So I had this problem, right? A bewildering experience, in my opinion, and now it’s over, rather barely over, I can talk about it. Or at least provide some details. It has to do with my female anatomy, which I won’t go into detail about. Suffice it to say, I had my bladder sewn back into place and a complete hysterectomy. Two weeks ago today. The diagnosis reminded me of the shock of Jessica’s diagnosis. Unexpected. Unplanned. And unwilling to accept the reality.
Luckily, it wasn’t cancer. Or at least the doctor hasn’t told me they found cancer and it’s already been two weeks since the surgery. Rationally, there’d be no reason for the extreme emotional reaction. BUT I wrote a great story and it is going to be published !! June issue of https://arielchart.blogspot.com
UPDATE: The story was nominated for the 2019 Pushcart Prize!
Caution, this post is meant to be therapeutic for me. Yesterday and today are one of those days lots of us have, where you feel like whatever you do isn’t right. And since I am blogging about writing, I feel like nothing I’ve written is any good and I should just ‘give it up.
Again, I caution those of you who don’t like to read whiny posts, because I am about to launch into some major whining. I’m going to let loose, really let loose. So you might want to stop reading right here. Fair warning. Stop now!
Personally, I hate people who whine. I really do. Yet I have to dump this feeling off on some corner and leave it. This here’s my corner. Seems like a safe place to do it. I have to whine. I have to tell what it’s like when your editor can’t understand why you haven’t figured out how to stop using a passive voice, haven’t remembered what he said about the forbidden crutch words he told me a million times not to use (and I use anyway)… On top of that, last week, my local writing group trashed my writing and I seem to be going in circles as I attempt to make myself understood. Even Chip acts like the things I say don’t make much sense. I feel HOPELESS!
So I titled this post “Give it Up” like the 1980’s song of the same title. Lately, I’ve taken to listening to it when I need jazzing up. I heard it when I went to spin class while the instructor played her mix of music. I was ready to quit pedaling, ready to quit while mumbling, ‘this is stupid to work so hard at exercising,’ when the song came on. It was a hit in 1982, KC and the Sunshine Band made a video (check it out on youtube) – you’ll see the 80’s shoulder pads, the mini skirts, the pouffy hair, KC’s exposed chest, and his mullet and unbuttoned shirt…. but when that song came on, I felt like dancing to the beat and what do you know, I was pedaling away on that bike and kept going! Now I play the song whenever I need to get excited about something. But today my take on Give it Up is the complete opposite of the repeated lyrics “everybody wants you.” Instead, I lament that nobody wants me, nobody wants to read what I have to say and I should give it up because I don’t have what everybody wants!
Except! It’s a little protest from another part of my mind, saying wait a minute here, .. a little tiny voice inside that whispers “That magazine is publishing your story in April so someone thought your writing was okay. ” I guess I shouldn’t give up entirely. At least not yet. Maybe I’ll even read again to the writing group. I can’t believe I fall so far when I get upset about honest criticism. If I’m going to write, I better be able to take it.
This gets me started on another topic. I see myself like the mouse in “If you give a mouse a cookie….” a wonderful children’s book about how one thing leads to another. Maybe the next post will be about how this negative, hopeless feeling, this downward spiral was triggered by my 96-year-old mother! How in the world, given her struggle with dementia or Alzheimer’s – how is she still able to berate me? Another story entirely and it does have its funny elements.
In late October, or early November, after I came back from the Florida Writers Conference, I decided to use Submittable to send out a couple of my chapters as short stories. A couple of the entries were free, a few of them cost under $5. Altogether, I sent out twelve entries. People in my writing class said I probably would have every one of them rejected, so I shouldn’t get all excited. They said it was too early to do this, not ready, the work needed heavy-duty editing and blah-blah-blah.
Well, when I get excited about an idea, I usually jump on it before my enthusiasm deflates. Naively, I went ahead and jumped on the “I’m going to get published” bandwagon, even though I knew nothing about what I was doing! I received nine rejection notices before I realized my fellow writers were probably right. I decided to listen to their words of wisdom and allowed them to caution me. I needed to focus on learning to sharpen my skills. So I quit wasting time and stopped sending submissions that wouldn’t have a chance of being accepted. The next three submissions are “in progress” which means pretty soon I will be hearing from them with a great big “No thank you.” That’s why today was such a shock. I opened my email and saw the words, “Congratulations!” in the first line. Levitate, a magazine in Chicago emailed me to say they want to publish my story.
I don’t want to minimize the fact that they look like a small literary magazine, but they are in fact, very small. The fact is, they will be publishing what was a very rough draft of my first chapter as a non-fiction short story. The story is basically the first chapter of my book when Jessica moves into the group home and the flashback of the day we went to the Mailman Center and heard that archaic phrase “profoundly retarded.” So many emotions went into creating this chapter, and maybe, just maybe these editors saw something in my language that surpassed my tendency to use passive voice!
Then I read another article about the R-word (see below) and I am thrilled this has become such a hot topic. I see why I might actually have a chance with my memoir.
I am struggling. Oops, I used the “ING” word! And I’ve only written three words. Dave, the wonderful editor who has patiently tried to teach me how to write, is surprised by how many times I use words that end in “ING”. I thought the editor was (oops I used another word I’m supposed to avoid overusing -“DON’T USE WAS!”) Well, I used to think an editor was supposed to correct the mistakes a writer makes. This is not what I’ve experienced. Dave actually wants me to develop into a better writer. Up my game, so to speak. Get stronger, so that when we (finally) approach the challenge of editing my memoir, I will be prepared.
Dave first approached me when I posted on Facebook about the multiple rejections I’d received from submissions. He asked for samples of my writing. He commented he understood why I received the rejections. ‘Wordy sentences. Extreme passive voice.’
Those of you who are not writers may wonder what’s a passive voice?
Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives an action. In contrast, active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action. Passive voice often produces unclear, wordy sentences, whereas active voice produces generally clearer, more concise sentences.
Concise. So I am trying over and over again. Poor Dave. He probably feels like I felt when I taught Kindergarten and I’d have a kid who couldn’t differentiate between the letters S and the letter D or a kid who couldn’t sound out a word or remember any of the high-frequency sight words like ‘and’ or ‘see’. Easy stuff right? I get it. The poor kid sitting across from me probably wondered why I had that look on my face.
My struggle to show Dave (oh SHOW is another one of my problems!) I’ve applied his lessons, used his instructions and have mastered the ability to write without TELLING – well my struggle is ongoing. Since I am struggling, I thought it would be interesting to do an ongoing journal/blog about it. Why not? At least it’s practice.
I don’t know whether or not I am making progress. I’d like to think so. What I am learning (ok I see how many times I’ve written the ING words but I need to finish this post, so for now, please bear with me and ignore all of it) – what I have learned is writing is a challenge. I worry Dave might give up on me, after all, if I am his student, shouldn’t I have caught on more quickly? Yet, I don’t think he will abandon me. He seems committed to helping me reach that ultimate goal of editing the entire memoir. Dave is truly a mensch, (a Yiddish word for a person of integrity and honor.) He gave me an assignment, to write a short story, which at first, I stubbornly resisted….now after months, I understand the goal is to allow me to experience and “get” what I am doing right and wrong. The support I’ve received is invaluable. One day, I hope to make him proud of the writer he helped shape.
Hey everyone. Perhaps some of you wondered why I haven’t posted anything in nearly a month. I haven’t forgotten – life just got in the way. Oh and I joined a couple of online writing groups and next thing you know, there were more interruptions than I knew what to do with, and didn’t have time to remember I wanted to blog about them. So, I thought about this today, how I let so many distractions pull me in all sorts of different directions. Pause, breathe, wait. In my mind, I heard the words: “Pause, then rewind.” That sounded like a great line and motivated me to write about what I’ve been up to.
First off, I want to share how I found SCRIBOPHILE. It is an online writers group I joined after I heard about it in a writers workshop. I was enrolled in this free online course through the University of Iowa (https://iowa.novoed.com and P.S. – its free to everyone!)
The next thing I knew, I was finding more and more groups, and I became very involved. Or as Chip likes to say – obsessed. Anyway, once I joined Scribophile, I found one of the memoir writing groups. Each week I had to post one of my 3,000-word chapters. My fellow groupmates critiqued my writing and in turn, I had to critique what theirs. This was pretty time consuming but the feedback I received was most helpful. Next, I joined a couple of writers groups on Facebook. Then something incredible happened. An editor decided he was interested in my story, perhaps something about what I said intrigued him. To make a long story short, he has offered to mentor me, as long as I accepted his terms and conditions!
You might be wondering what were these terms and conditions? He insisted I write a short story in a completely different genre and gave me an assignment – write a fantasy story, and get it published! I probably rolled my eyes, thinking what did that have to do with my memoir. It didn’t make any sense. But now, I am glad I agreed.
Thank you Dave! I don’t think he enjoys being thanked, but I had to give a shout out. As an editor, he points out what agents and other editors see. The red pen comes out and when I look at the mark-ups I am not sure I even know if I can write! Nevertheless, he is helping me. And we haven’t yet begun working on the memoir! I am still working on the short story!
About a month ago, when Dave contacted, he told me he read my posts about the constant rejections. We were getting to know each other when he asked me to send my 1st chapter. After Dave read it, edited and critiqued it, he said he understood why I was receiving so many rejections. “you are not using an active voice….you have too many ing words, your writing is filled with adverbs, pronouns, …actually his list went on and on! I wanted to throw up my hands and give up, but I didn’t. The fantasy story is nearly finished. He says it will be published. I tend to believe him.
One last bit of news. Good news! In my local writing group, there was a sweet couple who said they belonged to the South Florida Writers group. One day, as we were leaving, the man, Thom, handed me a newsletter. Thom pointed at one of the ads and said,”try sending your work to this magazine. They publish everything.” So I thought, why not? I didn’t believe anything would come of it and when I didn’t hear anything, I was certain that was true. But I thought I ought to check their lastest issue. This is what I found:
Thom wasn’t kidding. The magazine published my story.
If you read the article, it might sound really familiar. That’s because I submitted the story about my mother, which I had written about in this blog.
UPDATE! Sadly, my partnership with Dave ended about a year after it began and I no longer work with him. At times I wish I could call him up and talk about my latest successes but he did something that alarmed me and made me stop talking to him. I’ll never know if his tongue lashing was truly deserved, but I could not subject myself to someone who resorted to browbeating and put downs. It was fun while it lasted.Continue Reading
Ever hear that phrase, “Stay positive?” Wondering what exactly that phrase meant, I decided to look it up. Here’s the definition:
“Staying positive means accepting the fact that you’re in deep trouble and working towards a plausible solution rather than just sitting and crying over the fact that you’re in deep trouble.”
It all started this evening when I got another rejection letter from a literary journal for a short story (actually I submitted the first chapter of my book as a short story.) This strategy seemed like a good idea. It’s about the day Jessica moves into a group home and the emotional turmoil I experienced as I went through this experience. Within this same story, I have a flashback of when the doctors at the research center for child development said she was RETARDED. We all know the use of the ‘R-word’ is not only contemptuous, but it is archaic, politically incorrect, insulting, and generally, a word that should be boycotted from our vocabulary. BUT in 1986, in a small conference room in Miami, as my husband and I sat in front of a couple of doctors, that’s exactly what was said. So a short story about this scene should be interesting or could be interesting if I was any good at writing. My decision to use that chapter as a short story was a genius idea, right? It had the human interest element and addressed the issues of inclusion. Perfect, right? Nope! I’ve already sent this story or versions of it to fifteen different contests and journals and so far, (drum roll please) – I’ve had a total of six rejections. I am probably going to have all fifteen rejected. So the bottom line is nope, I am NOT in deep trouble. I just have to stay positive.
I got another rejection letter today, this one from Woodbine House, a publisher devoted to stories about special needs. Back in August, after learning they were accepting submissions, I sent a book proposal and several chapters. I expected to hear from them any day. What I didn’t expect was the editor actually wrote a letter explaining why she couldn’t use my story! This was a good sign. Most rejection letters never come with an explanation, but this editor took the time to write! At the top of the page, under the company letterhead, was the form letter:
Thank you for your submission. I regret that it does not suit our needs at the present…..blah, blah, blah -basically, ‘thanks but no thanks’, and then this hand written note:
“Your writing is very parent friendly, engaging and insightful but I’m afraid we would not be able to reach the market with your memoir. More and more, we are finding that it’s nearly imposssible to succeed financially with any sort of memoir, perhaps because so much autobiographical writing is available for free on the internet. We have an especially difficult time marketing books that deal in any way with the adult years, for whatever reason…..You might try self-publishing and then if you succeed in attracting readers, you could approach a larger, traditional publisher with a proven record of sales.”
I guess I could have been upset, but it made me happy that this editor wrote to me with advice. At least I had some feedback about my writing. I think I will give myself two years to query agents and then maybe I will consider self-publishing on Amazon.0
So I went to the Florida Writers Association conference last weekend. I met lots of other writers, rubbed shoulders with publishers and agents and generally kept hearing people talk about books they published. Except almost everyone had paid a publisher to publish or had their book on Amazon. This wasn’t exactly what I expected… I thought I would meet representatives from HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House or Simon & Schuster, and at least meet agents that had connections with those companies. That wasn’t the case. But there were a couple of good presentations. One of the presenters talked about the reason you don’t give up and encouraged everyone to send out thousands of queries. There was a critique group with Cheri Roman. With ten other writers in my group, I received positive critiques on chapter 1 of my book. Oh, and the folks who did the workshop on query letters were helpful. I learned mine needed work but now that it’s tweaked, I might use it.
So am I ready now? Can I send my book out? Nope, I have more edits to do. I thought my story was done! I learned I have to search Query Tracker to send out thousands of queries! And most of the agents said memoir is an oversaturated market and they weren’t interested in hearing from me. Whoa, when I heard that, I was totally crestfallen! Nope, I didn’t expect that. I had to keep reminding myself I finished the book. I told myself that’s a big deal. I never planned to self-publish on Amazon. I wanted to go to this conference and find an agent or have someone interested in my pitch, but I came home a bit deflated. Yet, that inner urge to keep pushing ahead, to capture the right words to describe the world around me is still there, telling me not to quit. I want to tell the world about my journey with Jessica and my family. But who would want to read about my story? Would anyone besides my friends?
I started reading Educated, by Tara Westover. Her memoir is on the best-seller list. If the memoir market is saturated, how did she get her story published? Isn’t my story just as unique? After I received my latest rejection letter, I complained to people in my writing group. One of them, the one who everyone says is “the best writer in our group,” told me she has over 2000 rejections and 67 acceptances. It made me feel better in a strange way. I applaud her success. I want both of us to succeed though. I want validation that my words, my story has merit.
So I will keep submitting. Starting to grow a thicker skin already. If you are reading this, please hit “follow”!0
“I’ll be leaving you behind.” The words I typed out were supposed to be the beginning of another post for my blog. I was thinking about Jessica and all the stories I wanted to tell. Maybe offer a peek into what it was like to welcome all the new babies born into our family, then watch as they grew, then outgrew Jessica. Watching them wave goodbye as they left her behind. I stared at the screen after writing that statement, and realized Jessica wasn’t the one on my mind. It was my 95-year-old mother. Slowly inching her way to the end of her life, she is the one who will be leaving all of us behind. The weight of her story tugs, urging me to give words to her struggle. To tell everyone what it’s like to be trapped in a body that no longer does what it’s told or watch a mind, once sharp and alert, abandon you, leaving you confused and helpless. There is something about the duality of this situation and the things she has in common with Jessica. Things which have always been my normal. Although my mom has never had much in common with Jessica, she does now. She probably wouldn’t like that I am putting her in the same category as her mentally disabled granddaughter. This would annoy her. If she could she would make the disapproving face that has always reminded me of the Wicked Witch of the West. But I’m just telling it as I see it. These days, I have to manage all the aspects of her life, but I’m used to this. Since Jessica was born, this was the role I’ve had to assume. Jessica has always relied on me, so this wasn’t anything different. Just one more person to have to be responsible for. I tell myself I am a good daughter. At least I am devoted. If she deserves more, I don’t have it to give. I wonder if maybe I should feel guilty. I do and I don’t. This is how our relationship was always defined. Distance. So I watch, emotionally detached, wondering what it must be like for her as she struggles with Alzheimer’s. Residing in assisted living at the Palace, she doesn’t remember why she’s in so much pain. It doesn’t help to remind her she has a compression fracture in her spine. She sits in her wheelchair, oblivious to the fact she can no longer walk. She’s developed bedsores. The doctor orders drugs for the anxiety, and an array of other drugs that block the pain but make her lethargic. She barely eats and has lost so much weight, she’s down to 76 pounds. In July she was 89. When I asked the nursing director what to do, she just shook her head and said the staff is trying to get her to eat. I don’t think she’ll live to see her 96th birthday. Maybe she will, you never know. Last week, the nursing director called to tell me about the Hospice decision. Was that what I needed to hear to be nudged into going to see her more often? I went twice this week. A few days ago, when I was there, a man sitting across from Mom had taken off his white T-shirt and was waving it over his head like a soldier signaling the white flag of surrender. Shirtless, he looked right at me and yelled, “Come over here and talk to me!” Frightened by his outburst, I looked away. When he began yelling louder, I tried to ignore him. When Mom was more aware of her surroundings, she had plenty to say about the other residents. I can imagine what she would have said about this guy. Mom would have been embarrassed. But this time, she didn’t notice. The woman next to me quietly lamented, “Oye yoy yoy, oye yoy yoy,” repeating it like a mantra. It sounded Yiddish, a phrase that translates, “Whoa is me.” But she was speaking Spanish. Her plea seemed to represent what everyone else in the room probably felt. The whole scene was a sobering reminder that one day, I would take my place at the table, repeating oye yoy yoy until the very end. Fifteen minutes had gone by, and I stood to leave. The obligatory visit complete, I kissed my mother goodbye. I know she is slowly transitioning to the final exit. She keeps talking about people from her family who are no longer with us. The other day, it was my father, who died over 25 years ago. Yesterday, it was her brother, Jake. He’s been gone almost 30. She said he’d called her on the phone. Maybe the other side IS calling. I just hope that when she goes, she goes in peace. And one of those folks on the other side is there to greet her when she arrives.
Death Writing Peaceful Departure Caregivers Memoir
Catherine (Cathy) Shields writes about parenting, disabilities, and self-discovery. She is a retired educator with an M.S. Ed in Exceptional Education. Her experience includes networking and dealing with children and families of persons with disabilities. Cathy and her husband reside in Miami, Florida, where they raised three grown daughters. They kayak, ride bikes, hike in the Everglades, and visit the two grandchildren who live nearby.