I’m a writer now

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My life has changed dramatically since I returned on March 21 from Ragdale, a writer-in-residence retreat in Lake Forest, IL. I’m a writer now. I’ve got no problem saying it, writing it, filling it in the occupation blank on forms. Those 18 days surrounded by other writers and artists transformed me from a tentative wannabe into a determined published author and writer.

All my life my mom told me I was destined to write the Great American Novel. Not too much pressure. When I was probably 6 or 7, my cousin pulled from her bookshelf a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and I was hooked.

After a million more books and sitting in more classrooms than your average nerd, I learned fiction isn’t my thing, so I’m not on the line for the Great American Novel catch. I write essays, or what’s known nowadays as creative nonfiction. They just moved the deadline out a month so I won’t find out until September if I’ve been accepted into the University of Chicago’s Writer’s Studio. That would be two more years of classes, 24 months of nirvana. I have everything crossed.

I’ve written several essays and sent two to dozens and dozens of publications. I’m learning how to deal with rejection letters. Remarkably, however, both were picked up at More magazine.

The first one was called “Connections,” but the editor changed the title to “What Needlecraft Gives Me.” They could have called it “This Writer Sucks” and I’d still be thrilled―a published writer! It can be seen at http://www.more.com/print/438749. Forty one days later, they picked up my other essay, which was laying on slush piles all over the country. “A Picture Bigger Than Life” is at http://www.more.com/member-voices/your-stories/picture-bigger-life.

Now I’m working on a compilation of essays for a book I hope provides me the opportunity to read rejection letters from a whole new audience: agents. The Writer’s Studio would be The. Perfect. Place. to complete it. In your second year you work with a professor to write your final project: a 250-page creation.

But I’ll survive if U of C rejects my first attempt at the program. In fact, I may then just write those 250 pages in a single year, get an editor, then read rejection letters from agents. And that’s okay. I’m a writer now. Rejection comes with the job description. And so does one the most rewarding career-sided emotions when that one out of 100 letters/texts comes back saying “accepted for publication.”

And who knows. One of these days someone may even pay me for my own words 🙂

My Heart Will Be Your Shelter

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On Wednesday and Thursday I had the all too rare opportunity to care for my new grandson, Patrick Xavier. As I sat in my daughter’s apartment, I recognized for the first time she’s creating a home like the one in which she grew up. Books everywhere. Family pictures lining the hallway and on other horizontal surfaces. Candles and “stuff” that obviously have meaning for my 6-yr. old granddaughter as well as my son-in-law and daughter.

It felt beyond validating. I love every minute she lets me into her world. I felt so comfortable sitting there, and looking around I realize part of that is because her idea of home has only changed location.

With a kindergartner and 3-month old, the apartment has its own heartbeat―so full of life and love. Tough to keep neat with both parents’ working so I am more than thrilled to be able to help a little, folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher and anything else I can find.

While doing so, I noticed a sign her husband made for their wedding. They did a lot of DIY stuff, and it all held special meaning, but I hadn’t noticed this before.

It read: “My heart will be your shelter.”

It touches me to my core. What a beautiful arrangement of words creating such a loving, thoughtful promise to my daughter. And in so doing, it comforts me, too. I know he is a genuinely kind man. But I don’t know many men who would take the time to create it and then put it into writing for all the wedding attendees to see.

I’m so proud and so happy for my daughter. She’s in the tornado season of her life, thus she can’t yet see how blessed she is―not that she’s complaining. She’s doing a terrific job; she’s simply tired. I think back on all I did while raising two daughters, and I’m amazed at the energy it took. Raising a family is not for the older crowd or the weak of heart.

But sharing some of those moments, seeing some of her past worthy enough to be replicated, and watching what a wonderful mother she is are priceless gifts. Thank you, honey, for sharing them. Happy Mother’s Day. You’re doing a wonderful job, and I hope I’m around when you have the time and breathing space to look back and know for yourself.

I have a younger daughter, too. Her future is no less limitless; they are both rock stars, and each make my life complete. You’ll hear more about her on this blog, too. But this seems most appropriate for Mother’s Day.

And by the way, although I never thought of putting it on a sign, my heart will always be their shelters, too.

The Invaluable Family Tie

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The older I get the less I know for sure. But what I do know, I’m sure about. Like family. If you are lucky enough to be born into a loving family, it needs to be the most important part of your life. Not next week or next month. Today and every day.

I know this because my family of origin all passed away in a 4-year period, so the family remaining and those who share love, respect and unconditional love like family members aren’t ever taken for granted. Not in a nano-second nor a million years would I guess I’d have no mom, dad, sister or brother by the age of 43. And I once thought that was old. It isn’t. You still need your mom and dad and siblings then, and you need to trust me on this because the only other way to know about it is because it happens to you, and I wouldn’t wish that even on that sect of the GOP to the right of Attila the Hun.

Sure many, like me, marry and have children. And OF COURSE you love them and hopefully that love is returned. But nobody can replace the endless confidence and comfort of knowing mom is a phone call away, dad will come save you from a bad situation and not say anything, your siblings will share your feelings about every day of your life as each stack up, and combined these moments make you the man or woman you become. But—there’s always a but isn’t there? And this is a big one. But, like knowing your pillow is under the blanket, the sun will rise in the east, summer in Chicago really is beautiful—those people can be taken from you unexpectedly and no matter how much you love them, there isn’t a thing you can do to bring them back.

I could spend a lifetime trying to make my family understand what it’s like not to have a mom, dad, sister or brother. The whole caboodle gone. They don’t get it. I’m sure they’re tired of hearing about it.  But if I could just find a way for them to empathize without learning the hard way, what a difference it would make. Not just for me. They could recognize the value of family, unconditional love and kindred thoughts in real time. And what a joy that would be for them.

Like living each day as your last, but not morbidly.

Living each day knowing one day you’ll miss your mom bugging you about your dirty room, your dad going over the top about something, your sibling mortifying you in front of someone you like. Yet it not being so terrible. Living through the ups and downs of the days and weeks with the invisible family strand threading through each of your hearts and holding you together, tight and safe, without a word needing to be said. Strong enough to support you through tough times, nimble enough to allow you to wander into new experiences still safe because of that imperceptible but incredulously strong bond holding you together. And appreciating it in those moments!

We come into this world so perfect and achieve greater perfections as well as tally up imperfections. And no one will love you more despite any of that than your mom, dad, sister and brother. And when you don’t have one of them to call after the best or worst moment of your day or your life, have you thought of what you will do? Who you will call? What will fill the holes?

Not having to think about that is worth understanding the value of your family of origin every day. Oh how I wish you would just trust me on this one.