What Silence Says

I sometimes have imaginary relationships with real people. It might be a side effect of being a writer. In fiction, I have to make up conversations all the time. I have to put myself inside every single character and imagine how they think, feel, act. I might carry that over into real life sometimes, for better or worse.

One example is my ex-husband. We’ve been divorced for thirty some years, but we have kids and grandkids, so we still see each other on occasion. When we first got divorced, I had this idea of how our relationship would be going forward. It would be friendly. We’d get along really well and have lots of laughs.

That didn’t happen.

It’s not that we’re enemies. We just don’t see each other much and when we do we hardly speak. At first, I tried to dive into my personal scenario, behaving all friendly and so on, but he just glanced at me and looked away. So gradually I backed off the overly-friendly chat and followed his lead into silence. But for me, for a long time, it was a very loud silence.

I had thoughts about his silence, like that by not engaging in the friendly plot I’d outlined in my head, he was in some way dismissing me. Insulting me. But there was nothing in his demeanor to suggest those things. He didn’t scowl or distance himself physically. He didn’t turn and walk away. So why then did his silence hurt me? Why did I feel embarrassed? Angry? Chagrined? Annoyed? Exasperated?

That’s the funny part, really, because all of the negative self-talk was internally devised. I have no way of actually knowing his motives or intentions or if indeed he has any at all. After all these years I am starting to come around to the idea that he doesn’t really think of me at all. Once we divorced, that was it for him. And that’s okay. That’s even healthy.

But for me it’s different. He gave me two brilliant children, the only children I’ll ever have. That’s the biggest gift anyone can ever give and it’s not something that I’ll ever forget or take lightly. Not saying he’s forgotten or taken anything lightly. Because I have no way of knowing how he feels. And that’s fine, because, really, it’s none of my business.

Blessings and Curses

This time last year my life seemed both blessed and cursed. On the blessed side, I welcomed a new grandson and, then, several months later, another. Two grandsons in less than a year. Who could be more blessed?

Well, and here’s where the cursed part starts, they lived all the way on the other side of the country, more than 2,000 miles from my home in Detroit. And there were no plans or even any interest in “coming home.” They were already home on the West Coast. So I traveled a lot to see everyone, even more than I had previously. What used to be once a year became three times to Seattle last year and once to meet the new baby in California. Travel is a blessing. I adore the entire Pacific coast  and will never tire of exploring its seascapes, mountains and canyons. Visiting my sons and their families enables me to do that. Blessings.

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A bit of a curse creeps in still when my heart yearns to relocate. I feel particularly drawn to Seattle, where people seem more in tune with my core values than here in Detroit. I love that people walk everywhere or take mass transit. The massive recycling. The politics is more in line with my way of thinking and so is the spiritual side. I love the ease of getting around in the great neighborhoods to shop, to dine, to hang out. I love destination walking with hills. I feel very drawn to Seattle. The curse is my husband does not share my attraction. He likes Seattle fine but he’s still a Detroit boy at heart, while my heart is firmly west of here.

Partly as a result of this, my marriage seemed cursed last year. I took steps away from my longest, most enduring relationship. I almost left. But something in my body, literally, made me stay. It was a wake up call like I’ve never had, a big epiphany in one little life. I was signing a document that would put one of the last nails in the coffin that had become my marriage when I literally became paralyzed. I had written C-Y-N and then could not write further. And I’m a writer! Yet my hand refused to move.

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I could not finish signing my name to the death warrant for my marriage. It wasn’t happening and it perplexed me. Isn’t this what I wanted? Isn’t this what I’d carefully considered and about which I’d done a fair amount of footwork, not to mention soul searching? So why was the pen not moving across the page? “I need a minute,” I told the person on the other side of the desk. “Take your time,” came the unruffled reply. I breathed. I tried to write. It didn’t happen. I tingled from head to toe. What the hell was going on? Something like this had never happened to me before. I’m a person of action, and when I decide on a course of action, I see it through.

Not this time. I finally put the pen down, tore up the document, and excused myself. I still didn’t know what was going on. But when I felt the strong urge to connect with someone, anyone, and share what had just happened, the person I called was my husband. He was the one I instinctively turned to with my overwhelming confounding experience. And thus everything I’d been feeling and doing came out over a long intense conversation, paving the way for reconciliation. We rebuilt our relationship from the crumbles of the castle it once had been, stone by stone. It wasn’t easy, but a year later, the fortress of our love is stronger than ever.

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And I owe this to the intuitiveness of the body. My body knew the correct path before my mind could comprehend it. And my body, as it has so often done, reacted in a profound way that got my attention. I’ve never been a mind-reader although I dabble in Tarot and Astrology. I admire people with the ability to intuit others’ thoughts and feelings. I wanted that ability for myself, worked hard to hone it. In the past twelve months, I’ve realized I had strong intuition all along. It was in my body, if only I could learn to read its signals. Because I listened to my body, I know that this is where I need to be right now. In Detroit. In this marriage. And knowing where I belong, well, that is a true blessing.

Partners?!

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My husband, the notorious Al, does not read my blog, so I feel free to complain about him here. He has FB spies, but they don’t read my blog, either. By the way, thank you for reading. Sharon. and John:) Possibly Micki. This morning when I woke up, it was pitch dark, and I was alone in my bed.

Since Al had gone in to work very early, I wasn’t too concerned until I tried to check the time on my clock and saw that the electricity was out. We had high winds through the night, so I got a candle and a match and went in search of a clock that ran on batteries. 6:30 am. I can handle that. Also, I have Starbucks’ canned double shot for work days so I was set for caffeine. My Kindle has a built in light. Sun would be up, soon. The world was darkly rosy.

My first priority this morning was to write, and I did that in candlelight at my battered old desk, feeling a little like someone from an earlier era. Light began to peek weakly from the dark clouds, and those clouds shot my idea to watch the sun rise. Al and I put in several calls back and forth with the no power situation. He had plans to go to the gym after working 12 hours, but said if the power was still out, he’d adjust his schedule.

Back up to yesterday. I left work knowing I had a full week to immerse myself in writing, even if the old desk and the new chair did not get along. On the way home, I stopped for groceries and found one of those Sauder desks you have to assemble yourself. It was exactly what I had been looking for since I bought the new chair that does not fit under the desk. So anyway. Al came home and didn’t want to hear about the desk. He didn’t want to hear about the problem in the laundry room or how the mirror in the closet did not allow me to see my feet.

Women understand this, how your shoes look with your outfit is of major importance. He’d hung the mirror too high for me, but it was just right for him, which meant it was just right period. Last night, it felt like he was pushing me away with both hands saying leave me the fuck alone. He muttered about having to go to bed early, needing time to himself, and so forth. Here’s what I’m thinking: what about ME?

Is it not important that I get one minute of his time to ask about a house thing, or to just talk about how our days went? Sure it would be a bonus if he put together my new desk. It would take him ten minutes. Maybe twenty. He’s very handy when he wants to be. He can fix anything. Between his cut biceps and his mechanical smarts, you would think I’d be thrilled with this guy. And I would be if he had to beat somebody up for me or at least lifted stuff around the house. Or do things that I can’t, which is almost everything except for cook, clean, shop, write, and teach. That’s pretty much my repertoire, although I do make a mean martini.

So last night, due to this mood of holding me at a distance, I didn’t dare ask for such a favor as him actually building my new desk. I was lucky he didn’t take his dinner (a nutritious, yummy, healthy meal that I shopped for and cooked, thank you) down in the basement.

So today I had to deal with no power and no clue how to turn on the generator. I was fine with that. And we were chatting back and forth, that was good. Communication is always good. I was feeling pretty good after four hours of writing and the power suddenly coming back on earlier than expected. I thought I might take a shot at putting my new little desk, very basic, very simple, together myself because I had already asked Al to skip the gym and come home to do it for me before our friends come over at 7 for a test run of our fire pit patio table and he said no.

I let it go. I am so used to him blocking me, saying no to me, not doing anything around the new house to help me because he is either working or watching sports. But I was okay. I am a strong, independent woman and this marriage would not have lasted 28 years if I was anything else. Al doesn’t do princesses. I don’t need to be pampered, I just wish he was around more. I worry about him working so much. I resent that damn gym almost as much as if lifting was his mistress.

I’m wanting to slow down and enjoy life more. He’s still in the fast lane. I took the desk pieces out of the box. The heavy box that yesterday I had put into my shopping cart, transferred to the trunk of my car, and brought into the house. All by myself! It was heavy! Does he care? No. I got a bit concerned as the pieces piled up and I saw that there were something like 68 screws. I duly got a hammer, a Phillips, and a flat screwdriver out of my toolbox. Yes, I have my own toolbox. My dad made it for me after my divorce. If my dad was here, he’d build my desk!

I sat to read through the directions on how to put this baby together. Feeling a bit trepidatory but also still willing to believe. After page three I gave up. I called Al to tell him that the desk was on the floor in pieces and I did not feel capable of making it whole and would he please come home at four o’clock and do it for me.

He said no. Of course he did. Because he is Al and his mistress, that bitch the gym, comes first. Of course being eternally optimistic (and thus so often disappointed) I still hope he’ll feel guilty for not giving me any quality time in ages and come home and get this project done. I have plans! I have a book to write! And I need my new desk. Also possibly a husband-for-hire.

 

What is Women’s Fiction?

For my next novel, I’m crossing over from romance to women’s fiction. Although writing romance has been a fun challenge, romance is all about the two. Just like when you’re newly in love, you can’t see or think about anyone but your love. My story drafts have all sorts of point-of-view, many types of relationships, including love stories. Always more than one. Now I won’t have to cut away until the two are left alone on the page.

People ask what the difference is between women’s fiction, chick lit, and romance. For a definition of romance, see above. Now, chick lit and women’s fiction. Those labels are harder to define. It used to be “chick lit is funny and women’s fiction is serious.” or “chick lit is singletons on the town and women’s fiction is settled and sad.” That’s just not accurate. These labels are marketing devices. Chick lit comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. It’s not all white wine and new shoes. Women’s fiction is not all drama and divorce.

We have these labels because marketing people like to know where to slot books to optimize purchases. “Okay, if the heroine is single and in her 20s or 30s, loves to shop, and isn’t ready to settle down, let’s call that chick lit. We’ll do the covers in fun colors with sexy half body shots. That way young single women can buy the books that reflect their lives and experiences.”

When I was in my 20s and 30s I was in college reading the classics, not chick lit. (I’m old, so the label had not been invented yet.) In my 40s, married with children and settled, I became senior chick lit reviewer for the trade magazine RT Book Club. I loved chick lit then, and I love it still. The variety of “chick lit” stories I read, from one about a homeless DJ to another about a newly-divorced and pregnant forty-something, convinced me chick lit was simply fiction for people, probably women, since we buy most of the fiction out there, who like to read novels.

Ditto for women’s fiction. These stories are not all female life or death medical dramas or how to go on after a husband’s betrayal. They don’t always include knitting. Women’s fiction can be funny and chick lit can be serious. Each is often both, all in one story. Many women take exception to the term “women’s fiction” and I don’t blame them. There is no equivalent “men’s fiction” so it’s just another way to put women in their place, behind the male writers.

Truth is, men write romance. They just kill the heroine at the end and everyone says how sensitive and romantic these authors are. Men write “women’s” fiction too. If it’s not sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, or mystery, marketing just calls it “contemporary fiction.” That’s what I write. Contemporary fiction. Suitable for both sexes. And if my publisher wants to call it women’s fiction, I am happy to let them do so, since, as I said, most novel readers are women.

Ten Romantic Writing Ideas

Darby Saxbe wrote an article called “10 Ways to Perk Up Your Relationship.” Reading, I realized my husband Al and I already do a lot of those things. (We have 25 years of practice.) After I got done patting myself on the back for having a groovy relationship, I realized I could adapt Saxbe’s 10 Things for the  hero and heroine of my novel.

1. Gratitude

Start a scene with one of the main characters thanking the other. I just typed the words “Thank you” and the scene wrote itself from there.

2. Fun

Insert playfulness into the story. I stuck it in the middle of my hero and heroine being really busy with work.

3. Celebrate Good News

When something wonderful happened to my heroine, I let the hero make a really big deal out of it.

4. Reflect Positive Traits

One of the things that initally attracted me to my husband was the way he was always calm, while I was often a nervous wreck. I wanted to learn how to be calm like him, and over the years, I have done that. So I did a little scene with my characters using this idea from my own marriage.

5. Think the Best

Why does your heroine love your hero? He can do no wrong in her eyes. She builds him up in her mind. She creates a perfect person. Reflect that in a scene. (Later it will be fun to shatter the illusion, but for now, for the falling in love and making it real, this is an essential step.)

6. Be Open to Surprises

Discovering the wonderfulness that is your future life partner is part of falling in love. Write a scene where one of them discovers something new about the other.

7. Love Notes

This is a no-brainer for a writer. Someone leaves a love note or sends a card.

8. Support Behind the Scenes

Allow one or both of your characters to lend each other support even though the other is unaware of it. Like a random act of kindness, the thoughtful action should be hidden, a subtle secret gesture.

9. Connect Physically

And make it NOT a prelude to a sex scene! Just something tender and comforting. The human touch is magic.

10.  Focus on Self

Even though it’s all about the romance, nobody can be a good partner to someone else without first being good to themselves. Write a scene in which the heroine takes care of herself. And then maybe let the hero take care of himself, too.