The week when “I was supposed to be at Lambda.”

This week, I was supposed to be at the Lambda Literary Foundation Writing Retreat in Los Angeles. I was supposed to be a “Lambda Fellow,” which holds a little prestige (at least in my mind) as one of just a few selected to attend this competitive writing conference, the only one in the country designed exclusively for LBGTQ writers. I am not there this week because I was rejected – the competitive admissions process threw me into the slush pile of applicants. My own “community” spit me out and said: Not good enough.

So, in mature fashion, I unsubscribed to Lambda‘s email communications. I mean, I didn’t need to read for the next two months the bios and profiles and activities of the chosen ones, those Olympian gay writers who made the Lambda cut. Fuck that, I am truly not that big of a person nor do I wish to be.

In 2011, I was accepted into the Lambda writing retreat, but turned down the acceptance, to attend the first ever Wet Mountain Valley Writers’ Workshop held in Westcliffe, Colorado. I wanted to work with one of my writing idols. During that week, my idol fell and my dreams of her turned ugly, nightmarish. The thin air and high elevation in Wet Mountain Valley may have exaggerated our perceptions, but she and I didn’t like each other. She criticized me too harshly. “Get rid of this flat, essay-ish writing.” Then she read a few lines, looked slightly disgusted and said, “This sounds like a an old political slogan, not a story!” It’s an essay, you idiot, I didn’t say, and I’m allowed some leeway to reflect, you jerk, I didn’t say. Obviously, you are a pure fiction writer and know nothing about creative nonfiction, I didn’t say. More than once she cut me off when I read out loud in class while letting her favorites read on over the time limit or talk incessantly about themselves or their own work. I hated her. I glared at her. It was like a bad online dating experience – all build up and in person no chemistry. I left the Colorado workshop in 2011 muttering “bitch” under my breath and “You haven’t written anything good in 20 years,” and other assorted, horrible, let’s bring on the bad karma type statements.

My own fault, all of this is my own fault.And so I brought on the bad karma, manifested in one way by being rejected from the Lambda Conference in 2012.

I don’t know if I should feel like a loser because I was rejected by Lambda this year, or like a winner, because I was accepted last year. Am I good enough? Am I not good enough? Perhaps I should feel like loser for my bad attitude at Colorado last summer? After having earned an MFA, I couldn’t take some harsh criticism from this author? Or maybe I should feel like a winner for standing up for myself, at least in my own mind?

Which brings me to the point: rejection and acceptance and how one navigates these waters as a writer and as a human being. I am not an authority on the subject, but I do have experience. I don’t always know when to feel good or when to feel bad when I’m rejected or accepted. That’s what I’ve concluded. See, I’m not really going to help you figure it out. I’m just saying…

Those of you who are regular blog readers know I’ve faced a lot of rejection in 2012. I won’t list all the rejections I’ve received. A good majority of them were for an essay called “Marcela Songs,” for which I now have about a thousand versions, and as of yet, no literary journal is interested in any version, no matter how I spin it. I may have to accept that “Marcela Songs,” is a failed essay. “Marcela Songs” is the essay I sent in to Lambda in 2012, further proof, I suspect, that it just ain’t that good. That’s hard for me. I’ve been trying to write this essay since I was 35. I turned 50 this year.

I’ve had other rejections on a smaller scale for other pieces. Overall in 2012, I had come to expect that every time I heard back from a literary journal for the email to say, “Thanks but no thanks, go find somewhere else for your work.” Because of the negative state that the rejections threw me in, I failed to truly acknowledge the positives, even within the rejections – for example, I received some form rejections that encouraged me to submit again. And although they were form rejections, I don’t think form rejections always encourage you to submit again. Or do they?

More important, my blog readers (that would be all of YOU), continued to encourage me with your comments and praise of my blog, month after month. By June, I’d started to think, “Hey, I have a readership that likes my work; maybe, just possibly, I’m not a shitty writer. Maybe, just possibly, I can be an effective writer without ‘being accepted’ in the more traditional fashion.”

Such support helped to renew my confidence. As did the support of individual friends. At dinner recently, a friend of mine said the mansuscript (not the single essay) Marcela Songs should be submitted as a book. She felt very strongly about this and now that I’ve looked away from it for awhile (after madly revising for a year and a half), I’ve looked at it again. I’m going to give it a shot. The manuscript is currently in the hands of a wonderful writer, Bridget Bufford, who is editing the book (in between bouts of poisoning herself on her landscaping “day” job and trying to survive the drought in Missouri.)

Candy Parker, my former editor at GAY e-magazine, recently asked me to contribute blog entries to lesbian.com, a world-wide resource for lesbians, a website that is receiving hits in the hundreds of thousands. She asked me, unsolicited, to contribute my work because she thinks so well of my writing. Lambda is not the only game in town. Neither is a bunch of “Marcela Song,” hating literary journals. Candy’s opinion means a lot. She’s a talented writer. So I should feel good about myself as a writer, right?

In July, the writing energy started to turn from negative to positive. I think this is a typical cycle for a writer, to go from negative to positive (and back again) in how one feels about one’s work and in how it’s received. I don’t believe that energy just makes itself up out of nothing, but we guide it based on our actions and attitudes. That doesn’t mean we control it or conjure it despite my claims of bad karma – just gently guide it, and hope it picks up the right wave.

The turn toward the positive started in July when I visited at the Summer Residency of the Solstice MFA Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. I graduated with an MFA from that program in the summer of 2010. And as always, I was welcomed back into a community that continues to think highly of me as a person and as a writer. As always, I was re-motivated as I listened to readers, took classes, and mixed with current students and other alumni.

Next, I attended a very supportive writing retreat weekend with T.M.I. (Too Much Information), led by Eva Tenuto and Sari Botton. The retreat focuses on writing monologue, providing encouragement (not glaring criticism) and then on performance/reading of one’s work. The T.M.I. workshop is one of the best I’ve ever attended. I knew no one there would reject me or tell me my worked sucked. In fact, the atmosphere and experience were in opposition to that. The weekend was about encouragement, about unabashedly letting your story out and then shaping it into a reading or performance. We worked hard, but we celebrated our stories and our writing.

And since those events, everything has turned around. Perhaps I was able to guide my energy wave toward the positive after these experiences. Regardless, during this week when I was “supposed to be at Lambda,” this is what has happened instead:

The literary journal, Cobalt Review, has accepted one of my essays, “Stuck in the Middle” for publication in their print edition in October and has named it one of three finalists in the Cobalt Writing Contest. I don’t know yet whether it’s won but this is a first for me – to be a finalist (or even place) in a writing contest.

Two days later, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, named my essay, “A Smirnoff and Coke,” one of the 10 best they’ve published in the last year and reprinted it in their August retrospective issue. Another first for me, to be named one of the “best.” My friend and fellow Solstice graduate, Faye Rapoport Despres also had her magnificent essay, “No One Watches the Old Lady Dance,” included in that best-of list.

A few days after THAT, Candy Parker informed me that one of my blog entries, “What’s in a Butch’s Purse?” would be reprinted in The Huffington Post Gay Voices Section. WOW. The Huffington Post is big-time exposure and therefore, big-time platform, especially since there may be more opportunities for blogs I contribute to lesbian.com to be picked up by Huffington.

That’s three pieces of good news in just a few days. Keep in mind that last year at this time, I had three essays accepted within two months before all the rejections started. So, I’m thinking this may be my cycle: 3 acceptances (of some kind) per year and dozens of rejections for the next 10 months. Should I feel good about this or bad about this? Some people never get their writing accepted. Some people get their writing accepted on a much more regular basis.

I have recently been invited to submit by two editors, and so I feel good about that, right? Absolutely. But I have learned that even when you are asked to submit, even by a friend, or a friendly acquaintance, that is no guarantee that you will have your work accepted. Late last year, a friend and acquaintance asked me to submit some short pieces to a journal she edits and she ended up rejecting all three. I should feel bad about that, right? Um, I’m not sure. Because what this tells me is that even if someone you know is making the decision to publish or not publish your work, she or he is not going to take it unless it’s good enough. This same person has published my work in the past and asked me to read at AWP in Chicago. So, it’s about my work being good enough, and I should feel good that she thought some of my work was good enough to publish and read aloud and be thankful that she showed me (by rejecting other work) that she’s doing this based off quality.

While I ride a wave of positive energy, even the rejections are getting better, or I perceive them as better.

Recently, I got a very personal rejection from The Missouri Review, one of the best literary journals in the country. I was so excited to get such a personal rejection which said, “I highly encourage you to submit more work,” and which was signed by a REAL PERSON, that I sent the rejection off to a friend and said, “The best rejection yet!” And she agreed. And then we both researched who wrote me that personal rejection. Turns out it was a senior journalism/English major at the University off Missouri and not one of the editors – an intern, a 22 year old. Should I feel good about this personal rejection from one of the best literary journals in the country? Or should I feel bad that it came from a kid? A nice kid with great taste, mind you, but a kid.

And just yesterday, I received this rejection (for a piece of fiction I wrote in the 1990s, believe it or not):

Dear Cindy Zelman:

Thank you for sending us “The Cross Dresser.” Unfortunately this particular piece was not a right fit for Slice Magazine, but we were very impressed by your writing.

We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else during our next reading period.

We look forward to reading more.

Sincerely, The Editors of Slice Magazine

I am choosing to feel good about this rejection, because it will likely be another year before I get my annual quota of three acceptances. 🙂 It’s a long wait for that next wave.

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog and my FB page for all of your support.

Water Bottles – A Monologue

 

This is the monologue I worked on last week at the TMI Women’s Weekend Retreat. It’s by no means perfect either as a monologue or as anything else, but then again, this blog is named, “The Early Draft.”  You need to imagine the text read out loud, if you can.

Water Bottles

It’s Friday morning and I’m driving my mother to the hairdresser. My car is a mess. Empty water bottles fall to the floor and onto the seats from my dashboard. My mother tries to catch one rolling off of the console. Rather than say to her, “Just let it roll to the floor,” I grab the bottle roughly out of her nervous, twitching hands and stuff it between my legs.

“Ooooooohhhh, Jesus,” she says under her breath. She recoils, as if I’ve struck her.

My mother is 82, and while not ancient, the decades and the gallons of vodka and diet cokes have combined to create an elderly woman who does not comprehend easily.

A few years ago, I tried to teach her to use a PC. She called me at work.

“The mouse isn’t working!”

“Are you moving the mouse across the screen?”

“What????”

“ARE YOU MOVING THE MOUSE ACROSS THE SCREEN?”

Yes, what’s wrong????”

We determine that physically, literally, my mother is lifting up the mouse and rolling it across the LCD monitor. Three more lessons on using a mouse and a mouse pad. This is why I refuse to buy a Brita water filter. I am sick of having to explain every fucking thing three times. 

Yet each Friday night, I stand in the Stop and Shop, Aisle 8, and stare at the Brita Water Filters. For ten minutes I study sizes, prices, read about health and environmental benefits – no plastic bottles to destroy the earth, only happy minerals left in your water. What a good idea.

After each weekly study, I move on down the aisle and buy a 24-pack of bottled water, knowing all the bottles will eventually land in the trash, with a few rolling around in the car.  My mother can figure out how to open a cap on a bottle of water, but how would I explain to her the Brita water filtration system?

 

My mother and I, born 32 years apart, are both experiencing vaginal itching. When she finally admits her symptoms to me and to a doctor, which takes her the better part of a year – imagine itching for a year – the doctor assumes she has a yeast infection.  He gives her a prescription and a recommendation for Vagisil or Monostat cream, until the pills kick in. When I start having similar symptoms, I go to the gynecologist. Well, I get her nurse practitioner. She inspects my vagina; she’s at least 15 years younger than I am. This is what she says:

“Your vagina it atrophying.”

Wonderful. What every woman wants to hear.

“The cells are drying up, shrinking,” she continues, without mercy. “The dryness leads to itching. It’s a bigger problem in menopause than hot flashes, but no one talks about it. Because it’s embarrassing.”

The nurse practitioner gives me a prescription for Estrogen cream and explains clearly: Take a small amount on your finger and insert it into your vagina every night for two weeks, then twice a week after that.

“For how long?” I ask.

“For the rest of your life.”

 

My mother’s Vagisil and Monostat do not help her. Neither do the pills meant to kill a yeast infection. During one of her doctor’s appointments, I tell her primary care physician, that I, too, have vaginal itching and Estrogen cream has helped. The doctor agrees it can’t hurt for my mother to try it.

Soon, we have individual tubes of Estrogen cream. I hide mine far out of reach. That’s all I need, you know, sharing a tube of vaginal cream with my mother.

On the drive home from the pharmacy, I explain to her, “Use it every night for two weeks, and after that, twice a week.”

“What?” she asks, of course.

“USE IT EVERY NIGHT FOR TWO WEEKS, AND AFTER THAT, TWICE A WEEK .

She says nothing.

“OKAY?”

Yes, okay.”

Two months later, on the way home from another visit to the doctor for her quarterly checkup of everything, she says, “I need another tube of that cream.”

“What? How much are you using? A tube can last 6 months.”

“I’m doing what you said. I’m using it twice a day.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? That’s the opposite of what I said. I’m not taking responsibility for that!”

She sits, as always, passive in my passenger seat, then passive-aggressive, “I thought you said…”

And I cut her off, “I SAID ONCE A NIGHT FOR TWO WEEKS, THEN TWICE A WEEK!”

She says nothing, my 82 year old mom; the old lady hangs her lower lip. Once again, I have intimidated her into silence.

“Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Repeat it to me.” Oh god, I never wanted kids.

“Once a night…for…two weeks….and, um… twice a week after that.”

“Yeah, just skip the two week thing this time, okay? TWICE A WEEK.”

How the hell am I going to explain a Brita Water Filter to this woman?

So instead, I rip water bottles from her old hands, and make her cry, “Oooooh, Jesus.”

I am 50 years old. I am in menopause, mourning the loss of my period – well, that’s what my psychiatrist says. This means I’m not in a good mood most of the time. I am not with a lover. I am with my mother. We’re both living in the house I bought a decade ago and twice a week sticking Estrogen cream up our vaginas.

This is not how I envisioned my life. But there you have it: vaginal itching and elderly abuse.

 

My mother is a drunk until she is 77 years old and I am 45.  She comes home so drunk one night, she collapses in my downstairs hallway.

I yell. “I’M NOT 8 YEARS OLD ANYMORE AND I DON’T HAVE TO TAKE THIS SHIT. I’M 45 AND THIS IS MY GODDAMNED HOUSE AND YOU WILL NEVER COME BACK TO MY HOUSE DRUNK AGAIN. DO YOU GET IT?”

“Just let me lie here,” she says, “I’m fine.”

“THIS WILL NEVER FUCKING HAPPEN AGAIN. DO YOU GET IT?”

No answer.

I repeat, “DO YOU GET IT?”

“Yes, I get it. I’m fine. Let me lie here.”

I scream and criticize her for another 30 minutes as she lies on the floor, paralyzed, poisoned from vodka. I don’t try to help her. I yell. “I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE YOU’RE STILL DOING THIS,” and “DO YOU THINK THIS IS FAIR TO ME?”

“Just let me lie here,” is all she says. “I’m fine.”

That is the last time my mother takes a drink of alcohol.

I guess I ripped the bottle from her hands that night, too.

 

2012 So Far, 50 So Far

This post is mainly photos, just wanted to share some of 2012 with you all, as you so kindly share it with me.

Sadly (or not) the pic below is what got my blog traffic up by a catrillion percent in 2012. Is it art or is it porn? Say the key words Continue reading “2012 So Far, 50 So Far”

Woodstock Part II – Dorito in a Dish

At the Woodstock Writers’ Festival this past weekend, I participated in a workshop on “page to stage,” led by two of the founding members of T.M.I. (Too Much Information) out of New York. This is a group of three women who have started a monologue troupe where they, as well as others who join them, perform shows based on original work they write and turn into performance pieces. They also conduct workshops throughout the year.

Nacho Cheesier flavor Doritos
Nacho Cheesier flavor Doritos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve asked them to come to Boston, where I know of nothing like T.M.I., so I’m putting it out there – Does anyone know of any venues where these women could put on a show or hold a workshop? I’m hoping they will have some weekend workshops in New York so I can learn more and get better at this. I want to do what they do. I want this to be my retirement career.

Below I will post the first part of a brief monologue I wrote during the workshop. You need to imagine me not just reading the piece out loud, but “performing” it. Beyond just a good reading, monologue demands that I become a character in my own work. Ideally, one generates new work or takes part of a story from an essay and adapts it for performance. Usually, the truer and more personal the story, the more you will connect with your audience.

So here it is, “Dorito in a Dish.” Remember, it’s a first draft, so be kind.

I don’t tell my family that I’m gay, or in the language of my 1980s coming out, I don’t say, “I’m a lesbian.” My mom is 82 and lives with me. Over the years she’s seen woman after woman exit my bedroom, bumped into them on the way to the bathroom – there’s just a small foyer between rooms – and her usual response is, “Good morning X, would you like some breakfast?”

My mother has lived with me for years, and over the last decade, I’ve become her caretaker. She grew up an only child and in her old age she reverts to only child.

I love Dorito crumbs.

“Eat over a plate!” I tell her as her bedroom becomes laced with Doritos crumbs. “This is why we have mice.”

She looks at me with her mouth half open.

Did she hear me? I never know if she hears me.

“DID YOU HEAR ME?”

Yes, I heard.”

“Well, could you say something because otherwise I can’t tell if you heard or not.”

She says nothing. She also never uses a plate. The crumbs gather around and under her bed. I can’t vacuum under the bed because she’s piled a lifetime of cheap framed artwork she bought at Marshall’s. Timmy, my boy cat, keeps catching mice who find her crumbs.

Sometimes, I want to threaten her, like this: If you can’t put a fucking Dorito in a dish while you sit up here watching TV, maybe I should put you in a home.

But I keep it to myself. At least she’s not drinking anymore, and I’m not picking her up off the floor.

And all these girls she’s seen leave my bedroom, and all she’s ever done is graciously offer them breakfast.

I’ve never said to her, “I’m a lesbian,” but how could she not know? At this point in my life – I turn 50 next Friday – I’d have to say, “I’m kind of a failed lesbian because I’m 50 and still on my own. I’m still on my own in part because I take care of you, my kind, gracious, former drunken mother.”

A whirlwind of women and in the end, I’m married to her.

She’s home right now while I’m in New York. She’s eating Ruffles Chips in her bed. Timmy is looking for mice.

Mom, I’m a lesbian.”

I can only say this to you when I’m 200 miles away in New York, halfway up a mountain, in some stranger’s house in the Catskills.

The women I work-shopped with were fabulous and the workshop leaders were amazing. You can find performances by the workshop leaders on YouTube. Here are two links to get you started:

Gifts That Are Hard to Take: Trip to Woodstock, Part I.

Portrait of Vita Sackville-West
Portrait of Vita Sackville-West (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a new week. Time for one of those I’m-turning-50-gifts that I’m giving to myself  in April. This gift comes in the form of a new challenge – to drive 200+ miles to New York to participate in a page to stage writing workshop because I don’t know what the hell else to do with my life. Here’s a quote from Vita Sackville-West (she’s the chick who did it with Virginia Woolf):

“It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment?”

I came across this quote in Dinty Moore’s wonderful new book, The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life.

All of this is to explain why I ended up on Mass I-90 today – because I want to be a writer who claps the moment with a butterfly net, although for much of the trip, I felt like someone in a white coat should throw a net over me.  To keep driving in the direction of New York, I had to employ a lot of self-talk, and sometimes, self-inner-scream-and-banshee-cry.  All necessary so I would not turn around and go home. My self-talk was impressive, the way a natural disaster impresses in its relentlessness. That tsunami will scare you and probably kill you, but damn, look at it, how can you not see the beauty of that disaster, that big beautiful deadly wave coming at you? I think the only thing beautiful about me is that I’m a natural disaster that I keep living through, year after year, decade after decade.

I'll get to that freaking workshop if it kills me.
 

As I drove and fought anxiety, I made plans for my imminent medical emergency. These plans formed and grew in layers of depth and sophistication.  At first, I thought I might just need a couple of Advil. By the my fourth pit stop, I frantically tried to figure out where I could find a hospital to admit me in a strange new land called the Catskills of New York.  I was astonished at my propensity to feel this fucked up by anxiety, after a lifetime of living with it and learning to manage it. You know, year after year. Decade after decade.

This is how it started. (I often tell stories backwards.)

When I left my house this morning, I noted that my lower back ached. I didn’t think too much about it. I made my first pit stop in Framingham, along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Boy, my lower back is really hurting me, I thought, as I exited the Ladies Room. Well, humph….I carried on.

Forty minutes later I turned off the turnpike at the next rest stop. I had to pee again.  This is not so unusual for me. But damn, by the time I left the second ladies’ room my lower back was killing me.

Last week I took antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, one discovered at a physical and for which I’d had no symptoms. As I headed back to the turnpike, I was convinced the infection had returned and had traveled up to my kidneys and I would need hospitalization if I didn’t figure out a way to get more antibiotics and this whole fucking trip would be a disaster. It didn’t help, I’m sure, that when I walked outside after the second pit stop, I noticed part of the plastic shield from the front end of my car was hanging down, and I wondered if it would fall off, pulling the entire front end down with it. I’d recently spent a fortune to get the front end repaired, have other car repairs, and four new tires put on after a recent 2-hour drive over 15 miles to Cambridge only to get dumped by the lady who was not the one of my dreams. It’s just the tires blowing out that broke my heart.

What the hell, I thought to myself (inner scream) as I re-entered the Turnpike, I felt fine yesterday, just fine, strong and fit and a great specimen of a nearly 50 year old woman. And in less than 24 hours, I’m in so much pain I’m sure I will not be able to make that writer’s workshop. I’m not sure I can make it to the hotel. Fuck.

I will need to find a pharmacy near my hotel. I’ll need to call my doctor and let him know the infection is back and what if I can’t find a CVS?!!??!!??? OH MY GOD….

I drove on, many more miles down the Turnpike. That Mass Turnpike is effing long.

This is just the beginning. Or is it the end?

As I sat in the car, the pain in my lower back lessened, but I had to pee again. I stopped at the next rest area. This was my third stop and the last one on the Massachusetts side of the turnpike. By the time I returned to my car, I thought: Turn around and go home, you need medical care, urgent care, emergency care. You are dying.

My lower back was throbbing. The infection was eating up my kidneys. I would only live if I turned around and traveled back home.

Oh, fuck, Cindy, are you kidding me? Really, dying? Just fucking cut the shit.

I’m a mean self-talker. Sometimes I’m a rational self-talker:

Cindy, your AT&T Navigator says you have 63 miles left to the hotel, but if you turn around, you will have 160 miles to drive to get home.

Panic at the moments of indecision:  keep traveling to New York and die because you can’t find a CVS, or turn the car around and travel 3 hours back just so you can panic in your own bed. Well, eff that. Home is where ever you make it.

I repeated, Home is where ever you make it. Got that Cindy-girl? Got it??? Now fucking DRIVE.

Maybe it’s the Mass Turnpike I don’t like. I don’t have the greatest memories of traveling to western Massachusetts or Vermont. Years ago, in my early twenties, I left what was then the Bennington College summer writing workshops after two days. I actually made it to the Green Mountains in my old yellow Datsun (now Nissan, look it up), and I was just about to acclimate to being so far from home. So, why did I rush home? The workshop leaders tried to get me to stay, but home, equal to safety, a grand illusion if there ever was one, beckoned, demanded, downright insisted, that I make that long ride back to Boston after only two days. The workshop was a two-week event. What a schmoe I was. I wonder what kind of illness I thought I had then, more than 25 years ago.

But a quarter of a century has come and gone and here I am, traveling to New York, with my lower back in pain and the need to pee at every pit stop.

What do you call this strange planet?

When I turned onto Route 87 South in New York, a change came upon me.  I found the scenery on either side of the highway and far down the road mesmerizing. From many angles, I could see the Catskill Mountains, or maybe the Adirondacks, silhouetted in gray against the sky. They weren’t as high as the mountains I saw in Colorado last summer, but they were high enough, and beautiful. Farmland occupied much of the green spaces on either side of the highway. I saw cows. I love cows. I saw farm buildings. Why is it that seeing farm buildings and farmhouses and cows makes for a serene experience? Is it some kind of weird, nostalgic, sentimental emotional illusion that brings me back to what I think was a simpler time in life or in the history of humanity? Yeah, the history of HUMANITY. If I’m going to drive this far, I will think BIG thoughts.

I stopped at the first rest stop on the New York highway. This was stop number four or five. I’d lost count. I dreaded getting out of the car and panicking all over again as I figured the pain in my infected kidneys would roar once I stood up. I was so far from home. And what if I couldn’t find a CVS for that next round of antibiotics? I was forty miles from my destination, so I figured I should pee one final time. You know, urinary tract infections make you pee a lot.

You know what else makes you pee a lot? Anxiety.

Why doesn’t my back hurt anymore?

I stepped out of my car at the New York rest stop. Certainly it will hurt by the time I get out of the Ladies’ Room. And yet, miraculously, my kidney infection-pain-imagination-fantasy-illness was gone. I was almost at my destination, so my anxiety was almost gone. Coincidence? I think not!

It’s taken 35 years to understand how to both suffer with the anxiety and all of its crazy symptoms and manage it through self-talk, inner banshee screaming, losing the will to go on but going on anyway, and through multiple bathroom breaks along major state turnpikes and thruways.  I haven’t taken any Xanax because I save that for the BIG stuff, and as hard as this trip may have been, it’s not the big stuff. The big stuff is landing in Colorado and trying to breathe thin air. You know?

I am not actually in Woodstock right now, although the Writer’s Festival starts tonight. The one event on the calendar is sold out and it would have been too much for me, anyway. I’m staying 15 miles away in a Courtyard by Marriot in Kingston, NY. In the morning, I will travel to Woodstock for my workshop and hopefully, for some sightseeing after the workshop, unless my kidney disease returns via my anxiety tsunami.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Happy 50th Cindy. How many more of these gifts must I accept between now and April 27th?

50 Gifts for My Birthday

The new studio. Not much in there yet!

On my desk at work rests a photo of my father and step mother in their early 50s. As my 50th birthday approaches at the end of April, I try not to over think that photo taken in 1986 at my brother’s wedding, when my father and Fran were only four years older than I am now. I try not to view 50 as the first step toward old age. Truthfully, turning 40 was more traumatic. Maybe turning 40 reveals the age when you know youth is gone (bye bye) and you take the first step into middle age; while at 50, you are knee deep in middle age and you’ve had 10 years to get used to living there. And let’s face it, you know so much more than you did 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago.

I challenged myself this week to come up with 50 gifts or affirmations to give myself for my 50th birthday. Here they are:

  1. Get myself a writing studio. As some of my Facebook readers know, this week I rented some cool space with an artist friend and we are in the process of moving into our shared space. The rent is very inexpensive when split in two and the space is lovely. I’m writing from the studio NOW.
  2. Take myself seriously as a writer, as a person of wisdom, as a woman of experience. If one is forced to trade in youth and fertility, one must get something in exchange – I take experience, confidence, and self-knowledge, and you can have the tampons and the perfect body and the emotional confusion. Enjoy.
  3. See the Beatles’ tribute band, Rain, since I never got to see the Beatles when they were actually together. They broke up in 1970, when I was eight. Two of them are dead. Two of them are very old. I have floor tickets for April 14th.
  4. Join AARP (an association for older adults.) Don’t be vain. Take the discounts. The organization has already sent me a temporary card; apparently, they have my birthday on their minds also. The kid at Kentucky Fried Chicken has already given me a senior citizen’s discount without my even asking. Celebrate the 55 cents saved rather than stare in the mirror wondering: Do I look that old?
  5. Don’t worry about spending money if you are spending it on things that you value – like a writing studio, or personal training, or flying to Chicago to hang with a group of writers and read with them in the night at pubs and bars. That’s pretty cool, and not something I would have been capable of years ago.

    The view from my desk.
  6. Fix up your house till it feels good to you again. A carpenter just did a beautiful job rebuilding the steps to my backdoor. Little things like that go a long way.
  7. Fix up your body till it feels good to you again. I’ve started working out 4 times a week as I once did, two with Randi, trainer extraordinaire, and two at the new fitness club across the street, mainly because it has a pool!
  8. If I put on a few extra pounds, despite my best efforts at keeping fit, and if my stomach is no longer perfect, no longer boasting sexy ab lines running down either side of a flat tummy (now not so flat), be okay with that. Give myself some leeway. Love my not quite so perfect body.
  9. Finish my first book. Stop telling myself it’s not worth finishing. It is.
  10. Write that second book. You do have it in you.
  11. Spend more time reading great books.

    Read great books.
  12. Spend less time reading Facebook.
  13. Continue to make myself vulnerable in love; it’s one of my finer qualities even when it gets hard or embarrassing or sad.
  14. Keep taking risks with my activities and my personal relationships – travel, love, speak up, be yourself. WTF – you’re fifty!
  15. Don’t worry that I don’t write as well as other people, that I will never be one of the literary greats of society. I write well enough, and I have people interested in what I have to say.
  16. Don’t be afraid to laugh and smile, I mean, really let it go. Stop covering my nose and my mouth, just because long ago, someone stuck a pair of glasses on a butternut squash and said, “This is Cindy.” Big nose. That happened 35 years ago, get over it. Same with the comment from an ex-boyfriend, “I’d like a nude poster of you from the neck down.” It made me feel ugly from the neck up. Again, that was 35 years ago. Get over it.
  17. Don’t fear growing older. Don’t I feel that my life is better than it ever has been? A resounding YES!
  18. Sleep when I feel like it. Sleep like cats.
  19. Dance when I feel like it. Dance like a bunny doing a binky (bunny happy dance.)
  20. Don’t worry about how I look.
  21. Don’t worry about what people think of me.
  22. Don’t worry that I will die someday.
  23. Celebrate the moments of my life as often as possible.
  24. Document those amazing moments of my life. I’ve had several just in the last 4 months!
  25. Be bitchy when I need to be.
  26. Stop apologizing so much when I haven’t done anything wrong.
  27. Play with the cats without feeling guilty I’m not writing.
  28. Write without feeling guilty I’m not playing with the cats.
  29. Work hard at the office, but accept I will never be the geniuses that my coworkers are (and they ARE!) I bring my own special talents to the job and the team.
  30. Do what I can for my mother but know I must live my own life.
  31. Accept the changes in my body.
  32. Accept the changes in my mood.
  33. Accept the changes in my perspective. My apologies to those under 35, especially to those who are “old souls” but damn, anything below 35 sounds so young to me. You’ll see what I mean someday.
  34. Accept the wrinkles around my eyes.
  35. Keep my mind more open than it has been in the past, to different ideas, different kinds of people, different ways of seeing the world, and different ways of viewing my life.
  36. Believe that my life has meaning, even if I can’t define it.
  37. Believe that I will always be okay, even at that moment when I am ready to leave the earth. The key word is “ready.” I will be ready, so don’t worry now.
  38. Believe that people love me.
  39. Let people come and go in my life. Most people do not stay for a lifetime. This is what life is.
  40. Choose who I want to be with.
  41. Hope she chooses you.
  42. Choose someone else if she doesn’t.
  43. Eat red velvet cake and buttercream frosting a least once a month. Also, cheese puffs, green mint oreo cookies, and other unhealthy foods.
  44. If you need to cry, just cry and be done with it.
  45. Go to Japan.
  46. Go to LA.
  47. Go to England.
  48. Go to bed with someone you find sexy (don’t let 50 stop you.)
  49. Go to the place that makes you feel happy.
  50. Go wherever the hell you want.

I expounded less on these gifts and affirmations as I got further along, mainly because I might be at this forever if I didn’t shorten my statements. And yeah, I became a little fatigued. I am almost 50, after all. I find it interesting that I did not mention panic or agoraphobia anywhere in my list. I have come very far. I think it might be interesting this month to pick a few from the list and write more about them. Now, there’s an idea for some blog entries during my birthday month.

Thank you for reading, everyone. You’re the best.

xo

Cindy

Hey, I’m a Free Bird

What's Your Name (Lynyrd Skynyrd album)
Image via Wikipedia

Usually when I’m in flight I read or let my mind drift, stare out the window at clouds or the lighted dots of cities in the dark. If I fly JetBlue, I watch Channel 13 – a little cartoon plane flies across a map on the mini screen embedded in the back of the chair ahead of me. I can see the route the plane takes, and the speed and altitude.

Recently I attended AWP in Chicago, which is a high volume conference – meaning a high volume of writers and editors gather once a year to schmooze, read, take seminars, sell books and journals. I was on my way home from this event, on that JetBlue plane, watching Channel 13, and seeing the night sparkle of Boston come into view through the plane window. As the plane made its descent, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” played through my ear buds. Songs bring me to places, my past and my present and sometimes fantasies of my future. I watched the map on Channel 13 and looked out the plane window, as we drifted down from 35,000 feet to 21,000 to 10,000, and as “Free Bird” rocked me back and forth through the decades of my life. 

The song is one of the anthems of my youth – it represents both the joys and pain of my adolescence – the time before the panic disorder, and the time after it, the time before my best friend dumped me and the time after she dumped me. That kind of thing. Ronnie Van Zant’s voice remains relentless and hard-edged into the 21st century, although his body left the earth decades ago. He had his time in the 1970s, as did I, before he crashed in a plane and before I crashed in a panic.

Not long after “Free Bird” became a hit in the 1970s, I locked myself in my house for a year, as I succumbed to panic attacks. I became a recluse, a full-fledged agoraphobic. I couldn’t go anywhere. I mean, not anywhere. I quit high school. I quit my part-time job at Roxies Supermarket. I quit going out with friends. I quit riding bicycles or taking walks. I sat in my apartment, the one I shared with my mother. And I lost my mind.

I’m writing a book about that time in my life, trying to figure out the design of the story, trying to remember all that happened in the year 1979 particularly, the worst year of my life.

Today I can jet to a city like Chicago where in 1979 I couldn’t sit on the stoop of the apartment building where I lived. In the past year I’ve traveled as far as Seattle and Colorado, I’ve braved the big cities of New York and Chicago, and if I get into a writing conference for summer, I plan to go to Los Angeles. In 1979, I couldn’t sit in a high school classroom without panic assaulting my body and mind. And so I quit school.

But things are not the same. I am not the same.

I must be traveling on now, because there’s too many places I gotta see. Bye, bye babe, it’s been a sweet love, but… If I stay here with you now, things just couldn’t be the same. Because I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change. – Ronnie Van Zant

When I was 17 I prayed for overnight miracles; more than 30 years later, I’ve learned miracles don’t happen overnight but over a lifetime.

On October 20, 1977, just three days after the release of Street Survivors, and five shows into their most successful headlining tour to date, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s chartered Convair CV-300 ran out of fuel near the end of their flight from Greenville, South Carolina, where they had just performed at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium, to LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Though the pilots attempted an emergency landing on a small airstrip, the plane crashed in a forest in Gillsburg, Mississippi.[13] Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray were killed on impact; the other band members (Collins, Rossington, Wilkeson, Powell, Pyle, and Hawkins) and road crew suffered serious injuries. – Via Wikapedia.