Sunday Selfie: 1985-86 Edition

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Kids, many years before selfie became the word of the year and got added to the Oxford dictionary1, before smart phones, before cell phones with cameras, almost before cell phones themselves, if we “old folks” wanted to take a photo of ourselves (a self-portrait, if you will) we had to turn the camera toward us and hope that our aim didn’t cut off part of our head or look blurry or angle too sharply because there was no way to “delete” the photo. Once you took it, you had to develop it, and you had to wait at least a couple of days to find out the result — unless you were fortunate enough to have Polaroid.

The idea of the selfie never occurred to me until I saw this movie:

Desperately_Seeking_Susan_movie_poster

It was May 1985, and for my 13th birthday, my mother let me invite four friends over for a sleepover.

Not pictured: My lime green lace socks. Also, apologies to the innocents I'm dragging along with me in this photo...

Not pictured: My lime green lace socks. Also, apologies to the innocents I’m dragging along with me in this photo…

To get five giggling 13-year-olds away from my father for a couple of hours, she took us to see Desperately Seeking SusanMadonna mania was in full swing. I had her first,  self-titled cassette as well as her second, Like a Virgin. I knew all of her songs by heart. While not pictured in the above photo, I owned the lace gloves, rubber bracelets, even a scarf/belt-looking thing that I tied vertically around my head to create a big, floppy bow on top of my hair. 

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Why Do I Write?

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The Literary Ace and I go way back...

The Literary Ace and I go way back…

I’ve seen this question going around the blogosphere over the past couple of weeks, and then a survey I took for a writing website I subscribe to inquired about my reasons as the lead-off question. That’s just a deep question to put on a survey in my opinion. I had to answer the other questions first and then come back to it.

I started with a simple answer of, “Because I have stories I need to tell.” I was making up stories in elementary school, usually using my Barbie dolls as actors. (Hmm, perhaps I should try directing as well.) and the ideas never stopped coming. Books and movies only spurred my imagination, as I would read and watch things that made me say, “I wanna write like that.”

In the sixth grade, I repeatedly checked out Requiem for a Princess by Ruth M. Arthur from the school library. I read Judy Blume and I loved John Hughes movies. Later, I discovered Nora Ephron and Cameron Crowe. In high school there was To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby; my freshman year of high school I read Rich in Love by Josephine Humprhies. Then I took a southern literature class and could not have felt more at home than if I were sitting on the squeaky glider on my grandmother’s front porch.

That answer, however, wasn’t enough, so I tried, “It’s the best thing I can do.” I can do math, but I’ve always been a better writer. I wrote sappy poetry in my ninth-grade science class. I’m horrible at sales — just ask my boss from the telemarketing job I had in college. I’ll never paint a masterpiece or perform a life-saving surgery, and I’m okay with that.

What I can do is string words together into an article or ad copy or a story, and I do that rather well. That might sound conceited, but I’ve done this professionally for almost 20 years, and people keep asking me to help them and others do read my work. Obviously, I’m doing a better than average job, and if I am, why not focus on that? Why not try to improve?

What I finally decided on for my answer was a combination of the two responses. Because I have stories that I need to tell and because writing is the best thing I can do, I don’t know how to NOT be a writer. I can’t imagine my life doing anything else.

A few years ago, not long after I started this blog, I found a quote from Ranier Maria Rilke that truly applies:

Ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down deep into yourself for the deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you meet this solemn question with a strong and simple, I must, then build your life according to this necessity.

Jarlath Conroy on left; Freddie Highmore (all grown up) on right

Jarlath Conroy on left; Freddie Highmore (all grown up) on right

Along those lines of why I write I discovered a statement that sums up WHAT I want to write. Two years ago an indie movie called The Art of Getting By was released. The Husband rolls his eyes when he catches me watching it, but I do so for a couple of reasons: (1) I like it. Is it the Best Movie of All Time? No, but it is well-acted and has a quiet charm to it, in my opinion. (2) The main characters are teenagers, and a couple of stories I have in the works center around kids in high school and college, so I’m sort of “studying” these flicks.

Last night I found the third thing I like about it: an art teacher’s description of his assignment. Jarlath Conroy’s surly art teacher Harris McElroy challenges George with one final assignment and his description struck me as something I — and any writer for that matter — should aspire to achieve with my writing:

I don’t believe that dumb, lifeless assignments are the measures of a person’s soul. I want one, one meaningful work from you. I want you to look in the mirror, listen to your gut, and make an image that speaks to the real you — what you care about, what you believe. It can be big, it can be small, it can be painted in bat shit — as long as it’s honest and fearless.…Something you’ve never had the courage to say before.

So now that I’ve got that figured out, cranking out that book will be a cinch!

If only…

Four Decades

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I turned 40 almost a year ago. That’s right; I’m almost 41 — less than two weeks away as a matter of fact. It still feels weird to say and see in type — not because I necessarily feel old. Although I sometimes do… like when I heard one of my coworkers say she graduated from high school in 2005, I had to sit down and let that sink in. Then I used a cane to get back to my desk.

I started THIS BLOG in 2005 — in April as a matter of fact, so happy eighth anniversary to Sappy Chick.

I suppose I still hold on to the belief that many people do when they hit their 40s — that they should have accomplished more. Sometimes I feel regret that I haven’t worked harder on my writing and pushed to get more fiction published, but I know that there are writers who never published their first novel until they were in their 60s.

Harry: And the kitchen floor? Sally: Not once. It's this very cold, hard Mexican ceramic tile.

Harry: And the kitchen floor?
Sally: Not once. It’s this very cold, hard Mexican ceramic tile.

When I was a teenager, I thought my adult years would seem more glamorous. I was 17 when I saw When Harry Met Sally, and I thought Meg Ryan’s character was so sophisticated — even if she was also quirky and  OCD. I wanted to be that woman: living in New York, writing for the New Yorker, strolling around those iconic NYC neighborhoods, having the guy I was friends with but also harbored deeper feelings for confess that he couldn’t live without me — on New Year’s Eve at midnight, no less. (Faking an orgasm in the middle of a crowded deli was an act I was never brave enough to do, though.)

That movie, as well as most others, don’t show the less glamorous side of being an adult — the humdrum of grocery shopping, watching your bank account dwindle down after paying the bills for the week, the job interviews you go on and never hear from again. All those scenes end up on the cutting room floor — or a montage.

Eventually, I realized that I’m not the NYC type. I like my mild winters with little snow, and when we traveled to Chicago in 2004, I realized after four days that I missed looking out the window and seeing a back yard. Nora Ephron, however, remained a writing hero of mine.

I’ve entertained the idea of grad school for the past couple of years. I think my interest peaked when I started working in a post-secondary setting. I told my mom some of my goals of trying to attend a low-residency MFA program for creative writing — what was involved, what the program was like, why I wanted to go, among other stuff — and she said, “Don’t you wish you had done something like this ten years ago?”

Much love to my mother — who I know did not necessarily mean her question to sound as if she thought I was too old to go back to school — but ouch!

Sure some snot-nosed teenager is always going to be around scoring some multi-million book deal off some from something they posted on the internet (Jealous? Me? Heavens, no…), but I believe that my life experiences are helping me (and will continue to help me) write deeper stories. I think there’s something to the ability to look back upon what’s been gained and lost, loved and hurt, accomplished and failed that adds much more relatability. (Yes, I know that’s not a real word.) The advice of writing what you know doesn’t always apply to the main plot.

It’s not such a stretch to think that I’ve got lots of writing years ahead of me. Nora Ephron had the bulk of her movie making years in her late 30s and beyond — including an Oscar nomination for When Harry Met Sally, and writing the classic Sleepless in Seattle. So at 41 (almost), I definitely wouldn’t mind having what she had.