Making Love on Valentine’s Day

“All sorrow can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.”  Isak Dinesen

From Derek

From Derek

He called me about 5 p.m. on Friday just as I was leaving my office to join some co-workers at the company’s end-of-week cocktail gathering.  “I left something for you at the house.”  I laughed.  “What, a Valentine?”  “Yes,” he said.  “I left a Valentine for you.”

When I got home, there is it was, wrapped in white.  A huge, beautiful heart with chocolates inside.  Just like the fantasy that Valentine’s day is supposed to be.  I’d been clouded in sadness for a long time, which doesn’t at all mean that I wasn’t content or happy in my life.  You see, no matter how necessary, divorce carries with it a residue of sorrow.  Seeing that Hallmark-esque heart, I realized how hard I’d been holding on to it.

The frightening dreams had returned and I’d asked my therapist why they were back.  “Because you are ready now,” she told me.  I protested.  “But why the dream about him killing me?  Why is that one back?  It’s horrible.”

“He did kill you,” she said.  The stillness hung in the air.  It seemed like an eternity before she spoke again.  “The person you were is gone.  You are having the dream because you are now in a place where you can process it and let it go.  Make no mistake, though, emotionally and psychologically, he killed you.”  I’d been playing that conversation back in my mind for a week, thinking about its truth and the power of acknowledgement.  The dream had miraculously stopped.  Then, of course, there was the sadness.  So many things happened in such a short span of time after the divorce, including his criminal indictment.  Add to that, he paid child support for only four months, then began sprouting fanciful arguments about how he had overpaid and that I owed him money.  There were so many other pieces too.  Thinking about it all made me profoundly sad.  Watching it is a raw and ugly spectacle.

But here in front of me stood a delightful, red roses-decorated box of chocolates.

In the last year, I needed so much help managing a house, two children and of course, myself.  Derek The Handyman had patched walls, tuck-pointed the bricks, shoveled the snow, added handles to doors, unclogged toilets, cleaned out garbage, swept floors and did so many other things, the majority of then unasked.  When I mentioned to him one day that I wished I had a place to put my radio in the kitchen, he built a shelf for it.  I had been so grateful to Derek that I never thought he might be grateful to me.  His Valentine’s heart assured me he was.

A little bit of love and inspiration come in unexpected packages.  This heart motivated me to make some love to add to this Valentine’s Day and to the next of days.  It feels good to think of adding love and letting go of sadness.

There is a manuscript of poems on my desk today.  A friend sent them asking for thoughts and comments.  In turn, he said he would take a look at my manuscript.  It has been a long time since I worked on my book.  It’s time to open it up again.  Wish me luck, send me love.  Happy Valentine’s Day.

Book Review: My Father’s Writings

 

For as long as I’ve known Jim Durham, he’s been a man who’s scribbled his writings and presentations on cocktail napkins.  In every conversation, you see his mind running a million miles a minute and you just know he’s inspired to think about something new, explore a different direction and somehow find a way to put it all together for you.

That’s what he’s done in My Father’s Writings:  An Inspiring Journey through Life, Love and a Lifetime of Memories (Balboa Press, 2012).  He’s collected and compiled years of his Holiday Letters, musings, poems and heart-felt stories into a single book.  While the writings are pure Jim, he uses a third-person literary device wherein a “son” compiles the “father’s” writings after the father’s untimely death in an air plane crash.  As Jim describes in the epilogue, “I think I needed to write about my writings in the third person to be comfortable with the inevitable, deeply personal revelations that flow from these words.”

Knowing an author personally changes the way you read the book.  In My Father’s Writings, I remembered some of the same stories Jim shared with me when we met at industry conferences or client meetings.  Sometimes, the “son” and the “father”  roles confused me — I knew in fact both were Jim’s alter egos.  Mostly though I was impressed with the time it must have taken to organize his various writings and then string them together in a story line.

The more I read, the more I confirmed that Jim and I are kindred spirits — seeking meaning in everyday actions and trying to find places for heart-rendering life events.  He tells the stories of his broken heart and joy in finding new love, in losing a child and adapting to life with a special-needs son.  We read about his professional success and fears of being good enough.  Through it all, Jim writes and these writings fill the book and punctuate his stories. He’s written a Holiday Letter for years (and I’m usually on the distribution list) that tries to make sense of life events and share connections between friends.  He shares the voice he’s found in making motivational speeches.  And he shares his hopes and dreams for how his writings might touch people.

“Have you ever thought about what your message would be to your family if you knew you were going to die,” Jim writes.  “Am I the only one who thinks about these things?”  No, Jim, there are lots of us like you — who wonder if we make a difference, who question our path and who appreciate how connected we all are.

It’s a lovely read.

My Father’s Writings is available at amazon.com

 

Just Start Gayle, Just Start: Chance Encounters at a Barry Manilow Concert

She tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Do you know how to make this light stick work?”  My daughter Gigi took her light stick, cracked it and made it glow to its warm red color.  “It’s easy, see?” Gigi said, adding, “Are you at the concert by yourself?”  Gayle was attending alone, sitting behind us in Row D.  At 11 years old, Gigi didn’t even know who Barry Manilow was.  At quite a bit over 11, I remembered Barry Manilow from high school but wouldn’t have bought tickets to a concert then or probably now.  But our friend Ann’s mother had taken ill and she gave us the tickets just days before.  What a hoot, I thought, to see Barry Manilow live.  Gigi and I went to YouTube the night before and played more than a few Barry Manilow videos to prepare ourselves.

Now, we readied our light sticks which I imagine are the modern equivalent of cigarette-lighters-at-concerts from back in the day and we began to talk to Gayle.  This was her more than 20th Barry Manilow concert and she had loved him since she was 10.  Gigi and I felt a little sheepish admitting we were even at the concert much less that it was our first one and that we were only in Row C by the accident of a friend’s mother’s illness.

The 7:30 start time at The Chicago Theater came and went and we continued talking to Gayle.  She lived downtown and worked at a social media company.  Oh, and she told us she was a writer of sorts, secretly writing short stories about life without the courage to try to publish any of them.  I couldn’t resist.  “Gayle, you are in social media.  Of all people you know about creating a platform for writing.  You just have to start.  Start with a blog,” I suggested.

“It’s funny you say that,” she mused.  “Just this morning I went to a program on social media and the advice was that there is never a good starting point so you just have to start.  What are the chances I’d hear the very same message on the very same day.”

“The chances are very good,” I said, drawing on my own experiences with this sort of serendipity.  “When we are ready to do something, I think we get the same message many times over.  It’s just that we work very hard to ignore it.  Gayle, the universe is telling you to just start.  Take it from me, you should just get started.”

It was 8:10 p.m. and an announcer finally let us know that the concert was minutes from starting.  Gigi waved her glow stick in anticipation.  The crowd filled in while we were talking and the theater was now full.

“You know Gayle, Gigi and I were not supposed to be at this concert.  It’s only through serendipity that we are.  You want to write.  I’m in the same boat.  Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that we connected,” I said.

Gayle nodded her agreement and handed me her card.  “Stranger things have happened.  I think I need to get started with my blog.”

The curtain rose and all lights were on Barry Manilow.  He opened with It’s a Miracle.

As the Chicago Tribune said in its review of the evening, even now he writes the songs that make his fans sing.

With so much inspiration in the air, it was nice to find some of our own.

Who’s To Say?

Who’s to say why anyone starts or stops writing.  In my case, I’ve taken a hiatus from writing for a couple of months.  Work transition, family responsibilities, summer — it would be easy to pick any excuse but they would all be excuses.  I watched and waited for a sign to return to writing…and yet every sign that floated by wasn’t good enough or interesting enough.  I just needed a break.  Sometimes you get to close to the storyline and break can help bring perspective from the navel gazing.

Today’s sign seemed simply said, “Finish the work you started.”  I met haphazardly with a colleague who told a story of being selected from the host of attorneys at the firm.  “{He} appeared in the doorway and told me I was the only one who could handle the depositions that needed to be taken,” she told me.  Those depositions were of children, some as young as 3, burned by disposable lighter accidents.  “The worst one was the child who burned her twin and that twin died.  These parents left the lighters out – they were not good parents.”

The look of frozen shock must have been apparent on my face.  At least I thought it was but she continued on.

When you experience something so strongly, so personally, it’s almost as if you re-live it when you hear of someone else’s misfortune.

And so I’m back.  Hoping to finish the project with fresh eyes and a new perspective.

By the way, I did tell my colleague about my leg.  “I’m so sorry,” she said.  “Can I see it?”  It’s refreshing when someone is so forthright.  “I”m okay,” I said.  “Of course you can.”

Research: The Last Leg(s) of the Process

When I started my book project, the concept of research seemed counter-intuitive to me.  Why would I have to research my own story?  Didn’t I know my own story well enough to write it?

In short order, my pesky assumption unraveled.   Even though I know my own perspective, I wanted to interview relatives, find medical records, seek out old letters and documents and as the proverbial “last leg” of the research, investigate newspapers from back in the day to see if any empirical evidence of my accident on the stove existed.  That is, was there even a fire call listed in the paper that day? 

The need to fill in the lines brought me to micro film and an intra-library loan (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/intra-library-loan-time/).  When I arrived at the Harold Washington Library and headed up to the intra-library loan department, I received eight small cardboard boxes, each held tight with a rubber band and each containing a month of the Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1964.  Microfilm readers are cumbersome boxes reminiscent of ancient technology.  For many years however they were the best way to preserve newspapers, rare books and other culturally irreplaceable material.

I hadn’t used a microfilm reader since high school and asked for help from the reading room librarian.  Pulling the roll of film out of the box, she showed me how to load it on to the reader like you would an old reel-to-reel movie on a projector.  Once the film loaded, she showed me the various controls to move from page to page and to size the film on the screen. 

As I hand-scrolled through the newspapers, I got lost in the details of the day.  High taxes were an issue.  St. Joseph Academy and Premontre were hosting a joint Catholic college night.  November weather was partly cloudy with a low near 28 and a high projected at 50 degrees.  The Green Bay Packers were playing the Dallas Cowboys on an upcoming Sunday (they won 45-21) and the comic pages contained Marmaduke, Ponytail, Kerry Drake, Beetle Bailey and Blondie.  President Kennedy had died the year before.  Johnson was President.

There was not a single fire call or news item that mentioned me or my accident.  I put the last roll of microfilm back its box and returned it to the desk. 

By now, I’d interviewed a number of relatives, received as many medical records as probably existed, found old letters and my baby book with my mother’s hand-inscribed account of the accident (https://annegallagher8.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/happy-burn-iversary/). That seemed enough to complete my research even if there was no record in the local newspaper.  Or was there? 

Since the stories said that I was variously 2 or 3 when the accident happened, maybe I searched the wrong year for the newspaper. 

I returned to the reference desk and ordered the Green Bay Press-Gazette on micro film for 1965 and 1966.  If this is the last leg of my research phase, I’ll need to be thorough.

A Litany and Legacy of Letters

My dad Bob Gallagher liked to write letters.  I joined his cadre of pen pals the summer after first grade when I joined my older sisters Kathleen and Susie for a week at Camp Tekawitha.  Out came his typewriter and he’d bang away at the keys, letting me know that “nothing is going on here” and “you are doing the right thing.”  Those themes continued in hundreds of letters from him over more than 25 years.  In a week at camp, I’d average two letters from him.  When I went off to college, the steady steam of letters continued at a pace of about one a week — always typed and always personally signed, “Love, Dad.”  When I moved to Chicago, still they came.  He had a penchant for not using “I” in his letters and went to great lengths to add colorful custom-made stamps to the envelopes.  He had a collection rubber stamps there were as amusing as they were clever:  “Delinquent Law Services, Practice Limited to Juveniles & Tax Returns,” ” Fish Mongers Market, No Fish More than 9 Weeks Old,” among his large stash.  With a gleam of mischief in his eye, he’d test out a few of his stamps on the back of the typed letter, adding the final touches of his favorites for that letter or that week on the envelope.

In the early days it was nothing short of embarrassing to have a camp counselor ask who was sending a letter from Delinquent Law Services or the Old Roman League.  Over time, I would be as amused as they would be once they heard of Bob Gallagher‘s penchant for letters and quirky rubber stamps.

His letter writing skills extended to each of his five children.  As each moved away or attended college, they’d move on to his letter-writing list and at various points, he’d self-assign a day of the week to type a letter to each child, all in the interest of fairness.  It was the same with our school photos — he’d rotate each of five photos on a weekly schedule in his walk-in closet so that none of us would think he was being unfair.  There on a shelf by his dresser, amid business suits and personal items would be five photos, one behind the other, rotated on the weekly schedule.

Wed nite, 4/14/82

Anne,

Sure glad you were home over the Easter time and enjoyed your company, and know that you were glad to be home – and do think things went well and you enjoyed your stay……Nothing is going on here — though this Thursday Mother and the boys are going bowling in the afternoon with the Heideman’s — and understand Mrs. Heideman is a pretty good bowler.  When Mother calls you can give a question as to how the bowling match went off…..So as said to you before, in case you missed a line or two, nothing is going on, and you are in a good place at this time, and know you are happy with the environment……Love,Dad

The format was consistent across the years just as he was.  The letters stopped about a year before his death, when failing health forced him to go into a nursing home.  Mom picked up the slack and would initiate calls for him from the nursing home, where he’d talk, a living letter, and let me know that not much was going on but the food was okay.

These days I’m left with a legacy of letters.  They make me smile, laugh, sometimes wince and sometimes cry but mostly they make me remember a father’s love.   See Attached :dad letter

 

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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.

Authors and Numbers

Downtown Chicago Illinois Nov05 stb 2461

Image via Wikipedia

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?

The Power of Validation

Yesterday my sister Kathleen, a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, won the coveted and prestigious Pulitzer Prize for reportinghttp://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/120091754.html).  It was a triumph on many levels and today when we talked, the conversation turned to the power of validation.  Early in her reporting career, she was told she didn’t have the chops to be a reporter.  It was a comment that stayed with her.  I remember some of her early struggles to get a toe-hold in this competitive field, all of which made her award more tender and meaningful to me.  We laughed about how it only took her 20 years to be an overnight success. 

While the award is wonderful and hopefully opens doors for Kathleen, she is the same sister I’ve always known.  We joked about that as well.  She was the prototypical bohemian college student who wore her hair in cornrows and shopped at Ragstock on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.  I was the preppy overachiever who joined all the clubs.  Yet she was determined (we might have called it stubborn back in the day), smart and sassy then and is now. 

But there is something about getting the professional validation that the person knew was there all along.  Suddenly people pay attention and as Kathleen said to me, “They listen now.” 

I ain’t no Pulitzer Prize winner to be sure but I get “validation” in a way I didn’t anticipate from writing this blog and working (albeit slowly) on my book.  None of the stories I’ve told about myself are revelations to me.  I feel like I’ve told these same yarns for years to different people in different ways at different times.  Compiled together they have a power that they didn’t have separately and spoken stories.  “I love reading your blog,” or “This must be cathartic for you,” or “I never knew you felt that way” or “Do you think you need therapy?” — are all variations of comments I’ve received and appreciated. 

What I’ve learned is that there is a power in compilation, in written synthesis, in telling personal truths that are essentially, variations on the same personal truths that everyone thinks about, feels or chooses not to think about.  It’s more enjoyable than I might have thought and the little blog posts here and there motivate me to continue on in what is the somewhat laborious process of taking life’s story and turning it into readable literary arc.

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.