BALANCING ACT

“One damn thing after another!” I’ve been repeating these words too often lately. True, I have ample cause to feel this way, ranging from the illness of someone I love, to fear about our ailing country. My negative words have met with “sure is” agreement from everybody – with one exception. For recently they drew a different response when I was talking with a Colorado woman named Amy Marks. After thinking about it for a moment she said, “I don’t see life that way. I find that things come and go.”

Since Amy has always struck me as remarkably well-balanced (and someone I’m proud to call my daughter- in- law), I thought maybe she’s on the right track. At least, a better track than I’ve been on recently. She went on to explain that her “come and go” philosophy is her way of “finding a balance between negative fatalistic thinking and overly enthusiastic ‘sunshine and puppies.’”

Her words set me thinking about the ways we’re all so quick to assume total disaster. How often when a friendship hits a bump in the road we decide it’s over forever. Or when a relationship does end, how certain we are that we’ll never be loved again. Or find a better job. Or. . . .

As writers we know that rejection of our manuscript can plunge us into, “It will never be published.” That “never” view is even worse when a story we’re struggling with stays lifeless on the page or screen. This invariably sends us downhill to , “I can’t even write anymore.”

My first short story was rejected 28 times. I told my writing group I was giving up on it. A new man in the group seemed surprised at my attitude. “Twenty-eight?”
he said. “That’s nothing. My stories have beeen turned down 30, 40 times before being accepted.” Though doubtful, I sent my story off again “one last time.” It was published.

Of course, this doesn’t happen every time. Nor do friends who’ve abandoned us always do a turn-around. Or a new lover or job magically surface. So what do you do during those times when life is undeniably grim?

One survival key, Amy offers, is to “remind yourself there have been good times before and there will be again — even if it’s as small as reading a news story that makes you smile (rare these days!) or waking up to a sunny day in December.”

Focusing on a temporary view isn’t guaranteed to solve every problem, but it may keep us from seeing life through perennially dark glasses.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toward Tomorrow –Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play- both available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com, also Amazon Kindle.

LEFTOVERS

Post-Thanksgiving many of us are left with a heap of leftovers. We’re thankful for the abundance, but the ingredients don’t always add up to a successful meal . We may have too much cranberry sauce  and too little turkey, for instance.

The same imbalance can be true of whatever we’re writing. There may be overkill on one aspect of the story and skimpiness on another. The skimpy is easier to deal with, for overkill may require “killing your darlings,” as Faulkner sagely advised.

Poet Colette Inez is often faced with this dilemma, since poems demands less rather than more. During one of her poetry workshops, which I was fortunate enough to be in, she confided that whenever she has to cut a line she particularly cherishes, she puts that typed line or lines into a special drawer in her desk. That way, she feels the words haven’t been lost, but are waiting for another poem where they might fit in better.

While I don’t have an actual drawer for my “leftovers,” I do find that I can use the episode that clutters a story somewhere else.  In an early draft of my novel “Role Play,” the heroine found herself pregnant at a time when she was trying to build a career as an actress. She burst into tears when the doctor gave her the news. Trying to comfort her, he said ,“Lots of theatre folk have children.”  When she demanded he name one example, the doctor came up with John Wayne! I tried the chapter out in my writing group and drew welcome laughter. Yet reading it aloud (an invaluable help!) made me recognize a hard truth – the episode got in the way of the action. Solution? Ruthlessly press the delete key!

That abandoned episode remained in my head and recently I added it in a short story where it’s a perfect fit – sort of like the prince finally finding the right gal for that glass slipper.

I once wanted to submit a story to a contest, only to discover it was 700 words too long for the strict guidelines. “I can’t cut any of this,” I cried to my computer. However, the contest was too inviting. Armed with the hard copy and a red pen, I set out to see what I could remove from my precious words. When I managed to do this, I was surprised to discover the story was stronger without the extra verbiage.
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That Delete key can be our ally. Like me, you may find your story or chapter is better without the trimmings.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: “Widow’s Walk” available through  iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow” – Xlibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play” –CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. Also Amazon Kindle.

WRITING YOUR WRONG

There was a wrenching article in The New York Times recently about an infamous Irish “Mother and Baby Home.” The gentle title hid the fact that it was a punitive hell for unmarried women who had the misfortune to get pregnant. The babies born there were either given away for adoption (to the heartbreak of their mothers), or grew up in the Home, starved for food and affection.

They did go to the local school, where they were shunned by children from “decent” families. One of them, six-year-old Catherine,, offered what looked like a wrapped candy to a Home child. That hungry girl eagerly unwrapped it – and found it empty. The candy was gone. She stood there holding that useless paper, surrounded by children laughing at her.

That was many decades ago. Catherine is now a grandmother, but she has never forgotten the devastated look on the child’s face. It haunts her to this day. So she’s dedicated her life to helping the women find children who were taken from them, and the adult children searching for their mothers. Yet, despite her laudable work, Catherine hasn’t forgiven herself. She keeps searching every record to try to find that child who was her victim, but to no avail.r

Guilt  is a common denominator. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t bear the memory– and scars – of something wrongly said or done. But just as Catherine has translated her guilt into selfless acts, we have the choice to translate ours by writing it out.

One way is to do this secretly in a journal. A good exercise is to describe guilt. What color is it? What does it feel like? What is it saying to you? What would you do differently? It’s surprising what ripples this can lead to on those pages.

Guilt is also a great supply of material for stories, usually in disguised form. I had a huge burden of guilt for not responding when a former friend reached out to me after a quarrel. She had accused me of not being available enough after her husband died. What made me blow up was her comparing  me to a  “better” friend.  I never forgave her. She died  a year later, a suicide.

Some time after that I wrote a story about a teenage girl who was in school when a mass murderer broke in. When bullets hit the lights, she crawled out of the room in the darkness and was horrified to realize she was crawling over a classmate lying there. She heard his whispered plea for help, but was afraid to stop . The boy died. The girl could never forgive herself, which led to a portrayal of the ruthless hold that guilt can have on us.

I’ve been asked so often where this story came from, since I’ve never been in that murderous situation. But what made the story work were my own “bad girl” feelings that enabled me to be inside the girl’s obsessive dwelling on what she felt was her failure to save the boy. Creating my fictitious heroine helped me cope with my feelings and realize how I was punishing myself. (After enough time had passed, I was able to write an undisguised story about the trauma with my late friend.)

The popular axiom is: Write about what you know. I prefer another saying: Write what you’re afraid to say.  It can be surprisingly freeing

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS:  “Widow’s Walk”- available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow” – Xlibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play”– CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. Also Amazon Kindle.

THE TWIN SIDES OF JOURNALING

I’m always pleased when a reader tells me he or she has begun journaling.
So I hate to be the one who sounds a note of caution. This has come up today because I’ve received a letter from a woman who says that though she finds journaling helpful, she’s puzzled by the one-sidedness of her entries. “I only seem to write about issues I’m struggling with,” she says. “I don’t find time to write about happy moments.” Is that a good way to journal, she wants to know.

This syndrome was familiar to Marion Milner, a 20th century British psychoanalyst and author. Milner believed too many people ignore their brighter moments, but that it’s valuable to pay attention to them by including them in journals. In her book A LIFE OF ONE’S OWN (published under the pseudonym Joanna Field), she stressed the importance of understanding the thoughts that go through our heads during enjoyable experiences.

If a friend (relative, colleague) says or does something hurtful, I can fill pages with my rage and pain. If that same person then apologizes and assures me our relationship is important, my spirits zoom up. Yet the happy experience doesn’t merit nearly the same space (if any) in my tearful journal.

When I was seeing a therapist, I would come to each session with an hour’s worth of tragedy. I mistakenly believed that talking about good experiences was a waste of time –not to mention money! It took years before I recognized that it was more balanced to include the brighter side of my life. It’s similar to the way many of us tend to focus our attention on a rejecting person (trying to get love from the proverbial stone?) but take the genuinely loving one for granted.

According to Milner, the value of analyzing the varying emotions we feel in joyous moments is that we can then explore what other experiences could give us that same satisfaction. Not be dependent on that one person or thing! (What else can I find that will make me feel loved, respected, esteemed?)_

Of course, recording enjoyable times has another pay-off: we can relive even years-old high points by turning the pages of our journals, If we’ve taken time to record them, they will always be there for our recapturing.

To paraphrase the great English poet Keats, writing is a way to “live beyond our midnight.”

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS  :Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com; Turning Toiward Tomorrow – Xlibris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play – CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com.

Also Amazon Kindle

 

COURTING STRENGTH

The sports world – and the rest of us – were shocked this June by news that tennis star Venus Williams was involved in a car accident that fatally injured a passenger in the other car. The police immediately declared her guilty – with damaging headlines .

Life and death – and culpability – are certainly more momentous than tennis matches. But for Williams the timing was especially difficult. It was just weeks before she was due to play at Wimbledon for what might be her last chance at the championship.

If it had been me, I would have curled into a corner obsessing about fate. (Why didn’t I drive down a different street? Why did I drive at all that day? ad infinitum.)

But Williams is made of tougher material. She’s been well trained, because despite having Sjogren’s syndrome, an anti-immune disease that weakens the muscles, she’s refused to give up tennis.

Williams admits she was “devastated and heartbroken,” by the car accident. But during the anxiety-ridden time before she was cleared of wrongdoing,  she didn’t retreat into hiding. Instead she resolutely showed up on the tennis court every morning to practice. “This is what Venus does,” a friend explained. “She goes to where her strength is.”

Each of us might profit from asking ourselves, where and how can I strengthen myself when everything seems against me? I remember a widow I interviewed for my book “Turning Toward Tomorrow.” Since she was only in her fifties, there was a “a long road to look down,” she said. To fortify herself she went on her knees – not just to pray – but to garden. “Putting my hands in the soil sort of orders me,” she said.

I, personally, am not much of a gardener. Yet thoug the method may differ for each of us, the goal is the same: To find whatever gives us the ability to survive.  As I’ve discovered, this doesn’t come from the cookie jar or the wine bottle, but from returning to whatever makes you feel special and strong. Or, as Venus might put it, like a champion.

When I’m too stressed to feel like “bothering” with anything, forcing myself to the computer to write just one sentence can ignite a change. For one sentence can lead to two…and three.. . . and before I know it, I’m writing. Which is my way of hitting the ball over the net again.

WEBSITE:: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: “Widow’s Walk”-available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow” – Xlibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor”” and “Role Play” –CreateSpace.com and Amazon. Also Amazon Kindle.

A TRUSTY “FRIEND”

It’s one place where you can confide secrets without fearing they will be betrayed. A place where writing and loss join hands. Where you can admit you’re scared and lonely and crying, without a stern voice admonishing you to be a “grown-up.”

I’m talking about journals. And there’s no time when they are more valuable than when you’re struggling with loss of any kind, as most us are forced to do.

When I was doing interviews for my book “Turning Toward Tomorrow,” I was amazed how many people – both men and women – told me that “journaling” saved them. A Boston woman said frankly, “My mother was horrified at the way I cursed fate and God for my husband’s death. So I bought a notebook and every morning I write down the thoughts that would shock my mother and the priest. Then I feel free for the rest of the day.”

Of course, journals aren’t limited to issues of grief. They can be a surprising way to shed light on what you don’t realize you’re feeling. I remember bringing my journal to a therapy session so I could describe the dream I’d had the night before. Actually I thought I shouldn’t waste (expensive) time telling the therapist about it because the man I’d dreamed about was so obvious. However, when I dutifully opened my notebook and read the first sentence, I was stunned. The name I’d written down wasn’t the one I thought my dream was about, but someone else, who had a totally different meaning! My subterranean feelings had spilled into the journal without my even being aware.

Journaling also brings another gift: it can be a powerful resource for your writing. Numerous authors through the centuries have told how valuable their journals have been to them. Frank McCourt revealed that he’d kept a journal for 40 years. Since he was in his sixties when he began writing “Angela’s Ashes,” he turned to those journals to jar his memory. “There were things I discovered in my notebooks I had forgotten about.”

Sometimes those notebooks remind us of feelings we’ve tried to deny. I began writing my memoir ,“Widow’s Walk,” four months after my husband’s death. I thought I had total recall, but in a very human way I’d whitewashed some memories. Then I came across the tear-stained notebooks I kept during the terrible months of his illness. There were feelings of anger (How dare you abandon me!) as well as guilt, that I had suppressed afterward. Salvaged from my scrawled pages, they made my book more helpful to readers struggling with the same feelings.

As author Christina Baldwin said,, “Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” Daring to explore that “interior” on your private pages can help illuminate the ways to strength and hope.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-xLibnris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play”- Amazon and Amazon Kindle.

LOST — OR FOUND?

Of all Dicken’s memorable characters, there’s one who’s been in my mind this week. She’s the lugubrious Mrs. Gummidge, the widow in “David Copperfield,” who constantly complains she’s a “lone lorn creetur’.” She reminds me of some people I know who wallow in misery. (She also reminds me I have to be careful not to do that wallowing myself! ) If “misery loves company,” it more often drives everyone away, for self-pity can be contagious.

I was reminded of the opposite when I visited a nursing home last week, to see a friend who’d recently been moved there. For an hour or so we talked about inconsequential things.  I was edgy about the time, because I needed to be home writing. There was to be a concert at 3:00 and I planned to leave before it. However, my friend asked me to keep him company . Regretting my “lost” writing time, I agreed to stay.

We walked into the large room where the concert was to be held. “Maybe it’s been cancelled,”I told my friend, for no chairs had been set up. Moments later I realized my ludicrous mistake: people started arriving via their own seats – wheelchairs! There were also a number of patients unable to even sit up, lying on what looked like stretchers on wheels. Looking around at these elderly frail people I thought, what a sad audience to play to.

The concert actually consisted of one man, a singer calling for requested songs. There were Sinatra favorites, a Caribbean dance tune, and of course “New York, New York.” Many in the audience sang along in an off-key chorus.

“One last request,” the MC announced, looking in my direction.There was a song I wanted but I thought, it’s too sentimental. Yet I made myself call out , “Do you know Que Sera, Sera?”   To my surprise the Mc said he “loves” that song.”C’mon follks,” he shouted. ”Do you all know the words?”

He began to sing – and as swiftly as a wave rolling onto the beach – an enthusiastic chorus swelled with him. Que sera….whatever will be will be…the future’s not ours to see…

Looking around I was stunned at the joy surrounding me – these frail men and women for whom “future” has a very limited horizon, singing so hopefully.

When I heard that song years ago I was pregnant with my first child and “future” was a golden promise. Decades later, I find much less to look forward to. Yet, the inmates of this nursing home, with even less to be hopeful about, were celebrating life.

It made me realize that we can each choose to be “lone” and “lorn” – or to find some measure of happiness that doesn’t depend on the script we’ve been handed.

Dickens must have known that. For in the second half of his novel, Mrs. Gummidge – though in no happier circumstances than before – discards her self-pity and becomes a cheerful woman who helps others. 

That contrast is a good writing lesson :  characters shouldn’t be one strand, but many And my  “lost” afternoon in the nursing home was a lesson that sometimes inspiration is no further away than the strangers around us.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com.
BOOKS: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow” xLibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play” – CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. Also Amazon Kindle.

THE CREATIVE HOUR?

There’s a question I’m invariably asked: When is the best time to write – morning, afternoon, or evening? I shudder at the implied idea that creativity goes by the clock. Not even London’s Big Ben can promise a completed novel.The truth is, there’s no special creative hour.

I can only share my own journey around the clock. Having been an actor in my “other life,” I enjoyed being up half the night and sleeping until noon. When I switched to another career – as a freelance writer – I still believed I could best be creative when “burning the midnight  oil.” But reality soon showed me that evenings were far from productive. I was usually too weighed down by everything that had happened during the day to to think creatively.

What triggered a change was coming across a little 1930’s-era book entitled “Becoming A Writer” by Dorothea Brande, associate editor of The  American Review. Brande contended that the best writing is done if you go straight to the typewriter (sic) after breakfast and start working before imagination is diluted by the days distractions. Though dubious, I gave it a try while struggling with my first book, “Widow’s Walk.”

Carrying Brande’s advice even further, I announced to everyone that I wasn’t available for phone calls before 3:00 In the afternoon. Nor did I permit myself to listen to the radio, glance at the TV or read a newspaper. during that time, The world (as far as possible) had to be off limits. With no intrusive voices from the outside, my memoir was able to breathe and eventually come to life. I’ve lived- and written by – these rules ever since.

(Warning: You may find some people unable to understand your lack of availability. In my case, the only friend who had a problem with my new schedule was a therapist who said I needed to see a shrink if I couldn’t take time to answer phone calls!]

As with anything else, there’s no one-size-fits-all. If you have a full-time job, you may have to switch that off-limits time to a much later – or even earlier – hour. Meeting Michael Korda at a writing panel,  I asked him how he’d managed to write so many books while also working as editor-in-chief of a major publishing house. He said,”I get up two hours earlier.”

You might also be forced to write around the edges of time. I know an awesomely dedicated writer who has written two books and is working on a third while holding a demanding full-time job. Her secret is to steal moments whenever she can – even if it’s for a paragraph – and even on the subway.!

So my answer to that question about time is that it isn’t when you write as much as how,. And the question to ask yourself is: Am I willing to make writing an absolute priority?

Website: annehosansky.com
Books: Widow’s Walk – available through iUniverse.com;; Turning Toward Tomorrow – Xllbris.com; Ten Women of Valor and Role Play – through CreateSpace.com and Amazn.com. Also Amazon Kindle.

CINEMA CLUE

“See what isn’t there.” A Sherlock Holmes directive? A message from outer space?

On the contrary, it’s powerful advice about creativity voiced in a film I’ve belatedly gotten around to seeing – “The Magic of Belle Isle.” It’ was recommended by a friend who told me I’d “love it,” because “it’ s about a writer with a writing block.”

It is, indeed, about a writer (superbly played by ever-dependable Morgan Freeman) and filled with quotes that reverberate, not only about writing, but life, love and the advantage of typewriters! “They’re a bit slower (than computers) but the teeth bite into the paper and you know there’s a genuine human being at work,” declares Freeman’s crusty character.

He’s a well-known author of Westerns, but his wife ‘s death has put out any spark of creativity in him.   A bitter man, he’s been confined to  a wheelchair most of his life because of an accident when he  was young. For years he found salvation in the cowboy hero he created who “can do all the things I can’t.”

He moves to Belle Isle, a lakeside community, for the summer. There he meets an aspiring writer who’s all of nine years old. Finn, as she’s named, begins by asking him to give her three important words she’s been told to learn. When he says, “Imagination,” she wants to know why that’s important. He tells her,”It’s the most powerful force ever made available to man.”

She wants him to teach her how to write,  naively asking, “Where do stories come from?” (something we’d all like to know!)

He tells the child to describe the road outside, which is clearly devoid of people or vehicles. When she complains there’s nothing there he gives her a mystifying order: “See what isn’t there.” When she asks how that’s possible he tells her: “See it with your mind’s eye.”

Ultimately she manages to “see” a young girl walking on the empty beach. and goes on to verbally make up an entire episode. Freeman informs her she has now written her first story.

This freezing March morning  my own creativity seems frozen, and there’s nothing to see but my familiar room and the icy world outside,. But those lines from the movie are reminding me that inspiration doesn’t have to depend on some bustling exotic scene. The story waiting to be written is there for the taking, if we learn to see what may be invisible to others.

Website: www.annehosansky.com
Books: ”Widow’s Walk” – iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”-xlibris.com; “Ten Women of Valor” and “Role Play” – CreateSpace and Amazon.com. Aso Amazon Kindle.

OTHER DOORS

Anyone who does interviews knows you can get a lot of predictable – and evasive – answers. But sometimes I get a gold nugget of a response. That was the case with a woman I interviewed for my book about the loss of a spouse or partner, “Turning Toward Tomorrow. “ She had requested the interview, oddly enough, though she was still happily married. What she said was: “Some of my losses are still walking around.”

She was referring to the debris of relationships that were dead – or on life support. It’s a familiar syndrome to many of us. Relationships change for myriad reasons. When my husband died, some of my friendships were strengthened by supportiveness. Other friends, who apparently couldn’t take the reality of my new life, fell by the wayside. I’m thinking of one formerly close friend who stopped phoning because, she admitted, “I’m afraid you’ll sound depressed.”

It isn’t just death that can end a relationship. We all know how a marriage that began as a love affair can end in the ashes of divorce. We don’t often admit, however, that sibling relationships may also undergo transformation, especially if one of the siblings becomes more successful that the other. I confess that my closeness with my sister turned testy when we became mothers. Childhood resentments that had been hidden under the rug were resurrected via competitiveness about our children.

So what do we do when a connection we need is no longer there? We can walk around wrapped in self-pity and anger (as I’ve too often done). But that’s a dead end street.

Neediness can make us cling to the remains of a relationship, which puts us in a beggarly position. So I was struck by the words of Phillip Galantes, who writes an advice column for the Styles section of “The New York Times.” A few months ago he received a letter from a woman complaining that her daughter-in-law doesn’t include her in holidays. “What should I do?” she asked mournfully.  His advice? “Knock on other doors.”

That resonated in my head. A holiday dinner was approaching, but my grown children had plans that didn’t involve me. I did feel a rising tide of self-pity starting , but I also became aware of the warm connections I’ve deliberately developed with my nieces and nephews. Hesitantly I called one niece to ask about the holiday dinner. She said, “There’s always a place for you at my table.” Hard to feel sorry for yourself with an invitation like that!

Finding new friends to replace lost ones isn’t easy. but I reject the attitude of a former neighbor who said, “It’s easier when you’re young and sit in the playground with other mothers.” The common belief that you can’t make new friends in later life is a myth. Yes, old friendships are meaningful because you share a history, but their loss doesn’t have to result in an isolation chamber. One of my most generous friends is a woman in my current writing group. It isn’t past years that connect us, but our shared passion for writing.

In fact, groups can be fertile meeting grounds.Although men often find it harder to reach out, a widowed colleague told me he’s finding stimulating friendships with “kindred spirits” he meets at political demonstrations. (Plenty of those these days!)

I welcome Emails about your experiences. If I don’t reply immediately it will be because I’m busy finding doors to knock on.

WEBSITE:www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: WIDOW’S WALK – available through iUniverse.com;TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW – xLibrius.com; TEN WOMEN OF VALR and ROLE PLAY- amazon.com & Amazon Kindle.