Writing for My Life

Last night, I had the honor of meeting Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author Anna Quindlen.

Okay, when I say I “met” her, I sat in the audience and heard her speak about her new book, “Write For Your Life,” asked her a question about writing my memoir, and stood in line for her to sign my book. I spoke to her for no more than a minute, and yet her words have changed me as a writer.

For instance, why write? Yes, I have a personal connection to Parkinson’s Disease and often feel I was put on this Earth to raise awareness and tell that story. However, it isn’t the only reason. I also write to be known. That doesn’t mean I long to be famous or win awards, far from it. I hope someday my 50-year-old grandchild (f I should be so lucky to have one) discovers my blog, reads my stories, soaks in my words, resonates with them on a personal level, and ultimately knows me as a person. And then, my writing becomes my legacy long after I’m gone.

Another gem from last night was during the Q&A when someone asked Ms. Quindlen what advice she has for aspiring writers. I love when people ask this of other authors. The answers always vary and are often either practical, inspiring, or esoteric. Quindlen did not disappoint.

“Put your butt in the chair,” she said. It is the only way to be a prolific writer. She said to write when you are in the mood and when you aren’t. Write when you feel you have nothing to talk about. And write the minute something strikes you because if you don’t, you run the risk of forgetting about it.

She is so right. Sitting down to write can be a challenge for me. It isn’t that I don’t have something to say. (I always have something to say. πŸ™‚ ) It’s the real-world distractions like housework and errands that keep me from my passion. I also have a day job that I love, but where I constantly write, leaving little creative juices left for writing my memoir. All of this is why this blog too often winds up at the bottom of my to-do list.

So, I’ve taken a few actions to remedy this problem. This week, I signed up for HippoCamp, a small writer’s conference in Lancaster, PA, specifically for creative non-fiction writers. This is an important distinction because so many events focus on fiction writing, with only a handful of workshops dedicated to personal essays, biographies, and memoirs. At HippoCamp, I’ll learn to fact-check my family story, use my five senses to bring back long-lost memories, and how to infuse my weird sense of humor into complex topics. The writers who attend this conference are supportive, brilliant, inspiring, and, like me, they want their stories to be known.

I’m also putting my butt in the chair. This requires a drastic change to my morning routine. No more sitting on the couch for an hour and scrolling through Facebook. I waste precious time there. Mornings are the best time for me to write. So, I will set my alarm and stop hitting the snooze button. When I wake up, I will drink coffee, do the Wordle, and write. Because this book isn’t going to write itself, and this blog will soon be forgotten if I don’t give it some love and post more often.

Most importantly, I will never be truly known, and that yet-to-exist grandchild will never read these stories until I sit down to write them.

March Book Report

Exciting news! I’ve decided to reorganize my bookshelves in a whole new way.

Okay, it’s not that exciting. But let me explain. Right now, tmy books are split up into fiction and non-fiction shelves and arranged alphabetically. It’s kind of boring, and I’m not inspired enough to go there and pick up my next great read. Instead, I shop online, support indie bookstores, and download titles on Audible.

And here’s the problem. I have no self control when buying books. This month alone, I bought ten new titles. Ten titles!

Ugh! Why…why do I keep buying more and more books? It isn’t that I’m lacking in things to read.Β I have some fantastic books sitting on my shelves at this very moment that are collecting dust. I know I bought them for a reason; I wanted them. And I spent my hard-earned, good money on them. They are deserving of my attention, and quite frankly I think they are starting to get a little jealous.

Sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk, I hear my books whisper, “pick me next.” It’s about time I heed their call.

Okay, maybe that isn’t true, but today I’m declaring a new book buying ban on myself for a few months. I vow to familiarize myself with my ever-growing TBR pile. And maybe I’ll do a little reshelving and redecorating to my shelves to make those books more appealing.

I admit that I’m pretty excited about this endeavor. And just think, my next five-star read could be a book I already own. It could be the new and shiny object I pick up — instead of my credit card.

Anyway, here is how else my reading life has shaped up this month.

What I Read

The Tobacco Wives by Adele Myers

I love history, and I love to read, so it makes sense that one of my go-to genres is historical fiction. There is rarely a novel in this category that I don’t enjoy. I love diving into a book with strong female characters set in a time period that I’ve never explored. The Tobacco Wives is that kind of a book. Set in North Carolina, Maddie Sykes is a young seamstress tasked with sewing exquisite dresses and ballgowns for the wives of cigarette company executives. Maddie must make an important decision when she accidentally learns about the health risks of smoking and the cover-up to keep people – particularly women – in the dark. She can either keep her head down, stay quiet, and do her job or share what she knows, take a stand against corporate greed, risk her livelihood, and more.

In addition to this book being a five-star read, the author has a fascinating background that she brings to the story. She is a public relations professional who grew up in this part of the country. Her focus on how cigarettes were marketed to women by trusted doctors and false advertising play a huge role in how this all shakes out. The author’s note was just as enjoyable to read as the book itself, so don’t skip it.

Everyone Has What It Takes: A Writer’s Guide to the End of Self Doubt by William Kenower

I’ve been writing since I was nine years old, and I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome ever since. Questions like – who will care what I think or write about have plagued me for years.

Today, I can say that I am in recovery from this line of thinking, but I don’t attribute that to this book. It has taken many years of learning about my craft, participating in writers’ workshops and conferences, and talking to and learning from some brilliant writers that have snapped me out of it. There was also something about turning 50 last year that made me realize how much time I’ve wasted wallowing in my anxieties. Life is too short.

Reading books also has a funny way of introducing a new perspective to whatever ails you. It was Anne Lamott’s Bird by BirdΒ that was instrumental in breaking my patterns of self-doubt. However, this book served as a good reminder and will remain in my writer’s toolbox. The author focuses on the business of writing and the parade of rejections that are bound to happen when finding an agent, getting published, and selling your work. If you are a writer experiencing self-doubt and frustration about this process, I’d recommend this guide to you.

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History 80s and 90s Teen Fiction – Gabrielle Moss

If you asked me what I read as a kid, I’d tell you that my strongest memories were from the Sweet Valley High books. I couldn’t get enough of the adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield – identical twin sisters in appearance with yin and yang personalities. I can still remember the adrenaline rush I felt when the next book in the series appeared in the bookstores. I had to have them. I’d spend my allowance or beg my parents to buy them.

If you asked me what else I read as a kid, my memory would be fuzzy, but after reading this book – The Paperback Crush – I saw the photos of the book covers and smiled. I remembered definitely hiding copies of “Forever” and “Sooner or Later” under my pillow. There were also so many pre-teen and squeaky-clean romance novels from companies like Wildfire and Sweet Dreams. And my sister read every Christopher Pike book she could get her hands on.

This book was a fun trip down memory lane that digs into the early days of my reading life – and if you are my age – you will enjoy it too.

What I’m Reading Now

Here is what I’m reading now and will review next month.

That’s it for me. Let me know what you have been reading lately. And if you have any good ideas for helping me redecorate my bookshelves, I’m all ears!

Happy reading!
Elisa

Death by Questions

Last Monday, I tested positive for COVID-19. Today, I tested negative. YAY!

In those five days, I have been shown so much kindness and concern from all of you. Your text messages, phone calls, Facebook messages, and suggestions for binge-able Netflix shows and movies were so appreciated. And, my fantastic work friends were so thoughtful to send me a Shabbat dinner for tonight so that I didn’t have to cook. So many of you texted me daily to make sure I was still alive. I am really and truly feeling the love right now.Β 

But the questions… the endless stream of questions that came my way almost killed me. It’s hard to be peppered with questions and expected to answer coherently and in great detail while symptomatic, and trying to rest and recover. So, I did the only thing that made sense to me. I started to make a list of all the questions. Not the answers. Just the questions. So many questions.

I kid you because I love you all. And now that I’m on the mend, I’m declaring the question and answer period officially over.

The Kindest of Questions

  • How are you feeling?
  • Do you have a fever?
  • Are you coughing?
  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did the symptoms start?
  • How is everyone else in your house feeling?
  • What are their symptoms?
  • Did you have COVID before this?
  • Is it as bad as it was the last time?
  • Can I get you anything?
  • Do you want me to go grocery shopping for you?
  • Can I bring you some chicken noodle soup?
  • Are you taking medicine?
  • What are you taking?
  • Do you have any Vicks VapoRub?
  • Are you vaccinated and boosted?
  • Did you sleep?
  • Did you lose your sense of smell or taste?

Questions from the COVID-19 Detective Squad

  • Where do you think you got COVID?
  • Where have you traveled to lately?
  • Did you get it at the swim meet?
  • Do you think you picked it up when you went to Towson last week?
  • Were you feeling sick when you went for your colonoscopy?
  • Was anyone coughing around you?
  • Were masks required everywhere you went?
  • Were you wearing a mask?
  • Was anyone wearing a mask?
  • Was there a vaccination requirement?
  • Did you have to show proof of vaccination?
  • How long did you stay?
  • Were you around people who were exposed recently?
  • Who let the dogs out? (Just making sure you are still reading πŸ™‚ )

Testing! Testing!

  • When did the symptoms start?
  • When did you take the test?
  • Was it a rapid test or a PCR test?
  • Are you going to ask for a PCR test?
  • Where did you get the home test?
  • Did you buy a test, or did you have one already?
  • Did you take another test?
  • How many tests are you going to take?
  • How accurate is the test?
  • Did the line show up right away?
  • Was the line dark or faint?
  • Are you sure there were two lines?
  • Did you wait the full 15 minutes?
  • When can you test again?
  • Do you need more tests?

Quarantine Questions

  • How long are you supposed to quarantine?
  • Are you self-isolating?
  • Is Scott feeling okay?
  • Did you call the doctor?
  • What did he say?
  • How long does the CDC recommend you self-isolate?
  • Did you do the proper contact tracing?
  • Did you let everyone know?

Personal Questions

  • Are you and Scott still sleeping in the same bed?
  • Where is he going to sleep?
  • Do you have a sofa bed?
  • Where is the dog sleeping?
  • Is the dog sick too?

Work Questions

  • Does your boss know?
  • Do your colleagues know?
  • Do the people in this Zoom meeting know?
  • What did the people at work say?
  • Are you working this week?
  • Can you take sick time?
  • Does anybody really know what time it is? πŸ™‚

Even More Questions

  • Are the kids staying away from you?
  • Did they take a test?
  • Was it a home test or a PCR test?
  • Didn’t they have COVID this year already?
  • When did they have it?
  • How are they feeling?
  • Do they have any symptoms?
  • Are they still going out with their friends?
  • Do their friends know?
  • Do their friends’ parents know?

Questions from our Kids

  • Can you sit over there?
  • Can you not touch my food/breathe on me/come into my room?
  • Should I play water polo this spring?
  • Can you drive me back to college on Saturday?
  • What’s for dinner?

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