teens on, I had a major crush on Sammy Davis, Jr. Lord, this tiny black man could sing. And dance. And act. I saw him perform live at the old Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, California. I stayed up late to watch his short-lived talk show on a fuzzy black and white TV in the ‘70s. I bought every album he ever made–on vinyl–and sang along at the top of my lungs. 

One would think I’d be over it by now. I’m not. Last night, I was still blown away by Sammy’s voice and the way he threw himself into every song. I also noticed how skinny he was, how he smoked and coughed between songs. I knew he would die of throat cancer three years later. But I was still in love after all these years. 

Then came Liza, last seen in a wheelchair at the Academy Awards, barely able to speak, seeming confused. But here she is in all her spangled glory with a powerhouse voice that reminded us of her mother, Judy Garland, but also was pure Liza. I knew every word of her songs, too.

Frank was next. My mother told tales of teens going berserk over him in her day. Now, older and rounder, his voice not as smooth, he rode on past glory. He smoked and drank while he was singing, but still. This was Frank Sinatra

I knew they were all primadonnas. I knew Frank and Sammy were both dead and Liza was in bad shape. I knew they had sung the same songs, told the same jokes, and made the same moves hundreds of times, but it didn’t matter. They were entertainers, and I was entertained. 

Anyone glancing through my windows would have seen a 70–year-old woman singing and dancing and floating back to 1989 when she was young, curly haired and svelte, married to the man of her dreams, and doing well in her own singing and writing careers. To relieve those days for an hour was such a gift. 

I resorted to my dusty tapes because everything I find on TV or online these days turns me off. I’m tired of gore, cursing, shallow values, and mean-spiritedness, especially with all the tragedies happening in the world these days. And the music–it’s just not up to the standard of Sammy, Liza, and Frank. No “American Idol” can sing like this. Forget reality shows, game shows, and cop shows–give me some good singing and dancing, acting that goes down deep, or comedy that is really funny, not just trading insults. 

Maybe someday I’ll digitize my favorite tapes. Probably not. I can get most of the content online. Meanwhile, on rainy Sunday afternoons, you may find me pretending it’s still the olden days, singing from the Great American Songbook and dancing in my purple sneakers. Call it corny. Call me old. It makes me happy. 

Do you still have any VHS tapes or machines to play them on? What tapes will you save forever? Who were your old-time show-biz crushes? 

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Finding Old Friends at the Thrift Shop

Hey, those are my books! The familiar covers stood out among the new arrivals at the humane society’s Pick of the Litter thrift store in Newport. Stories Grandma Never Told and Childless by Marriage, the two books I’m most proud of, now sat among the other titles discarded for one reason or another. They didn’t look as if anyone had read them. Did the people who had them before not even bother to look inside? Were the books brought in by family members after a loved one died? Did they somehow gravitate from the local bookstore that closed without paying me for the books it had on consignment? 

Once $18.95 and $15.95, they could now be had for $1.50 each. In perfect condition. Ouch. Maybe I should buy them and sell them again. On the other hand, maybe someone who couldn’t afford them before will buy them now. Maybe I should sneak in an autograph. Or would that be too pitiful?

Our books are our babies. We spend years writing them, and then someone reads them in a day. Or doesn’t read them at all. Once your manuscript is published, you cannot control how it is received.You aim as carefully as possible, but an unseen wind may blow them to someone who doesn’t want them, someone who takes them to Goodwill or the thrift store or, God forbid, throws them in the trash. Some people don’t even read books. The Pew Research Center says roughly a quarter of Americans have not read a book in the past year. That’s hard for me to imagine, but it’s true.

Getting people, even avid readers, to read your book is a challenge. More than one million books are published every year in the United States alone. Why should they read yours? The trick is making sure someone hears about your book and knows where to get a copy. Which is why it sometimes feels as if we spend a little time writing and a lot of time marketing.

Pre-Covid, I spent many hours at tables and booths hawking my books. Sometimes I sold quite a few copies, but sometimes sales were slow. Sometimes people stood there for 20 minutes reading parts of a book, then set it down and walked away.

But maybe when they got home they thought, shoot, I should have bought that book. Maybe they told a friend, hey, I saw this book the other day I think you would like.  

What’s the secret to book sales? Being famous helps. When Tom Hanks spoke in Portland a few years ago, the audience bought hundreds of copies of his book of short stories, Uncommon Type. I never saw so many copies of one book in one place, and they rapidly disappeared because the author was Tom Hanks. It’s a good book, but even if it wasn’t, they were buying it because he was a famous movie star. 

If you’re not Tom Hanks, you tell as many people as you can about your book, hope they spread the word, and let it go. Yes, it hurts to spend years writing a book and have people reject it with barely a glance or to find it among the books at Pick of the Litter. But you know what? Every famous author’s books eventually wind up at a secondhand store priced at almost nothing. I have purchased many a beloved book cheap that I might not have bought when they were new. They might have been a little wrinkled, but they were still good. It’s the story that counts.

I can take comfort in my recent trip to the Nye Beach Book House where I was piling up used books by John Grisham and Maeve Binchy when a man said, “Hey, that’s you.” I whipped around to see he was holding a copy of my novel, Up Beaver Creek, looking from the photo on the back cover to me.

“Yes, it is,” I said.

“What’s it about?”

I told him. The bookstore owner overheard us and started raving about my book. The man, visiting from Alaska, bought that copy of my book and took it home. 

I remember being thrilled to find my books on Portuguese Americans in the New Bedford, Massachusetts library when we visited there. And I was surprised when an excerpt from Stories Grandma Never Told was translated into Portuguese and published in a magazine from Portugal. I know people in Australia, India and the UK have purchased copies of my books. And people right here in Newport will buy them at Pick of the Litter.

You can’t control where the physical book will go once you send it out into the world. So I pat my books at Pick of the Litter, say, “Good luck, friends,” and move on to see what other treasures are there for me to buy. 

If you’re local and get to Pick of the Litter soon enough, you may be able to get these books cheap. If you really want them, I’ll give you copies for free. I just want my babies to find good homes. 

Do you buy used books? After you have read them, do you donate books to thrift stores or pass them around to your friends? Do you think less of a book when you find it on sale at a secondhand store or do you think hooray, I have always meant to read this

Writing books is a crazy way to earn a living, but I keep doing it. A sequel to Up Beaver Creek is coming soon. Meanwhile, visit https://www.suelick.com to see a list of my published books and download my Blue Hydrangea Productions catalog.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.
%d bloggers like this: