A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wandering and Pondering In The Dark

LightsLights (Photo credit: cycloctopus)

           My wife and I were awakened by a most peculiar noise.  As I emerged into wakefulness I heard a sporadic clicking noise that I could not immediately identify. The first thing that came to my mind was that it was an animal of some sort, such as a bird, a frog, or an insect.  I had heard similar animal produced noises before, but never in this neighborhood where I live.  And if the noise was emanating from an animal somewhere outside, it was quite loud.

          Lying in my bed as clarity of mind increased my awareness, a series of thoughts passed through my mind.  Perhaps someone was using some sort of power tool or was merely tapping away on something.  No--no, there was some familiarity to this sound that I couldn't quite identify.

          Then it struck me.  It sounded as though someone were trying to start a car with a nearly dead battery. Repeatedly the series of clicks would start and then stop after a few seconds.  I got out of bed and crossed over to the open window to see the source of the noise.  Looking out the window I immediately realized that the noise was not coming from outside.  The noise seemed to be somewhere in our house.

          Keeping the lights off I went to the bedroom doorway and listened.  With a sense of dread I now knew the noise was coming from downstairs.  With stealth I slowly descended the stairs in the darkness fearful of what I might find.  If it were an intruder I hoped to catch him by surprise, but I had no idea what I would have done at that point.

           Once at the bottom of the stairs I could hear that the noise was coming from the kitchen.  My eyes scanned the darkness to see if anything was glowing or sparking.  Was it the dishwasher?  No.  Something in the sink?  No.  What then?

           It suddenly hit me that the noise was coming from the burglar alarm which we no longer used.  With that revelation I reached over to turn on the kitchen light, but no light came on.  The power was off.  It was now all clear to me.  After the power had gone off the now defunct alarm switched over to the long unused battery nearly drained of power, but with enough juice to try to start the siren.

          "Click, click, click." the feeble alarm tried.

           I listened for a moment and then tried to turn off the control panel.  I fiddled with the controls for a while and wondered how I could stop the obnoxious noise.  Then I reached up to the plastic housing that covered the siren speaker and pulled it off the wall, detaching the wires.  We would not be bothered with the noise anymore.   However the fact still remained that the power was off.

            I went back upstairs to reassure my wife that an intruder had not done me in and let her know about the power situation.  Looking out the windows I could see that the outage was wide spread.  Light from other areas filtered into the sky in the distance and allowed enough illumination through the windows to be able to see.  Other than that it was very dark and still in this urban area that had more than its share of light and sound pollution most of the time.  

            Checking my watch I could see that it was about 1:15.  I guessed that the power had probably gone out at about one o'clock when the clicking noise had woken us up.  Since my wife had to get up at 5:30 to go to work and we weren't sure what was going to happen with the power, I found my cell phone and set the alarm on it so she wouldn't oversleep.   My wife went back to a sporadic sleep, but now I was wide awake.

            I sat in the spare bedroom gazing out of the open window to the main street that runs behind our house and to the shopping center across that street.  Traffic was light, but steady.  The traffic signal up at the nearest major intersection had gone into flashing emergency mode.  In the distance I could see flashing yellow lights on what I thought--what I hoped--might be vehicles from the electric company trying to fix the power problem.

           My wife tried to sleep as I sat there pondering the situation.  If the power stayed off for too long the food in the refrigerator might go bad.  In my mind I began to tally the value of the refrigerator contents.  There was probably only a hundred dollars or so worth of food, but still a hundred dollars lost was a hundred dollars.  At least the gas and water still worked and I could cook a really big breakfast in the morning.  And the fridge contents would still last throughout the day for lunch and dinner.  We could try to minimize our losses, but still there would be loss.

         Post-apocalyptic visions of roving bands of marauders filled my mind.  I imagined the power never coming back on and chaos ensuing in a collapsing urban infrastructure.  Would the water and gas be far behind?  Briefly I considered going down to one of our cars to find out if any news about the outage was being broadcast.   I realized how dependent on electrical power we were.  Normally if I had problems sleeping I would get on the computer or turn on a light to read.  Maybe civilization as we had known it was coming to an end.

        Eventually after a couple of hours of this crazy thinking I realized that my efforts were going to have no contribution to bringing the power back on.  If I stayed awake all night I would be very tired the next day and get little accomplished.  Sleep was starting to be the only thing that made any sense.  Lying back in my bed in the darkness my mind clung to a few last apprehensive thoughts until I too lost power and fell asleep.

                                                #####

And now this:

       On September 8th my guest on Wrote By Rote will be blogger/author Denise Roessle.  Denise's memoir Second-Chance Mother is being offered for free download at Amazon this week-end August 25-26.   For more information visit http://amzn.to/MWalYG
 

      D.G. Hudson gave a delightful mention of my post "Using Less Traditional Archive Resources"   in her terrific post "Time for Retrospect".   If you missed this I encourage you to visit D.G.'s excellent blog and especially to read this particular post.   I hope to have D.G. visit as a guest before too long.



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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mr. Davis and Tom: a Vignette by Bish Denham

          I've been following Bish Denham's blog Random Thoughts for quite some time.  She writes about a number of topics including memoir. Recently Bish Denham offered up a delightful memoir piece called "Miss Agnes" on her blog and I thought Bish would be a good guest to have here on Wrote By Rote.  In this guest spot Bish presents one her favorite vignettes from her own blog.

Mr Davis and Tom

Charlotte and Gus Stark
       In the Virgin Islands there were many characters. One of them was Mr. Davis.  He lived building no more than 10 X 15 feet with a door at one end and two windows on at least one wall. I never went inside.

       The shed was on the property of Charlotte and Gus Stark who were close family friends and it was Charlotte who took care of Mr. Davis.

       He had once been an artist, who lived at Trunk Bay, caretaking the place when my grandparents were not in residence. Grammy took his art work, which was quite good, to Puerto Rico and sold it for him in gift shops and art galleries. He mostly did etchings on tiles, scenes of buildings and ruins.

        Mom said he was cantankerous even back in the 1930’s. By the time he was living in the shed he had become a reclusive hermit who snarled at people. What he did in that shed all day is anyone’s guess. He didn’t do art. Perhaps he read. Perhaps he sat in a chair and mumbled to himself about how badly life had treated him. Perhaps he slept.

       Whatever he did, one thing is certain, for me at eight or nine years old, Mr. Davis was a scary and mysterious person.

       Charlotte fed him every day. If I was visiting it was understood I was not to show my face. Even Gus kept to other parts of the house. I know she fed him three times a day, but it’s the late-afternoon/evening meals I remember best.

        Off the kitchen there was a long covered porch or veranda. It was about six or seven feet wide and ran the length of the house. By the kitchen door was a small round table and a single chair. Charlotte would set the table and have a plate of food in place. Then, in her thin high voice, she’d call him.

       “Yoo-hoo! Wilber! Dinner!” She was the only one who called him by his first name.

         A minute or so later Mr. Davis would appear out of the depths of his self-imposed exile. He was a large, imposing figure and always wore the same thing, no matter the time of year or the weather: dark trousers, dark long-sleeved shirt and often an ancient knee-length over-coat that was probably made of wool. Sometimes he wore a battered fedora. He’d walk the 30 or so feet to the back porch, eat, get up and return to his dark den.

        Charlotte was the only one who spoke to him. Did he want more? Would he like a glass of water? A cup of coffee perhaps? He would reply with a simple gruff, yes or no.

       When Charlotte called Mr. Davis for dinner, she also called a wild tomcat. She had several house cats, but she fed the wild cat separately.

       She’d put out a dish of food in the same place every evening and in her high thin voice she’d call, “Yoo-hoo! Tom. Yoo-hoo! Dinner, Tom!”

       Out of the tangle of catch’n’keep and wild tamarind that grew behind the house would come slinking a great huge battle-scarred orange tomcat. Part of one ear was nearly chewed off. He fur was scraggly and lumpy with cuts and scabs and scars. He’d come slinking in, wary of anything different or any movement that was not part of his frame of reference.

       He’d come slinking in, eat his bowl of food, then slink back into the bush.

      Mr. Davis and Tom ate their meals together in hostile, untrusting silence.

       Mr. Davis ate without looking around; as if angry he might see something which would necessitate an acknowledgement.  Tom crouched in tense expectation that he might have to bolt at any moment. After each gulp of food his head swiveled from side to side, taking in his surroundings, making sure nothing had changed.

       They were the same kind of creature, Mr. Davis and Tom. They were wild, Mr. Davis having chosen it and Tom because he’d been born to it. Yet between them they had Charlotte, whose sweet face, quiet voice and non-judgmental manner, brought the two together each evening.

       Perhaps her ministrations momentarily soothed the savage beasts within them. Though the moments were not enough to civilize the misanthropic old man or tame the wild old tomcat, they were enough to keep them coming back and to develop a routine.

       Daily they came to the borderland of civilization, a neutral zone on the back porch. They could have come inside the house any time and been welcomed, but the porch was as close to the smell of humanity either of them cared to get.

      As a little girl I caught glimpses of the old wild man and the old wild cat as they made their journeys to the edge of that reality where they could not live. Frightening as they were I dared to take peeks at them, hoping they would see me as harmless and thus allow me to befriend them. I was equally terrified that if they saw me they would run away and never come back.

      I walked a thin brittle line. Common sense, instinct or some part of my unconscious knew not to intrude and kept me from causing a break in the fragile connection Charlotte had with them.

      In that time with Charlotte, perhaps a memory was made which lingered like a salve, easing some of the pain. Perhaps it was the lingering trace of that memory which kept them coming back. Her calm, quiet, unhurried, patient demeanor taught me that even the most damaged or wild of creatures can be coaxed out of the darkness and into the light, even if only for a moment.

        Have there been any special characters in your life?  Do you ever use unique characters to inspire your writing?   What do you think might cause someone like Mr. Davis to go into seclusion?





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Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Writer's Dream: Teresa Rhyne Debuts Her Book at Book Expo America

            Talk about exciting news!  Some of you may remember an earlier visit to this blog from Teresa Rhyne.  Teresa was talking about her upcoming book The Dog Lived and So Did I.  Recently she was featured with that book at the Book Expo America in New York City.  In this post she tells about that thrilling experience.

        We arrived at the Javits Center in New York, where Book Expo America was held, the day before the event was to start. My marketing manager, Valerie, had suggested we meet at the exhibition hall that afternoon so I could see the publisher’s booth (they were setting up) and pick up my nametag, along with one for Chris, my significant other. Valerie met us in the lobby and then took us upstairs to Sourcebooks’ “booth.” I was greeted with this:

         Yep. That’s my book. That’s my dog. That’s my life! (Well, you know, if you read the memoir.)  I was so shocked (note surprised look on my face). I had no idea. Nor did I know there’d be a two page spread featuring my book in their fall catalog:

         It was beginning to get very real. My memoir was actually, finally, really going to be published. Another reality quickly hit as I started meeting the talented team at Sourcebooks—and they already knew so much about me (and Chris!). Because, of course, though I failed to comprehend the meaning of this—they’d read my book. Oh, right. So people are going to know stuff about me. In fact since we joke that Chris is basically naked for the first three chapters of the book, much fun was made of that (Editor to Chris: “I did not recognize you with your clothes on.” Chris to marketing group: “My eyes are up here ladies.”)

        On the day of my signing (200 books were gone in 35 minutes!) the “people will know about my life” reality deepened as folks told me about their dogs or the people they’d known that had cancer. At the American Library Association conference the same thing happened. Several times I was asked to sign the book for someone currently in treatment or (so hard) in remembrance of someone who’d passed away from cancer. I met a lot of breast cancer survivors. And I heard a lot about people’s beloved dogs. I hope I responded well.

       Those are the topics of my memoir—the love of dogs, canine cancer, breast cancer and finding love 9oh, um, human that time). I wrote a book about those things. And amid all the fantastic fanfare and celebration of books that is BEA and ALA, there was this revelation: I shared experiences with many people. They would now share their experiences with me. And isn’t finding this commonality what writing memoir, at least in part, is about? Isn’t that part of the experience? I don’t know why I wasn’t fully prepared for this—maybe one can’t be. And perhaps especially not when one is a debut author dealing with all of the excitement of going to BEA and all that leads up to that. But by ALA (2 weeks after BEA and here in California, so no jetlag time change to deal with) I think I was better prepared. I’m looking forward to the chance to talk to more folks, to hear more shared experiences. To know I was not alone in what I felt, or did, or said. And to help somebody else feel that way.


           BEA and ALA also meant that Advance Reader’s Copies of my book are out. And I got a few for my personal use. So you memoir writers know what that means, right? Yep…the families (Chris’s and mine) have read the book. Mostly, I can let out a sigh of relief over the reactions (also, I can finally stop answering the “am I in the book?” question!). Not everyone was pleased, of course. Some (many, maybe most) people are more private than I am. But I’m comfortable that what I told was my story from my point of view.  And it appears that everyone will be supportive, even if “in their own way.”  At least no one has accused me of lying.

          Other take-aways from being at these two huge book events? Memoir is alive and well…among celebrities. I kid, I kid. There were many memoirs by we nobodies on display at both events and hey, I totally understand why Teresa Guidice (from Real Housewives of New Jersey) had a longer line for her book than I did for mine (no, no I don’t ;-) But I do understand why Neil Young’s memoir was in bigger demand, and I will admit I wanted to stand in line for Molly Ringwald’s book myself.). I was just happy I had a line.  Also, there are 1000s and 1000s of books coming out each season. Suddenly it was all clear to me why an author has to be ready, willing and able to promote the heck out of his/her own book. It was also clear to me why my publisher put my totally adorable dog on the cover of the book.

If you want more on my BEA or ALA experience (including the Rock Bottom Remainders final concert), please check out my blog at http://www.teresarhyne.com/blog
     
        As always, I’m happy to answer questions.





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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Recording Family History for Future Generations : Guest Post by Pauleen Cass

      Recently Pauleen Cass attracted a good bit of interest with her guest post at the A to Z Blog.  In the post Pauleen described how she created a blog-to-book via Blurb.  In this current post at Wrote By Rote Pauleen discusses more about preserving family history for future generations.
Blurb book - interiorBlurb book - interior (Photo credit: Mrs. Gemstone)


     Family history is my passion and joy: the stories of the generations who have gone before me. While the basic biographical details provide the necessary building blocks, taken alone this data is boring and unengaging. What really captures my imagination is the opportunity to squeeze official and unofficial records for every drop of information about an ancestor until I can get a sense of each one as a person, their life experiences, the times they lived in, and the challenges they faced. 


      None of my ancestors was wealthy or famous yet there is a rich vein of stories to weave into a unique family tapestry. Over the years my research has broadened to include families from the same regions of origin so it’s possible to see what’s “normal” or “typical” in terms of education, employment, migration and mortality: a micro-study in history.

       It would be rare to find a family historian who doesn’t wish they’d asked questions of their relatives and listened to them while they were still alive. Unfortunately when we’re young and busy with family and career that’s rarely a focus for us and then it’s too late. So, getting into proactive mode, I decided to pre-empt that for my descendants.  


       Firstly I joined in the 52 weeks of Personal Genealogy and History in 2011 hosted by Geneabloggers and designed by Amy Coffin of the WeTree Genealogy Blog. This gave me guided opportunities to dredge my own memories of childhood and growing up and to search out old photos to illustrate the stories. One might expect that people around the world would have very different experiences but I was surprised to find just how similar the life experiences were for fellow bloggers of a similar generation, even in that pre-digital, pre-internet era.

        When writing about family stories, the spotlight naturally illuminates the people in the story. Place or location is very often a bit player in the drama. So with the A to Z challenge in 2012 I decided to turn the tables and write about all the places in our family story, some long ago and quite a lot from the current generations. 


       My husband’s family lived in Papua New Guinea for nearly 25 years and we also lived there after our marriage.  Our older children experienced life in PNG but as small children and over time their memories will dim. This was a chance to leave a history of where we had all lived and a little of what life was like there. My husband wrote a couple of guest snapshots for places I hadn’t lived or visited.  We’ve also been fortunate enough to visit many of the ancestral places world-wide so I was able to talk about those from personal experience. Only rarely when challenged by a letter of the alphabet did I succumb to using a place I’d only visited as a tourist.

        In some ways I was breaking the rules, as I was writing with my descendants looking over my shoulder rather than primarily for my contemporaneous readers. Despite this many of my kind readers followed all the way from A to Z and told me how much they enjoyed the travelogue aspects of the challenge. 

       Since finishing these two biographical challenges I’ve published them together in traditional format with a Blurb blog-to-book which I hope will stay in the family for decades to come. I’ve also got a copy of it in an e-book: a dollar-each-way bet on the survival of traditional vs digital publishing.

       My ultimate goal was to leave a trail for our family to follow in the future. Only the passage of time will tell whether I succeeded.


        What have you done to preserve your family history?   Are there any good research resources that you'd like to recommend?


        Be sure to visit Pauleen at her blog Family History across the seas.



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