TAKING THE BUS

My husband and I will move into in our new Raleigh town house at the end of the week. Part of the reason for our move, besides being nearer to the grandchildren, is that we want more of a city life. Our last house, in a lovely forested neighborhood, was tranquil and isolated. We needed a car to go anywhere. We were happy to discover that a city bus passes by our new development.

I haven’t taken a bus in years.

I grew up in Jersey City where, as children, my best friend, Carol, and I would hop on the bus—any bus—and ride it to the end of the line and back. I think the fare was nine cents. The bus drivers had coin dispensers

Coin Dispenser
Coin Dispenser

to give us change and then we would drop the correct amount in the fare box.

Fare Box
Fare Box

At least that’s what I remember happened back then. Later, we used tokens.

Carol and I felt independent and adventurous. We never told our mothers.

In other cities where I lived, I took mass transportation, not only buses but more frequently trains:

Chicago El
Chicago El

the El in Chicago and the

 

 

Metro in the greater Washington DC area,

DC Metro
DC Metro

 

 

and on frequent visits to NYC, the subway.

NYC subway
NYC subway

 

 

 

 

What a liberating feeling not to depend on a car.

I have a brochure of the Capital Area Transit (cat) bus route. The bus starts from the northern part of Raleigh, passes our home and turns south toward the city. Seniors ride free. I plan to call my friend, Carol, who lives a suburb not far from our new home. (How’s that for serendipity?) I’m sure she will be excited to join me on an adventurous bus ride.

And we won’t tell our mothers.

HOLDING ON

We met soon after my husband and I moved into a house in a forested community in Chapel Hill. Still working full time, I took my long walks over the weekend. As I trudged up a particularly steep hill, an older man wearing a floppy hat and listing slightly towards the right, ambled towards me. Happy to meet someone from the neighborhood, I stopped to speak with him. He told me that he was a retired physiology professor and strolled the neighborhood trails twice a day to “keep in shape.” When we parted, he touched the brim of his hat and said, “Good day.”

So dignified, I thought.images

The professor and I met sporadically until I retired. Now, each year, after the winter yields to spring, I run into him a few times a week. I know that he takes a different path in the morning and afternoon. Sometimes when we meet, he just tips his floppy hat as I pass by. Other times we stop to banter about the weather, or how fast I walk, or how slow he walks.

Once we strolled a while together as he spoke of hearing loss, memory problems, and stiffness in his joints.

“My neighbor always tells me to ‘take care.’ What do I have to take care of?” He laughed. “I’m eighty-eight years old.” He stopped to catch his breath and his smile faded

“Walking is a good way to slow the aging process.”

“Yep,” I agreed. His words unearthed my own fear of getting older. I wanted to hug him, pump him up with clichés of “use it or lose it” and encourage him to “keep on truckin.”

I did none of those things. I smiled and picked up my pace.

Somehow the professor’s longevity has become bound up in my own fear of deterioration. I want him to keep his mind sharp and his conversation snappy. I don’t want him to wear out.

Weeks pass by before I see his familiar shape again: a thin man listing to the right, trudging down the road. The signature floppy hat.

I rev up my pace. When I sidle beside him, he smiles his bucktooth smile. He dark face wrinkles and crumples his eyes into slits. He lifts his hand to the rim of his cap.

“I haven’t seen you for a while,” I say.

“Well, you know the weather has been cold and I’ve been busy with my income tax. Got to find all the information. Takes a while.”

“Guess I’ll see you more now that the weather is getting mild.” Before he can respond I add, as casually as I can, “By the way, we have been talking to each other for a few years now and I never did learn your name.”

His name is Joe. His last name is a string of consonants. He spells it out for me. I know that this is a name I’ll recognize if it appears in the obituary section in our local newspaper.

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Trotting along side of him, I note his slower pace. He looks a little thinner. He makes some comment about never being able to catch up with me. We laugh. I jog ahead as he trudges behind me.

Two days later, I spot the professor in Dillard’s department store on the arm of a white haired woman wearing a deep red jacket. Her lips match her coat. Her eyes are bright and alert. Her posture’s perfect. I approach them. He recognizes me. He smiles.

“This is my wife, Helen, she just had a bad fall and I’m holding her up.” This is probably a well-worn joke between them because they both laugh.

I tell Helen that I run into her husband frequently on either his morning or afternoon walk to different parts of the neighborhood.

“Oh, he walks the same path morning and afternoon now,” she says. “The afternoon way became too hilly for him.”

He nods. His eyes look unhappy. When did that happen?

After we chat a bit more, I say as I turn to leave, “See you on your walk later.”

“No” he answers, “This shopping trip will tire me out. I won’t be walking this afternoon.”

Again, I sense sadness in his voice, or is it my own sadness?

I circle the cosmetic counter so I can watch the professor and his wife clinging to each other as they saunter towards the men’s department. He lists towards her, their heads almost touching as they talk and walk. It disheartens me that aging is wearing him down but I’m glad to know that he has someone to hold on to.

A NEW BEGINNING

I sit in a one-bedroom furnished unit on the 2nd floor of an immense apartment picture-uh=cc70a6247f6d9f682bb52dfcf6c33e88-ps=cda78b55a912998faf611fa8fbfeca29-4209-Lassiter-Mill-Rd-Raleigh-NC-27609complex nestled in a shopping mall in northern Raleigh while writing this post.
Two weeks ago we moved out of our house in Chapel Hill after 14 years. A cold heavy rain began to fall as we pulled the door behind us for the last time.
A week before that, amid packed boxes stacked in various sections of ourIMG_1692 house, Layne Sizemore, photographer, came to take a portrait of me for the book jacket. See how positive I am? IMG_1684 (1)A friend and fellow writer, Linda Jay, also had her photo taken. On that warm autumn day the leaves and acorns rained from the towering oaks that surround our deck. We lucked out that none of us was hit by a projectile nut.
We have five more weeks until our townhouse is completed. Besides my sending off my manuscript to small presses, my husband and I will frequently check the progress of the new construction, take daily walks, explore the neighborhoods, have lunch and dinner out more than we normally do and, best of all, see more of the grandkids.IMG_1742 - Version 2

MY NURSING CAP

I have finally cleaned out the attic in preparation for a move. My speed at tackling this chore is directly related to what “treasures” I find. Sometimes I need to take time to look over the objects, reminisce and then struggle whether they get packed or pitched.

A few days ago I found two of my nursing caps tossed together in a plastic bag. My particular cap was a linen rectangle that needed to be starched before it was folded into a wing-sided emblem of the nursing profession that sat on the back of my head—held on with a bobby pin. It looked something like this.images-1

What I found was one flat cap and one that had been worn, still with the bobby pin, two straight pins that held the black band on and a stud that joined the cap together in the back. I bet I took the cap off years ago not thinking I would never wear it again. Both caps were dotted with rust spots.

I didn’t feel any sentimentality when I tossed the caps away. Many years ago I had come to terms with the reality that their inconvenience out ranked their symbolism. One thing I did like about my cap was that is was so simple compared to other caps—like the cup cake ones that sat on top of a nurse’s head.aae6c77bf34f5827a797719ea73d8ef8

So simple that, when nursing caps still held prestige, I would make a miniature version with a sheet of letter size white paper and give it to my young female patients.

One recipient stands out in my memory.

In the 60s, I worked on a small cardiology research unit. Our patients, from babies to adults, stayed for days and sometimes weeks. One girl, about 14, with congenital heart problems had an impoverished background. Her brother made money by forcing her to have sex with his friends. Her mother was in prison. She couldn’t read or write.

After lunch, she and I would sit in the patient lounge reading outdated magazines. I don’t remember how long she stayed on the unit or how much progress we made. I do remember making her a nurse’s cap, which she immediately put on her head.

After she was discharged, she sent me a letter addressed to the hospital that was written by her mother’s cellmate. I recall that she told me how she was doing and what efforts she was making to learn to read.

I didn’t respond.

My old nursing caps brought back long forgotten remembrances. I don’t regret tossing them into the trash but I do regret not answering that letter.

PREPARING FOR REJECTION: TAKE TWO

Writers in the Storm

SEPTEMBER 22ND, 2014

When Rejection is Necessary, or I Reject All the Fear

By Guest Blogger

Heather Webb

The most detested word in the publishing industry, perhaps even in the English language (we writers might argue) is rejection. Even saying it aloud gives you a nasty swirling in your stomach. Whether it be from agents and editors, or readers and reviewers, the word itself embodies our deepest darkest fear—we aren’t good enough. When the “R’s” begin to pile up, we sink into the sludge that mires us deeper in our fears and that horrible message becomes louder, crippling us.

As I’m working on book three, this fear of the dreaded “R” sits on my chest like a fat cat—even after two contracted books at a large publisher. Even with the overwhelming good fortune of having a network of writer friends I’m proud and blessed to call my tribe. I’m pushing the envelope, you see. In my first novel I mashed up historical fiction, women’s fiction, and romance. My second, I skipped ahead to another era and fell in love with a lesser known artist figure and her struggles with madness. Now, I’m taking on a well-known story and turning it on its head. No biographical route for me this time.

Some serious genre pushing.

But WHY I ask myself? Why must I stick my neck out, push my craft to the point of almost physical pain. Why must I risk my publisher saying “no thank you” to this next book, and the one after that.

The answer is simple.

I can’t avoid the challenge, the tugging in my soul that pushes me to grow—in spite of the quaking in my knees. Reach higher, my heart says. Create better, it begs. INSPIRE MORE. Yet I don’t know if I will succeed and this terrifies me. I know many of you know what I’m talking about. You struggle as I do to get a hold of this nasty thing called fear. So what does one do?

Find Your Center
Work on the exercises that bring you to a deeper, centered you. For me, that’s running or biking until the jitters are gone and you can breathe again. Whether it be meditation or exercise, or sketching or journaling, every writer needs a way to disconnect from the voices in your head. Plus you get the added bonus of all that meditative activity adding years to your life.

Put the Risk in its Place
In the grand scheme of life, how does this risk rate? Is it life-threatening, or life-altering? Will it obliterate your reputation or your self-worth? Will it destroy important relationships around you? If the answer is no to these questions, POWER ON. Take the risk and don’t look back. If it’s yes, it’s time to evaluate that risk. Weigh the pros and cons and remember—regrets will follow you your entire life.

Use a Lifeline
My friends are my lifeline—both my writer buddies and my “real life” friends who understand nothing about the pressures in publishing. Sometimes you need both to balance you out, to remind you of all you have accomplished. To remind you of the simple goodness that is you.

Revel in the Risk
What is life without taking chances? A safe, boring affair that passes you by in a cloud of regret. Get a hold of your fear by the throat. REJECT HOW IT RULES YOUR LIFE, YOUR DECISIONS. Embrace the thrill of being bold, of striking out, and of being the best version of yourself—your best writer self. I’m trying like a mad dog. I hope you are, too.

I leave you with a beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson. It’s called HOPE.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

 

HOPE

 

There is always HOPE and ADVENTURE when taking a risk. Don’t let the fear ruin all that beauty. I, for one, am choosing to banish it.

Have you ever branched out, far from the core safety of your tree to write something edgy or different? How did you tackle your fears?

About Heather

Heather Webb is an author, freelance editor, and blogger at award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. Her first women’s historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, about the life and times of Josephine Bonaparte set to the backdrop of the tumultuous French Revolution, and her forthcoming novel, RODIN’S LOVER, about art, love, and the lines between obsession and madness releases from Penguin in January 2015.  Heather is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and she may also be found teaching craft-based or publishing industry courses at a local college. Find her on Twitter: @msheatherwebb or her website: www.heatherwebbauthor.com/

PREPARING FOR REJECTION

My book is done. Okay, so I don’t have a title—I have at least ten that are in the running—but none of them seem quite right.

In spite of that, I’m crafting a query letter to send off to agents, small presses and to anyone or anyplace else that might publish my book. Besides sweating over every word that goes into the letter, I am bracing myself for the inevitable rejection responses.

I needed to write this book about my nursing experiences back in the 80s when I was in charge of a clinic for the elderly on the 10th floor of a low-income housing project, never thinking at the time what would I do with the book once it was done.

Well, now seven years later I’m done, and educating myself on the myriad paths to publication.

Serendipitously, I tumbled on this post by Allison K Williams in Brevity this past Wednesday, September 10th. I have printed it out and taped it above my desk.

I just love the way it’s written and how it seeps under my skin and toughens it.

images-1

 

What nobody tells you is that you have to be the kind of person who can hear a hundred no’s before you get to yes, and that if you are not that kind of person, selling your art may not be for you.

Here, let’s practice:No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. I’ll call you back. No. No. No. No. No. We went with someone else. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. My cousin will do it for free. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. This did not fit our needs at this time; we sincerely wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. No. No. No. No. No. NO. No. No. No. NO. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No response means no. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. NO. Next! No. No. No. No. No. My boss said no. My editor said no. No. No. No. No. No. NO. Sorry. No. No.

No.

Speaking editorially, we should get to ‘yes’ here, but it’s better to experience the dissatisfaction of having our expectations unfulfilled, so we can quit before dissatisfaction crushes us. Or, so we can immunize ourselves.

So we can say, I am blue. My work is blue. The blue of a thousand cerulean seas. The blue of Texas bluebells. The stunning blue of the sky from the top of the mountain. The deep blue of sapphires. The gentle blue of my mother’s eyes. The best blue.

They might want red.

And what nobody tells you is that it’s not up to you to be red, and that whether or not you want to make your blue more of a purple, or draw a crimson border around it, or pass out violet-tinted glasses to all your readers, it is a choice. Your choice. Your choice to change or stay the course, and neither of those are wrong.

It is not a cruel world full of no.

It is a beautiful world in which the one (or many) persons to whom your work–your particular, personal work–speaks are waiting for you. Waiting for you to grow, to revise, to polish, to publicize, to sell, to share. Waiting for you to make art they love and will pay for.

Go and find them.

 

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