This is the week we spend our annual family vacation at the beach. While I have enjoyed the ocean and sand, I took some time to complete an assignment. One of my stories had been accepted by Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine, a digital journal. It could be published as soon as this Friday if I could make changes suggested by the editorial staff. And I did.
While most of the edits added clarity and a deeper texture to my story, one area of discussion initially seemed mundane. However, on reflection, I came to realize how important it is to add the actual time period of a story. In this case the mid ’80s.
An intern who had the lead editing assignment probably was born into the cell phone era and never experienced a “desk” phone that, in most cases, was immovable from its position unless you added an additional cord.
For example, in order to move about room, you had to add a long extension cord from the outlet in the wall to the base phone, then hold the base with one hand and with the other clutch the receiver to one’s ear. This way you could walk away from the desk and check for a report in the near-by file cabinet. (I won’t go into the fact we had hard copies of all our documents).
If you chose to add a long line from the phone base to the receiver so you didn’t have to carry the phone base with you, you would have to scurry back to the base phone to hang up.
Plus that cord was coiled and most often became so tangled that you had to dangle the receiver until it spun and untangled. You had to plan ahead to add the cords. If, as the young intern suggested, you added an extension cord while talking to someone, the call would be disconnected.
This is probably more than you ever cared to know about old-fashioned phones. However, I learned a lesson that sometimes we know something so intimately that we assume all others share our experiences.
Check this site: Pulse Friday or next Friday to see if my story made it.
Ten years ago, I left a full time nurse practitioner job and began to write in earnest. The book I just birthed is not the one I started then. It has been configured many times: moving chapters, changing tenses from past to present and back to past again, deleting some stories and adding others. I went through seven titles.
I recognize now that I did everything to prolong that actual moment when I would let the book go. But then 2014 came along. A busy year of interviewing realtors, decluttering our old home, making improvements to increase the potential for the house to sell. And sell it did—quickly.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, I managed to keep writing, gave the manuscript to two more beta-readers and hired a line-by-line editor. And even settled on a title.
How do I explain my success? First I think I was so busy with the distractions of selling and buying homes that I forgot to further undermine the completion of my book and second, some inner determination took hold.
It’s now that I remember a quote I long ago ripped out of a magazine and saved over the years. When I find the yellowed page, I will frame it and hang it on the wall of my new office.
I am writing my memoir because of what I learned when I ran a clinic on the tenth floor of a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) high-rise twenty years ago. All my patients were over sixty years of age. I was an inexperienced nurse practitioner and new to working with older people.
I learned that older folks were generally accepting and forgiving.
I learned that a few drank too much, hired prostitutes, carried guns in their purses, and chewed tobacco.
I learned that some sold their medicine for street drugs or money and some were abusive and some were abused.
I learned that not all families wanted to care for their older members and that family members, who suddenly showed up when someone was dying, might not be family.
I learned that most of them enjoyed sex.
I learned that loneliness was the most pervasive condition among the group.
I learned how to plan a funeral, hand over firearms to the local police precinct, how to put folks in a nursing home, transfer them to an emergency room, and commit them to a psychiatric hospital.
I learned to listen to a person’s story before I examined her. And that making a home visit told me more than I could ever learn from an office visit.
I learned that I didn’t need the support from a highly educated and professional staff but from people who were caring and didn’t walk away from a problem.
I learned that a sense of humor was a requirement when working with the elderly.
And I learned that some of my patients were impossible to forget.
Stephen King, On Writing, suggests after your book is written put it away. Don’t look at it, or think about it for six weeks, or more. Then pull it out of the drawer and read it all in one sitting, if possible.
So after the designated time frame, while the crowds shopped on Black Friday, I curled up on the flowered loveseat in my bedroom. I tried to resist making edits. I wanted to concentrate on the story flow, the characters, any bumps in continuity but I couldn’t help noting typos and grammatical errors.
After five and a half hours, excluding potty breaks, lunch and long minutes walking out the kinks in my legs and back, I read 213 pages, doubled-spaced, with one inch margins all around, of the memoir I have labored over for the past ten years.
But this memoir isn’t the same book I started ten years ago. It has narrowed in scope and deepened in detail and is now ready for a final editing before I ship it off to my beta readers—probably the beginning of the New Year.