FATE AND A FIRE

I envisioned this new year as a book of blank pages where I could write happier experiences than in 2021. What a naive hope! For a horrific event at the end of last year darkened the start of this year, as well. I’m talking about the fire that devastated two towns in Colorado. My son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were in the path of the advancing flames. Thankfully they escaped in time.

It was late that December evening when I found out that their town, Louisville, was on fire. I tried to reach my family, but no answer. I didn’t know they had already fled. I sent a frantic text, but it was 3:00 am before I got words that let me breathe again: “We’re safe.”

I spent the next two days staring at the terrifying images on TV – flames devouring buildings I knew so well from my visits there, parents clutching their children as they struggled to open escape doors against the hurricane force winds,

Amazingly, my children’s house is intact and they have sent survivor messages. “The heat’s back!” “Power’s on! ” And finally, “Potable water!” I should now feel calm, able to turn my attention to other things. So what’s with me that I feel as if “safe” is a temporary word?

I realize what this is about: the capriciousness of fate. Why did the fire take an erratic path that left my son’s entire block untouched, while nearby neighborhoods were reduced to smoldering embers? Why did those two towns burn when residents in other towns were able to sleep peacefully? Why… anything? I remember that when my husband was diagnosed with cancer I cried,”Why us?” He said, “Why not us?”

How helpless we are to what fate deals out. Using superstitious images to placate fortune doesn’t really work. ( I wear the same shirt when seeing a doctor that I wore for visits when I got a good report, as if this will ensure it’s happening again.)  Obviously a doctor’s – or fate’s – verdict doesn’t depend on what we wear or token we carry.

I think our mental survival means accepting the limits of what we can control. The world is frightening these Pandemic and global warming days, but it’s aways been dangerous. Fires, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis are nothing new. Neither, I’m certain, are a mother’s (and grandmother’s) obsessive anxiety about her children’s welfare.

Someone once told me that being a writer must feel “powerful” because I could lead my characters to whatever fate I chose. If only I had that power with the real people in my life! The inescapable truth is that we can’t determine whether our loved ones will be free of future disasters. All we can do – for their sake as well as our own – is try to control our seismic anxiety and to have faith that fortune will be mostly kind to us. And if it often isn’t, to believe we have something beyond the clutch of fate: our strength to rise again.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY– R available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

ADDRESSING A NEW YEAR

The logical part of my mind knows that superstitious habits can’t control fate, but I cling to those tricks anyway. That’s why I buy a new address book each year. (I still use paper rather than digital, which more efficient people utilize.) There’s always at least one – or more – names that have to be deleted, since family and friends aren’t immune to death. There might also be a friend who’s alive, but the friendship isn’t.

For the first time I don’t want to delete one of the obsolete names, for the list now includes my sister. I look at the page where her name, street address, land line and mobile phone numbers are written, and suddenly I don’t want an address book that doesn’t have this information. It’s not that I’m deluded enough to phone those disconnected numbers, although I still know them by heart. But they provide a deeper connection to someone I’m not ready to part from.

How many of us do this, not necessarily through an address book, but some memento – an item of clothing or jewelry worn by the person we’re missing. It’s our effort to preserve what we were unable to keep. Isn’t this what we all do, in one way or another? It reminds me of my childhood, when I built elaborate sand castles at what I hoped was a safe distance from the encroaching tide. But the sea always won and I was left with just the memory of my castle.

Sometimes the memento we choose is one no one else understands. When my niece asked what I wanted of my sister’s multitude of possessions I said, “the kitchen witch.” She’s a small figure hanging from a cupboard hook, and she’s far from appealing with her grotesque face and stringy gray hair. The first time I saw her hanging in my sister’s kitchen I joked, “She looks like me.” My sister said, “She sure does,” and we both laughed. That’s what I’m really trying to hold on to, the sound of our laughing together.

The reality is that probably we will all have to delete more names before the end of this new year. Even if we write them in indelible ink we’re not the ones who will decide the story. Fate is a more merciless author, one whose verdicts we’re unable to revise.

I have a small quartz rock on my desk, a gift from my partner, who is gone, too. On it, the single word, ACCEPTANCE.

We can’t escape our inevitable losses. What’s important is what we are able to save within ourselves ¬ – or are strong enough to surrender.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY- available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

THE SEASON TO BE . . . ?

The “season to be jolly” has been undermined by the discovery of another Covid variant. It reminds me of the ad for the movie ”Jaws” – Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water. Yes, we thought we were nearing the turning point in this Pandemic, so the emergence of Omicron throws a frightening pall over the holidays.

I’m a believer in the famous prayer to “change what I can” and “accept” what I can’t. Certainly we can’t wave our hands and make the virus disappear. But perhaps we can find ways to make our way through this season – and beyond – without being handicapped by fear. Aside from the obvious lifesavers – get vaccinated, get a booster, wear a mask – what is there we can do? For one thing, we can find other topics to focus on. I say that because recently I was in a social gathering where the sole topic was Covid, including a recital of “breakthrough” cases. I doubt that any of us left that evening feeling festive. No wonder the national depression rate is climbing.

This doesn’t mean closing our eyes to the reality of the data. It does mean making a deliberate effort to put our attention on things we can control. We can choose to distract ourselves with inspiring books, interesting movies (on TV), and the growing number of (free) online lectures and workshops about any number of subjects.

I’ve discovered it’s up to each of us to know what can raise our spirits. What may work for someone else, isn’t necessarily what helps me. One thing that seldom fails is to phone an old friend for some “catching up.” (Make sure it isn’t one whose view is constantly bleak!) And though it sounds like a cliché, reaching out to someone who’s alone or struggling with loss is invariably a boost to your own morale.

Exercise is another sure-fire aid. These winter days my self-talk is too often along the line of “I know walking is good exercise but..” So I try to turn that channel and force my body out the door. It helps to give myself a destination (the grocery store, the pharmacy). Actually, indoor exercise is also available online. For instance, Dorit, a New York organization geared to seniors, provides daily exercise routines we can follow along with the visual. So do numerous other organizations, including libraries.

My primary mood-lifter is a daily gratitude prayer. In these dark days when so many plans have to be jettisoned and a better tomorrow seems constantly receding, there doesn’t seem much to feel grateful for. Yet every night I give thanks for whatever was rewarding in the day. It isn’t always easy to find something (a friend once said all she could give thanks for that day was a good breakfast). It’s too easy to overlook the small moments worthy of gratitude – but life is made up of small moments. It’s also strengthening to ask yourself what you did that made those moments possible! It may help you recognize that you have more strength than you realized.

Best wishes to all for a season of hope!

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com; WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY– available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

GOLD

Words written many years ago can often  feel as if that distant author is watching us today. That’s how I felt when I finally caught up with The Mill on the Floss,  the 19th century novel by George Eliot.

Describing how depressed the heroine is after a cruel lecture from her brother, Eliot asserts that there must have been “some tenderness” mingled with the harshness in her brother’s rebuke. “But Maggie held it as  dross, overlooking the grains of gold.”

Those words have been resonating in me. How many of us react tike Maggie, focusing on whatever was hurtful in a conversation or written communication. I’m hardly alone in this tendency to shine an emotional spotlight  on angry or rejecting words, while ignoring more benign sentences.

It makes me think of the California gold rush, when the ‘forty-niners” prospected for gold by shaking pans filled with useless gravel  in an effort  to separate the bits of gold. That must have required faith that the gold was there, even buried under the dirt or imbedded in rocks.

Like modern prospectors we can be aware  of the love imbedded in sharp words flung at us. On the other hand, how often we, ourselves, do the rejecting when a friend we’ve put on a pedestal falls off. We make disillusionment the entire picture, throwing away the valuable aspects of the friendship.

If a supervisor criticizes the way we handled a project, we easily fall into  the “I’m a failure” syndrome, expecting to be fired and deaf to ”I know you can do better.” It’s as if we don’t believe we deserve any plaudits. As authors,  how quickly  we’re devastated by an editor’s rejection of our book, but blind to any fragmentary hope in such  comments as “some strong writing…we’d like to see more.” True, those words are usually routine.  But they just might be worth following up, rather than magnifying words that lead to a dead-end.

Maybe we need to learn how to tune out  to whatever makes us feel worthless and accept any “grains of gold.”

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com; WIDOW’S WALK – iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com;TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY- available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

 

 

A PANDEMIC VIEW

I don’t think anyone would disagree that we’re going through a challenging and frightening time – pandemic, global warming, massive fires, catastrophic floods, earthquakes …. Add to these our private crises, especially losing loved ones to Covid.

Not much reason to be happy these days or even optimistic. Yet, what’s the alternative? Waste time being constantly morose ? Be paralyzed by fear? Throw in whatever towel we have left?

My middle name isn’t Pollyanna, but I guess I’m a stubborn believer in “where there’s life….” On the other hand, I’m painfully aware of what the pandemic has cost me in unrecoverable time with my grandchildren, jettisoned travel plans, and lost opportunities to publicize my books since social distancing rules out in-person author talks. Yet from another view, what’s so bad about having uninterrupted time for the work we love without compulsory time-consuming appointments? I’m not talking solely about writers. How many people forced to do their jobs at home have discovered new and fulfilling ways to work, as well as hours saved from traveling? (And how many are reluctant to return to “normal” life in an office!)

In her novel “The Weight of Ink,” Rachel Kadish graphically describes life during the Bubonic Plague in 16th century London. It was almost impossible for families and friends to find out who was still alive, since the only means of communication was by word of mouth and it was dangerous to venture out. The isolation made a horrifying situation far worse. Imagine how they would have felt if they’d had our technical marvels!

So instead of pounding the wall in frustration, I’m folding my hands in gratitude for such connections as phones and Zoom. It’s even brought me new friends. True we haven’t met in person (yet), but friendship blooms surprisingly in technological soil. I’ve also found healthy distraction in the abundant on-line courses that are available and usually free.

Ironically my long-distance relationships feel closer because there’s a sense of our being in this together. I’m more patient with quirks that used to seem important and I feel increasing tenderness not only towards my family, but my friends, students, neighbors. If we have to endure this plague, let’s at least find value in being in it together.

I’m reminded of when my grandson was a wily seven-year-old, trying to bargain his way out of a task he didn’t like. Not even knowing what the word meant he asked, “What’s my option?”

That’s a good question. Let’s opt for good answers.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com;  WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY – Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

TRIUMPH, TWO-SIDED

“What I would give to win a gold medal,” a friend said as she watched the triumphant winners at the Olympics.

But what would she give? Triumphs invariably have a price tag. Sure, it would be thrilling to be Simone Biles in her high-flying days. But for every medalist, before those podium moments there are years of relentless, often painful, practice day after day, while childhood slips away.  As Biles poignantly revealed, the wear and tear isn’t only on muscles, but on fragile psyches. Though her story is one of the more dramatic, it isn’t unique. What’s the psychological burden on an Olympic hopeful whose years of training die in a second, with just one misstep? Years ago I cringed in empathic pain as a young skater who was performing perfect axles, slipped and fell – her lifelong dream crashing down with her.

Of course it isn’t solely athletes who trade their lives for creative success. I can’t count the times someone has told me it must be “wonderful” to be a writer. Well, yes – but not always. It’s incomparable when what you’re struggling to express finally breathes on the pages. But what about all the desperate hours when your muse is MIA?

Famed author Margaret Atwood  ruefully recalls the time she was halfway through the manuscript of her new book when she had to face the fact that it had gone in the wrong direction. “For a writer that’s Tylenol time,” she says. (Often the recourse is more harmful than Tylenol.)

I have a friend who’s been working on her novel for years, with nothing but her talent and faith in her writing to sustain her. So many of us sacrifice ‘normal” times with family and friends in exchange for lonely hours of work that has no guarantee of success. Even if you are pleased with your book – or opera or symphony or painting – reviewers might not be. Beethoven not only had to cope with increasing  deafness, but turn a metaphorical deaf ear to critics who labeled his Second Symphony a “wounded dragon.”  Puccini reputedly never  got over the initial withering response to “Madama Butterfly.” It takes immeasurable courage and faith to pick yourself up and go on.

Even if your challenge is as seemingly simple as learning to knit a complicated pattern, or cook a gourmet dish, or play a musical instrument, or master a technology like zoom – or whatever you attempt – there will be many times when you question whether it’s worth the effort. I found a sage answer in the words of author and artist Morgan Harper Nichols : “Fall in love with the masterpiece and also the paint on the floor.”  Of course, Nichols didn’t mean to literally love cleaning up the messy floor, but the need to embrace the loneliness and frustration that might – or might never – lead to victory.

It’s for each of us to decide whether the price of success is too steep – or a bargain.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS: COME AND GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com,  TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY- Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

NECESSARY INGREDIENTS

My recent blog about rejections drew so many responses I realize that being rejected is a common and demoralizing trauma. For those who didn’t see the blog, I wrote about being in a seemingly unending slump, where the stories I submitted to editors were reaping a monotonous chorus of “No.” It helped my morale to vent about how normal this is for writers and how many famous authors have suffered countless rejections.

But life is ironic. Less than an hour after I’d posted my rejections blog, I had an acceptance! The seemingly unending drought had ended – at least for the time being.

I’m writing this sequel for several reasons. One, obviously, is to encourage all of you not to give up whatever it is you’re reaching for. If you hold on long enough, the weather might change. However, my second purpose  is to point out that  persistence isn’t the total answer. Very often what’s called for is flexibility.

So let me take you on a journey about my oft-rejected piece. It tells the true story of one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had. My husband had died three years earlier. I had promised him that I’d make the trip to Italy we had expected to have together. I set out with enormous trepidation since I’d never traveled anywhere alone and it would be my first time in Italy. In some crazy show of bravado  I arranged to go  totally on my own, not even as part of a tour group. By a lucky (?) coincidence a friend was going to Italy at the same time with his girlfriend and he invited me to join them. Since their itinerary was different from my plans, this meant missing Florence. But I figured companionship was worth everything.

Or was it? The story I later wrote about this trip revolved around the choice I had to make when, after the first few days,  I realized that for a variety of reasons this was no longer my trip. It was theirs. The decision about whether to cling to them or go alone to a strange city where I didn’t know a soul was agonizing.

I wrote about this as a short story – and it was turned down 29 times. For a few years it languished in my files, until I decided that sometimes you have to be willing to try a new approach.  Since my story was true, why not forget the fiction category and submit it as what’s termed “Creative Nonfiction”? (As opposed to Uncreative…?) Again, it was turned down – several times.

It then occurred to me that I could look further afield. Acceptance finally came from a British publication. This highlights another way of not giving up. Sometimes a rejected story finds a home overseas or in hospitable Canada.

What we all need is skin that isn’t too thin, the strength to keep persisting, and the willingness to approach any problem from a totally different angle. This isn’t just true for writing of course. Persistence and flexibility are necessary ingredients for job-hunting, love affairs, troubled friendships, attempts to communicate with your teenager, ad infinitum. But that’s for another blog,

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com

BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY- available through Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

 

NOTES FROM A REJECTIONIST

My e-mails are very busy these days, but not for a desirable reason. I’m getting an unending stream of rejections from agents and editors. The manuscript of my new novel, alone, has so many dismissals I’ve tossed it into a desk drawer. And I don’t want to count how many times my stories have been turned down by magazine editors. In the past I could surf rejections, confident positIve responses were somewhere on the horizon. But now the steady chorus of “No,” has worn on me. The problem with rejections of your work is that they can make you feel as if you’re a total failure.

I’m aware this is standard fare for writers. It’s some comfort to learn that Stephen King was rejected 30 times, not for some youthful failure , but for “Carrie “– the book that launched his career! Joseph Heller was in a “Catch-22” with exactly 22 rejections for the book whose title has become a byword. Then there’s “Chicken Soup for the Soul “ – 144 rejections. Author Jack Canfield’s recipe is to “reject rejection and just say, ‘Next’”!

There are scores of other examples. So I tell myself I’m in good company. It’s just that it’s a company I don’t enjoy being with. In a masochistic mood, I looked up synonyms for rejected. Unfortunately, what leaped out at me was one of my own traumas: for rejected also means “abandoned.”
t
Googling the Internet for a more promising word I discovered rejectionist. That doesn’t mean a callous editor, but “one who objects.” I will make that my secret self! Now when a manuscript gets the usual “doesn’t fit our needs,” I’ll object with a lofty rejectionist reply: “Your response doesn’t fit my needs.”

Of course, I won’t actually deliver that message– but it may give me strength to keep sending out my stories. Does this never-give-up attitude really help? One answer comes from the author of the aptly titled – “The Help.” Kathryn Stockett kept trying through 60 rejections. “What if I had given up at sixty?” she asks. For it was her 61st attempt that succeeded in attracting an agent.

We might also decide to take charge and self-publish our work, as even Proust did when he’d had enough of rejection. A current author, Lisa Genoiva, endured 100 rejections of her manuscript. She finally gave in and self-published. Then in a movie-style ending,that version was picked up and reprinted by Galley Books (subsidiary of Simon and Shuster). What was this fortunate book? “Still Alice”! As we know, it had a movie-style scenario, for real, as a profitable film..

So I’m taking out my manuscrirpt and submitting (terrible word) to agents again. There’s no guarantee that my book will be published, but it sure won’t if it’s kept in a drawer!

P.S. You don’t have to be a writer to find that persistence can pay off. Don’t give up trying to make contact with your adolescent, for instance! Keep demanding a raise from that elusive boss, or insisting on equal treatment with men, or any other effort that will put you on the winning side– no matter how many stubborn times it takes!

Website: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY- available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

FATHER’S DAY – EQUAL TIME?

Would you like to celebrate Parents’ Day? That was an idea floated at numerous rallies during the 1920’s and ’30’s . The goal was to honor both parents at once, rather than separately. But it failed to generate enough enthusiasm.

The truth is that although Father’s Day is observed in more than 70 countries, it’s never matched the popularity of Mothers’ Day, despite being originally inspired by it. In 1909 a Seattle woman, Sonora Smart Dodd, wanted to pay tribute to her father, a widower who had single-handedly raised his six children. Hearing about a new observance called Mothers’ Day, Dodd decided fathers should get equal time. She campaigned for this vigorously at local organizations and government offices. The result was the first Father’s Day celebration on June 19, 1910. (She had wanted the date to be June 5, her father’s birthday, but local ministers protested that they needed more time after Mothers’ Day to prepare different sermons!)

Initially, Father’s Day was only observed in Dodd’s home state of Washington. The custom became popular across the country, but not as an official holiday. Then in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson honored the occasion by unfurling a flag in Spokane, with the aid of telegraph signals. But governments can’t be hurried. It was another 56 years before Father’s Day became a federal holiday, via a 1972 proclamation by President Nixon.

The question is, why hasn’t Father’s Day gotten the same recognition and hoopla as the day for Moms? Retailers basking in lucrative candy, perfume and flower sales for Mom, report that profits are billions less from such unromantic items for Dad as socks and ties, or even power tools and golf clubs. (Liquor stores do report substantially more sales for men!)

But I think there’s more to this than the commercial aspect. There’s a sentimental image of Mom as the heart of the family. (Multiply ever-loving Marmee in ”Little Women.”) On the other hand, a majority of men think a day for expressing love to a father isn’t ”macho.” In my own family my mother was unabashed in her expectation and appreciation of the holiday attention, whereas my father scoffed at similar efforts by my sister and me as “ridiculous” – invariably followed by a gruff: “I don’t need presents.”

To be fair, men have had a tougher time being the loving parent because they were
traditionally the breadwinners, so had less time with their children . Of course,
these days the executive dashing off to work is often Mama! With fathers now sharing child-rearing, this shift may ultimately be reflected in a heightened importance given to Father’s Day. Yet I know that if my father were alive he’d still prefer to be ignored (a modesty his daughters didn’t inherit!)

I can’t resist pointing out one other thing: In my previous blog I protested the apostrophe in Mothers’ Day, which makes it look as though the holiday is for all mothers rather than a personal tribute to your own. So I’m glad to see that the apostrophe is right where it belongs in Father’s Day. Dads win that one at least!.

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: COME and GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY- available through CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.

ANNA’S APOSTROPHE

As a writer who’s avid about correct punctuation I’ve been critical of the apostrophe in Mother’s Day, for it implies that the day is just for one mother. I now discover the placement was the decision of Anna Jarvis who was originally responsible for the holiday. Having recently lost her mother, Anna promoted the idea of everyone paying tribute to ONE mother, their own.

That was back in 1904. Since then Anna’s innocent tribute has grown far beyond her intention, like a faucet that overflows into a flood. Just 13 years later President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother’s Day a national holiday, to be celebrated on the second Sunday in May. The day’s popularity has been a multi-billion dollar windfall for florists, candy companies and card manufacturers. (Cynics dub the day the Hallmark Holiday.)

Anna, on the other hand, was horrified by the hoopla. She fought a strenuous and costly battle – using her own funds – to have the holiday deleted from the national calendar. Obviously, her efforts weren’t successful. She has been blessed – and resented – by women ever since.

The image of the day is of  a beaming mother wearing a corsage (a white carnation is the symbolic flower), while receiving hugs and gifts from her ever-loving, attentive children. But the reality is that this is a sitcom scenario in many cases.

It would be good for all of us to recognize that Mother’s Day is far from joyous for many women. I have a friend who has been desperately trying to conceive without success, and finds Happy Mom reminders painful, like most women  in her situation. Think, too,  of  those who are enduring the unspeakable – the heartbreaking loss of a child. Even when children are well the relationship might not  be, for our offspring may be estranged. And since we were once children ourselves, there are many women who, like Anna Jarvis, are mourning the absence of their own mother.

So I suggest that we remain sensitive to the varied feelings of other women. This doesn’t mean condescending sympathy where it may not even be welcome. It means treating one another with empathy and being willing to listen. Flowers wilt, but your words or embrace can have lasting impact – far more meaningful than a box of candy!

WEBSITE: www.annehosansky.com
BOOKS: COME AND GO – available through BookBaby.com, WIDOW’S WALK –iUniverse.com; TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW –Xlibris.com, TEN WOMEN OF VALOR and ROLE PLAY- Amazon.com; also Amazon Kindle.