Today I am featured on author Ashley Ladd’s blog “Happily Ever After.” Please check out the link below where I talk about my new lesbian romance novella, Her Name. Thank you!
Author. Animal Lover. Aunt.
Today I am featured on author Ashley Ladd’s blog “Happily Ever After.” Please check out the link below where I talk about my new lesbian romance novella, Her Name. Thank you!
I have a condition that requires infusion treatments called IVIG (Intravenous immunogobulin) treatments. No big deal. I sit in a chair for four hours with an IV stuck in my arm as a clear, gunky-like liquid substance slowly drips from a bag, through a tube and into my body. And for the next four weeks I get my life back (thanks to the healthy individuals who donate their plasma so people like me can enjoy some semblance of their old life).
Developing a life-changing illness (and there are many) can happen so quickly you feel you were teleported into this new life of constant blood work, invasive medical examinations, tests, doctor appointments, surgeries, hospital stays, pills (lots of pills), because you can’t remember how you got here. “Wasn’t it just yesterday that I hadn’t been to a doctor in over five years.” Um. No. Those days are over. And it doesn’t matter how young you are. If your body no longer works the way it’s supposed to, you see a doctor and you see them often.
Being diagnosed with a disease (any disease) takes you to a scary and lonely place. I was never alone, but I was often lonely even though I had no shortage of family and friends calling me and offering their help, support, their love and their time. But still I felt a profound disconnect to the healthy people around me when I was the only sick person in the room.
A person with health can only empathize so much. Though my family makes me feel safe when I am at my sickest, they can’t look in my eyes and know, really know, how I feel the way another sick person can. The condition may not be the same, but the doubts and fears are.
I had no idea how much I would rely on other sick people to make me feel better because the first time I walked into the Infusion center I almost cried. It was a room set up in the back of a doctor’s office. There wasn’t anything spectacular about this room. It was a slightly-larger than regular sized room – emphasis on “slightly.” About eight or nine reclining chairs lined the walls in a circle. We sat next to each other with just enough space between us for a small table and maybe a handbag. There was no privacy. I could see each person and they could see me.
I almost cried and not just because of the lack of private space, but because the room was filled with sick people. Though I’d been sick for a while, denial allowed me to believe I was really a healthy person suffering from temporary set-backs. But I was there that day because my condition was getting worse, and yet I was still lying to myself. “What am I doing in the same place with all these sick people? I don’t belong here.”
But I did, and soon I realized how much I needed that place. Needed those (sick) people. After almost four years I have developed close relationships with my nurses and other patients who have become familiar faces with names and shared stories.
That place makes me laugh even when I want to cry. Like the time a woman (now known between my nurses and me as “The Screamer”) walked in. I barely noticed her… until she started to scream. Whatever her condition is, it doesn’t affect her lungs. That woman can scream. I couldn’t see her face because two nurses were sitting on either side of her, holding her down, but her feet were flailing. And those screams.
I turned to my nurse. “What are they doing to her?”
My nurse sighed deeply and said, “The same thing we do to you. They’re starting an IV.”
An IV? A simple needle? But those were “Michael Myers is in my room and he’s trying to kill me!” screams.
From then on whenever my nurse says to me, “Hey Alicia, ‘The Screamer’s’ coming in today.” I smile because no matter how sick I may feel, there’s always something to look forward to. More screams, please.
Photos courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net
The year was 1998. Amazon was three years old – a puppy not yet showing any semblance of the big dog it’d become that would be the bane of every brick and mortar company’s existence.
In 1998, the “bad guys” were Borders, Barnes and Noble, and any other big corporate giant that moved in and put friendly, independent neighborhood bookstores out of business. Those same corporate giants are now shutting their doors thanks, mostly, to Amazon, but back then, you couldn’t mess with them. This “bullying” of small bookstores didn’t sit well with me because I’d envisioned a nice quiet life managing my own bookstore where I’d serve coffee and chat with customers I knew by name. It could have been a nice life, but with a Borders across the street and a Starbucks right next to it, it would have been short-lived.
Years before Ellen Degeneres came out as a lesbian, she had a TV show called, Ellen, where she played a character who owned a bookstore. I was a teenager at the time, fantasizing that I was watching my future life play out in front of me. I believed it could be like that. Just…like…that. The perfect business. The perfect friends. The perfectly-timed jokes. I was naive enough to think a TV show could resemble real life.
Then came the movie You’ve Got Mail. It still makes me smile when I watch it. It touches on two things I know well. Books and Internet dating. You didn’t boast loudly back in ’98 about having a profile on the Internet searching for love. You whispered it into a trusted friend’s ear, if you said anything at all. But You’ve Got Mail made Internet dating sweet and charming, in a way only Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks can do.
Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly, owner of The Shop Around the Corner (friendly neighborhood bookstore) and Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox, owner of Fox Books (evil corporate bully). Fox puts Kelly out of business all the while romancing her over the Internet, unbeknownst to her that it his him.
Only “always the good-guy” Tom Hanks can pull something like this off and come out looking as wholesome as Jimmy Stewart in an “ah shucks” kind of a way. “Ah shucks, Ms. Kelly. I’m really sorry I put you out of business, taking away your livelihood, as well as conversing with you online and not telling you who I really was. But I’d really love to take you to dinner sometime.” You’ve Got Mail segued into a sweet love story with a happy ending, in a way only Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks can do.
It was 1996 when I corresponded romantically with someone on the Internet for the first time. Meg Ryan nails it perfectly when her character says, “I wonder. I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it connects. I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.”
Yes, Meg, I know the feeling well.
In ’96 we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or texting. If you had something to say to someone, you called them on the phone. If you weren’t ready to give out your number because you were, after all, talking to someone from the Internet, which could be ANYBODY, you used email. That was it.
I eventually met the woman that had sent me rushing to my room as soon as I entered my house, locking the door, and holding my breath until I saw her name in my email box. Big smile. She was the first woman I called my girlfriend. The woman who would help me come out to my family and friends. I remember the exchange with my mother when I told her. She sat on the living room couch. Me on the other. I told her I needed to tell her something. And then I lit a cigarette – signifying this was serious. She sat up. “Mom,” I said. “I met someone online. This person’s name is Chris. But not Chris as in Christopher. Chris as in Christine. I’m a lesbian. She lives in Jersey. I’ll be leaving to see her next month.”
Maybe that wasn’t an entirely fair way to put it to my mom. “I’m gay, but no time to talk. Got a flight to catch! Bye!!!!!” I was nineteen. What stupid things were you doing when you were nineteen? I flew to Jersey. Met the girl. Sparks didn’t fly.
Though it didn’t end “Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan” style. I don’t regret doing it because I took a chance. I wish one day I’d open my email and see her name again because I’d like to know how she’s doing – nineteen years later.
Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Please check out my interview at Ink Rainbow Reads. They were very gracious with their reviews, and they asked some excellent questions, too. Please check it out at the link below.
And thank you, Inked Rainbow Reads, for having me.
Maybe I’m not the recluse I thought I was or would one day become. The writer huddled inside a log cabin deep in the woods that I envisioned myself to be some day. Maybe that’s an old-fashioned, outdated image of a writer, but even if it were accurate, I couldn’t live like that.
Growing up my friends called me a hermit, a loner, an antisocial. Though I did partake in social events, I spent a lot of time alone in my room, behind a locked door, daydreaming about life while staring at posters on my wall of my favorite long-haired, heavily-tattooed, rock bands as their music blasted loudly in the background (it’s a miracle my ears still function). Even amid a crowded room, shoulder to shoulder with people, I could fall into my own dreamyland and create a world where only those invited were welcome. And I made out the guest list.
But I didn’t become that to-myself, standoffish person living in the middle of nowhere. Not even close. I am so used to not being alone that if silence fills my house longer than twenty minutes, I begin to wonder where I am. If children aren’t fighting, or the dog’s not barking, or my brother’s not yelling, or dishware isn’t crashing to the floor, or the TV isn’t blaring from someone’s room, then this place doesn’t feel like home.
Quiet is only okay for so long, but I need noise to remind me that I’m not alone. And I suppose that doesn’t make me much of a loner.
Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
A writer writes. Nothing new there. Everybody knows that. But a writer also reads. A lot. At least, they should. I often narrow my eyes with skeptical sideways glances toward writers who confess they don’t read much. “Just don’t have the time,” they say. Hogwash. You make the time because for writers, a day without reading should feel like a day without breathing – a necessity to living.
I enjoy learning favorite books of other authors, which almost always include the classics from Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lee, Poe, and Salinger (to name only a few). And why not? That’s why they’re classics. People love them. And though I adore the stories written by these exceptionally talented writers, (if only I had an iota of their ability. sigh) my favorite all-time book is The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I need to read this book every couple of years. It is that good.
The way Sinclair describes his characters and the scenery makes me feel I know these people (they are me) and I am living inside those pages.
The Jungle is set in the early 1900’s and tells the story of a Lithuanian couple, and their extended family, who are lured to America, Chicago, for the opportunity of a better life through the promise of higher wages. Based on the advertisement the Chicago companies, the Stockyards of Chicago, use to recruit immigrant people, the family’s image of the beautiful land they will soon call home doesn’t fit the reality of what awaits them.
This becomes apparent on their train ride as the scenery of colorful green pastures and wild flowers mixed with the scent of fresh clean air gives way to the dreary and gloomy sights of the Stockyards, lined with slaughterhouses and over-whelmed with the rancid smell of death, where their ride ends.
This is home.
Upon their arrival, the family faces a huge setback when they realize the inflated cost of living will cancel out any advantage of the higher wages they may earn. This forces every single member of the family, including the children and the old, to work long hours, every day, just to stay afloat.
This book brilliantly depicts the struggles of each character as they face the harsh realities of their new life. The Jungle incorporates social injustices such as the exploitation of immigrants, the lack of labor laws, including child labor laws, workplace safety issues, and political corruption as contributing factors in the decline of a once morally and ethically strong extended family of twelve.
For his research, Sinclair is sent to The Stockyards, by a socialist newspaper, to live among the working people in the meatpacking district for seven weeks. He becomes one of them. The Jungle is his firsthand account of the horrible living and working conditions forced upon the immigrants.
There was a huge outcry from the country after The Jungle came out, but it wasn’t the reaction Sinclair was aiming for. His intent was to get an appalling reaction from his readers through the cruel injustices that were inflicted upon human beings at the hands of corrupt individuals, politicians, and corporations.
Instead, America was sickened by the dirty and unsanitary way their food was being handled. When the public found out that rats, spoiled meat, and whatever happened to be on the filthy floor at that time, was shoveled into cans with the rest of the food and packaged to be delivered to someone’s dinner table, the outcry was loud. President Theodore Roosevelt created the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, the same year the book came out.
Upton Sinclair is famously quoted as saying, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit in the stomach.”
What resonates with me when I read this book, that was written over a hundred years ago, is how socially familiar these injustices still are. And that is sad.
When reading about the atrocities inflicted upon people in a book that was published in 1906, my first thought was, “Wow. History has a horrible way of repeating itself.”
Photo courtesy of Public-Domain Images.
Photo Courtesy of Public-Domain Images
I am a writer. I write. Unless I can think of nothing to write. Then I don’t know what I am. I suppose I’m still all the same things I am while I write, when I’m not writing. I’m a daughter, an aunt, a sister, a friend…a basically good decent human being, thank you very much.
Except when I can’t write, I feel like I’m nothing. That’s a terrible feeling. I may still be all those other things, but when I’m not writing, I’m not a writer.
I know how I’m supposed to present this to myself, as well as to others when they ask, Hey Alicia, how’s the writing going?
I don’t say – It sucks. I @#%^$#% hate writing. I slammed my hand against the wall three times yesterday. My head soon followed.
Instead, I slouch my shoulders. Apologetic soft grin and utter the words – Writer’s block.
Encouraging smiles all around. Arm pats. Don’t worry, it’ll come back….Write through it…You did it once, you can do it again…Is there anything we can do?
Yes, feel sorry for me. Feel sorry that I can’t do my job. I’ll remember to feel sorry for the paramedic who forgets how to perform CPR – I’m sorry he’s gone. But I was blocked……..It’s okay. We didn’t like him much anyway.
I hate the words “writer’s block” and whenever I use it, I verbally abuse myself later. I hate it because it lets me off the hook. It excuses my failure to meet that day’s deadline – one page, two pages, five hundred words – as though it were out of my hands. Does God control writer’s block? No? I didn’t think so. So the ability still must be within me and yet…
We (me) use writer’s block as an explanation because it is prettier than images of punching and slamming walls, or throwing objects. There’s something quaint and self-suffering, very ‘Hemingway-esque,’ about the term “Writer’s block.” Wikipedia defines it as “a condition…in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”
You see…I’m not really bad at what I do. I have a “condition.” I’m excused. I suffer from a “documented” problem that has affected all the best writers – including Hemingway.
The fact is – I need to be inspired. I am a writer who needs to be inspired to write. There are writers who wake up and write. They have a schedule and they stick to it. They don’t have to take walks. Observe Nature. Hear children’s laughter. Or listen to inspiring movie scores on YouTube.
They just write. They Sit. In silence. And write.
Something pops into their heads and they may not know it as they write (or maybe they do b/c they’re just that good) but their ideas will lead to something – a new character a reader will fall in love with, or a surprising twist the reader will never see coming until the words spill from their lips across the pages.
But I need the music. I need the feeling. I need the inspiration. Joe Pesci sits across from me, scowling at me. “I’m a clown? I amuse you? I make you laugh? I’m here to…amuse you?”
Yes, Joe, you are. Amuse me. Inspire me. Do something. Please.
I went to Starbucks today. I sat in my usual comfy chair with my journal in my lap and a book set on a table to read when I am finished writing. I hear a woman’s voice tell someone their usual spot is taken. I look up and see a woman settling into a chair across from me. I ask her if she would rather sit here. A huge smile covers her face. She’s sixty-five years old, (I learn this later) but has the ‘full of life’ smile of a child and she really likes to sit near the window.
I stand up and collect my things. With the help of a cane, she walks toward me. I offer my hand. She takes it, kisses it, and presses it against her face. I smile. That’s not why I extended my hand. I meant to help her, but I don’t mind. It’s not awkward. She’s sweet and thanks me many times for giving up my seat. I tell her I’m happy to do it. Her husband arrives with their drinks and they sit together, side-by-side, on the cozy chairs near the window.
We talk a little. She tells me her age and the reason for the cane is because she has Multiple Sclerosis, a condition she developed when she was twenty-two. She tells me she worked with children with Autism and she is recently retired. Because I know MS is a progressive disease, I tell her how wonderful it is that she was able to work for so long doing what she loves. Again, she smiles that awesome smile.
She talks about her husband and casts a loving look his way. “He’s been taking care of me our whole marriage. We’ve been married almost forty years.” I imagine she takes care of him in ways she doesn’t even realize because being with her for the short time that I was made me feel more alive – more appreciative of life – than I’ve ever been.
I listen to this woman talk and occasional symptoms of her disease show, but she works through them. “I’m a fighter,” she tells me.
“Yes, you are.”
She smiles and waves at people. When a young mother with a small child orders the exact beverage she has, she raises her drink, and says, “Me too!”
I go to my new seat and open my journal. I try to concentrate on what I was there to write, but I can’t stop watching the couple I just met. Their legs stretched out on an ottoman, as they relax into their chairs, talking and laughing, completely enthralled with each other.
After nearly forty years of marriage, not only does this husband and wife still love one another, but they really like each other, too. Even when they’re saying nothing, I can feel contentment in their silence. It’s a touching moment because sometimes a partner’s illness can strain a relationship, but poor health hasn’t dampened this couple’s bond – -perhaps it has enriched it.
I watch them closely and know they are oblivious of the woman sitting across the room writing about them. And that she is inspired. They inspired someone – me — just by being themselves and I really needed that today.
I see them preparing to leave and I toss my journal to the side. I’m sure the woman will come to me, so I get ready to stand up. I ponder if a simple ‘good-bye’ will do or if I should extend my hand. It’s an uncomfortable predicament because so many people are anti-contact, but the woman puts my concern immediately at ease when she approaches me with her arms wide open. And that smile…Oh that smile.
She hugs me as though she’s known me for a long time. It’s not a quick embrace. She lingers close to my neck, long enough to tell me I smell good. She kisses my hand again.
I ask her name. It’s Betsy. She says she comes here a lot. I tell her I hope to see her again. And I mean that.
We don’t need to climb a mountain to inspire – – just look adversity in the face and smile. Someone will be inspired.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net