On Death and Dying

Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be sitting in a hotel in Huntsville, Alabama thinking about my final exit from this earth. Yet, while my grandson is enjoying his first experience at Space Camp, I am pounding out a proposal for a new work of non-fiction that has to do with dying. Those that know me, really know me, understand I have no fear of dying. And I am just crazy enough to be able to say it! My peace about dying is assured.

Why am I blogging about it? Because I am beginning to find humor in all that remains to be done! I swear since I have been born, I have been on one big run. From a child, I remember being told to “slow down.” But when you are “wired” for speed, you can’t slow down, just like if you are “wired” to laugh when you are afraid or are being yelled at. (Yes, I do that, as well.) You can imagine as I approach a BIG birthday, why the thought of dying and death crosses my mind a little more often than it used to. It seems I am racing toward a finish line with no ability to slow time down. I’m feeling out of control. (Which I am.)

Every ache and pain that arises out of nowhere is a constant reminder of how much I need to get done before I go. I know my days are numbered but do I really want to leave my closets and cupboards in such disarray for my son and his wife to clean out?  I can hear my daughter-in-law’s voice when she arrives at my stuffed closet and pulls out that Little House on the Prairie dress I have saved for forty-seven years. She’ll probably say “Really? Bless her heart.” Those words will reverberate in my ears until I clean that closet.  She won’t get that was the dress I wore on the day I told my beloved father-in-law I was pregnant. She won’t understand that he’d laughed with delight, but told me he’d figured as much because the dress made me look like I was already nine months pregnant. I was briefly crushed as I thought that calico dress made me look really pretty. When he died of a heart attack a few days later, I could never let that ugly dress go. I have it still, a reminder of a father who loved me.

So I think. Will the toilet be clean should an EMT have to use it when they come get me? Should I shave my legs should one of them pat my skin while we ride to the hospital or morgue? Maybe it’s time to cut my hair really short as someone could run their fingers through it to help me look more presentable as I waste away in a hospital bed.

Then there is the eyebrow situation. Maybe I should take my good friend’s advice and just get them tattooed on. With my luck, I’d have a beautician who paid more attention to her cell phone than my face and I’d end up with brows that looked like I was always asking a question.

I don’t want anyone fighting over my fur coats. Or jewelry. My daughter-in-law will take anyone out when it comes to diamonds. We are bling girls, her and I. But she hates fur so they will be distributed as promised….maybe. She loves animals and without my unwritten will they might get tossed.

How will my son find the passwords to all my social media sites? If he can’t find them will his friends forever remember me by that one photo posting mistake where I’m on top of a table, and my dress is pulled up over my head?

Have I made my wished known about burial or will I be relegated to the burn barrel and Bic lighter my son has threatened for years?

Will anyone have anything good to say about me or will they only remember I talked too much?  Did I make a difference in anyone’s life? Is being prepared on the inside enough to eliminate the chaos I may leave for others on the outside? Will my clutter be forgiven?

Just thinking……and laughing inside! Got to run now.  After all, it’s what I do!

 

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What’s Stopping You????

I am sitting at my small desk, quite a departure from my previous “office” of my last house. I now live on the second floor of a three story condo. Two bedrooms, two and a half baths. Small in comparison to the four bedroom, two car garage home I left behind. This past year, life has changed once more and it gave me an excuse to put down my pen for awhile. Too busy with the move and the changes that have come hurling at me as fast as a wayward hockey puck. have two big windows in front of me that face the road to the community garage. Cars come and go quite routinely. Being hyper-sensitive to distractions, my head bobs as though on a spring every time a car drives by or a neighbor decides to go for a stroll.

Before, in my large office, my windows faced a sprawling, peaceful field of gold. Rarely did I notice anything more than a fleeting butterfly or bird. Now, I have two big windows in front of me that face the road to the community garage. Cars come and go quite routinely. Being hyper-sensitive to distractions, my head bobs as though on a tightly coiled spring every time a car drives by or a neighbor decides to go for a stroll. To say I am distracted would be an understatement. Another excuse.

I close my eyes and say a little prayer for the wisdom and guidance I need to push myself   into the world I love. Suddenly, the words and thoughts start to flow! My fingers rattle over my keyboard and my words begin to come to life!

So it goes as a writer. One moment we are empty and giving ourselves a thousand reasons why we “can’t” write today. Then the next moment our minds are so full of stories, characters, and endings that we cannot be dragged from our desk for hours.

It is then I realize that the biggest enemy to my writing is ME! I am the one making excuses! I am the one putting my work out there! I am the one scared of rejection!

And so I pull down the shades on my windows and plod on. How about

How about you? What’s stopping you?

 

One Good Thing…

It has been awhile since I have posted. Life got away with me. A move. Health. Time. Family. Growth. Lack of commitment to writing. Lots of excuses. But, I’m back! Fully refreshed and ready to rededicate myself to the craft I love.

For all of the excuses I gave myself, I found I received a benefit that was unexpected. As a writer, I vacillate between writing what I feel I should be writing and writing what others around me expect me to write. My inner voice is silenced by the roar of outside expectations. It squashed my ability to see what I needed to write, so I just sort of stopped writing altogether.

Today, because of my “time off” I sat at my desk and pounded out a story, something lost to me over the past several months. Thanks to the people who gently nudged and encouraged me to “just write.”

I am happy I have found my way to paper again and know that whatever direction I head from here in my writing, it will be where I need to be. The lesson of stepping back for a short time is the one good thing I needed!

 

 

STAY AT 17 INCHES..a note on Our Nation

I just came across this post by Chris Sperry. I don’t know where it was first published, but the message is powerful and right for our nation today! Enjoy!
STAY AT 17 INCHES

In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention.

While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment – “John Scolinos is here? Oh man, worth every penny of my airfare.”

Who the hell is John Scolinos, I wondered. No matter, I was just happy to be there.

In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung – a full-sized, stark-white home plate.

Seriously, I wondered, who in the hell is this guy?

After speaking for twenty five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage.

Then, finally…

“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility. “No,” he continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”

Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”

After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?” more of a question than answer.

“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth’s day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”

Another long pause.

“Seventeen inches?” came a guess from another reluctant coach.

“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear.

“How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”

“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.

“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”

“Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.

“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”

“Seventeen inches!”

“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide is home plate in the Major Leagues?”

“Seventeen inches!”

“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello !” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter.

“What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.'”

Pause.

“Coaches…”

Pause.

” … what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him. Do we widen home plate?

The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something. When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We simply, widen the plate!”

Pause.

Then, to the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag.

“This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”

Silence.

He replaced the flag with a Cross.

“And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate for themselves! And we allow it.”

“And the same is true with our government. Our so called representatives make rules for us that don’t apply to themselves. They take bribes from lobbyists and foreign countries. They no longer serve us. And we allow them to widen home plate and we see our country falling into a dark abyss while we watch.”

I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curveballs and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that, which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to…”

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside.”… dark days ahead.”

Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including mine. Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach.

His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players-no matter how good they are-your own children, your churches, your government, and most of all, keep yourself, ALL, at seventeen inches.

Written by Chris Sperry
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A World Full of Surprises!

I woke up this morning, grabbed a cup of coffee and began preparing notes and a presentation for my upcoming speaking engagements. My joy is palpable as I so enjoy sharing what I have learned with others. Grabbing my iPad, I read my devotions and then caught the headlines of the news. The United Kingdom voted to break away from the European Union and the Prime Minister had resigned. Although the news was startling, to me, the people’s choice to leave the EU signals the uneasiness around the world that  no one can explain. We feel it in our own nation, as well.

I slapped my coffee cup to the table and laughed right out loud thinking that my days were mostly quiet.   Then it hit me that I hadn’t had a quiet day in months! I began to think of all of the startling days I have had recently. My wonderful publisher closed its doors. Then I had a request for my new manuscript. A dear friend lost her mother. Another friend lived through a certain death heart surgery. I travelled to Florida overnight to visit an elderly friend. I taught an awesome creative writing class this semester. I was confined to bed for several days due to a muscle spasm. I got three rejections. News poured in day after day. Some news has been good, others, not so much.

I couldn’t help but smile, as I realized how surprising EVERY day is! I don’t need the news to tell me that something wild and crazy is going to happen today. It is how I react to the news that keeps my head on straight and allows others to see I have a Rock to cling to even in the dark times. I’m learning to expect the unexpected….and with that to enjoy whatever comes my way.

 

A Gift of Time…A Residency

I did something out of the ordinary for me today. I stretched myself. I just completed my first suspense manuscript about stolen Syrian art, a new genre for me. Although typing THE END is, for any writer, exciting, but we also understand that once the work is “completed,” doesn’t mean we don’t have more to do.

We read. We revise. We edit. We send the manuscript to beta readers or other writers to tear it apart, so that we can put it back together again. We usually don’t include close friends or family members as readers, because they love us and would never want to hurt our feelings. Then, when we have the work back in our hands, we go back it again to be sure it is the best it can be before we “shop” it around to editors and publishers. This all takes uninterrupted time, time that we usually cannot find in the midst of our busy lives.

So, because of Hope Clark’s wonderful website, Funds for Writers, I decided, on a whim, to apply for a residency. Now don’t get all excited, as I just completed the application. If you do not understand what a residency is, here is a quick run-down.

Residencies are available all over the world. Most include a free or low-cost place to stay. Some have all meals paid for in addition to a studio. Some include transportation. Very competitive residencies may offer a stipend.

Timing is year-round, though most residencies have set times with set dates of submission. Residencies can be from a few days to a year or more. Many are four to six weeks of interrupted time. Most are for single people and families are left behind. As a writer’s life is lonely, that kind of solitude is exactly what is necessary when completing a project.

Days at the residencies are self-directed. Usually there is a group of various artists, including painters, sculptors, dancers, musicians, as well as writers. Most groups are small, from four to twelve people, each usually having a separate space in which to live and work. What is great about residencies is that the artist gets to work in uninterrupted space and engage with others only as they need a break. Everyone is there to focus on their work. It is challenging and expectations of each artists is high. Competition is also fierce, and filled with necessary documentation that takes days and days to get just right.

But today, I threw it all to the wind and pressed the “submit” button for my first attempt at winning a residency. My expectations are high because I am committed to writing and the difficult learning process I know I must go through to make my writing better. I am lucky to have the support to even think about this, as it was not always so.

I will never win if I never try. You might want to think about that, too!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but never thought you’d ever have the time, the money or support to do it? It doesn’t have to be writing. Maybe it is helping someone else fulfill there dream. Maybe it is giving to a cause that supports something you love. Maybe it is as simple as stopping to make a phone call to an old friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile.

Whatever your dream might be, is now your time to try?

 

 

 

Should Writer’s Rant?

I don’t spend as much time on Facebook or social media as my writing world demands, although I plan on making greater strides with doing so in 2016. Lately, I have been personally turned off by several posts of some wonderful writers I know and love.

As a reader of these writers, I often wonder if they realize that it is not attractive to post their “poor me” personal situations, their left and right wing politics or their narrow ideologies on the same public and social media meant to promote their work. I use social media as a way to happily engage with readers, friends, colleagues, and family, not to drive my social or political agenda.

I say all of this as I found myself engaged in a rant with a fellow writer whose views on almost everything in life, do not reflect my own. Though my words were not venomous, I left the conversation tongue-lashing myself for making any comment, even though the other writer’s angry words were directed at people who hold my beliefs.

But here is the kicker. The effect of the ranting writer’s post was that I stopped reading their work. I quit telling people that I knew about that writer’s work. Instead of being an advocate for that writer, which I had been, I made a conscious choice to stay silent.

I still care very deeply about that writer. Their work is breathtaking and relevant, but they offended me deeply with their ranting even though it was not directed at me personally.

I guess what I am saying is that a writer, any writer, takes a huge risk of alienating their readers by airing their own biased beliefs, prejudices or politics on social media. One offended reader can defer many others, just as one loyal reader can create many sales.

I am not suggesting that a writer changes who they are or what they believe to appease a buying crowd. Instead, I am suggesting that we, as writers, do not personally know all of our readers, so airing our ideologies and biased opinions in a public forum may alienate a once loyal reader and shatter the persona a reader once believed about us.

It’s time we writer’s “get” the point that the world doesn’t need or want to hear us “vent” about our daily personal woes, nor our public or political views on social media. It can drive a deadly wedge between a favorite author and a loyal reader leaving both parties angry and abandoned.

Tell me if I’m wrong.