Silly Good Writing

St. Joseph Academy Green bay WI picture

When I think of writing, stories always filled my pen. 

By 5th grade, my teacher Mrs. Brunmeier told me my stories were too avant garde for class distribution.  In 8th grade, I wrote the definitive, imaginative story of our class in a final report format.  In high school, I became the editor of the paper and won a first-place award in the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s contest for writing, an expose of the National Honor Society.  And the list goes on.

But the stories I remember best were the ones I wrote with my friend Donna. 

As high school students at all-girls St. Joseph’s Academy (now Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, www.notredameacademy.com), we yearned for life experiences yet to come.  We dreamed of prom dates and life successes far into the future. We wondered about the diminishing quantity of nuns who taught us and what would happen to their order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, as more lay teachers entered the fray.  We imagined life in big cities and created imaginary all-knowing and all-powerful alter-egos while suffering through the realities of study hall.

For all those things that didn’t yet exist, we’d pen hand-written stories instead of dissecting frogs in biology class to make these lofty dreams come true.  Of course, we’d write each other as main characters and every wish, however small, would come true.  Oh, there would be conflict but ultimately we’d emerge the victors. 

 When Donna had a crush on J, I created a lengthy narrative for her full-bodied hair flowing in the wind, her wily charms on fire, and her witticisms dazzling a high school party crowd.  J could only hope but to fall prey to her charms.  Twenty pages later, Donna would have her man. 

A week later she’d hold the pen, my success held in limbo by her imagination.  Would I crush an opponent or merely lob an ace every serve in a tennis game?  It mattered not.  We would persevere and win.  We’d howl in delight, knowing we’d always be the heroines of our own stories.

Donna moved to New York.  I moved to Chicago.  When I’d least expect it, a hand-written note would appear in my mail, continuing my high school story line.  No explanation needed.  It spurred me to continue her tale, jetting her from country to country, adventure to adventure. 

When I found an old letter buried in a tangle of papers the other day, I quickly picked up my pen ready to resume the quest.  Donna died of colon cancer several years back.   Silly good writing had put her in a multi-million dollar home, lavished her with furs and jewels, and made her insanely happy.  She would have been pleased.

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Authors and Numbers

Downtown Chicago Illinois Nov05 stb 2461

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Yesterday, I went to an discussion-and-book-signing event at Summit Executive Centre (www.summitchicago.com)  for author Norb Vonnegut (www.norbvonnegut.com), who is releasing his second financial thriller, The Gods of Greenwich.  I’d finished my business meetings early and headed over to the event, which gave me some uninterrupted time to talk with Norb, who had been a stock broker in New York with several name-brand companies before starting his second act as a full-time author.  His is an inspiring transition, especially his ability to use the “characters” from his business life as fodder for his novels.

After a pleasant chat with Norb and a sincere agreement to keep in touch on writing matters, I spotted Ginger across the room.  Of all the people who read my blog, Ginger is seemingly one of the most supportive via “liking” and posting comments.  “One of my favorite things about your blog is how you write about the spiritual journey you are on,” she commented to my utter relief (since you never really know what people might say about your inner thoughts and public posts).  Then Ginger told me about numbers — she sees the same numbers all the time.  She grew up in a house number 212 and finds that she sees 212 all the time.  “What do you think it means?” she asked, after sharing that her father had passed away some time before.

I wanted to say that it means whatever you wish it to mean, when out popped, “I think it is your father’s way of saying, keep going, keep the faith.  I don’t think every sign is a watershed, maybe just a little encouragement so you know someone is out there and on your side.”  Ginger agreed and it was nice to see eye to eye and for the time we talked, soul to soul.

It me think about the numbers I see — 519 and 601.  My address growing up was 519.  The number 601 is the first three numbers in my talent agent‘s phone number.  Maybe like Ginger, the numbers I see are my own encouragement — that my parents who’ve passed are giving me subtle encouragement to keep telling my story (519) by using my talents (601).  I’m not sure if that’s the right interpretation but it feels that way.  It’s a lot like finding pennies.

What numbers are in your life?

Secrets of First-Class Flyers

A newer model American Airlines Airbus A300-60...

Returning from some work in New York, the client booked me and my colleague Mr. B in First Class on American Airlines for the return flight to Chicago.  Considering I ended up in the last row (the one that doesn’t recline might I add) on the outbound flight on United, I felt ridiculously justified in my First Class seat.  As the flight prepared for take-off, the flight attendants repeatedly called for Ms. D to report for her upgrade to First Class.  How odd, I thought.  This must be a really important person since airlines typically leave lesser-level fliers (even those with basic status like me) back in coach. 

In the moments before Ms. D arrived to her seat, I imagined she was a harried global traveler, likely a literary agent negotiating deals around the world.  When she did sit down, I noticed her casual clothes (jeans) and stylish red briefcase bag.  As is my usual practice on airplanes, I chose not to ask her if my intuitive sense was correct — that is, I don’t like to talk on airplanes.  Neither apparently did she and we settled into the flight in blissful silence.

Midway through he flight however, I noticed that my colleague Mr. B in the seats directly behind us was still yapping on and on to his seatmate in his normal animated fashion.  That was when Ms. D casually remarked to me that the gentlemen behind us were quite the conversationalists.  I sheepishly admitted to Mr. B being my colleague, explaining that he had previously hosted a talk-show for many years and well, old habits die-hard.

Our conversation could have ended there with a little laugh shared between us.  Yet we continued on.  After exchanging pleasantries and the like, I shared with her my little reverie about what she might do for a living and asked if she indeed was of the literary ilk.  The short answer was no.  Ms. D. was in fact a super-powered IT executive for a global corporation who traveled the world managing a large staff and seemingly even larger responsibilities.  She traveled 200,000 or more miles a year, which explained the airline’s desire to re-seat her in First Class.  Then, quietly she told me, “It’s funny you mention writing because I do write a little.”  There unfolded the fact that every year she conducts a short-story contest with her family.  They self-impose a 30-day deadline and then share with each other the fruits of their creative efforts.  She had other writing stories as well, which simply made me happy to hear.  Ms. D. was, after all, a writer at heart.

It made me wonder:  Does everyone have a secret desire to write?   Or, on the same note, does everyone have a secret aspiration?

When I floated this thought to K, my literary writing coach, she explained, “Most people who want to write aren’t sure how to do it and that’s what stops them from writing.”

Do you think it’s true?  Do we all house a secret writer within us? Or, a secret aspiration?   I’d be grateful if you could share your story.

Are You as Happy as You Make Your Mind Up to Be?

I read the following passage the other day and wondered, “Where did the author get this crazy idea?” and “What’s this wacky idea about resigning yourself to your fate? I disagree.” What do you think? Here it is:

Abe Lincoln once remarked that ‘most folks are about as happy as they make their minds to be’. He was right. I saw a vivid illustration of that truth as I was walking up the stairs of the Long Island Railroad station in New York. Directly in front of me thirty or forty crippled boys on canes and crutches were struggling up the stairs. One boy had to be carried up. I was astonished at their laughter and gaiety. I spoke about it to one of the men in charge of the boys. “Oh yes,” he said, “when a boy realizes that he is going to be a cripple for life, he is shocked at first; but after he gets over the shock, he usually resigns himself to his fate and then becomes as happy as normal boys.” I felt like taking my hat off to those boys. They taught me a lesson I hope I shall never forget.” Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1936. Reissued in 1964.