Sunday, February 27, 2011


As promised here's the story that was published one year ago. It may have been my first, but I'm hoping and planning on many others.

There are friends and then there are real friends. The kind of friends you can depend on to be there through all the highs and lows of your life. My husband and I are lucky enough to have friends such as these. To be honest they started out as my husband's friends first, I was adopted later.

Jim's been best buddies with John since they were both five years old. As children they shared in all those adventures that young boys have; building forts, walking the train tracks, riding their bikes. As they got older they got their first jobs together, worked on cars together, and got into trouble together. Over the years their friendship had it's ups and downs. Their high school graduation night ended in fists, but in the end, they always came back to each other. When they got to adulthood they started dating and eventually found their future wives. In some relationships, that may have added a strain to the friendship, but in this case it didn't. First John married Sue, and later Jim married me. Sue and I have been mistaken as sisters, which says something about how close our husbands are. There must be something special in a friendship that has lasted almost their entire lives. Instead of two best friends and their wives, we quickly became four best friends.

As close as we are, we're always borrowing something from one another. There never seems to be a time in which one of us doesn't have something that belongs to the other. If it's not some borrowed item, it's borrowed money. We often go out to dinner or shopping together and to make things easier, we trade off who pays for it. One time we will cover the bill, the next time they will. We've been doing this so long, we no longer keep track of what we owe each other, we just figure it all evens out in the end. Sometimes we get to the point of getting the check at a restaurant and say, “It's our turn, we owe you for something."

None of us will remember what we owe, or even what it was we owe for, just that it's our turn. Over the years, we took notice of this habit of one always borrowing from the other. We asked ourselves why that was. In the end we decided it was our way of insuring we would get together again.

We've been there for each other as we got married, Jim was John's Best Man, and John was Jim's. John and Sue moved away for a time, but the long distance phone call was one of the first as each of our children were born. Once back in the same state, we were there to share the trials of moving and house building and the joys of our children growing, graduating, and getting married. We travel together, and jump in to help with any project. We were there to support them through the loss of a parent, grandparent, brother-in-law, and friend. They were there for us through the loss of a parent.

They played a most important role in our lives. They were always there for us when our disabled and medically fragile son was ill. They didn't think twice about coming to wait with us in the middle of the night as he underwent emergency surgery. They forced us to go out for a bite to eat after we spent days in his hospital room. They kept us sane during the 16 years of medical crises. They were there to give us support in his final days, and helped to plan his memorial service. I can't imagine a more heartbreaking time in our lives, and they were there for us. I know it was difficult for them. How hard must it be to sit with your friends as they wait for their son to take his last breath? It didn't matter how hard it was, we weren't just friends, we were family, we are family. I truly believe there is nothing we wouldn't do for each other, barring the impossible. At a moment's notice, we we'll drop everything for each other. Our families have become each others families.

Recently my husband and I were affected by the poor economy. We were forced to sell our dream home. This house was one that my husband, an architect, designed just for us. We built this house ourselves. We didn't just watch the contractors work, we put our sweat and backs into it as well. It took a year to build. John and Sue were there every step of the way, painting walls, laying tile, hauling rocks, whatever it took.

The process of selling this house has been an emotional one. The equity in that house was to be our nest egg. We were starting over. It's hard enough to lose your home, another when that home is also one's livelihood. It's my husband's business to design and build houses, now we would be living in someone else's. First John and Sue were there as moral support. Then they were there to help us pack and move in a hurry as we scrambled to find a place to live. We even traded vehicles for weeks as theirs had a hitch to pull a trailer. They were with us when we looked at houses, and they gave up their weekends to help us transfer our belongings.

On the last day of moving we returned each others cars. But in typical fashion we found John's sunglasses on our counter. Sometimes the “borrowing” was unintentional. It didn't matter, as long as one of us had some belonging to the other.

The next morning my husband woke up to realize we had forgotten some large items that were stored outside our former home. Since we had already given John and Sue their van back, we were forced to call first thing in the morning to ask if they had the time to come back and help move the forgotten items. Sue answered the phone. John was in the garage, he had the tire off of the needed van, and was about to start a brake job on it. She stuck her head out the door and yelled “STOP!” No questions asked, John popped the tire back on and came right over.

When it was done and John was about to leave, he grabbed his sunglasses. As he took them Jim said, “I think we all have everything that belongs to each of us." John said, “Oh no, does that mean we won't get together anymore?”

We laughed, albeit a bit nervously. As if it really takes borrowing things from each other to make sure we would see each other again. As much as we have been through, it's silly to think that it's a simple borrowed item that keeps us together. Yet why did we feel uncomfortable?

After John left, I suddenly remembered something. I looked at Jim and said, “Don't worry, we still have that DVD I borrowed from Sue.” With an unfounded sense of relief we knew all is as it should be. Our friendship is guaranteed to live another day.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marking Time

This month marks one year since a story I wrote was published, a first for me as an author. It's a true story about friendship that appeared in the Reader's Write section of the February 2010 edition of the Sun Magazine.

How long have I been a writer? I get asked this question from time to time. The answer isn't a simple one. First of all I believe a writer, is a writer their entire lives. Even if they never put together a story book when they were young, or kept a journal as a teen. One who becomes a writer as an adult, has always been a writer on the inside.

I've read interviews with several well known authors who talk about how they wrote stories from the time they could hold a pencil. At first this gave me pause. I didn't write stories when I was that young, maybe I won't measure up to these people who knew they wanted to be writers since infancy. I didn't know I wanted to be a writer until much later, and in fact scoffed when others told me I could be. Now I know that was just my introverted personality talking.

Anyone who knows me now is no doubt laughing at the thought of me being shy, but it's true. I was an extremely nervous child, to the point of making myself ill at times. Even as an adult, I was terrified of new people, and new situations. I didn't go anywhere by myself, I always convinced my husband, or friends, to go along. I was afraid of getting lost, or looking stupid, or saying the wrong thing.

Several things changed that. First and foremost was the birth, life and passing of my son. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that can give you better perspective on what's truly important in life than losing a child. And there is no example greater of bravery than the daily struggle my son went through for 16 years. As the mother of a child who couldn't speak, I had to step up and be his voice. I often had to fight to get him what he needed. I couldn't afford to be shy anymore.

Still, that was different. I'd developed a fierce attitude when it came to my children, but still deferred to others when it came to myself. I was a born follower which meant even if I felt strongly about something, if the rest of the group felt differently I would go along with it, doubting myself along the way. Knowing just how much my actions were influenced by my desire to be accepted, I am incredibly lucky and amazed that I came out of my teen years in one piece.

Once my job as parent became less of a focus, I found myself adrift. I'd developed the ability to assert myself even if it was only in my children's interest. I couldn't just shut that off and be the meek person I'd been before. I needed to find something I could be passionate about. I'd always loved planning theme parties, and looked into becoming an event planner. I had experience as a secretary and looked for jobs that might be related. I loved to cook and considered catering. I'd always loved reading, and dabbled a bit in writing for my own personal enjoyment and it had been suggested more than once that I try writing. I started a bit of research.

I found a class titled "Writing for Publication" at our local technical college. I remember the sense of excitement at the thought of taking the class. I also remember the fear when I actually did sign up. Seems silly that anyone should be fearful about taking a non-credit class, but that's how I'm wired. The difference is now I understand my fear and fight to not let it take over. I couldn't be happier that I didn't give in to my nagging self-doubt. I set goals for myself. I would go to class, and I would always bring some writing to share despite the fact that it wasn't required. It's very similar to setting a goal to exercise and lose weight and to stick with it despite feeling tired or sore or hungry. I have to push myself to do things I'd normally avoid regardless of how much they set my stomach in knots. I set the goal that I'd actually send my writing out and try to get published. After six months I got that first acceptance letter, and after only one year as an aspiring author, I became a published one.

In hindsight, I've enjoyed the written word since very young. I was a voracious reader. I didn't write stories, but I certainly made them up in my head. I was always thinking and as that shy child was often alone, with only my imagination to entertain me. I'd always had pen pals and enjoyed writing long letters. It was required that I join clubs in school -  and the clubs I chose? The school newspaper and the yearbook committee. As an adult, I wrote Christmas letters every year,  and I wrote letters to out of state family and friends. I was always more comfortable writing than speaking. I'm still terrible at keeping a journal but I still have my wild imagination, and now I have determination. Determination to be myself, and to overcome my fears. Fears that I understand will never truly go away, but can certainly be managed.

So how long have I been a writer?  I'm in my seventh semester of writing classes. I've been actively pursuing a writing career for two years. I've been a published author for one year (not counting the articles I wrote for the school newspaper).  But I have undoubtedly been a writer my whole life, I just didn't know it. Now I can't imagine doing anything else. Just like exercise, once I pushed past the pain, I got a rush like no other. I have never been happier in my own skin as I am now.

Later this week I will post the story that was accepted and published by the Sun Magazine. I will post the full version for you; their editors were ruthless. Despite the pain of the amputation of a good portion of my story, I was and still am incredibly proud of making this milestone. And despite any fears (and yes they're still there), I am determined to make many more. 

I've been a writer forever and intend to be a writer until my time is done.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Baby Steps And Light Bulbs

I have to admit, since the holidays it's seemed like everything was conspiring against me when it came to writing. There were those left over January Christmas parties, birthdays, beginning of the year chores such as organizing paperwork and bills, projects at work that left me tired at the end of the day, and the Packers. I live in Wisconsin, need I say more? As thrilled as I am with our Super Bowl champs, it meant every weekend for the past several weeks were occupied with football parties. I'd used up all my vacation days at work, so my available writing time was greatly reduced.

I was feeling stressed by the lack of any down time and wasn't sleeping well. It wasn't unusual for me to be unable to get more than four hours of sleep. The result, I started catching every bug out there, more stress. Snow storms that prevented travel to writing group meetings, even more stress.

I was increasingly frustrated, guilty, sad, angry, and disappointed that I wasn't doing ANY writing. That New Year's goal was haunting my nightmares. I have to say, I'm glad I've made my goals public. It makes it hard, if not impossible, to give up on them knowing everyone you know is waiting and watching to see if you can do it. Not that I could EVER give up on writing. For me it's a necessity of life, analogous to breathing, but it might have been easy to put the novel on the back burner for a while. When I'd finally have an hour to spare, I'd sit in front of my blank computer screen and doze off. The longer this went on, the harder it was to get back into gear. I was losing site of my characters and storyline. It was disheartening to say the least. I missed them terribly.

I couldn't be happier to tell you I'm finally back, really back. It started with a short story. It's totally unrelated to the novel, but sometimes you need to just shift gears for a bit. It was one of those light bulb stories. I was sitting in the break room at work eating my lunch when a co-worker's cell phone rang. (I do owe her one!) The music it played reminded me of a carousel, a light bulb went off, and bang in 24 hours I had a completed short story. A horror story no less!

Then, because I actually had something to share, I went to meet with a group of fellow writers and friends. It felt good to be back in the circle. The next thing that happened was amazing. I was at work when a client came in holding a copy of "Where Do I Begin - One Woman's Story" with the request that I sign it for her. A little ego boost does wonders when one is doubting their abilities. 

Then I started with little things; making a Twitter post, e-mailing an agent, looking up information on building a website, going back to my writer's groups, starting my writing class again, even writing an update for this blog. Things that I count as working towards my goal of having a career as an author. Finally I had a whole weekend to myself and before I knew it, I had two chapters written and the ideas are flowing again. The night I wrote, I actually slept eight full hours. Now that I've started, I'm back to jotting notes all over the place, and I wake up in the morning thinking about where I'm taking my story, or what I want one of my characters to accomplish. It's good to have my old friends back.

I'm not foolish enough to think this won't happen again. That I might not get stuck, or that life won't interrupt me before this is done. But now I know all it will take is some baby steps and maybe a light bulb or two to get back to the place I'm happiest to be.