Pitter Pat…Pat…Pat

A handsome, young waiter noted,
when returning our credit cards
that there were so many Pats in our group.
From this, I realized, my life is filled with Pats.

In that group of long-time friends,
bean bags in Door County,
where we teamed by height,
as munchkins and giants,
Patty P and Little Patti were on opposing teams.
Patty P won a writing contest but claims she is no writer.
Trish and Little Patti are friends from college days.
Little Patti’s college nickname was  “Jersey.” Origin unknown.
Trish belongs to three book groups and shares good reads with all.
That leaves the final Pat,
usually identified by her full name.
How else to know who we’re talking about.
Good thing the group has only one
Betty, Bonnie, Ginny, Sandy, Diane, Helen, Kathy, Lex.

Then yoga group
with Pat and Pat.
To keep them apart one is Patricia Lynne,
the other is Pat.
Then poetry group.
The same two Pats.
Then writing group.
Two more Pats.
But one is the same Pat from poetry and yoga.
Then in my building,
you guessed it.
Three more Pats
But one is the other Pat from poetry and yoga.
Pats are everywhere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Angie Makes Another One

Angie and Vern were a colorful couple in their nineties who I first got to know at the weekly dinner at Hawthorne.  I admired Vern and Angie. They were very active and I’d most often see them returning from their daily outing: lunch and shopping. That’s how I became accustomed to that friendly greeting.

“Well, we made another one,” Vern would say in a jovial, sing-song fashion as they ambled down the hallway holding plastic bags of groceries and restaurant left-overs. And then we’d laugh about the grim alternatives. Hardly a day would pass that we didn’t exchange this affable refrain.

But as time passed, attendance at the weekly dinner declined until the building administration canceled it. Our hallway encounters dwindled even more when I heard Vern had a car accident and gave up driving. Finally, Vern was hospitalized and died.

Angie grieved mightily and her own health declined.  It was sad to watch this vibrant woman fade. I lost track of Angie until one day I saw her at the mailboxes. She smiled and asked how I was. I wasn’t sure I should say it. What if this brings up sad memories or makes her feel bad. But I took the chance.

“Well, we made another one,“  I said in my best Vern-like style.  Angie’s silence was only for a few seconds. Then for a short moment I saw that old Angie spark as she repeated the refrain with a laugh and shake of the head.  Most things change but some things never do.

Then I heard Angie had fallen and had to go to rehab. I was sure I’d never see her again. But I was wrong. Such a surprise to see her at the in-house beauty salon where she still gets her hair done each week.  She’s dressed up as though her next stop is lunch or the theater. When Angie celebrated her ninety-ninth birthday, Hawthorne had a party and provided a cake ordered from Simma’s.

I still run into Angie near the mailboxes or when she shops in the in-house grocery store. Always smiling as she navigates her walker down the hallway.  And though she often doesn’t remember my name, now she’s the one who always greets me with Vern’s old salutation: “Well, we made another one. “

 

 

Men and Women

I thought all marriages were like Mom and Dad’s. They were together for over sixty years and argued every single day.  About everything. As the oldest of their six children I gave little notice to the discord but when looking back, I see it clearly.  Around thirty-seven years in, Mom tearfully informed they were getting a divorce.

Talking individually with Dad, he said they’d been going to counseling. He really liked the guy they were seeing who, according to Dad, was on his side. He then remarked that Mom could get a divorce if she wanted to; all this was her fault anyway. She never followed through and life returned to the way it had always been.

I recall on my visits home, Dad always passed around the latest four-panel cartoon from the daily newspaper. It was called “The Bickerson’s.” He’d snicker as he recounted how the cartoon depicted the latest disagreement embroiling their daily life. Dad chuckled. Mom looked pained.

Their marriage wasn’t violent or physically abusive but there was always the undercurrent of tension and discord. A constant pick, pick, pick. I marveled that they stayed together but that was another time when divorce was shameful. Especially for my Catholic mother. By the time Dad retired they’d found ways to tolerate each other and get through the day.

You’d think I would have learned a valuable lesson from this. But no. I’d bought into the whole marriage myth. Hook, line and sinker. Pardon the cliché but that describes it perfectly. I chased that myth most of my adult life. I had to be married. I had to be part of a couple. Why didn’t I question that fallacy? I still wonder what was I thinking when insisted I was a “couples person.”

Back in my undergrad days in the 1960’s, I hung out with a boyfriend who would become my first husband. He and his friends belonged to the campus Vet’s Club. He dragged me everywhere with them. Picture me with a dozen boys making the rounds to the local townie bars in that small college town. I felt like one of the guys and really enjoyed that.

Too bad I didn’t realize how I felt; I could have stopped the runaway train, preventing me from entering into a marriage that had not been thought through very well. That also didn’t stop me from re-entering the comfortable world of couples a second time. And I wasn’t wise enough to see that the twelve years I’d spent alone between my two marriages had been the best time of my life.

Following that second marriage, I recall being at a board meeting of a non-profit I served on. After the meeting we went to dinner. There were four men and four women; all the men were married. We talked and laughed and had a great time.

Toward the end of the evening I leaned over to the woman next to me and commented how great this was. We could spend such a nice evening in the company of some really nice men and then go home alone. She commented we were possibly seeing the best side of these guys. Our snugness was palpable.

Sometime after my second divorce was finalized, the ex-husband started coming around again. I realized I didn’t want to go back. I liked my apartment decorated the way I wanted and not having to check with anyone before planning an activity.

I admit it would be nice to have a male companion. I really do like men. I just don’t want to be in an entanglement with one. And that’s what it is. An entanglement. Truthfully, I’d have liked it if that second husband and I could have lived apart and seen each other regularly for lunch, a movie or whatever. But no, he wanted a live-in housekeeper, etc.

And that’s the crux of it. Men and women are not compatible. They want and value different things. They come to diverse solutions for the same problem.  There’s always the bargaining that goes on. I’ll go with you to the hobby swap-meet if you go with me to a beach front vacation. Swerving from the bargain leads to resentment.

I wish I’d figured all that out earlier. I no longer buy the myth that happiness will be found by finding that soul mate, by teaming up with that perfect man. I’m no longer shocked when that couple who seemed to have it all together announce they’re getting divorced.

 

 

Broken Branches

When I was a child, one of my aunts kept a family tree. Nothing fancy. Just a type-written list that was mimeographed and passed out at each family reunion. Over time it became the final word when questions or disagreements arose about our family’s past.

How could I know that, as an adult, I’d have to make sense of the secrets it held and accept how mangled it really was. My mother was the oldest of six kids from a very large and close family and I was the first grandchild, oldest of over thirty cousins.     As a college student, I wanted to clear up a question in the family tree,

I couldn’t find one particular cousin. I was sure my mother’s sister had had a child but only my aunts name appeared on the document. I asked Mom and she, rather hesitantly, said it as true. As we were talking, I flashed back to an incident when I was about nine years old. Now it all made sense.

I have clear memories of times my aunts and grandmother would come over for one of their card parties. These times were as much fun for me as for them because I loved all the chatter and laughing. I’d sit quietly in the corner trying to understand the latest gossip.

But on that day, Aunt Marge was absent and their whispered conversations were out of the ordinary. They seemed to be purposely keeping something from me and to be judging Aunt Marge.

She was one of my favorite aunts and nothing she did could ever seem wrong to me. My questions were shushed but after everyone left I asked Mom what was going on. She fumbled around uncomfortably before finally speaking.

“Well, I guess you’re old enough to know. Your Aunt Marge is going to have a baby. And she isn’t married.” Then she got very busy folding clothes, clearly wanting me to let it go. But I couldn’t.

“But how can she help that?” I questioned, with the innocence of a fourth grader before sex education.

“She can’t help it if God gave her a baby,” I reasoned. “Father Elverman says babies are a gift from God. So how can she help it if God decided she should have a baby and she isn’t married?”  Mom gave me no straight answers and then told me to “just never mind.” But I couldn’t be stopped.

“When I go to school tomorrow, I’m going to ask Father Elverman,” I declared.  “He told us that babies are gifts from God and I don’t see how that can be wrong! She couldn’t help it!” Mom was a bundle of nerves; she somehow got me to promise I wouldn’t go to Father Elverman. Perhaps this was one of my first lessons in the power of family secrets.

Aunt Marge did have her baby, a boy named Dennis. On a weekend trip to Grandma’s, I visited him sleeping in a crib in Aunt Marge’s bedroom. She even let me hold him once.

Then a short time later, Dennis died. It was called “crib death.” He just didn’t wake up one morning. At my next visit, Aunt Marge was crying and getting clothes ready for the undertaker. After that, nothing more was said about Dennis. It was almost like he’d never existed.

Back to me, as a college student, looking over the family tree, I had a question for Mom.    “Why isn’t Dennis in the family tree? He was a part of the family, after all.” She thought for a minute before she spoke.

“Well, I guess people just didn’t do it that way back then.”

“Oh. Because Aunt Marge wasn’t married?”

“That’s right.”

“What about Dennis’s father?”

“He was a man Marge had gone with on and off for some time. But at the time she got pregnant, he was married. “

“Why didn’t she give the baby up for adoption?”

“Oh, that wasn’t done back then,” Mom said. ” You know my Aunt Trixie’s daughter, Pat? She was born out of wedlock. Trixie just lived at home and kept the baby. If they could, people got married. If not, they just took the baby into the family.”  As we talked more, Mom got a mischievous look on her face.

“Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but all my sisters and my brother had to get married.” She reeked snugness.

“What?” I gasped. “You mean Aunt Rita? Aunt Betty? Aunt Jean? What about Uncle Bill?” At the mention of each name, Mom shook her head up and down with a sheepish grin. That turned into a puffed-up posture as she filled in more details.

“I remember when I was in high school and a girl in my class got pregnant. All I could think was I’d never let that happen to me. And I didn’t.”

”And you were the only one. How interesting,” I responded. “Funny how, back at that time, everyone was judging Aunt Marge but they weren’t so perfect themselves.”

“I guess so,” Mom continued. “It’s just one of those things that everybody knows but nobody talks about in polite company.”  Humph, polite company. Small actions still speak volumes.

It will always bother me that Dennis was left out of the family tree. For whatever reason. So, if the family tree had been done when Pat was born, she’d have been omitted too. Even more unfair.

Aunt Marge died some years ago. We stopped having family reunions so the pages aren’t updated and handed out anymore. I didn’t know it, but the family tree was about to be hit by a bolt of lightning.

Around the time of her 92nd birthday, as Mom was “putting her affairs in order,” she privately told me and each of my five siblings that she’d been born out of wedlock. She thought it wouldn’t be fair for us to see the truth on her birth certificate after she’d died.

The realization was sobering that there’s cousins, aunts and uncles out there who I know nothing about. I’d always felt so lucky that, with the help of the family tree, I knew who everyone was three generations back in my family. I guess that’s the end of that childish fantasy.

So, Grandpa wasn’t really my grandpa after all. Now I understand why my mother always, in a derisive tone, called him Claude. And if these old rules were followed, perhaps my mother might not have been included in the family tree, gnarled and unruly mess that it’s turning out to be.  I now wonder what other secrets are still out there.

The Phantom Librarian

“Someone’s been moving books around,” Dave said with a puzzled look. He went on to explain that a set of books he’d moved to the new non-fiction shelf had been put back in the old place. Then he continued, the children’s books he’d stood up for easy access had been closed and turned down.  “Why would someone do that,” he wondered.

I was equally puzzled and joked that we had a phantom librarian. What to do? I offered a solution. He could put up a sign on the library door that the library committee, though there hadn’t ever been one, was having a meeting, inviting anyone interested to come. This might flesh out the culprit.  We both said it was nice that someone wanted to help and that this way the person could have an assignment instead of undoing the work of others.

Last year, Dave had taken over managing the library in our building. First thing he did was clear out some of the old and tattered books. Pat who’d managed the library before him would never have done that. She’d kept absolutely everything and kept it in very specific order. Which was why she fired me as a volunteer. But that’s another story. Once Dave took over, I offered him my services to maintain the magazine table. We laughed about my dismissal and he accepted my offer with no unrealistic expectations.

The second thing he did was move the romance novels out of the library but into other book shelves throughout the building; he was nice enough to put up a sign so romance readers could find them.  Actually, he’d originally wanted to just get rid of them. That was until I convinced him we had many residents who really liked romance and mysteries.

But before we could call a library committee meeting, the mystery was solved. You know the urban myth that hair dressers know everything. Not so much a myth. I visit the in-house beauty shop once a month and always chatted with Myleen about what’s new in the building. And she always knows.  All it took was my comment about our dilemma of the books. Myleen grinned and spilled the beans.

Myleen takes her towels down to the laundry room very early in the morning which takes her past the library. She often sees the same resident in the library. Once she stopped to say hello and was regaled with a story of how much this resident was doing to keep the library in good shape.  According to Myleen, she made it sound like this was her job.

It was with great pleasure, the next time I saw Dave, to report that I knew who the phantom librarian was. Sad thing was that this resident has huge memory issues and our problem would not be solved with reason and cooperation.

Once I knew who it was, it seemed so obvious. Why hadn’t I guessed. This resident has been a problem since she moved in last year. She incessantly knocks on her neighbors’ doors, frantically asking if they have seen or heard the noises and people that only she hears and sees. She’s thrown something at our maintenance man when he came to fix an imaginary out of order item. She’s also accused him of stealing. He’s quite beside himself since she retells this story to anyone who will listen.

I have it from a reliable source (rumors run wild here) that she would turn off all the circuit breakers in her apartment and then call the health department to report that the landlord refused to turn on her air conditioning. When most planned social events happen in the dining room, she’ll stand at the entrance and look lost until some kind soul invites her in.

Some believe that her inadequate memory and poor me attitude is for show. I got nervous when a few weeks ago she began to call me by my name. If her memory is so bad why does she always know who I am. And does this mean one of these days she’ll be knocking on my door. And if her memory is so bad why does she constantly repeat the imaginary theft story.

I feel really bad for this woman. But not so bad that I engage with her. I know someday I may be like her and be as lonely as she seems to be. She’s a lesson in patience and understanding. Empathy too.

Back to the library issue. AlI I told Dave was that she had memory problems so we’d have to work around that. The other news was that her family was looking for another place, a higher level of care. Which she certainly needs. Rumor tells me her family has the money but are dragging their feet. So, we continue to make the best of things. Just last week, I found a pile of magazines in the waste basket. I pulled them out and put them back on the magazine table. It’s all we can do, I thought, while shaking my head in dismay.

 

 

 

 

We Made Another One

Angie and Vern were a colorful couple in their late eighties who I first got to know at the weekly dinner in my building.

I admired Vern and Angie. They were very active and I’d most often see them as they were returning from their daily outing: lunch and shopping. That’s how I became accustomed to their familiar greeting.

“Well, we made another one,” Vern would say in a jovial, sing-song fashion as they ambled down the hallway holding their plastic bags of groceries and left overs. And then we’d laugh about the grim alternatives. Hardly a day would pass that we didn’t exchange this affable refrain.

But as time passed, attendance at the weekly meal declined until the building administration canceled the dinner. Our hallway encounters dwindled. Then, I heard Vern had a car accident and gave up driving. Finally, Vern was hospitalized and died.

Angie grieved mightily and her own health declined.  It was sad to watch this vibrant woman fade. I lost track of Angie until one day I saw her at the mailboxes. She smiled and asked how I was. I wasn’t sure I should say it. What if this brings up sad memories or makes her feel bad. But I took the chance.

“Well, we made another one,“  I said in my best Vern-like style.  Angie’s silence was only for a few seconds. Then for a short moment I saw that old Angie spark as she repeated the refrain with a laugh and shake of the head.  Most things change but some things never do.

 

 

Small Town Service

First place in 2018 non-fiction category of WWA’s Jade Ring Contest

Living in a small town is often romanticized, mostly by those who haven’t tried it. At first, newcomers are mesmerized by the peace and serenity. The sense of isolation comes later. Feelings of belonging take time to build and acceptance often arrives in unexpected ways. A memorable example for me involved an old TV and a rusty, battered microwave that was used in a most unusual way.

Our television, one of those old, box models, had to be played with a lot just to get it to turn on. My frugal husband wanted a full autopsy before dumping it. I agreed, reluctantly, to take one more shot at it.

I found a TV repair shop in the phone book. The only one listed. It was at the man’s home in a wooded area on the edge of town. On the phone, he gave me directions to his shop, saying to look for the microwave.

“You can’t miss it,” he’d said. And I didn’t. Actually I’m pretty sure the microwave doubled as both a mailbox and the sign advertising his business. A piece of cardboard with the fire number hand-printed in large letters filled its glass window.

An older man, he wore faded work pants, scratched up boots with tattered laces and a wrinkled baseball cap. He carried the TV in and placed it on the floor of his shop which was really a dark and musty garage. Looking it over, he perked up when he saw it was a Zenith.

“I’ve got some parts for those,” he said. That got my hopes up too.  He wrote my phone number on a crumpled notepad and placed it on top of a saw horse. After a week, assuming his sophisticated filing system had failed, I called.

He said he’d tried everything but the TV just wouldn’t respond. As though asking for permission, he said there were a couple of other things he wanted to try. He wondered if he could keep it a few more days. Who’d say no to that.

After another week, I called and got the grim news. Then he asked if I’d dispose of it myself since the local dump no longer let him bring in TV’s. I made my way once again to the microwave mailbox. With TV back in my car and ready to leave, I asked what I owed him.

“No, nothing,” he shook his head as he fumbled with indiscriminate metal parts scattered on his workbench. I was silent a minute, thinking that through.

“That doesn’t seem right to me,” I ventured.

“I don’t charge if I can’t fix it.” He sounded both matter-of-fact and certain.

“But I should at least pay for a service call. Don’t you think?”

“No. I don’t charge if I can’t fix it.”  We went back and forth a few more times. But his mind was made up. Not wanting to push any further, I said thanks and drove off to the dump where I paid a $5.00 disposal fee.

We went on with our life and bought a new 21st century TV. But my interaction with this man was still on my mind, still in my head.  I had to do something I reasoned, so I wrote a letter to the editor of the local once-a-week newspaper.

Letter to the Editor:
Last week I had an experience that may be common in small towns but, being a transplant from a big city, it made quite an impression on me. I’d taken my TV to a local repair shop. After trying very hard to fix it, the dealer said he couldn’t. I wasn’t surprised since it was a 1983 model. But what I didn’t expect was that he refused to let me pay him. I felt I should pay at least a service charge and told him so several times. But he was adamant. “I only charge if I fix it,” he said. So, let me pay him in another way. Thank you Howard D*** TV and Appliance Service of Eagle River. Thank you for your superior customer service and your work ethic, both which seem in shorter supply these days.

The day the paper was delivered, a co-worker came to my office. She thought my letter was neat and said the TV repair guy was her husband’s cousin.  He’s known as Butch, she informed me.

Later that day, my co-worker’s husband came by and commented on my letter. We had a nice time talking about his cousin, Butch. Butch and his dad shared the same first name, so that’s why the nickname. But Butch doesn’t like to be called that anymore, he added. After our conversation, Howard/Butch was someone I felt I knew pretty well.

Then a few days later, I saw an acquaintance at the grocery store; I’d never, ever gone to the grocery store without running into someone I knew.  She couldn’t say enough about how wonderful it was that I’d taken the time to write that letter about Howie.

“Howie is my uncle,” she said. “He was always good with electrical stuff, even as a kid. Vivian, his wife, she works here at the grocery. Yah, she usually does bagging. They are such nice people. And they had those three kids. Howie had a sister who had problems and they had it tough when he was growing up. So, that’s why it’s just so great you wrote that letter. He really deserves that and maybe this will bring him more business.”  Now I felt like I really knew Howard/Butch/Howie. But her final comment was the kicker.

“We don’t usually get that from city people.”  She cocked her head and gave me one of those knowing looks women give to women. Just for a moment I felt like I really belonged in this place where newcomers were treated with reserve and hesitation.

And that’s the thing about small towns. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody is related to everybody. And I know there’s an up-side and a down-side to that. But I also know it only takes a moment for a casual conversation to meander into a lengthy, historical record. And what you hear, as I did with Howie, is a lovingly told story of the meaningful and mundane details of someone’s life.

And these stories go on and on through time. So, years from now, maybe my name will come up over a cup of coffee at the local diner; perhaps someone will remember that nice woman who, though not from here, wrote that wonderful letter. And maybe they’ll begin to believe city people aren’t so bad after all.

 

 

The Dog Who Came in From the Cold

First place winner in WWA’s 2018 Jade Ring Contest, humor category; published in 2018 Creative Wisconsin Anthology

My Siberian husky, Nikki, was leading a secret life. Clandestine meetings; trading favors that resulted in a bounty of untold riches. For her. Though she’d probably never forgive me, I just knew I had to protect her from herself.

We lived at a ski resort located in the Big Snow Country of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Being about 10 miles from Lake Superior meant we got 200 to 300 inches of snow every year. A skier’s paradise.

It was also a builder’s paradise, which was why my husband, a building contractor, and I lived there. We were the only year-round residents on the wooded cul de sac a half mile from the ski lodge.  The other homes were ski chalets, rented by the week or weekend during ski season.

Besides skiers and builders, this location was also perfect for Nikki.  The surrounding woods were her playground. Huskies are known for being runners, but Nikki was good. She always came home.  And she loved the snow.

When I let her out on snowy mornings, she’d put her snout down into the 12 to 18 inches of newly fallen, airy, fluffy lake effect snow; then she’d run at full speed, spewing a snow-plow-like spray as she buzzed the length of the driveway.

Each day after work, I’d release Nikki for her check of the neighborhood. But I had no idea what was really going on and became aware of it quite unexpectedly. These ski houses were purchased as an investment by private individuals and rented through the ski resort rental association. The owners of the house next door had called, asking me to see what utensils and glasses their house needed before the next season began.

While checking the cupboards, I noticed the bulletin board hanging in the hallway filled with pictures. Lots of pictures of Nikki. My Nikki. There she was, cuddled up near the fireplace being hugged by a couple of young children as though she were a part of their family. Another showed her on her hind legs, begging for a morsel. She was having a ball!

The guest book was filled with renters’ comments about the friendly dog who visited daily throughout their weekend or week-long vacation. One guest recommended to future renters that the friendly dog who came around really liked ice cream. So, be sure to keep it on hand.  No one had to tell me how friendly and loving Nikki was. But the ice cream comment surprised me. I always thought her favorite snack was popcorn.

But then I began to worry.  I recalled the many times I’d stood out on the porch and called for her, gave up, went in and then ten minutes later tried again. Finally, I’d hear a far-away door slam and soon Nikki would magically appear. Now it all made sense.

But there were six ski houses on this road. Did that mean she makes the rounds to each of them? Knowing Nikki, this seemed likely. I knew I had to do something.

I went to see my friend Helen, who owned a local leather and gift shop. She suggested attaching a leather tag to Nikki’s chain. Helen made an oval, flat piece of leather, approximately two by four inches where she’d pounded a message: DO NOT FEED OR TAKE INSIDE.

I felt devilish as I attached the tag to Nikki’s collar. Sometimes it’s hard to be a good parent. Almost immediately, I was pleased that she showed up promptly when I called; there also were no more mysterious slamming doors.

Then one day, Nikki returned with a little surprise for me: a piece of notebook paper rolled up in her collar. The hand-written note said it was so great that an owner cared so much for this beautiful and friendly dog. The writer thanked me and was happy to honor my wishes.

Our life went on with Nikki on permanent house arrest. She continued making her rounds of the neighborhood, showing up right away when I called. Arriving back home she always got a treat for being such a good girl. Rotating between ice cream and popcorn.

 

 

 

 

Talk Like a Writer

There’s nothing worse than when a non-writing friend or relative asks what you’ve been writing lately. That’s on the rare occasion when they ask at all. Regardless, you excitedly relate you’ve just finished that story, the one you’ve been struggling to find the perfect ending for. Or you proudly mention publication of an essay in that literary journal you’ve been trying to get into for years.

First, they get that far away, confused look. They seem uncomfortable.  You feel awkward. They don’t have any idea what to say next beyond the perfunctory “that’s great.”  You feel bad the subject even came up. They have the best of intentions; they want to come off as interested and supportive. But they are visiting a foreign land.

Writing is a sub-culture, complete with dialect, norms and mores, rituals, rites of passage and ceremony. For writers, we feel right at home; for non-writers it’s a maze that’s incomprehensible. I know well that feeling of not belonging because at the beginning of my writing life, I felt pretty much the same. Was I really a writer? How will I know when I really am one?

It’s been a long journey and one that started at age eleven when my essay was published in a student magazine.  I received $25.00 which was quite lot back in 1957. I wrote it in the voice of a book, asking students to treat me and my friends well. It never occurred to me that I was a writer. It was just a school assignment. Thinking of myself as a writer would come much later and be done in fits and starts.

I dipped in a little bit at a time and through the years I’ve learned the lingo and built myself a nice writing community. As years passed and especially in retirement, I’ve come to think of writing as more than a hobby but less than a job. I felt I’d really arrived when I set up my own website that now holds nearly two hundred of my pieces. I revel in the comments and likes from my followers.

Every summer I attend a week-long writing conference at UW – Madison. I call it my annual spa retreat. The instruction is top-notch and I always come away energized. It’s also great to be immersed in campus life and to make the most of the leisure built into the schedule. But the best thing is to spend time with other writers, writing, talking and thinking about writing. That’s only one of the opportunities that enhance my life.

There’s nothing like the din, the laughter, the chatter on the first day of any writing conference when everyone is getting to know each other. All you have to say to a stranger who happens to sit down next to you: “what are you writing?”  And off you go.

There’s nothing like the animated conversation that often ensues in writing group. These are the people you’ve shared your deepest secrets and yearnings with as you work out together the details of a story or essay. They sometimes become more of a family than what you have at home.

I recall attending my first poetry workshop.  I wasn’t sure I could call myself a poet. The class introduction said ‘bring six poems.” I counted. I had six, only six. I assumed that meant I qualified. Imagine me in a room with twelve life-long poets and an instructor who was a former Wisconsin poet laureate. They were kind and encouraging. Treated me like one of their own.

I now belong to a poetry group that meets once a month for reading and critiquing over breakfast. Out of that I write and post a poem every month on my wesite. I’ve learned the language and know I belong.

Writing is just one of many sub cultures out there. For example, I have a friend who belongs to a national chair caning organization. They have a board and regular meetings and everything. And language all their own. Also, think pottery, genealogy and barber shop quartets.  They’re everywhere. So, I no longer feel bad when a non-writing friend seems awkward. That’s because there’s probably somewhere in their life with some group of people where they belong, where they know the language and I don’t.

Writing for Myself

I’ve been writing for most of my adult life. Except for a few published works in anthologies, newspapers and magazines, my writing languished in forlorn folders on my computer. No one saw it but me.  The new age of blogging and self-publishing got me thinking this might be a way to get some exposure.

It was while thinking about blogging, I happened upon the movie, Julie and Julia.  It’s the true story of how writer, Julie Powell, blogged about her adventures, cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The result was a book deal (2005), a movie deal (2009) and being launched as a writer. My goals were less grand but her experiences helped me in some surprising ways to find my own path.

In the movie, Julie let the whole experience unravel her life. She worried about who was reading her and was she disappointing them; she had self-described “meltdowns” that wreaked havoc on her life, her work and her marriage. This insanity was something I knew I wanted no part of.

I was sure of only one thing. If I was going to do this it had to be for me. I wanted my writing out there and thought this might give me a sense of accomplishment. Writing friends reminded me that once a piece was on the blog it would be considered “published.” I decided I could live with that. Actually, that fit my goals perfectly.

Lastly, I found help. I searched for someone with computer skills and her own blog. I chose WordPress because I liked their layout and choices. We met once a month as she constructed my site. In between sessions, I began to post my writing and become more comfortable with the program. It was money well spent.

But I don’t think of what I do as blogging. I consider my site a website. My pieces are essays, personal and memoir. Each piece is complete on its own. I pay no attention to word count; I’m just interested in telling the story.

I have over a dozen pages on my website so that my stories can be posted into the appropriate category.  I have a page for family stories; another for retirement essays. Work, girlfriends, health, poetry and even a page about writing. I’ve been doing this since 2015 and have nearly 200 pieces posted.

For any piece that was previously published, I’ve included the date and place of publication at the beginning of the post. This process has me writing nearly every day and I’m always working on something. I’m energized and motivated to write all my stories because now have a place to put them. That’s the payoff when writing for myself

 

 

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