My First Day at Sea

It is my first day at Sea aboard the Oasis of the Seas  and we are sailing the Western Caribbean.  I take some time to gather my writing goals for the week.  I decide to go back and read past journal entries and I find this one.  And I marvel at how my feelings on certain subjects remain the same year after year.  And, I am grateful that, in some ways, at least I am consistent.


May 10, 2014

It is 9:24am and having arrived early for my meeting with Angela, I sit at a round orange pedastal table against the wall of the Barnes and Noble Cafe savoring my Caramel Macchiato and reflecting on all that has passed and all that could be.   It is a moment of deep reflection blended with the mundane.  To my left, a couple sits enjoying their own breakfast version of coffee and a muffin, passing commentary on whether one has tried the other’s delectable latte version.  I think about time.   How fleeting it is and what a waste I have made of most of my life.  Or have I?  I am so hard on myself- why?   What is it about my life that seems to fall so short of the bar I have set for myself, for which I seem to never be able to attain success?  The bottom line is that I too often compare others lives with that of my own.   I look to their experiences in the hopes that I can one day perhaps mirror their realities.  Then I am drawn back to my present moment and I listen to the tunes filtering through the line of my ear buds from Spotify.  Right now, I am playing one of my favorite play lists which contains pieces from Handel, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and pieces also from the soundtrack The Piano.    This is the movie that starred Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunt- set in turn of the century South Pacific somewhere.  I have very vague memories of the actual theme of the movie- it was about a woman and a little girl played by Anna Pacquin- who moved to this remote place that had a beach, rain forest, aboriginal peoples, and she – this lady – brought along this piano that was a required part of her daily life.   And the pieces she played were incredible …they to this day do something drastic to my soul.   Truly.  Classical music moves my spirit in a way that nothing else can touch.  So I love this soundtrack and realize that I must find a way to get ahold of that movie again and watch it.  There was violence involved- she had her finger cut offf which curtailed her ability to play the piano… horrific moment.. and I do not even know why that happened, what prompted it.   And was it in New Zealand, Australia or a French Polynesian Island?  What was the exact time period?   Why were they there?    I have such vague memories of the overall plot … but the music- oh my, the music.  I have had other experiences like that over the years- with movies like:  The Mission- which introduced me to Ennio Morricone, and also Adiemus.   I enjoyed the movies- but it was the music that followed me out of the theater and made me buy the soundtracks and listen to them over and over and over again.

I think about how isolated I am in this experience- I don’t know one soul that has this same passion about music.   I have no one to share it with- is this perhaps the disatisfaction that I face?   Angela has said and written about the notion of wondering “where are my people”.  I feel this same way -most of the time.  Like I was dropped on this planet as an experiment- to see how I could manage surrounded by other beings that had nothing in common with me.    I have so many vivid memories of moments when, in a rush of excitement to share something I had experienced- the person on the receiving end of my commentary glazes over and it is  obvious that whatever it is that I am trying to convey has absolutely no impact on the recipient.  This is actually a regular occurence for me- just about daily.   And, I wonder- why?   Why do I have these passions experience them myself and just enjoy them- probably.   Is there a need really, to have someone else mirror back the same contentment that I experience in these moments?    I recall the time I was in Rome and was standing at the Trevi Fountain.  I was the only single soul standing there marveling at this fountain with sculpted horses in action as if jumping out of the fountain in fear.    I had no one to turn to to say “wow”.   And I remember how sad I was about that.  Or, standing inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on a bus tour full of other people that were either couples or families traveling together, best friends on a trip together- and then there was me… standing there under Michaelangelo’s Creation – in awe… alone.
So I wonder – does it matter?  Why do I have a sense of loss when I experience these moments alone?  Why do I long to have those moments shared by someone else.   And the specific and more probing question is- would that other person even get why I was so mesmerized by those horses or by the music or by the piece of art work depicting the creation and biblical moments- like the Garden of Eden on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?  Would that person stand there with me, nod his head and then move on?  What am I looking for in the shared experience?   Having that person stand with me – simply be present with me?  Or, for that person to look at me and for there to be this connection.. this moment of complete understanding that comes from having the same passion.    And, what are the odds – if I were a betting woman, to be able to find this type of partnership?    I admit that I am not looking actively because I fear the risk of getting tangled up in another disatsifying unbalanced partnership that ends up being more service than mutual partnership and enjoyment.
Not finding other souls that share the same deep interests and understandings is difficult- it means that the life experience is more of a solo journey filled with obligations.  Is this the reason that my marriages – in part – failed?    I was stuck in these relationships with people who had absolutely no clue what made me tick, and nor did I know what made them tick and- neither of us could figure out how to move to the next step to learn about one another, to feel what the other felt.  And, with our busy schedules and obligations ..time trodded along, and the experience of being part of a “couple” felt so bland and blank… and pointless.   I was there to satisfy his sexual needs- mine were satisfied in part, but honestly, it felt more like servicing him.   And, the payment was null.    No real mutual benefit then, why stay?   So, I did not stay.  I eventually got out of both of those prison cells and launched myself into freedom… healing a bit along the way and then finding myself here- a solo traveler.  I enjoy my music, I enjoy my dog, I enjoy my parents, I enjoy globe trotting without having to gain access to a permission slip from another party that might find my globe trotting interest offensive or a waste of precious resources.  I don’t have to get permission to buy the vehicle I want to buy.  I don’t have to beg to go to the restaurant I want to go to instead of the one that makes him excited, I don’t have to hope that the movie we pick will be one I like.  I don’t have to share the dinner entree on the menu with him that he picks.   I can pick what I want on the dinner menu and eat it myself.    These all sound likely – like bizarre expressions of freedom- but to someone whose life was directed by another strong personality during two marriage episodes, the very idea of a third foray into this bizarre arrangement leaves me falling flat.     There is this comment I hear from people that one day I will find someone- so that I don’t have to grow old alone.    Well,  maybe I won’t have to – maybe I will live with several canine friends that keep me company, organizing my time as I see fit, enjoying nature, writing, music, and also- friendships.   I do need to get more involved in volunteer and other organizations that offer an outlet for social time and make life interesting- get things on the calendar.
Other than that- this time with the keyboard has been once again, fruitful.   I can count on the keyboard to help me organize my thoughts, to help me put down on virtual paper- the essence of the discontent and then I have a way to observe it through a different lense that brings focus on the situation and a better perspective.
Sometimes I come away from these sessions a bit more blue.   Today, I feel encouraged.  It’s been months since my last daily pages entry… and I am glad that I have re-opened this outlet of thought.     I need to do this much more often.

The  Perpetually Solo Exister Club

The remnants of the holiday were still present, evidenced by the occasional stray piece of tinsel that Janet found curled around a dining room chair leg, or rainbow confetti scattered on the marble stairs leading up to the second floor.  Yet the warmth of friends and the history of their common bond felt like it had long disappeared.  It felt odd that only a few days had passed.  The quietness of the place unsettled her as she thought about how long it would be until she next had visitors within this massive vaulted ceiling chamber.  In a way she had dreaded the stress of hosting this holiday season’s annual gathering.  Yet, when the day had finally arrived, the company of friends had been exactly what she had needed to keep at bay the untenable void and loneliness that had become her daily life these last four years.  Ever since the death of her eldest sister Joyce, these twice a year events had become crucial to retaining her sanity and her ability to engage in intelligent conversation.   The time in between always seem to drag on for an eternity and she often wondered whether she had lost her voice as the upcoming event drew near.   With no human being to connect with but twice a year, the anticipation of social interactions often became unbearable.  And then, once fellow members began to appear and create the expected group dynamic, she somehow managed to pull it off without letting on to anyone that she had fallen more and more deeply into the vortex of solitude.   Without daily engagement, she often felt that her skills of communication and the cadence of her interactions were halted, jarring and limited.  She wondered if there might come a time that she would succumb to her urge to cancel her involvement in the Holiday Foray.
Up until now, Janet had maintained her membership in the group to ensure that she at least had this bi-annual connection: once during winter and once during summer.   WIth this last surge of anxiety leading up to the event, she thought this might be the one: the cancelled event that would seal her fate as a member of The Perpetually Solo Exister Group; the off-shoot roster that continuously evolved from those members that decided to initiate the inevitable cutting of ties.  She had overheard Phyllis mention that Muriel had just recently joined that membership:  Muriel, too, had become a Perpetually Solo Exister.  Janet had always like Muriel- she was one of the more genuine members of the Holiday Forray.  It always felt like she was one of the only ones that when she engaged socially, she was completely present.   She was listening- truly taking in whatever it was one was saying.   And, afterwards, Janet would generally recall the encounters as quite pleasing and memorable and would actually look forward to seeing Muriel again the next time. She would definitely miss Muriel.  And she wondered, would anyone in the Holiday Forray ever really miss her?  If she should send her own official notice of cancellation, would anyone actually notice her absence?  There was an unspoken rule which meant that all members had agreed to resist any idea of reaching out to contact someone who had cancelled.  Cancellation suggested a decision to relinquish all rights to friendship and social interaction.  The membership guidelines required that members honored the choice made to cancel by another member and this agreement was understood by all, and rarely did anyone ever break this rule.
The notion of joining the Perpetually Solo Exister Group had Janet in a twirl.  What would it mean really?   Authentic living?  Not having to pretend that social norms were important; this actually felt appealing, in a way.  Not having to force herself to figure out how to interact with others after long stretches of solitude, seemed quite a relief.  The only issue really was what would the end result be for Janet- would she shrivel away into nothingness?  Would her brain turn to mush as the social manners books she had been raised on suggested?  Would she die and dissolve all alone with no one to sweep up her pieces?  No- no the idea of living in the void uninterrupted was not viable for her.  She had to continue with this membership because the alternative was too scary.   And, for now, the stress of getting ready for the event was by far much better than the idea of not having an event for which to prepare.   The preparation alone filled so many of her days – for both events.   Actually, months of anticipation were filled with activity and duty in preparation for the bi-annual gatherings.  Without them, what would she have for a life a purpose.  No, this was the way to mark her time on the planet.  An important, indeed- critical part of her life.  So, she walked to the study to pull out the annual diary in order to make the necessary recordings of this past event, and begin the journal process for the next gathering.    She felt a release as she found herself making this bi-annual decision following the most recent event- stay in the group.  It is the best and only way to maintain a sane and reasonable life.  And, after all, she would not be called upon to host again for another two years.  So at least she would avoid the anxiety of hosting duties.  Rather, she would be able to focus these next 48 months on simply preparing to make her entrance, dazzle with conversational etiquette, focus on her ability to smile demurely and prepare to engage and listen.  Those skills were enough for her to focus on for now.  These skills were practically absent in this last event, since her primary focus had been on the catering, the decorations and the schedule of the evening.   Truly, she had not had much chance to engage at all.   So really, if she thought about it, these next two years would be a great diversion for her- unlike the last year which was draining of all of her resources, financial and otherwise.
She looked out the panoramic floor to ceiling windows of her two story foyer which overlooked Arthurian Falls in the distance, from the very position where she had stood as still as an Olympian Statue only just a few nights before, greeting her guests, providing them with their Bulletin listing for the evenings entertainment and then directing them to her ever ready Master Butler for their preferred refreshment.  She focused on the view before her, she tried to re-engage her senses and recall the peace she always felt whenever she walked through Paradise Garden located on the perimeter of the manor.  She imagined herself walking down the fifty step entrance staircase that bordered the fountains and rose gardens which lay just beyond her front door  The staircase led to the terra cotta colored gravel pathways that swepth through her five hundred acre property, winding through various meadows and hamlets.  This was her very own Caldicot Mansion.  A place of total harmony and peace, filled with hundreds of bird species and exotic wildlife.    Perhaps she should take her afternoon stroll now.. she could use a break from all of these anxiety provoking thoughts, none of which she could fully resolve right now anyway.  She would enjoy meandering through one of the five labyrinths that Joshua had designed all those years ago, before he had disappeared somewhere in Connemara.
She whistled and Bijou appeared, her most trusted canine companion.  “Come” she called to her, “let’s go for our walk.”   Bijou happily led the way through the open front doorway, and her tiny little body daintily pranced down the staircase, looking much like the best trained quarter horse in the most competitive riding show.   Janet followed Bijou across the black and white gloss of the checker board tiled foyer, through the bevelled glass front doors and down the staircase into Paradise Garden.  A fresh thought of utter blessing swept through her body and she acknowledged in that moment how little she actually needed visitors.  She had all of this, and sweet Bijou with whom to share it all.   Maybe moving over to the Perpetually Solo Exister Group wouldn’t be so bad after all.  Did she need the superficial twice yearly relationships that were maintained in the Holiday Foray?   After all, no one in the group really knew one another on a deeper level.   It was all surface.  Was it worth it in the end?   She had a lot to ponder, and she worked through it in her mind as she made her way onto the gravel pathways and slowly walked towards the head of the labyrinth entrance.  The meditation of the labyrinth would certainly help her work it all out

The Box

I have now launched myself into the full depths of commitment to a specific theme and focus for the November Novel Writing Challenge within the NaNoWriMo 2015 writing contest. When the contest first made itself known to me through the Writer’s Digest Magazine only a few days ago, I didn’t have any ideas of what my novel might be about. This of course made me a little nervous, but somehow I knew it would not be an issue for me. Lately, having taken up the daily writing task once again, there are many threads flowing through me.. ideas that I want to explore and delve into.
Many weeks back, Mom and I had been talking about her aunt and the affair and this aunt’s family alliances and interests in communism. This brief discussion ended up being a jumping off point, an entree point into, the romance novel. I’ve never been a fan of the genre… so it was almost on a lark that I continued typing and bringing the characters together with the tension and conflict of their current condition. In one daily writing session,out flowed this story with twists and turns and character development that I tucked away for later. Again, I am not planning to be a romance novelist. But the story came back to me a few times during later days nudging me to pay attention to it.  Then one day, sitting at the kitchen table with my parents, I ask Mom if she remembers our discussion about her aunt. She nods, her eyes squint and she cocks her head slightly “Yes” she says tentatively “why”? “Well, you see, I sat down and wrote a piece after our talk, and I wondered if you would like to hear it”.   Dad beats her to it “yes”, he says.   She nods in agreement “Sure”.   Shoot, I think did I really want her to hear this.   I wonder how she will react and my brain scrambles back into my memory bank for a moment in an attempt to quickly recall what I might have written that could be awkward when read to parents. I can’t think of anything, it was pretty clean. I leave the kitchen to retrieve my iPad from my bag tht is sitting out on the chair in the hallway. I return powering it up.
I read the story to them. Through it, I hear their sighs and gasps and a small giggle here and there.   At the end, a long pause. Silence. They are both looking off into space – facing each other but each one’s vision is focused on a different point, high up on the kitchen walls just beyond one another. “You should really submit that to True Confessions” says Dad. “Thanks, but I don’t think I am ready for that just yet, I just wanted to share it with you to show you what I am up to lately”.   Mom is in deep thought. This is when she mentions that she has a picture of her- of her aunt.
So this kitchen exchange has been covered in previous posts- but what’s different now is that I pulled out that story again a couple of days ago. In my reread I see something different. I see possibility- a historical fiction piece with layers of various other themes. World War II, what led up to Norway’s occupation, what life was like during those years – for families and couples and lovers.  The aftermath.  The pulse of politics of the day in Norway. The various sides of the equation. An adult’s point of view as well as that of a child. I have a ready source right there under my roof. Mom’s memories of what life was like could be the start. My own childhood in Norway – visiting frequently with our cabin there and time spent in Oslo, this gives me a strong knowledge base for place and culture. My interest in history and politics will take me on an historic research adventure to a time and place that lends itself to intrigue, espionage, resistance movement, passion and fear.
Last night, I asked Mom: “What was it like really to be a child living during the war and the occupation in Norway?”. “Well, I was just a small child really. Unlike other places, Norway didn’t have any outward appearances of upset, we just quietly went about our business- we were quiet when we walked the streets. There weren’t any visible fights or conflicts between the german soldiers and the people of Norway. I remember the soldiers walking quietly down our streets with their german shepherds.” And I nod as this part of her story  that I recall from many earlier tellings over the years. It’s not that she didn’t share, but now I am wondering about the detail of it all. I am looking for a deeper reach into her memory. And then it comes, something new. “I do remember that we used to get a box once in awhile. These boxes came from Sweden..  You know, they were neutral and at times, we would get these donations boxes from over there. I remember Dad opening up the box and how disappointed we were sometimes – because really, the contents were just people’s throw aways. You know, stuff they didn’t want any longer. That’s why when I donate now, I only put things in that I feel the person would enjoy, something they truly need- you know, for a job interview or something like that. I don’t put things in that are worn out or dirty or just ugly. I put things in that I would want to find if I opened up a bag or a box llike that- give people not just what they need but dignity too.”  The box affected her – lasting her whole life.
Listening to her, I imagine a family and a young girl of around five years old, eager to open a box which would contain basic things that they might need because of shortages due to war. Maybe a clean fresh pair of tights and some shoes. Socks for everyone. Maybe a shirt for Dad. Sweaters, mittens, a hat and a scarf. Pants. Needing winter garments. And, even toys to keep the children occupied and content and mostly distracted, during the blackouts and air raids. A doll for a little girl that she could hold on to and craddle during those times of stress and fear. I hear Mom echo her recollections of years gone by: “I used to ask my father all the time: do you think there will be another war?” She was so afraid of another war.. and never really trusted that it was truly over. When the war ended, and Norway was once again free, Mom remembers the parades in the street – with music being played at full blast. She remembers the other parade as well- the one with the women who had been having affairs with the Nazi soldiers during the war. Any woman who had been involved with a Nazi was brought in, head shaved and she would have been paraded on a flat bed truck through the streets. The truck’s flat bed had been outfitted with a wall of wood as a backdrop and these women were now exposed for their war crime- for everyone to see. This was a stigma for these women that lasted for years to come. Some women fled to other countries, in the hopes of starting over.
So many impressions to explore. So, I use my Nina story from weeks gone by as a starting point and my mother’s memories and my history as a treasure trove of possibility. My travels to Norway, my understanding of language, religious perspective, political slant and relational backdrops to flavor and feed this novel. This NaNoWriMo 2015 is a challenge to finish a first draft. This opportunity is perfectly timed. So now, I work on the outline, the research and preparation of the basics for the official start date: November 1, 2015. My prep time is fairly short, but my background and my daily pages practice over the years (off and on I know- but nevertheless, I have been writing for most of my life- it’s just never been focused before). Now, I feel a focus and a wave of excitement that I have never experienced before… I am poised for lift off.

NaNoWriMo 2015- the adventure begins!

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the written word. My bookshelves carry dozens of books on how to write, what to write, when to write and reasons why I should write, along with piles of magazines to motivate me to write. I have had a user ID for NaNoWriMo(National Novel Writing Month)  since 2012, and I believe back then, when I signed up, I had full intentions of carrying out my first full blown writing challenge. But something got in the way.. and looking back, I am not even sure what the culprit might have been. It could have been work, other family commitments or simply my lack of passion and discipline. And, I have not looked at the site since.  A couple of days ago, I picked up yet another Writer’s Digest magazine volume, this one a special edition “Yearbook Issue” presenting the Writer’s Workbook. Initially, I leafed through it and then put it back on the shelf at the bookstore. In its place, I picked up a Publisher’s Weekly and another magazine that claimed its focus was the novel. I brought these back to my spot in the cafe inside the bookstore to enjoy a latte and some glances through these periodicals, a possible help in inching me along to the next stage. The one magazine on novel writing had this really large font and every article had the same layout. It felt as if this was a self-publish magazine. The content blurred through my vision, for some reason, absolutely nothing about it captured me. The Publisher’s Weekly was completely focused on children’s literature; almost every page had cartoon images of children playing, dogs frolicking, monkey’s in trees, dogs barking, frogs jumping. I push this edition aside. I return the magazines to the shelf and find myself picking up the Writer’s Digest issue once again. Opening to the index, I spot the first offering has to do with writing a novel in a month. Sounds familiar, could this be about NaNoWriMo? I flip to the page indicated and sure enough, a section completely dedicated to throwing oneself into the challenge. Steps, inspirations… and I realize, this is the perfect timing. It’s mid-October, I still have time to figure this out before the challenge begins! Plotting, planning, brain storming- these are steps I must do before the actual day. I am a planner. Of course there are those who skip this step and according to NaNoWriMo, these folks are called pantsers (aka: people who wing it).
The NaNoWriMo site has come a really long way since I last set eyes on it. I had to send myself a password reset since it had been so long, and as I finally accessed the site I was blown away. Amazing amounts of energy went into creating that site and they must have quite the crew behind it. There are some workbooks that one can download that they have created for the purpose of bringing the concept to school children of all ages. The site invites me to take a look and download one of the workbooks. I choose the high school one and save it to my iPhone and send it to myself so that I can access it later on my iPad. The document is 93 pages long and contains everything one needs for the basics to novel writing, an essential novel writing 101. And it’s awesome because while I have been writing for years, the truth is I have not really written anything of substance. I love writing but have never had any focus on plot, characters, purpose, or point. It’s just a lot of journal drivel that I enjoy for the purpose of allowing my thoughts and feelings to have a place where they can land. It’s back to that whole discussion about having no one really to rely on for discussion. I do not have a close friend in my life to whom I can share everything anytime I need to – nor whom I offer the same in return. I do have friends – but they are the occasional once a month encounters or long distance support and texts. I don’t have a best bud that I can go to for my personal shares and needs. I wish I did have one of those but that just has not been my fate – to date. Anyhow, so this writing thing, the journaling, has been a way for me to stream my thoughts and line them up so that I can look at them, and make sense of things. It’s been useful. These moments have been my friendship with myself. I actually enjoy my own company and writing and readng what I write, has been an interesting form of dialogue.
What if? What if I could be a writer in the more traditional sense? What if I could write and create something worth publication? Something others wanted to read and once they read it, they wanted more? How do I go about making that happen? And, more importantly, what story do I have to tell? What characters can I develop to help unfold a tale that is worth telling?
I am excited because even though I don’t have the answers to those questions right now, I feel certain that I will in time. Write what you know. That’s a piece of advice I have read in so many of my magazines and books. There are so many threads I can go back to from my journaling days to mine a story line .. a character, a feeling or an opinion. Good story needs conflict and resolution. Well, I have plenty of that in the store room. No need to go out and find those ingredients. I just have to figure out how I take real life experiences and shake them up into a fictitious piece that will make sense and flow and keep the reader’s attention. Back to the workbook: there are great exercises in there. Not to mention all those books I have on writing. Everything from genre, to character, dialogue and pace. Maybe… just maybe, this is finally my year to move myself up a rung from dreamer to doer.
In less than a week, I leave on an Western Caribbean Cruise journey – a work trip.  This is a chance for me to experience a MegaShip that holds 5400 passengers.  My good friend from very far away is flying in to the port city to join me. I love this person like a sister. I am so grateful for her and her personality and her values. She and I will do well on this trip because of our mutual in advance understanding of what will make this cruise a great cruise for each of us. She has liberty to hang out at the pool for hours at a time without worrying about me. And, I will be spending time on the iPad typing away. She knows I am not a pool or beach person and she’s ok with that. And we are both OK with doing our own thing during the day (on some days) and then coming back together to enjoy the evenings. No pressure to have to bend to each other’s agenda. Yay. I am not even bringing a bathing suit because I hate them, hate wearing them, and uncomfortable all the way around in this arena. I have declared it, and claimed it and will be spending my time doing those things I love most: writing and knitting. During several evenings, we have scheduled shows that are included in the cost of our cruise- can’t wait to see the production: Cats. We have a superior balcony cabin which means a large balcony. I can imagine myself hanging out there with tea and books and iPad or yarn & sticks. Thoroughly kicking back to my own version of complete and thorough bliss.  Throw in complete awareness of the cruise experience for future clients… the “work” part of the trip.    Write down those impressions to record on my work place blog when I return, to help colleagues learn from my experiences as well.  I can hardly believe that I have this blocked week for this purpose and I am getting truly excited about it. I had considered bringing my actual laptop but it is so heavy and so I am hoping that my iPad holds out and stores all my writing without problems; this is one of the original iPads that came out so long ago and it’s still chugging along but at times, it does not cooperate so I need to make sure to send all writings to myself by email to ensure that I have a copy of everything. I will bring several notebooks and really good pens in case I have to resort to the handwritten method.

This morning, on one of the local public TV stations, there was an interview with a creative writing professor from the U of M. She had just published a book that was written from the basis of letters of recommendations. I did not catch her name but the interviewer, Kathy Wurzer, commended her for only writing by hand. The professor responded that this was the only way she could write. That, while she has a computer, the computer is like this eye watching her, waiting to criticize her. All that I could think of in that moment was that my writing flows so much better when I type. Partly because my hand seems to cramp because my hand can’t keep up with the speed of my mind. I end up with these very hard to understand written pages that are chicken scratch at best. What also struck me about this professor is that her personality seemed so dry and dead pan- perhaps she was nervous. The interviewers were both so delighted with her product, praising her writing as one that would definitely garner her more requests from publishers for new novels. This delighted the professor of course and for a moment, she brightened with her face softening, a smile displaying as she agreed this would be lovely if it were to happen. It was marvelous that this morning, amongst the political news of the day, that the show had featured a writer since on this day in particular, I am preparing to meet with a friend at a local coffee shop to have our monthly “writer’s meeting.”   When I enter the world of writing, my awareness of life and people and ideas is heightened. I feel that there are signs all around me that I am doing the right thing. That I am pursuing my passion and moving forward with the plan. That I am following my bliss. That I am doing what I was meant to be doing on this planet during my lifetime. And, rather than worry about wasted time or allowing my inner critic to take over to suggest I can’t do it, or that I don’t have it in me, I push forward and reach for my inner victorious self and urge myself to give it a shot. I have nothing to lose… and everthing to gain.
NaNoWriMo suggests 1667 words a day. Today, I have managed to type around 1950. These were merely journal threads on writing and the idea of diving into the 30 day challenge. Still, what I know is that I don’t have a problem these days with getting words onto the page. My focus right now will need to be unearthing a viable direction. The plan. Plotting my course and providing myself with a compass for the challenge. What is my final destination? I have read somewhere that authors at times will write the ending first.. so that they know where they are headed… then, they plot their way backwards in time to create the moment that lead up to that ending- that might work for me. One thing I know from reading other NaNoWriMo participants encouragements- if this is the first challenge, just jump in – don’t worry about it, see what happens. Don’t create a huge expectation, just do it. And, that sounds marvelous to me! I will dive in and see where the journey takes me- how very exciting. The NaNoWriMo prep counselors suggest creating the name of my novel … I am not there yet. But, it’s October 18th …and exactly 14 days from now- the challenge begins. I have two weeks to prep- so grateful for that valuable time.

Finding Your Voice. Noticing Life.

In preparation for my writing group meeting on Sunday at the Old Goat Coffee Shop, I recall that I am meant to have reviewed and worked on the chapter one exercises in Susan M. Tiberghien’s book: One Year to a Writing Life. Angela and I had agreed to linger for another month on this chapter since we had only really done a few of the exercises each, and there were still some good ones on which to focus.
Before digging in, I assess my surroundings this morning. I sit at the Starbucks on the corner of 54th & Lyndale, my old work hood. This revamped location is a bit more sterile than the old layout. When I first popped in a few months ago to check it out – it felt too crowded to me. In an attempt to figure out what they had in mind, I survey the seating a bit more closely. They have added quite a bit of high top counter space along the window facing Lyndale- this used to be the place where you would find two overstuffed leather arm chairs with small side tables, and about three cafe tables. That seating could accommodate about six people. Now, they have this long high counter that is mounted to the window so that the high top chairs are facing out and they are very close together. This means that if I were to consider sitting there- I would likely have to rub elbows with a complete stranger as I attempted to craft some writing finesse. Not comfortable. Then, in the middle of the floor they have a tall long table – again community style, that could seat a family of ten with bar stool style chairs… a high top dining room table for 10 right smack dab in the middle of traffic. The line for ordering your latte is right next to that tall table for ten. Again, here if I were to take up one chair, the assumption is that I am inviting others to join me at the table- like I want to be part of a club or something. I can surmise that this is intentional – again, bringing strangers together? And, there is another such family dining table – this one the more traditional low style, and this one is seating for eight. A man sits at the corner of that table listening to his mega-headphones music which I can hear from across the room and he is laughing to himself while sipping on his coffee. He wears sun glasses in the morning, in a darkened coffee house, black clothing, a black cap and some black athletic shoes with the white swoosh. His left hand cradles his chin with his elbow resting on the wooden table. And I wonder, is he listening to music or a comedy routine. He seems relaxed and pleased with whatever he is listening to or thinking about. Next to his table at the far end against a wall are two straight backed leather chairs with a more taught and stiff leather and then a small side table in between them. Cozy but they are less than two feet from the end of that table for eight… so if one were to sit there, one would expect people sitting in such close proximity that it would be either difficult to concentrate or hard to hear. Then, there are the two tables for four pushed against my wall, opposite side of the store from the table for eight but just next to the table for ten. This is where I am sitting, facing outside – looking straight onto the traffic light and traffic zooming northbound on Lyndale; in my view is also the condiment and creamer station. There is only enough room between the tables for ten and my table fo one to allow one person to walk, by but not two. I remember when I came in here when they first openend that I felt squished in and not relaxed. It was a morning not too unlike today, and I was meant to buy coffee and hang out with my iPad to write a bit. But on that morning, it was so crowded, many seats were occupied, and I didn’t feel like squeezing in to claim a spot. So, instead, I ordered my latte and headed to work without writing. At the time, I don’t think I was that conscious of my feelings of claustrophobia from the layout of the store, but now in hindsight, I wonder about the people who planned the layout. They have many chairs in this place, many places to put fannies. And I wonder what this place might be like in the evenings- is it filled up? Are people content to sit next to strangers at these long tables? Do they meet new people? Are these the kind of people seeking this kind of forced connection with others? I am likely overevaluating but I am wonder in this world of ours that often feels disconnected and a solo experience in many ways; are commercial endeavors attempting to bring together people? Or, is this simply a plan to maximize revenues in a coffee shop? Make room for the largest possible number of people to reside for awhile as they enjoy the products of Starbucks? It’s probably the latter and I am sure that a lot of evaluation went into this design. They likely consulted with experts and maybe have their own expert department that collaborates on maximizing flow and revenue during various parts of the day. And this layout also factors in the wall of merchandise on the other side of that line that forms next to the table of ten to my right. Coffee beans, mugs, grinders, teas and more- all lined up in three shelves of merchandise space. It’s all about capitalism and likely little to do with psychotherapy. Leave it to me to look to deeply into a mundane thing like use of space.
On this morning, as I spend less than an hour at Starbucks at the corner of Lyndale and 54th, I find only about five of us lingering at tables and chairs- the rest of the flow is a steady stream of commuters moving as quickly as possible through the coffee concoction line on their way to work. So, having made enough of this space- having likely spent too much time evaluting things, I now move to the book.
Chapter one is all about journaling. It covers first what journaling is and why do it. Some of the key points that garner a nod from me include (and not necessarily layed out in this order in the book):
-To find your voice

-To discover what you think

-To capture memories (places, characters, conversations, events)
The morning light outside has brightened since my arrival only about twenty minutes ago. Now, I look up from the keyboard and see that a man has installed himself at the end of the counter facing the street- last chair, close to the wall. He wears a ball cap and glasses, his light tan leather jacket is drapped over the back of his chair. His hands are holding the morning paper. In one of the leather chairs, another man- this one has his laptop on his lap and his coffee on the side table. He is reading from the laptop and he looks pensive to me. Three people are squeezed into the condiment station and five people are lined up to make their order. Behind me a woman and her two small children have paused for their morning breakfast together – afterwards, it is possible that she will walk them the half block to the catholic school just up the way and across the street. The place is humming with activity and capitalism and community are in full swing.
As I look at the front window, I notice that the building that used to be there is gone. There used to be a pizza place there- but it burned one evening about two years ago and sat there with the remains of the blaze for quite a long time. They finally brought it down.
Observations of my surrounding, overhearing conversations, paying attention to my environment. That is what writing is for me. Gaining a sense of hightened awareness of the world that ebbs and flows right in front of my eyes. Being conscious of life, the pulse of it. I love this act of writing that helps me to float on a different plane. Without it, it is almost as if life just passes without an expression of it. Writing is like talking out loud but on the screen (was going to say on the page or on paper- but these days the writing is generally electronic). Yes- this is the best part of my day- a way to help me breath better. To feel things in a more meaningful way. to help me in planning – not just the day, but the week and even the year. To establish a pattern of living life in a state that is more satisfying.

Travel – It’s A Great Gig!

I’ve been back from DC for almost a week already – in fact tonight, it will be a week. Strange how fast that went. And, this means that it’s been about a week and a half … almost two weeks since I last wrote. On my iPhone, I see all these alerts which flash to show me when those I am following on WordPress have posted someting new; and I am jealous. Jealous of their time spent writing. Frustrated at how easily my life gets swallowed up by the mundane daily obligations that I call my life. It’s not that I hate my work life. It’s more about feeling desperate to find time to do what I really love to do rather than what I have to do in order to pay my bills. How ridiculous that sounds. Life keeps moving. Time keeps passing. And one day, I will die- just like everyone else. We all have an expiration date. When that time comes, if I even have an opportunity for reflection before the lights go out- will I look back pleased with how I spent my time? Or, will I feel it has all been wasted.
Dad’s encouragement a few weeks ago was touching. As I was busy getting myself together and preparing to leave for work, he said to me gently- you bring people happiness in your work. You make dreams come true. I paused my busy movements and looked at him …he smiled at me. And I smiled back. Yes, I bring people joyful memories of time spent with loved ones in far off places. And while the internet draws some to do their own trip planning, so many still come to the experts because their hard earned money and hard earned vacation time is valuable to them, and they want to be sure that the trip is well organized. While some confidently plunge into buying travel on-line, others are more careful to make sure that the end result is full of rich experiences, unique adventures and value. With my resources, I can find those marvelous deals that will help ensure that the dollar has been stretched properly and that if there are any issues at destination- that the clients have a local contact in destination that they can reach out to in order to get help. Full service. Not to mention those all inclusive resorts in Mexico or the Caribbean and their accompanying 30 different room categories- what do they all mean? I help figure it all out. I do enjoy putting together that miracle trip that will bring families together from various parts of the country to celebrate reunions, weddings or other mile marker moments of joy.  
I think back to the time when I stepped out of the travel business gig and tried my hand at other things- not such a great end result. The grass seemed greener. The truth is I know the lingo the connections, the hidden tricks- and travel is my language. I have been traveling since I was six months old and can’t imagine life without a trip coming up in the near future. This passion for discovering new places and people and natural wonders filters into my daily work life as I plan amazing get-aways for all who seek my counsel. The best trips that I have planned have generally been those for which the client gave me full reign. Those that hold on to the straps too tightly, question every suggestion and let cynicism or doubt cloud the process- those trips are not that fantastic. The reason is that the trip is pulled apart and disected and trampled on. So there are dangling moments of goodness but mostly clawed together pieces of angst. Those moments are not very satisfying. Nor are those that are created from poor planning on the part of the client- calling two weeks prior to their flight departure for Paris with grand plans of driving around Provence and staying near a niece’s school where she is studying for a year. Then drop the car and train to the coast to spend a couple of nights on the Riviera and they list a large array of activities they want to accomplish in 48 hours- then train back to Paris for a week of highlights in the city of lights. Sounds fine but what they don’t consider is that the train tickets are not electronic (more and more they are becoming electronic- but not all tickets are electronic) so we must factor in time to receive the tickets from the train company by rush delivery. And, they don’t factor in that the itinerary proposal once presented will be reviewed by the family and more than likely- family members will want a rewrite with their opinions considered.. change this hotel, more nights here, less nights there, remove that tour- add this tour instead. Prefer first class instead of second class. Prefer this town instead of that town for the overnights.. Oh, and about that train- can we save time by taking an overnight train between cities? Oh and our budget is half of the cost of the trip you presented- can we do the same trip for less? Never mind that they claimed not to have a budget. But the truth is that everyone has a budget. It amazes me how many people do not want to reveal their budget. “Do you have a budget in mind for this trip- the total cost you plan to spend for flights, accommodations, ground transportation and perhaps a few key sightseeing or soft adventures experiences while in Scandinavia?”. The most common answer: “I have no idea”. Yet, once the proposal is presented- miraculously there is a budget. Indeed, they do know what they are not willing to spend. And after all that time has been invested- Eureka- we have a figure. So the process goes back to the drawing board to craft a revamped itinerary that more closely matches their budget… remove this tour, eliminate a transfer (taxi – pay that locally), downgrade the hotels to more basic economy class with only a breakfast room and several blocks away from the center of town. Sacrifices must be made to meet that budget.. the answer is no- we can’t do the exact same trip for less money. Can you buy a BMW for what a Hyundai costs? Not likely.  
All of these kinds of steps take time to work through and two week prior to departure for a complex trip is just not enough time. So this becomes frantic travel planning pushed to the top of my to do list and push aside other people’s requests who had come to me with plenty of advance notice. That seems unfair. Those that plan ahead are moved aside while those who don’t plan are nudged in. Cutting in line. And generally, those that procrastinate are the worst when it comes to being indecisive and thus, they make the final details a stressful bruhaha of annoyance and frustration. There- pphhhhh .. ugh. When I first started this gig, a colleague of mine had a marvelous plaque in her office- it read: Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine. Boy wouldn’t it be great if I could vocalize that to certain clients that are bossy and pushy and rude through their last minute trip requests.    
And then, I remember that sometimes- these same last minute people that are bossy and pushy and rude are this way because within their own lives- they have experienced certain stressors and sometimes, life disasters. So they are merely acting out of their own sense of desperation. Like the woman who called last Spring for a June trip to Europe for her family of four. It was a Thursday- midafternoon. It was a cold call transferred to me from the front desk as a result of my specialty: Europe. I took the call but was in the middle of multiple tasks that I had to finish by end of business for other clients. I listened to the list of four countries she wanted to visit in three weeks with her husband and two children, ages 9 and 11. They wanted to see England, France, Spain and Italy. She stressed the importance of acting quickly since air space was filling up. I hid my irritation at this statement- of course time is of the essence- you are calling in May for a June trip- I thought to myself: we will be lucky if we can even get space without it costing your family thousands of dollars just for the air tickets. And then, she dropped the bomb. Her high pitched voice softened completely – she sounded like a different person. “I am sorry about this last minute request- but you see, we have to get to Paris so that my daughter has a chance to see the Eiffel Tower before she loses her vision- she has cancer and we just learned that she is going blind.” I could hear her voice quiver. My breath caught up into my lungs and I crumbled completely. My eyes filled with moisture, my pulse raced. I held my breath to steady myself in order to answer professionally and with care. My system went into high gear: “Of course I will do my best to present the proposal as quickly as possible. I will try to have something for you by close of business tomorrow- I am so sorry to hear about your daughter and will work on this for you right away”. As I hung up, I looked at my desk litered with dozens of other client folders- and I spent the next minutes emailing each of them to let them know that their trip research for their itinerary would take another 1-2 business days to complete and that I would have something for them sometime early the next week. I offered that I appreciated their understanding. And to myself I hoped that they would in fact understand and not jump online and blow me off- and book their own trip. I pushed all of those clients aside and got to work for this precious family of four. I had the completed itinerary done by the next day and this mother paid for the program in full and purchased her air tickets before end of day on Friday. It was all secured within 24 hours of her initial call. And the miracle was that the trip was within budget, and featured awesome apartment style hotels throughout Europe with a kitchen and included breakfast in the restaurant …giving them flexibility for snacks and other meals but also the convenience of not having to prepare breakfast if they didn’t want to. I learned while they were on the trip that they had to change some trains because the daughter was so sick in the morning from being off of her chemo during the trip- and that they had to shift some other things around. It all worked out in the end and the mother was so gratefulfor my support and for all I had done to help her family enjoy their trip of a lifetime. They all saw so many amazing things together and did this all in time prior to the vision loss. And, now- even with the continued illness and vision loss- they are planning a trip to Tuscany next year. Plenty of advance notice this time, and a more relaxed stay in a villa somewhere for maybe two weeks… just to hang out and enjoy the Tuscan Sun. These moments are rewarding and a reminder to not judge, to understand- that in this human life, we all have those desperate moments that might turn us into stressed out people that cause others to feel stressed out. Carrying with us some understanding of the human condition, bringing compassion and mercy to each exchange- remembering that life can be a challenge for us all. This is what helps us get through it.
And for me- writing is bliss. Arranging travel pays the bills and also brings me my own sense of joy and satisfaction. And then there is the cruise on my own calendar that sets sail from Ft Lauderdale in less than two weeks with my good friend who is flying in from St. John Newfoundland to join me on this adventure on a Mega Ship sailing the Caribbean. Fun times ahead! Travel- yes indeed, it’s a great gig.