One day, ages ago, during my high school years when I majored in photography, I wanted to head out before dawn to capture the sunrise. The only one who would join me at that hour, was my beloved grandmother. We got into the car around 4:30 in the morning and headed down to the boardwalk on the South Shore of Staten Island.
It was misty and cool that morning, and the instant I took the lens cap off the camera, the lens fogged. I was disappointed that nature would interfere with my nature photography – go figure – but my grandmother suggested it could make my sunrise pictures different from those of others.
As we walked through the parking lot to the boardwalk we saw this creature lumbering along the sand. We stopped in our tracks. Silent – because, why scream? We were the only people there.
“Raccoon?” I asked in a whisper.
My grandmother snorted a knowing breath. “Rat.”
Beach rat to be precise. About the size of a raccoon.
We were closer to the boardwalk than the car at that point and who knew what was skittering unseen behind us…so we ran. RAN. Myself and my riceball of a grandmother RAN to the boardwalk, up its stairs and over to a bench, laughing the whole way in terror and at the absurdity of it all.
We sat there for a nice long time, with the cool misty air forming our words into puffy little clouds that danced and bowed before our eyes. And then the sun came up, and for those who don’t know, a sunrise is a whole lot faster than a sunset. No time to linger or sigh at the beauty, just time to click the shutter once, twice, maybe 10 times and…done.
I have only one of those pictures now. One that I deliberately trimmed to fit onto a wall clock my grandmother gave me as a gift. It’s not a good shot, by any means, but it might be my favorite of all the pictures I’ve taken through the years.
It was a beautiful sunrise, not because of the sun, but because of the moment. And the person with whom I was fortunate to spend that moment.
As of this morning, this cool misty morning, there have been 10 years of sunrises since my grandmother’s passing. I miss her beyond words. I miss her spunk and biting wit. I miss her encouragement and wisdom. I also miss the question she’d ask repeatedly: “Did you finish your book yet?”
Sadly, my answer was always no, and yet she expressed pride in my efforts every step of the way. While I have many to thank for helping me complete the project – despite work and family and other life events – her constant inquiries still echo in my mind and so to her, today, my book is dedicated. In fact, I believe more than a little bit of her fortitude lives on in my heroine, who never, ever backs down.
At this most uncertain moment in our world’s history, when fear is indescribably elevated for most of us, may we all see many more years of sunrises, and share many more of them with those around us, because it’s the moments, those fleeting blissful moments, that connect us in the here and now, and beyond.
Given the events of this harrowing time in our world’s history, I find myself researching how to write my will. It’s not a doomsday reaction for me as much as what feels like a logical thought. As they say, any moment could be our last, which is why we’re advised to live each to its fullest.
At this moment, I am in the hardest hit area of America. My governor has advised us we are approaching the apex, which could come in 14-21 days. Just typing that tripped my heart like when a panic attack is about to begin.
I’ve had a lot of those lately. The not-so-subtle crushing of my chest and my gut, where it feels like all the air has been sucked out of the room. My heart gallops, my body trembles, my legs go weak. I know what it is. Fear of the unknown. Imaginings of the worst kind.
That’s when I’m reminded I did not write my will and I, again, wish I had because then, at least, my wishes would officially be known.
I’m healthy. I am among the fortunate ones who has worked from home and has had little chance of exposure to this deadly virus. I take my part of the preventative measures seriously – to stay-at-home, practice social distancing, wash my hands, not touch my face, clean and disinfect commonly-used surfaces like light switches, door nobs, phones, computers, faucets and the like. I call family members daily, I stay in touch with friends. As extravagantly as I can, I tip the brave, dedicated people who continue to deliver much needed food and other supplies.
And I cry.
Out of fear for what will come, and out of grief for what already has.
Dreams put in perspective
This was going to be my year. I was finally going to release my first book. A romantic suspense novel I hoped people would curl up with, frantically turning the pages, then sighing at the end. I had promo planned, I dedicated hours to a book trailer, I fell in love with the cover and feverishly worked to make my print and ebook files as perfect as they could be.
I look back now and shake my head because while I had always dreamed of publishing a book, I realize what matters more. The people in my life, the love of family and the bond we forge with friends and neighbors.
When this nightmare finally ends, we will have so many pieces to pick up, so many hearts to help reassemble, so many tears to help dry. And so many hugs to give. If this has taught us anything I hope it is that we can do all of the above together, for each other, without litmus tests for who is deserving, and without resentment if some need or get more than others. Because, as this virus has shown us, we are all in this together. Every one of us.
E pluribus unum.
Of many one.
That is how it should be. I should include those thoughts when I write my will.
NY State Mental Health Line: 1-844-863-9314
National Suicide Hotline: – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Once the true horror of the attacks of September 11, 2001 became clear, once the magnitude of the attack, of the hate, of the vengeance against the West, had awakened us all, a true and gripping sense of community poured out. We saw it in the American flags so many in the States wore on their lapels, hung from poles, or secured magnetically to their bumpers. We saw it in the silence that followed, in the acceptance and warmth of neighbor to neighbor. In the support for our first responders, who had so much to lose and lost even more.
Sadly, what brought out the best in us, also brought out the worst. The acceptance and warmth of neighbors turned to suspicion and violence for some. For too many. Rather than truly pull together, some among us chose to wage their own attacks on people they deemed responsible. That suspicion and rage lingers still, all these years later, most noticeably from the people who are supposed to lead us, to assure us, but who have, of late, chosen to divide us.
Of course we can never assume 9/11 was an anomaly, a catastrophe the likes of which will never happen again. But neither was that sense of community, of a shared experience. That’s part of what America is about–an awareness and appreciation of our diversity, commonality in our unique experiences. That’s what has always been the secret to America’s “greatness”.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum displays, in rich profound detail, the many faces of NYC and her neighbors. People who worked here, lived here, protected here, came here to help in any way possible. During a recent tour of the museum, I was struck by the varied accents heard on recordings captured that day–of voice messages left for loved ones, of first responders calling out to their units, of reporters and witnesses.
I live here in NYC. I hear a wide variety of languages and accents daily, so much so that I no longer notice them. But while there, in the museum, listening to one account after another in full-throated and brusque New York-ese, in broken English, in Spanish, in a New England drawl and other accents not so easily identifiable, I felt at home. One among many. Sharing the same memories, the same pain, the same hope for a better future.
Every year, on the anniversary of this heartbreaking day, we come together to remember those who perished. We remember their lives, their sacrifices and their humanity. In doing so, in standing together in remembrance, we’re reminded of the bond we have as citizens of this world. How I wish that understanding, that bond, held during our every-day existence and not just in times of tumult and pain.
It’s the first day of school here in NYC. I can’t help feel sad for all the kids returning to the constant grind of early rising and carrying bookbags as big as themselves as they’re sent away from home and forced to work on command by strangers all day, only to then hurry home and have to work some more.
Perhaps it’s a true dislike of school or perhaps it’s PTSD, I’m not sure, but something about this time of year, the end of summer and beginning of an annual ten-month sentence, deeply saddens me.
I feel a sense of loss and grief as if the sunny days of playtime and dreaming – of childhood innocence and wonder – are cruelly snuffed out then forgotten as the rigorous months ahead take form and distract.
Summer memories fade no matter how we wish they would linger. And every year at this time, I feel the same sense of despair.
I’m always surprised when I speak to other people about their childhood experiences with school. Many loved going, enjoyed the social aspect of it, the newness of it all, the discovery. That forces me to dig deeper to understand what it is that bothered me so – then as now. It wasn’t studying or learning as my wonder and thirst for knowledge was as keen as everyone else’s – then as now. Rather, for me, it was the feeling of being ripped away from home, of being sent somewhere that I didn’t want to be without having any say in the matter.
I’m a free spirit at heart and school felt like prison to me – so much that I doubled up on classes in my senior year so I could graduate early and never look back. I didn’t even attend graduation. Once I was out, I was out and glad to be rid of it.
And now, as I look out my window and see a small army of children trudging along with their weighty bookbags on their backs, I feel sad for them, too. I don’t share the ‘joy’ we see on TV commercials where parents are celebrating their children’s back-to-school days.
When my own child turned school age, I dreaded sending her. I feared she might feel as I did – that she was being shipped off, sent away from home, forced to be someplace she didn’t want to be. I made sure to prepare her, to let her know it would be as happy a place as she made it and that I’d be waiting for her when she came home. We, my husband and I, became actively involved in her school, letting her know she was not alone while still giving her room to roam, and grow, and learn.
But as elementary school ended for her, so did the excitement of it all, the newness, the discovery. The friendships formed remained; however, the drudgery became burdensome and overwhelming.
Middle school teachers in our district treated the kids in their care like tyrants, insisting that the pre-teen years were the worst, that kids needed to know who was boss. That they needed to be kept busy lest they find themselves with free time and get into trouble.
It was then that we decided enough was enough.
As a child, I felt like school was a punishment for some unknown slight. As a parent, I refused to allow anyone to treat my child that way.
My daughter was one month into middle school when we began our homeschool adventure. With thousands of NYC children being homeschooled, finding programs, activities and social outings was easier than I could have hoped or imagined.
We formed additional friendships with other homeschooling families while discovering a new and exciting way of learning.
We discovered learning through play, adventure and exploration, which incorporated the wonder of a child’s imagination and the freedom to just ‘be’.
I do miss the homeschooling days. They were a magical time that not only fed my child’s hunger for knowledge but also soothed the confused and angry child that lingered within me.
Now, as always, the summer has come to another close and children head back to school. And I feel the old familiar twinges of sadness for them as I did for myself all those years ago.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about your own school days or those of your children. Were they happy and exciting or burdensome and frustrating?
Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a fan of creepy critters. Of course, I realize if they’re not in my home but rather somewhere outside, then they’re where they’re supposed to be, and I will, mostly, leave them alone.
However, about a week ago, I happened to look out my dining room window and noticed a nest of some sort in the city tree at the curb in front of my house. It was quite large – and quite active, with what I thought were bees or yellow jackets busily flying in and out of it non-stop.
Turns out, they weren’t bees or yellow jackets. They were hornets.
I would assume this would frighten most people. However, for someone like me, with allergic reactions to simple mosquito bites, this was an absolutely terrifying discovery.
I calmed myself, though, after realizing, again, that this nest was in a city tree. Naturally, I ASSumed, the city would be responsible for it. I figured they’d want to know about it right away so they could take care of the situation before someone got hurt.
NYC – and other cities, I’m sure – has a policy that hornets fall into the category of “beneficial pests”, which I find both oxymoronic and ridiculous. Yes, I get it. Hornets, as predators, rid us of other pesky flying insects. In fact, hornets are so adept at reducing the number of destructive garden pests that the agricultural industry voluntarily uses them as a natural weapon to protect crops.
Yes. You read that right; they voluntarily deploy hornets into their gardens/fields as a natural pesticide.
That’s all well and fine, I suppose, and I do feel a certain respect for them now that I’ve learned that they are, indeed, ‘beneficial pests’. But they can also kill someone like me –yes, KILL – if provoked, agitated or otherwise disturbed. And hornets attack as a group, each releasing a chemical to alert the others of a rumble, and the others will swarm with a ‘one-for-all-all-for-one’ focus. They will die for the hive. As if that isn’t enough to fuel nightmares for weeks to come, each one of those things can sting repeatedly so…
Not my idea of beneficial…not when they’re as close as this colony is to my front door, and not when their nest is sitting above a very busy street/walkway where kids ride their bikes and neighbors walk their dogs.
So back to my efforts to make some headway with City Hall…
I spent this past week on the phone hoping to find a way to get rid of this nest. While I now realize killing the colony isn’t the way to go, my first thought was just that. Destroy the damn thing. I truly believed the city would feel the same way and send someone to spray the nest with something that would completely destroy it and everything inside.
Upon calling the city, I was informed that to do anything with this nest, I would first need to apply for a “tree-work permit”. That permit would come from the city, and it would be free. However, I would then have to find someone, on my own, who would not destroy the nest but *relocate* it. And…all costs related to that would fall on me. Once I found someone who would indeed relocate the nest, I’d have to provide their name to the city…and hope for their approval. If they did approve, then I would have to wait for the permit to arrive before any work could be started.
Knowing how speedy the city can be, I figured all that might happen somewhere around the winter holidays. If I were lucky.
Well, after three days and several more phone calls to 311, I finally received the application for the permit that was supposed to have arrived in my inbox within 24 hours of my first call.
Step one – done.
Step two – ha. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find someone to relocate a hornet’s nest?
For me, it was impossible.
I called various city offices with no luck, and then I called the state. The state was surprisingly easy and pleasant to deal with, and they showed concern and interest regarding my plight. A lovely gentleman I managed to reach by phone even provided me with an email for a beekeepers association. Additionally, through the state’s website, I found emails for a local arborist and for the city’s Parks Department.
Unfortunately, after contacting each of these groups, showing pictures and explaining to them how large and active this (to-me) terrifying nest was, and how close it was to my house, they all said that it was too high for them to reach. It seems 25-30 feet – which is about the height of this nest – is the natural height for a hornet’s nest and, as such, is unlikely to be dangerous to passersby. Or so I was told. My personal jury is not buying that fact. I was also told, repeatedly, that I should realize – and be comforted by – how beneficial these insects are.
I do realize. I’m not comforted.
And yet, it seems, I will need to wait until November, by which time the colony should die out, leaving only the queen to hibernate through the winter. Come spring, she’ll go to a new nest somewhere far from my tree.
And that is the only plus I see in this whole frightening scenario – that a hornet’s nest is built for single use. Once the colony abandons this one, no hornet will ever come back to it.
Until they leave, however, everyone will know where to find me – cowering behind the curtains in my dining room, counting off the days until those killer stinging machines have gone.
By the way – while the sight of this nest has me breaking into a fear-filled sweat, it seems these nests are often seen as works of art. It’s true, I suppose, they are magnificent structures – the one in front of my home is the size of a football and the external layers are indeed compelling to gaze upon.
But, apparently, once abandoned, there are some people who have actually taken hornets’ nests down from their trees – or eaves or wherever they happen to be hanging – slice them in half and display them as wall art.
FYI – I will not be doing that.
When you live in the city, as I do, and your main view is either the concrete building next door or your neighbor’s laundry hanging on the line, you come to appreciate the grandeur of open space… after you get your bearings, that is.
Over the summer, I spent time in Colorado. Boulder, Fort Collins, Estes Park, Red Rocks… They were all magnificent.
The open space, for all its wonder, was also a little disconcerting. I’m used to tight streets with cars parked on both sides. I’m used to stop signs and speed bumps. I’m used to waiting 5 minutes for a break in traffic so I can pull out of my own driveway, and I’m used to circling the block several times looking for parking when I shop or visit someone local.
Driving in Colorado was, at first, like driving an SUV after driving a Mini Cooper. All that space! I felt lost and a bit overwhelmed. Until I grew used to it. Then I fell in love.
Besides the stunning views, I wanted to see wildlife. I’d heard about mountain lions coming into the town (not that I wanted an up-close and personal view of mountain lions), coyotes, wolves, elk and deer. I did see deer while taking a walk on one of the many green-area paths.
And one morning, I had the pleasure of seeing this little guy outside my door. I’m sorry about the camera shake. It’s hard to hold a camera steady when you’re laughing. 🙂
But you know, as beautiful as it was there, as spacious and friendly and clean… Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.
A New York sunset as seen from my window
Above and Below – View of NYC from the Observation Deck at 30 Rock
And of course Times Square. Though not just Times Square, but the very symbol of my city…
Yes. It took some time to adjust to being home again but I must say, I am now happily back in the New York groove.
My writing organization membership just expired. By choice. I had been a member of the largest organization for romance authors for more than a decade. I’d made some amazing friends during my time there. I found my writer’s ‘voice’ and I learned to trust my process. Well, recently, new rules were applied within the organization about what it meant to be a member of it, and what it meant, by extension, to be considered in “serious pursuit’ of a career in writing. I realized, then, that my vision did not in any way match that of the new board of directors, and the direction of the organization did not fit with my personal plan for myself as an author. And so, I chose to let my membership lapse.
Writing is a solitary act. I don’t mind that, but I do like to interact with others in the industry. Fortunately, since I made a number of writing friends over the years, I am now part of another group of writers who value the level at which each of us stand now and where we hope to be – as well as what route we might choose to take to get there. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as belonging to a group that doesn’t force you to conform or make you feel inferior for choosing your own course.
And that brings me to the huge writer’s conference planned, this year, in NYC.
I attended the last writer’s conference in NYC four years ago. Thousands of authors were there. Editors from big publishing houses were there and available. Literary agents were there, as were authors who had already reached the golden ring – Sylvia Day, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Kate Pearce, Cherry Adair…
And then there were the rest of us. Thousands of us each vying for the same readership, the same golden ring.
The keynote speech at the luncheon was phenomenal. A tale of overcoming outrageous and discouraging odds. It was funny and sad and cheer-worthy. The unpublished and published writing awards were thrilling. How wonderful to celebrate with other authors, those who finaled, and those who took home the coveted awards.
There was one winner in each of the two contests. There were a handful of successful authors who signed books, gave workshops, and otherwise engaged those of us who had yet to reach that status but instead remained unpublished.
Where did we fit in? Was there even room for us? Would anyone notice if we weren’t there? Would anyone miss us? Care? Would it make a difference in our own pursuit – gee, is it “serious” enough? – if we attended every workshop or instead chose to rub shoulders with the more successful? Was there a path to follow? A yellow-brick-road leading to publication?
How about a path to some self-confidence or a way to look at all the other wannabes, wish them the best, yet still believe in yourself and your own chances? Was there a way to convince your muse that, yes, you have something unique to say, something readers will enjoy enough to buy. Perhaps a way to view your own process as one of pleasure not one of pressure – pressure to beat out every other wannabe vying for success in the romance genre.
Some of the workshop lecturers told attendees the genre they coveted (in my case, Romantic Suspense) was a dying genre and that no one made it in that genre unless they’d already created a name for themselves in it (this was actually said during one workshop which directly contradicted another). Some workshop lecturers offered tried and true methods for getting an entire story down in just a couple of days. Others offered advice on how to revise an entire novel in one week.
It was all fascinating and clearly worked for each of the speakers. Their enthusiasm soared as they spoke and offered advice and guidance – all of it, in my experience, generous and freely presented.
I was pumped when I left, thinking I could refer to my notes and the experience and forge a new path for myself. One lined with encouraging signs and constant forward motion.
Instead, my muse fell silent.
The vast amount of advice was overwhelming enough, but when dissected and compared and, therefore, exposed as contradictory or non-applicable to ‘my’ situation, or just plain awkward given the way I need to work… it became a jumble of nonsense for me. A muddled vision of the huge undertaking that still lay ahead for me… and the thousands more who wished to one day see their own name on a book.
It took months to get myself psyched again. To wake the muse, to rework the creative muscles that had atrophied. To realize the methods that fueled the few success stories relayed there were as varied as the stories sitting on bookstore shelves. That the ‘right’ road toward publication might detour into all of those areas – or none – since we each need to follow our own course, as is creativity’s demand.
There is no room for conformity in creativity. There is no one tried-and-true way to advance to a level of success (and no single definition for “success”). To shuffle along with the crowd, to be told what it means to be serious about the craft, to have all of your effort dismissed for not fitting into that definition, is to stifle the muse, crush the spirit and demand conformity… which limits creativity.
I am not attending the conference in NYC because while some authors are encouraged and invigorated by all it has to offer – and good for them to benefit from the experience – the last time I went, I was left doubting my own desires and my own efforts. Had I left there overwhelmed with possibilities, it would have been wonderful – a cause to return – but that was not to be.
So… while a huge flow of there-already and getting-there authors gather in NYC for a few days and nights of excitement and enlightenment, I will thank my lucky stars for the chance to have experienced it once… and for the ability to have overcome its paralyzing effects.
I know now that there is no yellow-brick-road to follow. There is, however, a man behind the curtain. And now that I’ve seen him for who he is, I realize he is no better than I… or any other author.
all images in this post were purchased from depositphotos.com
My thanks to Mrs. Dunne and the children of P.S. 31 for their rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Writers are normally solitary creatures. We love interaction with people and we love sharing but for the most part, we love our quiet time more. There has to be balance, of course, but what’s a writer to do when she’s forced out of her comfy little cubby and into the frantic and crowded world of NETWORKING?!
It’s enough to make the muse cower in the dark recesses of the mind.
This week – tomorrow in fact – this writer will be attending her first ever Romance Writer’s Conference. There will be workshops galore, introductions, re-connections, pitches, midnight bazaars, dinner with new friends and old, drinks, networking and tired feet.
I’m looking forward to it but I’m also intimidated. I want to take it all in without feeling overwhelmed. I want to go slowly, pull back and truly see the community of which I am a part.
I’ve been writing all my life and until recently, thought of it as lonely work. Most rewarding and enjoyable, but lonely. Over the past few months, however, I’ve met real live writers, while previously, I’d only met other writers ‘virtually’. I’m connected now and after this week, I will be connected even more.
Tomorrow I will meet up with people I’ve only known through IM’s, discussion boards or emails. I cannot wait. I’m excited and terrified and wonder if there’s a story in this. 😉
Since in my previous post I said I’d look toward the positive, my only worry is whether my online friends will like me in person. Oh. And whether I packed the right shoes… if the dresses are appropriate… if my pitch is ready for prime time… whether my hair looks okay… if I paid the electric bill… whether the cat-sitter remember to…
Homeschooling in New York City may seem like a rarity but it has become quite the movement. Even I, a native New Yorker, originally thought of homeschooling as something done in more rural areas. Instead, many New York families have chosen to pull their children from public school and use the vast wonders of the city as their classroom. There are museums, science labs, historical sites, various cultures and cuisines. So much, that years worth of curriculum could be covered without traveling beyond a few subway stops.
“Great. But what about socialization?”
That question is the first in everyone’s mind when I mention homeschooling my teen. It’s a logical concern and, before we started the process, we wondered about it ourselves.
Recently, I was speaking with some new friends about homeschooling when the issue came up. I answered, saying how there truly isn’t much socialization in school during school time. The comment was met with amusement and I found myself confused. Then I realized that, of course, there is interaction in school, but is it really socialization?
Socialization according to Answers.com is “(psychology) The process whereby a child learns to get along with and to behave similarly to other people in the group, largely through imitation as well as group pressure.
Hmm. “Learning to get along… though imitation as well as group pressure.” Not sure I like that definition.
Let’s try another… from the FreeDictionary.com: (Psychology) Psychol the modification from infancy of an individual’s behaviour to conform with the demands of social life
“conform”. Well. I’m not sure how I feel about that either.
One more… from Meriam-Webster.com: the process by which a human being beginning at infancy acquires the habits, beliefs, and accumulated knowledge of society through education and training for adult status.
Ah. Now that works for me. “Acquiring… through accumulated knowledge of society through education and training.”
No “imitation”, no “group pressure” and no “conforming”.
For many homeschoolers the difference between the first two definitions of socialization and the final one is monumental and is, indeed, the difference between socialization through public school versus socialization through homeschooling.
Most often, children in school interact with children their own age. Occasionally, there is interaction between grades but it is usually limited. They pick up on each other’s habits – both good and bad – fashion trends and attitudes. Homeschooled children regularly interact with children of all ages as well as with adults. During spontaneous and/or organized activities, the older kids in the group will look out for the younger kids, engage them and play with them. Not all the time, of course. Just enough to give the young ones a sense of comfort and security and the older ones a sense of responsibility, belonging… and independence. The kids often hold conversations with adults as well – parents of other homeschoolers, or, as in the case of my daughter, customers in our family photography business.
The socialization aspect of a homeschooler in this new millennium is a wondrous thing. Here in the city, there are thousands of homeschoolers and many belong to local homeschool groups. Curriculum is recommended and shared. Activities are organized and varied. Interaction with others is part of life and learning.
Of course, homeschooling is not for everyone. Some children might find it restrictive and suffocating, while others might find it exhilarating and liberating.
For my family, the words “exhilarating” and “liberating” hardly begin to describe the wonder that the process of homeschooling has brought to our lives.
I’m curious. What are some of your first thoughts when you hear a family is homeshooling? Or… if you’re a homeschooler, what are some of the reactions/responses you’ve received from people when you discuss homeschooling?