If You Enjoy Crossword Puzzles…You Should Write a Novel

I’ve been working diligently on a second novel with the goal of publication in spring of 2018. That would be a year and a half to generate a second book. Or, half the time it took to finish my debut novel, The Intersect. It’s a relief to think I might have learned a few things along the way. So, in the spirit of being open, let me share a few insights.

The Learn

  1. In the words of Dorothy Parker, “the art of writing is applying the ass to the seat”. In following her advice, I’ve discovered my hip flexors, sacroiliac, and glut muscles. Yow!
  2. Writing and speaking can be done in the same voice but not at the same time. Too much talking, and I can’t write. And after hours of writing, I’m unable to utter an intelligent sentence.
  3. If I don’t shed a tear when I’m working on an emotional scene, there’s something wrong. This should not be confused with the tears that I shed when I can’t get a scene right.
  4. If you respect your characters, they speak on their own. Dialogue is easy. If you try to control them, they rebel and make you seem the fool.
  5. You need to believe in yourself as a writer before anyone else will. Then, you need to hire a terrific editor to teach you all that you’re doing wrong.
  6. Eating is a major component of the creative process. Any food will do. But try to stay away from items purchased at Costco. Large quantities can be polished off in short order.
  7. If you love crossword puzzles, you’d love writing a novel. Words connect scenes. Themes carry through. And everything that you put down on paper can have an alternate meaning.
  8. It’s truly satisfying when someone enjoys your work and writes a note. It’s even better when they go on Amazon and provide a review.
  9. The arc of creation matches the bell curve. At the start, there’s excitement as the story unfolds. At its peak, you’re certain it’s all working. Upon publication, you’re sure you’ve screwed the whole thing up.
  10. There’s a seed of truth about the author’s life in every novel. Just a seed. If it were all true, it would be called a memoir.

Continue reading . . .    

Are You Too Old to Change? Why You Should Reconsider.

Years ago, my mother rebuffed the news of my coming out by explaining that she couldn’t deal with it. Her exact words. “I’m too old to change.”

But you’re only fifty-five?

It rarely happens in life when you have extreme clarity. But at that particular moment, it was like a lightning bolt out of the blue. I made a vow to open my mind to the possibilities of life. I’d do my best to never be, too old to change.

Change is hard

And it has been a challenge. Over the years, we’ve moved from city to city, from job to job. My career in healthcare has had its ups and downs. Mostly ups, until the last move to Phoenix. But even then, I realized early on that I’d landed in the wrong organization. The thing about change is that sometimes we need to be careful about what we wish for. And to recognize when it makes sense to say no thank you, and move on.

Career as a Writer

I’m grateful for many things in my life, but none more than that one insight from my mom. She suffered a lot of emotional pain with that too old to change. And though it’s a wonderful thing to hear affirmations from those we love, sometimes, it’s the judgments that force us to envision whom we choose to be. My mother offered that gift, and to her, I’ll be forever grateful. By learning to change, my life has turned out to be a lot better than I ever expected.

Why is the Television so Darn Loud?

There is something going on in our house. Something inexplicable. The volume on the television is too loud. Until it isn’t. And then, you struggle to understand the words being spoken by the actors.

Yes – I know

If you’ve read my blog, and by the way, thank you for doing so, you know I am deaf in my left ear. 100% deaf since I was two-years-old. A case of pneumonia killed the nerve. Nonetheless, I’m keenly aware of the volume on the television. And if in doubt, I live with someone who can hear perfectly.

Commerce in Action

I realize that when commercials are playing, the volume is always louder. That’s so you can hear the commercial whether you’re in the bathroom or standing in front of an open refrigerator (my two favorite spots during commercial interruptions). Okay, I get it. But what about when you’re streaming Amazon or Netflix? There are no commercials. And still, the music to “Mr. Selfridge” is blaring. If I lower the volume, I can barely make out what anyone is saying. Are they mumbling? Is it their British accent? Or have the actors attended the Marlon Brando School of Mumbling? Continue reading . . .    

Why is the Medicine Cabinet in the Kitchen?

The other day, I needed heartburn medication and so I went to our kitchen drawer. Food generates heartburn. There’s no sense walking to the master bath for a simple roll of Tums. The kitchen seemed a logical location.

Why is the drawer full?

At first, I couldn’t find the Tums. That’s because the drawer was loaded with over-the-counter medications. From Gas-X to Tagamet to Advil. From Tylenol to Aleve to Mucinex. Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu, Gaviscon, Nexium and chewable Vitamin C. The drawer was brimming with health remedies. It made me wonder. Are we really this ill? 

Medicine Cabinet

We don’t have a medicine cabinet in our house. Instead, we have drawers in the bathroom that provide ample space for everything we might need. Upon recent inspection, we seem to need a lot. How many first-aid creams are required to heal a cut? Does Airborne protect you when you fly? Does magnesium really support a healthy immune system? We live in a pill-popping society. Perhaps with a healthier diet, we could skip the Pepto-Bismol and Dulcolax.

Expiration

Once a year, I think about going through all the meds to check expiration dates. But I don’t. It just seems too overwhelming. Instead, I commit to checking before using any of the products. Frankly, I think it’s a waste of time to do that with cough syrup. Robitussin is so disgusting—going bad can only improve the taste.Continue reading . . .    

Why is there a Poodle in the Bathroom?

Growing up in New York City in the 1960s, a poodle lived in our bathroom. Pink, with black eyes and a white bow permanently sewn to its head, it sat atop the back of the toilet tank, beady eyes watching our family during the most intimate of moments. By now you’ve probably guessed that the crocheted body with four tiny legs and a bouncy tail, concealed the extra roll of toilet tissue.

Is this for the company?

When you live in a one bath apartment, there is a decorating dilemma. That single bathroom serves both family and guests. And so along with the poodle cozy, there were decorative hand towels that we didn’t touch. And now that I think about it, I never did see that poodle lying atop the tank disemboweled. That stuffed poodle was a permanent fixture. The order of the day: reach under the sink if you needed to refill the roll.

Toilet training?

Years later, the lessons learned in my childhood are hard to shake. And though we don’t have a poodle cozy for the extra roll of toilet tissue, I remain unwilling to use the decorative hand towels. Why should I have this reaction in my own home? It must be the result of my early toilet training.Continue reading . . .    

Death & New Orleans

A few weeks ago, I was in New Orleans to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The city seemed to be full of funereal fun. Seriously. The tourist shops were stocked with voodoo dolls, death masks, and skeletons. Everywhere you turned there were signs of decadent decay. Above ground mausoleums—crumbling and creepy. And all the ghost tours. It seemed as if some poor soul had died a violent death on every corner. I guess that’s what happens when a city is situated below sea level. People are macabre.

1987?

But it wasn’t until I separated from my traveling companions that I began to remember. New Orleans was where I’d vacationed with Richard, my first partner, some 30 years earlier. He was a 2nd-year ophthalmology resident at Henry Ford Hospital at the time. A year later, after graduating from his residency, obtaining board-certification and landing his first job, he became ill. He died of AIDS  in July of 1989. He was only 33 years old.

Startled by the recall

As I walked around the gift shops, I slowly remembered. The pink and purple masks we’d bought that hung on the wall of our first apartment. Our breakfast at Brennan’s when Richard introduced me to Bananas Foster. His delight in Cafe Du Monde and the deep-fried beignets covered in confectionary sugar. We were together again as I examined the handicrafts and listened to the live music in Jackson Square.Continue reading . . .    

Don’t Save it for Good

Years ago, a wise family friend shared with me the phrase, save it for good. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant. But I knew from the tone of her voice and facial expression, that saving it for good was not a great idea.

Life is short

Perhaps there are clothes hanging in the closet that you’ve never worn. Or unplanned vacations that you hope to take one day. Or friends you’d like to visit—but have yet to find the right time. Then you know all about saving for good. Waiting for that perfect moment to savor life’s pleasures.

Control is an illusion

It’s often said that life is what happens as we’re busy making other plans. John Lennon sang about it in Beautiful Boy. And so, my wise family friend was trying to convey to me that it’s a mistake to save it for good. We truly only have this moment. Not yesterday…and no promises of tomorrow.

Take it to heart

I’ve tried to be mindful of that counsel, even though I often fall short. I tend to save it for good, anticipating something better is coming. It’s like being an inverted optimist. Never quite satisfied with today and ever hopeful that tomorrow will be brighter. I sometimes wonder if I occupy that quadrant alone.

Now take a few moments to enjoy John Lennon’s beautiful rendition. http://bit.ly/2usLFUQ

 

 

Summer Movies: Or How to Survive Phoenix in July

Everyone knows Phoenix is hot in the summer. That’s when most Phoenicians plan their vacations. But for those who stay and want to leave the house in the afternoon, there’s the air-conditioned restaurant, a trip to the supermarket, or a walk through a shopping mall. And yes. There’s the movie theater.

Senior discount

I admit it. I love the matinee show as much as I love my senior discount. I know. It’s not a huge saving. But to me, it’s a big deal. For years I stayed away from the movie theater because it was so darn expensive. Call it price sensitivity or consumer activism, either way, I opted instead for Netflix. But watching a movie at home pales to the experience in a darkened theater. Who wants to sit in their living room when you can view a film on a large screen with those great theater acoustics?

Dine-in option

Unlike my friends, I dislike the dine-in option. I like to see my food. I’m visual that way. I want to make sure everything looks okay before I put it in my mouth. In the dark, that becomes a challenge. Besides, I’m a man of limited focus. I can either enjoy my food or the movie. Not both. And based on the amount of stain remover used in our house—I’m also a messy eater. And that’s when I can see what I’m doing.

Fortunes are built on meager savings

I’m often astonished by those patrons who buy out the concession stands. You’ve seen them. Popcorn and drinks and nacho chips with queso. Balancing all that food on their lap as they munch away. Forget all the calories they’re consuming, the cost of those snacks dwarf the ticket price. I often think they need an intervention by a good money manager. Where’s Charles Schwab when you need him? But to be truthful, I hate sitting in a darkened theater listening to other people slurping their drinks or munching on popcorn. When I’m watching a movie, I want to be engrossed in the film, not what the person next to me is eating.

Crabby old fart

Yes, I know. That’s how it sounds. And perhaps, that’s who I am. But I think movie theaters are for being transported to another world, not stuffing your face. There. I said it. Go eat lunch somewhere else. And while I’m at it, stop all that gosh darn coughing and sneezing. If you’re sick, please stay home. I’m trying to watch a movie!

And the Password is …

In this age of the Internet, I have more passwords then I can possibly remember. Six pages to be precise. Many of the new accounts came with the publication of my debut novel, The Intersect. Goodreads, Kindle, Apple ibooks and WordPress—to name but a few. The rest are what I refer to as passwords for living. Amazon, American Airlines, Southwest, Safeway, Culligan, Netflix, countless hotel chains and travel sites. The list has exploded. It seems you can’t do anything today without the Internet and creating a password.

Mix it up

I’ve taken the advice of the tech industry and changed it up when creating my passwords. It makes sense that no two accounts should ever have the same one. If they hack into your bank, you certainly don’t want them to have access to your electronic medical record. Though if they hack into your bank account, who really cares if they know you were at the doctor twice in April due to a nagging case of bronchitis? I’d prefer they just not touch my money. Cough be damned, I’m funny that way.

Creating a password

We’ve been told to avoid names or birth dates and to combine numbers and letters along with symbols ($#&!) to the string. The days of using a simple 123456 are over. Phrases aren’t a bad idea, but then, you have to be able to remember them. Any chance of a simple, easy to remember password, has been shot to hell. Check out this video and you’ll never do a simple password again. http://bit.ly/2uqPHM8

Ignorance is no excuse

There are fee-based password management services ready to coordinate all of this for you. Of course, they require that you create a master password. That made me laugh. And I know I should have more confidence, but with so many places being hacked—why wouldn’t a company that secures passwords be a prime target?Continue reading . . .    

Mahjong Anyone?

On July 4th, friends invited us over to learn how to play Mahjong.

Mahjong!

The game my mother and her girlfriends played when I was growing up. I remember those ladies laughing and calling out tiles as I passed through the kitchen on my way to the refrigerator. I’d hear “two crack,” “three bam,” “five dot,” as they rapidly went around the table. They’d smoke cigarettes, sip refreshments and talk endlessly. Often their voices would rise in excitement, rolling into laughter. I never knew what they were talking about—and if I happened to linger too long—I was told to keep moving.

My turn

So, it was with great interest that I accepted the invitation to join a group of friends learning the game. After all, I thought rather arrogantly, how hard can it really be?

It was hard. Very hard.

And as I played, trying to figure out what the hell was going on, I couldn’t help but think of my mother. How did she ever carry on a conversation and play this game? How many rounds did she endure before she no longer needed to concentrate? And why is this game so much harder than poker? 

American version

It seems that there are two versions of Mahjong. The American—which I was learning—and the Chinese—which was being played by a group of men seated behind me. I’m guessing the American version is easier—but being new to it—it was like learning Hebrew (and that’s hard). The other guys kept saying it’s like playing gin rummy. I know gin rummy. I get the comparison. But this was beyond gin rummy. If you don’t believe me, check out the video explaining the basics. http://bit.ly/2uuMSqYContinue reading . . .