Confessions of a Closet Novelist

I’ve read copious volumes of how-tos on writing, publishing, writing a proposal and diving into social marketing. Call me a rebel with a cause but I find most of it a bit dreary and a buzz kill.  Still, I shuffle on to some ever-present voice suggesting subtle innuendos.

I once attended a fabulous workshop for Mystery Writers.  At the time, I was more interested in the fluffy side of things….you know, fantasy, happy ever after stuff.  But I threw myself into a milieu of fairly creepy individuals for three days and three nights.  Yes, wine was involved after 5.  It was a grand experience in climbing out of one’s zone and into another.  Hey, there was even a class entitled, “How to commit murder and get away with it.”

I’m not at all implying that the class about getting away with murder was a how-to per se.  But I have to tell you, the attendees jumped in with both feet.  What I concluded is that we all have parts of us that meander into some pretty freaky realms.  So I sat in the back and listened.  That room was filled with “what if” specialists.  A good mystery isn’t worth a damn without surprises and twists and turns.  That is the business of a “what if” specialist.  For the first time in all my writing years, I was in the room with people who definitely climbed out of their boxes on a daily basis.

One of the best workshops was a dialog with someone from the CIA sitting opposite another person from the FBI.  Priceless!  It caused a stirring, not in my loins, but in my what if? o meter.  I started me thinking about writing a thoroughly creepy novel.  It toys with me to this day.  It will not write itself unless I am in a room full of creative writers and have a prompt.

The first page started in a precious group of women seeking joy and peace.  As we proceeded around the room to read our treasures, I wondered if I would be thrown out for sheer shock of what I had on the paper in front of me.  They had read about their search for self, climbing of the obstacles of being a woman and the general healing of female comradery.  I, on the other hand had written something that was a cross between a spy novel and a potential murder mystery.  When I read it aloud, I looked up.  Their faces were shocked but a good shock.  One of the writers asked, “How on earth did you write that cool thing?”  I responded, “I haven’t a clue”.   She then asked, “What happens next?” I answered: “I haven’t a clue”.   And so my career as a mystery writer is still on the outer edge of possibility.

I try to surround myself with “what if” specialists but I guess it is up to me and my muses to keep going on this one.  Recently, I met a woman in her fifties and I paused and stared. There she was!  I couldn’t help myself and commented.  “Wow, you look exactly like the main character I am writing about.”  The woman is a very serious medical doctor with a minimum of creative humor.  She said, “What on earth do you mean?”   I bowed my head and said, “Forgive me, but I am writing a mystery novel and you fill the part of the protagonist.”  True to form, she smiled dimly and walked on.

So here I am, wondering.  Will my babe in question be an MD with a secret, one that will get her killed, or will she in her flowing cape save the world?  I’ll answer again, “I haven’t a clue.”

Back in Scotland, when I was writing my Merlin novel, I had the habit of going to the pub of an evening.  In defense, it had wi-fi.  It also had the best fish n chips and draft brew in all of Scotland.  I would stare out at the waves and write.  The publican, also a writer, would ask me to read to her.  I did so but softly so not to disturb the locals.  One night, one of the locals asked:  “Where is Merlin now?”  I smiled.  He had actually heard me reading.  I responded:  “He’s been riding his horse in the middle of the night for three nights.  I can’t figure out how to get him off the horse.”

One day I had lunch at that auspicious pub.  Again, I was reading to my helpmate who would suggest things to me.  A fellow over to the side spoke. “I know where you can get that published.”  I smiled.  “Really?”.  He gave me the name and I wrote it down.  I then, the scientific side of me said, “Off hand, why this person?”  The fellow went into somewhat of a lengthy story about the frugality of Scots.  I finally stopped him and asked, “Sorry, I don’t get what you are trying to tell me.”  He smiled. “The publisher lives very frugally and loves your kind of writing.  I know him.  He will love your book.  And by the way, he is the one who took a chance on Harry Potter.”

Now you’d think I would have grabbed him and got his name et al.  I didn’t.  I just sat there and loved the moment.  Call me naive.  Call me a dreamer but I plan to hand deliver my manuscript to that very publisher this summer when it is done.  Oh and it is a mystery fantasy so I’m still dealing with the what ifs.

Maybe what I have learned is writing is a journey.  Like little Red Riding Hood (Writing Hood????), I follow the bread crumbs along the path.  Maybe that was Hansel and Gretel. Hell, I don’t remember, but bread crumbs along the path are actually clues and I am wide open to clues.

This summer, I’ll jump back into that mystery gig of 4 days.  THIS time, I’ll be one of them.

Dueling with Insideous Writer’s Block

Maybe the most agonizing aspect of being a writer is the challenge of the ever looming writer’s block. I’ve dueled with it many times in my career and have finally come to some sort of detente with it.

Like kids with lots of energy need naps, so do writers.  Some operate on the premise that after all, it’s a job.  They get fairly ritualistic over it all.  You know:  2.3 cups of freshly ground coffee, toast with avocado to be followed by a shower and then, of course, the uniform…something that respects the craft.  These prissy individuals, some on the best seller list by the way, feel that one must respect one’s craft.

Years ago I went kicking and screaming from corporate suits, panty hose and the ever present time clock.  In my world, that combination was anethema to my creativity.

So I set up a writer’s nook at home, complete with a desk that had a view of the garden outside.  I’d tidy my desk top, line up my pens and then hopefully stare out at the hydrangeas.  It didn’t work.  Command of the craft was like ordering a Prince Charming on sale at Amazon.  It wasn’t my way.

So I took a wilder route:  spontaneity.  I figured that if Ernest Hemingway could write on cocktail napkins, as the bulls raced through the streets of Pamplona, I would try this raucous free-lance gig.  It stuck.  I wrote on backs of bills, in dollar store nothing books, and grabbed anything I could with a surface.  I even tried dictating to a recorder.  I felt like an ass speaking into it so now I just press record for ideas that fly into my brain. Never, repeat Never, on command.

Eventually, I had what shrinks might call a psychic split.  Words would spontaneously arrive, sometimes in the middle of the night.  Sometimes in the shower.  Sometimes driving 90mph on I-5in the middle of nowhere.  By the way, it never occurred to me to pull over at a rest stop.  That would ruin the moment and fortunately on that particular day I had someone beside me.

This is God’s own truth.  I politely asked my friend to steer while I wrote.

If someone from the DMV reads this, I’ll deny it all.

The process, however, worked.  I had some cool music on the CD and again, politely asked my dear friend is she could steer one more time while I read aloud to see if the music and words worked together.  It was a slam dunk.

I need to explain that I-5 goes through a helluva lot of boonies so it wasn’t as dangerous as it sounds.

When we arrived at my home, I knew I still needed more.  After all, it was a script for a presentation on Mother Earth and Mother clearly had more to say.

At 3AM I crept out into the living room and wrote the second half.  Order? ritual? no just taking time to honor my muses.  And therein lies the option of psychic split or honoring my muses.

I found soon enough that there was a serious and scientific me an then, Whoa Nelly!, the muse, actually the muses arrived cackling with laughter, sometimes sobbing in agony, anger at the way things appear or wildly passionate with descriptions of wonder.

My “marriage” with my muses is a wonderful love afair that never ends. But freedom is the quintessential agreement.  I don’t get to push.  Deadlines are for dead folks.  Timelines are for those who think they can control the process.

Freedom means admitting to my feeble scribbling hand that sometimes my muses need to take off for the Bahamas.  They reside there in some elegant BNB, snooze in beach chairs and drink umbrella drinks until they get the inclination to return.

In the meantime, I’m on shore looking anxiously through the fog.  But they do return, Always, but Never EVER on command. That’s the way they roll.

A few years back, I wrote a novel about Merlin and the Lady of the Lake.  I was also attempting to finish a fabulous novella that I had started in the Himalayas. I just couldn’t figure out how to finish it.

I received an invitation to Scotland and I jumped at the chance.  After all, Merlin was a Scot.  I had to travel through the mirthless Heathrow airport and was vetted as a Yank who might want to make money in the UK.  I was asked:  Will you be making money while you are here?  Fortunately I answered, O heck now:  I’m praying it will become a best seller down the road.  I’m only here to write.”  Just in case you are wondering, had I answered some egocentric b.s. regarding fame and of course, I’d be making money, they would have put me back on a plane to the US.  That actually happened to someone foolish.

After a few days in Glastonbury and ….. I eventually made it to Highland Cottage on Iona, in the Inner or Outer Hebrides.  I never figured that one out.  That first night I was alone, it stormed and high winds tossed the waves. At 2:30 AM I heard “whisperings”, repeat phrases, sing songy repetition.  I growled, “Go away!.  The sing songy phrases continued.  In desperation, I grabbed my journal and pen and wrote in the dark for over an hour.

When the words stopped, I reached for the wee lamp.  Pages lay before me.  The storm had not abated so I climbed out of bed, turned on the overhead light and read it all aloud to the storm and the crashing waves.  Half way through, I started to sob but kept the reading pace going.  I had finished the last two chapters of my beloved novella.

I promise you, I could never in my scientific half come up with such a spectacular ending.

From that day forward, I deeply honor my muses and try not to notice when they are throwing stuff in their suitcases and preparing for the Bahamas.  Maybe that’s the trick, not pushing. ….waiting and napping until the return.

Musings from the tub

OK, I’m a lady scientist.  I believe in experimentation so I’m sitting in the bath tub complete with aromatherapy bath bomb salts.  Speaking of experimentation, who in the marketing department of this said aroma device thought up “Bath Bomb”.  Haven’t we got enough to worry about THE BOMB in the news media?  Do we honestly have to carry this idea into our peaceful bath?

So, first, I am drawing a line in the sand.  No more bath bombs!  Give me lavender scented epsom salts in the economy container at Wally’s World.  Oh dear, I just confessed it.  I would be drilled out of Berkeley and other snooty areas of the Bay area for this admission.  I purchased something at the W. store. Even speaking the “W”, causes thetrue snoots to start backing slowly away in horror.

Yes I go to W. mart, the D. Store and Groc Out and finish up with a semi snooty cruise through TJs.  In the end, I’ve mixed with every walk of life and had a ball. Sure, I occasionally encounter people who look silently in horror and push their carts briskly past, kind of like I’m an escapee from some asylum.  But the other folks, the let’s play kind of folks love to hang and chat and just stop for a moment from the insanity of our world right now.    I’ve bonded over fluffy blankets with a superb dame at Groc. Out who was searching for something soft for her sis in the hospital.  It was fabulous working with her to find the best and softest blanky for her sister.  I’ve chatted with a young woman at the W.  over nasal spray and antihistamine.  After all, I’m a scientist. I know this stuff backwards and forwards and am the sneeze high priestess of allergy season.

OK You guessed it. I’d talk to a dead squirrel if desperate enough. I live in the woods and pride myself on being a semi recluse.  The truth is, I love being alone and hanging out in nature but then I have to escape to folks, live folks, anywhere and who may just take the time to say hello, let alone smile. The Methodists throw a monthly pancake breakfast.  I wouldn’t miss it when I’m in town.  In fact, I troll for those individuals who will actually play back.  There are a few up here, but they are an endangered species.  Humor is often suspect.  Last Saturday, I cruised up to this perfectly nice gentleman and said: “Congratulations, you just earned the booby prize for sitting next to a chatty Cathy who has had way too much caffeine.”  He looked a bit confused, but I have to give him credit.  He smiled, hung in with the conversation and didn’t call the white coats.

I frequently pet sit to get my cat and dog fix and let’s face it,  every guy alive has learned that a dog on a leash is a chick magnet.  It doesn’t cut both ways.  Still, I’m a bit long on the tooth and don’t own a perfectly groomed and barky Pomeranian, let alone possess a size 4 figure in a running suit. But this is another experiment I performed in San Francisco.  My site there is approximately six blocks to the dog park.  This the the city’s mode of socializing hounds, on cement with other peeing and pooing canines and their humans.  Don’t get me started on dog tapeworms and other delights that can be passed on paws and collegial sniffs. It took three months of vetting before I felt I almost belonged to the human pod that gathered on that cement site.

There are numerous paths to this park and most have trees to sniff and pee upon along the way.  My “renta dog” loves it, especially the sniffing part.  Last year, I decided to count the humans, more precisely, humans that performed one of three life threatening actions: 1. he/she smiled,  2. he/she made eye contact, and 3. he/she actually said hello.

Now, I tried it first in the busy lane of stores on 24th st.  It’s known for its shops and lively atmosphere and it’s dog friendly.  Store owners even put out water dishes during the summer.  How cool is that?   Twenty-three humans passed.  None performed the above three considerations or even a single one.  Guinness dog, an elegant mini schnauzer and I returned home to try yet again another day.

I then pursued the streets leading down to the dog park.  Human research: Two out of eighteen performed one of the three communication options.  I finally tried “active reciprocity”, a big term for “initiate and see”.  Again, two out of eighteen.

The sixteen remaining were in their personal zones of their own creation.  A city friend said, “Hey, they have boundaries.”

Oh give me a break, smiling boundaries?

So I’m writing up a scientific report with my conclusions.  Tight sphinctered individuals with way too much time to do their self-introspection develop accelerated levels of angst.  Heck, so would I if I efforted so much with the Greta Garbo “I vont to be alone” stance.

So next time I’m in the Bay area, I’m going to do another experiment.  I will actively smile, make eye contact and say hello to eighteen out of eighteen.  I’ll report  back to you on my results.

Yikes! I’ve wandered far from base.  I started this treatise in the bath.  It’s now turned lukewarm and I’m not soaked sufficiently yet.  In truth, I’m on a quest that requires another scientific experiment.

Here’s the deal. I put out a call for the perfect board to lay across the tub so I could write my articles unscathed and without watermarks.  It needed to be precisely 29 x 7 x 1 inch. Please refer to my previous article as God forbid I should repeat myself.

Yesterday noon, my favorite elder hippie Willie Nelson look-alike who does a mean percussion jam called.  Is that really a sentence?  He had found the perfect board, and get this, bless his heart, he was sanding it.  He came over and installed the board and yes, I am test driving it for the following parameters:  height, distance and sturdiness.

Erma Bombeck step on by.  I’ll write my next novel from here.  This board is the perfect length, width and depth.  The distance allows me to lean back and best of all I can write on tilt or level with the board.  My writing is water spotless!  I am now a fierce and dedicated writing  machine afloat.

I think I’ll do my taxes from here.

writing in tub

 

The Quintessential Writing Tool

As a budding corporate marketing specialist, some 40 years ago, I lived a screaming, stress-filled life of early rising, getting the kids off to school, freeway madness and the thorough nonsense of a job that didn’t fulfill me.

I began the search for the quintessential writing tool.  It was a board to fit across the bathtub to enable me to have a wee glass of wine and write.  My daughter, seven years old at the time, found the perfect match.  This board supported my glass, journal and pen.  Both of my girls knew that this time in the bath was MINE.  Aside from the return of the Apocalypse, I was not to be disturbed.

During that healing time, I realized something profound:  it helped me heal all three:  mind, body and spirit AND I did not punch into somebody else’s time clock.  Lord, I hated that time clock!

Sometime that year I started a “Be Do Have” workshop.  It was pretty much the beginning of what came to be known as the New Thought Movement.  Heck!  This kind of stuff was ancient.  We robot humans had simply forgotten.  It ignited my longing for change.

So I soaked my sorry backside while I balanced the board and wrote whatever I pleased. Wow!  No more stunningly boring reports on chemical processes or biomedical white papers.  I now have come to suspect anything that has to do with white papers.  They signal pontification and falling asleep after the third paragraph.

So I wrote poetry, free-lance anything that came to my pen and it was delicious.

When I had enough of time clocks, I escaped to the orient and eventually to Kathmandu.

…..

As the water was draining from my current bath, I realized that the precious board enabled me to write without getting water spots on my pages, so I am now putting out a call for someone with a board of precise dimension (29 inches x 7 inches, x 1 inch width).  Looking back, I have no idea how my daughter found that exact dimension which fit perfectly across the enamel enclosure.  I even wrote a resignation letter from that board.  It was time to move on and explore other options.

What I then remembered was a wish I have always harbored:  to be a syndicated columnist…you know,  one that writes pithy stuff that is quick to read.  Abby made a ton of bucks advising folks and she was the queen of pith. I’ve never really done the Dear G stuff but I’m kind of a fantasy historian story teller hybrid.

When I was twenty-four, I got bored with a research position at UCLA.  It was prestigious but also hideously repetitious.  I looked to the horizon and asked for co-ordinates to the best escape route I could find.  Since a friend was signing up for “Project Hope”, a hospital ship that cruised (do ships themselves cruise?) to parts unknown, I applied as well.  All I knew is I didn’t care about the somewhere.  It was pretty much anywhere.

So I interviewed and when my walking papers arrived, they said Nicaragua, Central America.  My boyfriend and I had to take out a map to find Nicaragua.  So much for U.S. Citizens and their knowledge base of even the Americas.

At that time, the Sandinista revolution was on the back burner.  The esteemed Anastasio Somoza was running the country. That year was what I call my before and after year.  I came back changed forever.  I would never be happy with North American status quo again.

And as for the after, I’ve continuously longed for far away places. I have become the High Priestess of frequent flyers. I’ve written in the dead of winter on an island in the outer Hebrides.  I’ve sat behind mosquito netting in Kenya and read to a local tribal woman.  I’ve also been accused of a certain addiction to travel when I hopped on a plane to go do a video documentary on a pig farm in Uganda. That is the gig that had my wings clipped for awhile.

But back to Nicaragua.  My mom and dad bought me one of those fancy reel to reel recorders.  I would sit out on deck at night and dictate letters.  There was no email or Face Book then and it was either dictate or write a letter and still chance it getting lost.

When I returned stateside, my mom handed me the letters I had written home.  Without telling me, she had contacted a journalist with the newspaper and yes, he had a syndicated column.  He shared my stories word for word and never gave me a byline.

Mom told me that when I went on hiatus for a while, this same journalist called frequently for more stories.  Readers had loved the pieces and wanted more adventures of the wild dame in the tropics.

As I write this today, that journalist is likely 6ft under, (turkey that he was and is).  He stole my credit, my byline.

But hey, I still somehow qualified  a “syndicated columnist.”

Reading the day to day of that year is now priceless.  A girl friend honored me by mixing her famous margueritas and asking me to read those letters aloud.  It was my birthday somewhere in my sixties, and well, she loved the stories.  It was magical as I stood and read them, sipped the marg and shed a few tears.

So I’m calling for the board.  I just found a shelf I could improvise. besides, who needs more doodads on a shelf when I just might write the Great American Novel with that shelf in the tub.

I’m also packing a mini laptop and sorting through my frequent flyer options and still valid visas.  Before I escape, however, I’m going to gather all my stories in one place and honor them.

Time passes far too quickly and Emily Dickinson, eat your heart out.  I’m not dying with my boots on with a trunk load of writing to be honored posthumously.

Get out of the way snooty agents and publishers.  I’ll do it myself and yes, I’ll take the by line.

 

 

How to Hold the Heart of a Woman 2018 and onward to forever

It’s really very simple.  After all that’s said and done.

After all the bellowing of liberation and believe me suits

and attache cases, we still appreciate:

  1. Flowers that arrive for no reason whatsoever.
  2. Gifts of thoroughly and irrevocably impractical “girl things”.
  3. Being shown how to clean our battery terminals.
  4. Helping to snow shovel the driveway.
  5. Saying “Yahoo, go get em!” when we do something wildly courageous.
  6. Holding hands in public or at least winking at us while we walk together.
  7. Finding things that have disappeared on our Hard drive.
  8. Dancing slowly and silkily to an old tune….in public and private.
  9. Listening to what we have to say and at least appearing interested.
  10. Compassionately explaining confusing electronics
  11. Covering us in cashmere when we are napping
  12. Calling us “my girl”, sweetheart or love, at least once a year.
  13. Calling on a Thursday afternoon, just to say “I love you.”
  14. Holding us in your arms and saying absolutely NOTHING.

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                                                 Madam Truefire  1994  updated 2017

Valentine words never spoken

If I had one last thing to say to that delicious man, that confusing day, that day when I was trying to be invisible, it might be something like:  Oh for God’s sake, John, we’ve loved each other forever.  Can we just hug one more time, maybe for the gipper?

After all, I was his Stella and he was my Meera.  We were standups in any room playing off of each other’s humor.  Yet we were fancy scientists.  No one ever knew how much we cherished each other.  It just was what it was.  And so on that day on my way to some boring conference, I looked over my shoulder at Room 21.  He was behind that door but I had promised to be invisible.  If I walked back and knocked on the door, someone might see me and blow our cover.

Cover?  It had been 30 years of cover.  So I just closed my eyes tightly and marched directly to the waiting bus.  He stood behind that door, watching out the window or so I imagine.  We didn’t embrace one last time.  We didn’t say, I’ll always love you no matter what.  We didn’t just laugh together over the absurdity of it all.

A few short weeks later I got an email from his grad student.  John had fallen and the diagnosis was brain tumor, undetermined foci.  She gave me his number at the hospital and I called.  The perennial jokester, he said, “Well,  they always said I had a hole in my head.  Now I have two”…  a burr hole for the diagnosis.

He left us all way too soon.  I didn’t attend any funeral ceremony but I stood in the wings three thousand miles away.  I stood and cried and held my heart.  The love of my life was now way out of reach.  If I had one last thing to say to that delicious man, it would be, Ah John, I’m still here and it’s forever.

Looking Back on Mother

This Sunday, September 4, 2016, Mother Teresa will be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.  In simple language:  She will be declared a saint in Heaven, as is she didn’t already occupy that zip code a long time ago.

I spent an incredibly powerful time in Kolkata some years back and Mother Teresa featured highly in that experience.

Looking Back at Mother  

We arise at 4:30a.m.

We will be walking the dark streets to Mother Teresa’s house.  Mass begins at 6.

As we pass through the back alleys of Calcutta (now Kolkata), winding through the Muslim sector, we see many people sleeping on the cement. Early tracings of dawn reveal a city awakening to business as usual. Many later up at gushing fire hydrants. goats hang in the market place. Vegetables lie in piles ready for sale. Slowly, locals rise to get their wares organized for yet another day of haggling.

Beggars sift through the eternal trash in line with a dump truck that races them for scoops. The scent of peat, combined with urine and rotting garbage hangs heavily in the air.

As we turn down the alley, we see the door marked Mother Teresa’s.  Entering the main courtyard, a large statue of the Virgin Mary greets us. Nuns move quietly about their business, readying for Mass and their duties which will take them to the House of the Dying, Home of the Children and other centers near Calcutta, including the leprosarium one hour out of town.

We remove our shoes to enter the chapel and a sense of excitement arises. I am at her very door, this precious woman who has guided my heart for so long. Sisters enter quietly while incessant crows squawk outside the windows midst a cacophany of horns and street noise.

Mother, herself, kneels unassumingly. She appears much tinier that I expected. As I gaze at her feet, I see they have hammered toes. This must be painful. Her severely rounded shoulders and upper back bespeak of osteoporosis. Still the very presence of this extraordinary soul inspires all to quiet smiles of awe. Very much present, this little woman adjusts the light switches above her.

At communion, she leads the sisters and then takes the Eucharist to dispense to lines of postulants, sisters and volunteers. Memory of the sight of her at prayer still thrills me. After Mass, Mother leads the sisters in singing and prayer. They seem almost childlike in their recitation revealing a remarkable innocence.

Later, in an uncommon time alone, she takes my hand and holds it for a long time as we speak together. I ask her if I can videotape some of her centers. “Go photograph the children, photograph the living!” she insists. Before I know it, Mother has arranged a nun to personally escort me to Shu Shu Bhavan, the place of the children.

Later, my companion and I take a taxi across town to the House of the Dying. Entering the huge wooden door, I say to my attorney friend, “Be prepared to walk to the edge of your soul.” This sacred place can be a confrontive experience for anyone. The first time I served here twelve years ago, I spoke with Sister Dolores.

“Sister, I hope I haven’t been in the way. I’m new and just followed in the footsteps of the other volunteers.”

Sister Delores smiled and said,  “My dear, you can carry a body to the morgue, feed an old woman, change bandages, paint beds for the Pope’s visit or just stand at a distance and love them with your eyes. It’s all the same”

We find aprons and gloves and quickly immerse in cleaning plastic mattresses and pillows. I stand at times and simply witness the scenes before us. Encounter of the heart, between volunteers and the sick and dying reveal an amazing experience of compassion.

As the morning wears on, we go from bed to bed, offering a hand, sometimes administering medicine, stroking, feeding or just sitting and holding. While massaging an old woman’s feet, I suddenly ask myself, Why can’t I do this for my own mother? Why do I have to go halfway around the world to experience compassion?

Determined to seek permission to somehow invisibly videotape the “Moments of the Heart”, I return to my hotel with a homework assignment from Sister Priscilla, the lead organizational nun. I must write a letter to explain what I want to do, for what use and who, in fact, I am. Late this night, I search my soul for the words.

A rickshaw driver delivers me and my handwritten letter to the convent. sitting outside the door marked “Private”, I gaze at the simple blue checkered curtains separating within and without:  the points between rest for Mother and greeting the ever-present devotees.

Now, sitting in the wings, I’m not seeking photo opportunities as I watch Mother at work, greeting souls, ruffling baby hair, tickling a child. I see some tiredness behind that tiny arthritic frame. Who protects Mother form exhaustion, a personal Jesus? Who sends her energy? Batteries that just keep on keeping on like the Energizer bunny?

Sister Priscilla suddenly appears and sits down beside me. She delivers the permission signed by Mother, which will enable me to proceed with my video work.

On our last day in Calcutta, I’m not expecting to see  Mother but she suddenly emerges from behind the curtain. She smiles and I say, “We’re leaving today, Mother.”

She hesitates and asks, “Where are you going?”

I answer, “Home, to the U.S.”

She takes my hand and holds it gently and look up. “You are coming back, aren’t you?”

I promise, “Of course, Mother.”

Suddenly she asks, “How many houses do you have?”

“One, Mother, why?”

She laughs and answers, “I have over 500 in 105 countries!”

I counter, “Good Lord, I hope you have someone to clean them all. I have trouble with only one.”

We laugh together and then she speaks quietly to me of dying with grace, dignity and love and how important it is to have support.

And….I hold her hand one more time.

She’s gone now like a whisper on the wind, my beloved Energizer Bunny, who kept on keeping on. She’s left me with a smile, her wonderful business card, medals which keep multiplying, a picture of One Moment in Time and her gentle hand in mine.”

 

The House of the Dying

Looking down on the roof, one can view Kalighat, the temple of the Goddess Kali. It abuts the very walls of the House of the Dying. Here, animal sacrifices take place and the energy is quite Hindu.

In the beginning, the head Brahman of this temple, quite opposed Mother’s work and sought to prevent her from proceeding. When he contracted cholera and lay dying, no one in the temple would touch him. Mother collected him and nursed him herself. After he survived and healed, he became her chief proponent.

After washing and scrubbing, we return to the hotel to change clothes. We immerse our sandals in bactericidal solution. Are there risks working at Kalighat? TB, AIDS and other diseases are rampant in the back streets of India. Still, precautions taken can withstand most challenges.

I soak my sandals for two days, hang them up to dry in the harsh Calcutta sun and give them to the rickshaw driver as a gift. By this time, I’ve purchased rubber sandals that are far more practical.  Geri Lennon

I’m a video producer and author who lives in California.  I’m currently co authoring a bio book on Pandemics and working on a video documentary based on the work Mother Teresa began called “Moments of the Heart, the Path of Compassion”. Over the last several years, I’ve worked as a lay volunteer with Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity whenever I can get to India.  I wrote this article after three weeks in Calcutta in 1996.

Another Face of Mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rent A Mongoose

This week I spent precious time with a glorious feline companion named Sophie.   We encountered two snakes, a teenage rattler and something quite slithery and unknown. My search for information and safety let me down many roads and aside from buying a used mongoose on the web, there are a number of action items to consider, ponder, pray upon and inspire:

  1. Don’t wear open toed sandals when in an area of snake presence.  Boots, and even those cool wellingtons (name for high rubber boots in Scotland, will dull the fangs of any self respecting reptile.  Did I mention that you need to shake out any b00ts that have been stored in the garage?  Meandering reptiles and insects LOVE dark recesses.  So don’t put your feet inside without checking first.  And don’t reach in with your bare hand.  I know this should be obvious, but what the heck.
  2. Don’t wear a flowing caftan.  It looks cool in the patio, but a snake up the skirt  can be avoided by wearing jeans.  Oh and don’t wear the tight jeans.   You are defeating the purpose, sexy and bitten won’t get you much longevity.   Again, the fangs of a snake don’t go far into jeans.
  3. Though a pussy cat LOVES adventure, and anything moving, and I do mean anything, a tight leash is life saving.   She will see a reptile before you do and leap to snag it. Predator to predator, the snake could be victor. So unless you have complete eyes in front, back and peripherally,on your head (some aliens do), don’t let her meander into any bush space at all.
  4. When seeing a snake, grabbing the pussycat and running like hell MAY work, but if the snake is coiled I’d beat it over the head with the golf iron and then run. Wise male friend takes exception to whacking with golf club.  He says the snakes strike range is further out than the length of a golf club.  So walk back slowly.    Do NOT turn back, just back away VERY SLOWLY.    Snakes react to quick movement like the rest of us.
  5.   OK, about now, let’s start humming, “We shall overcome”, or playing it on a kazoo.  Maybe the snakes are humming it to themselves.  After all, they were here first.
  6. Keeping an imaginative and exploring feline happy is the challenge.More important, keeping her alive is my focus. So we sing, I read to here and we nap.  When yowling occurs, I speak quietly about the snake situation and most of the time she quiets down.  IF it doesn’t work, take her out front and she will be bored to tears.  Her meowing will cease when she has told you that this is NOT her favorite stalking ground.
  7. I propose a mechanical snake or lizard in the house, run on batteries. But then that may be teaching her the wrong thing or emphasizing the joy of snake and lizard hunting.
  8. A snake fence is a capital idea.  Still, I think snakes can figure that sort of thing out, can’t they burrow?  Good Lord, this is starting to sound like a scene from NCIS.  By the way, one of my military male friends suggested getting buck shot or something involving a gun and shooting the snake’s head off.Trust me, I will NOT go there for a variety of reasons. And besides, my eyesight and aim would insure that the fence was hit before the reptile.
  9. Another friend just called in and said:for God’s sake tell themnot to sit on a boulder or rock. That’s where snakes like to hide.  Being bitten on the backside is just for starters on this one.

So what I would suggest is the following:  Be CAREFUL, Be alert, Dress protectively, stay the heck away from bushes, and BE IN CHARGE.  Pussycat will argue with you, but pussycat will remain alive with your guidance.

OK, let’s talk about instructions for what if?

  1. Vet instructions and map to vet are essential.
  2. Time of walking should be before 4PM to avoid any emergency taking place when the closest vet is not open

But let’s get down to brass tacks.  The animal caregiver needs to stay alive to protect the pussycat.

  1. A rather important item is listing the nearest ER for the human, in case he/she is bitten.  Sure 911, is a fabulous idea, but living in the hills and with the economy cutbacks in California, waiting for Godot will not save anyone’s life.   A friend had a situation recently on her property.  She knew enough to keep calm and keep her heart above the suspected bite, oh Lord, research that one.

But one thing she said:  a 911 team does NOT carry snake bite kit or antivenom kit.  You are going to love this one:  Her advice was to tell 911 the exact road to take to the place (ER) and say you will them in your car, license plate given and flashing lights as you  meet them half way. Now I have to tell you, this is a cool idea, but how many of us are going to be calm enough to do that one.

Another friend suggested a snake bite kit.  Allegedly it removes the venom on several occasions. Some articles bash this kit saying that it only removes 2  to 3%  of  the  venom, and not in muscular areas.  I, for one, am not going to take any chances and go with the statistics and not buy one at Big 5 or another store that sells them.  They are not expensive, and COULD SAVE YOUR, repeat, YOUR life. This option is still up for grabs. I think I’d have one around “in case”, but use it only if physician advised. I returned one I purchased as it was too intricate. There are really simple ones available on line. Another person from Marin told me that you can buy antivenin (or antivenom)but I’d research this a whole lot further with a reliable vet and a physician. Yet another snake advisor recommended snake immunization. This needs far more research.

So there you have it,  Short of renting a mongoose on Ebay, it takes a lot of awareness and caution.

p.s. Just got an email, and a tweet, from a Mother Snake. She has reminded me that           snakes do a lot of good stuff. She recommended having a picture atlas of harmless snakes like King and Garter who keep the rodent population at bey. folks that have lived in the desert areas take snakes for granted. They are part of the topography and simply need to be respected. A  lot of folks say that snakes are shy and will move away, but let’s face it, we need to be prepared when in snake country.  I suspect I shall be getting a tweet from a Mother Rat soon enough. Frankly, I am sending out a call for all of us critters, large and small to be AWARE and use common sense and also to be prepared for any emergency.  Amen.  Kumbaya, and kazoo at rest.

Birth Announcement

OK, for those of us that have some aberrant fear of publishing, Yahoooooooooo!  I climbed over the wall, and will soon have a victory chalice in my greedy little hand.

Our book entitled “Dark Journey Through Time” is a collaboration with a wild and wooly mystery author in the bush of Australia:  Bruce Cooke.  He is the king of what ifs?   We managed to write this mystery novel together and then far apart:   two continents apart to be exact.  We wrote and skyped and exhausted MS word docs.  Usually when Bruce was writing, I was fast asleep and vice versa.  17 hour differences are not for the undaunted.  But tell you what?  it was a grand experience.

I’ll let you know when the “book” is truly birthed and on line.  The publisher is Caliburn press.   Its a cracking good mystery of parallel lives, shootem ups, a crooked man running for president, Nazis, and unspeakably courageous heroines.  It is also a story of redemption and reconciliation of a family torn apart in dark times.

 

 

 

Free at Last

On a day much like today, with sun shining on a playing field of thousands, an enlightened black minister rose to the podium.

Did he have an elegant speech writer? Maybe, or most likely he wrote it in the back seat as he was being driven to the mall that day .

It became immortal and so did he.

On this day,  Let freedom ring.  On this day, may we remember the quote:

“Thank God Almighty Free At Last”.   

It is so easy to move on swiftly to one’s work day, one’s Starbuck ritual and forget the past but this memory I hold sacred.   So many forward thinking liberals accepted their assignments knowing that their lives were in peril.

“It’s part of the biz”, one might say.  Again, one might query: “But WHY?”   They ignored the potentials of their walk, and just proceeded forward.

Decades have passed since that day of history and yet annually I bow my head to remember.

“Freedom” this elusive term, was won at a price.  Many lives were lost in  pursuit of this elusive “Freedom”.  I, for one, will never take for granted what it took AND takes to keep that freedom ringing.

We far too easily move on to new and exciting avenues.

Bellowing politicians shout of new presidents.

As our first black president turns toward his own new destiny, may we pause, yes, one and all, including the bellowing white folks on podiums and remember:  Thank God Almighty Free At Last.

To Martin Luther King, I say thank you for the courage and guts it took to follow through with a mission.

You lost your life in the process but gained eternity and created a legacy. I won’t let my grandchildren forget the gift you gave.  You didn’t turn away and say, “That’s to hard.  It will never happen.  I won’t be popular with a lot  of folks.   You just kept walking, and those who walked beside you held the Vision with you, and indeed they do NOW.

It is in this moment that I bow my head in silence for their courage and for our loss, but the gain of an entire world.  They showed up.

Thank God Almighty…..free at last.