Today: Hour by Hour

I am sitting in a quiet house after a very long day of students. It is dark outside and the air is cool. It is 7:54 pm and I am contemplating heading right upstairs, taking a warm bath and going straight to bed.

This is how my day went today. I am not complaining since I know this comes with the time of year it is, but I am glad I have made it through.

8 am: My first student arrived to work on his law school personal statement. It went well and we reached a point where we agreed to stop for the day after 1.5 hours.

9:30: A break to eat breakfast, look over some bills, and pay a few online.

10:30: My second student came to work on her graduate school sociocultural autobiography. We agreed she would stay until we were at a stopping place for the day. That was 2.5 hours later.

1:00 pm Time for a bowl of microwaved rice and a discussion with the FedEx man who was returning a music box that we were trying to ship to a man who bought it in Alaska. Oh boy. That is tomorrow’s worry since the FedEx man pointed at a number to call and said, “I just deliver’em, ma’am. I can’t help with much more.”

1:30 pm: My third student arrived to work on a college essay contrasting art from three different periods in history. We gathered lots of information so that we can proceed on Thursday.

3:30 pm: My fourth student arrived to work on a book report on the girl who had her arm bitten off by a shark a few years back. We wrote a letter from the shark to an advice columnist asking how to let the girl know he (the shark) was truly sorry. We also wrote a letter from the advice columnist to the shark advising him on a few strategies. (Yes, this was fun.)

5:00 pm: My fifth student arrived and we went over three units of vocabulary that he is learning in his AP English class. There were at least two words that I didn’t know. Who has ever heard of the word perspicacity (keenness of judgment) or adventitious
(accidental)? I certainly haven’t. And, yes, I do learn right along with my students.

6:00 pm: My sixth student was due to arrive and I ran in to grab something to eat. I waited and waited and then went to my phone to check our texts to one another. That is when I discovered that I never sent the text from me confirming today from 6 to 8. Can I admit my heart did a little song and dance? I could now wrap up for the day. I texted the girl, apologized, then began working on my responses to my online classes 20 minutes a day writings for today.

7:54 pm – I decided to write my blog for the day so I could officially be finished. I am now almost done. It is 8:18 pm.

I realize many people go out and do hard labor over the course of their day. I am aware that my day may not look as strenuous as that. However, there is something a bit tiring about staying focused in a one-on-one interaction, one person after the other. That is part of what I love about my job; it is also part of what makes it a bit challenging at times.

On that note, I will bid you adieu. Sleep well, my friends. I hope to do the same.

Time Running Out

Now and Forever

Madeline was tired. She had been boxing up all sorts of antiques all afternoon since the owners, Maude and Jason Fredericks, were going out of business. These boxes would be heading to an auction where they would all go for what Maude described as “pennies on the dollar.” Madeline was especially upset about three different objects that were her personal favorites. Each for a different reason and now they were all going to be sold off in a box-lot to someone who might or might not want them instead of going to her, who absolutely, one hundred per cent did want them.

The first was an iridescent egg with a purple solid center that had swirls in the purple. It was probably worth absolutely nothing, but this was the first object that she had actually noticed when she had come to work for the Fredericks back when she was a high school senior and they still had hope in their lives. The egg was sitting on a shelf next to the cash register and when she had asked Maude about it, the older woman – sixty-five at that point, had sighed and said, “Aw, honey, sometimes you keep something that reminds you of a happy memory. That’s what this egg does for me. Takes me back to by-gone days and sweet teenage love.” She leaned close. “Don’t say anything to Jason since it didn’t involve him.” Madeline had seen the spark in Maude’s eyes when she mentioned that love and now the egg represented Maude’s happiness from a long time ago. A happiness that didn’t seem to translate to now as she faced Jason’s Alzheimer’s and his need to move to an assisted living facility.

The second object was a silver-plated bowl filled with fruit made of smooth stone. There was a bunch of grapes, a slice of watermelon, a pear, an apple and two other pear-shaped pieces that didn’t approximate any fruit that Madeline knew. Still, the fruit was so beautifully colored and the texture so smooth, she could hardly resist touching it every single day on the job. She had touched that fruit on the day that she started college, on the day her father left her mother for a girl who was 5 years older than herself, and the day that Jason had wandered out of the store for the first time and Maude started realizing that something terrible was going on with his mind.

That fruit held memories and secrets for Madeline. Like the time she’d sat for a full hour just cradling that bunch of grapes as she accepted that her dad truly wasn’t coming back and her mother was going to have to cry possibly for a long time before she got her feet back on the ground after such a betrayal. Somehow those grapes – each so perfect and smooth – had soothed the ache in her own heart at the sadness that had enveloped her home. Her dad was now living in an apartment, the girl was long gone, and her mother was seeing a dentist socially. Still, the grapes, the watermelon and the rest of the fruit remained the same day after day, no matter how many times a person might pick them up and feel their weight. Yes, they remained consistent even with the closing of the store and Madeline’s leaving as well to go off to graduate school in art in another city on the far end of the state.

The third object was a matched pair of Chinese iron horses that were a foot tall and four inches wide. They each weighed 20 pound each. They had saddles on them and the horses were standing still, as if waiting for riders. Madeline often imagined herself shrinking in size to fit on one of the horse’s backs, and riding off to parts unknown with perhaps the extra horse coming along just in case they found someone who wanted to join them along the way. So far, there wasn’t anybody in Madeline’s life she could think of that she would want to come along except perhaps for Maude, who could surely use a short pleasure trip after all her time and trouble with Jason. They could ride the horses down to a pretty river and sit in the shade of a weeping willow and watch the green water as it flowed by. Yes, this would be good for both of them since Madeline was also feeling sad about leaving this old couple and their shop filled with memories.

Madeline was just filling a box with these three treasures – her treasures – when Maude arrived with Jason tagging behind. Jason’s eyes lighted up when he saw Madeline and he held out both arms for a big hug. Madeline knew this was one of the biggest things she would miss about the Fredericks, this open-armed love that they offered. She stopped her packing and went over and gave Jason a hug back, which produced the same response that it had for years now. “Aw, such a fine young woman. We are so lucky to have you here.”

Maude poked around the almost full box and then lifted her eyes to Madeline. “These will be going straight to Jason’s room at the facility, you know. They are his favorite things we have in the shop.”

“Really? Even the egg?”

Maude smiled. “Jason has always thought the egg was something he gave me when we were first dating. I’ve never told him the truth, as you might imagine.”

The two women laughed, enjoying the secret they shared.

“I hope you’ll take something from the shop to remember us by, “ Maude said. “Is there something that means something special to you?”

Madeline knew she could never ask for the three objects that she loved the most, but she did have one more idea. “This,” she said, pointing to a simple frame which held a picture of Maude and Jason when they were young. “Would this be too personal?”

Maude’s eyes filled with tears. “You are such an unselfish girl, my dear. Let me give you something I know you really want.”

She reached into the box and pulled out one of the two horses. “How about you take one of these and we keep one? That way, we can think of you and you can think of us.”

Madeline nodded, unable to speak. She wasn’t quite sure how she was going to make it without Maude and Jason. They had, after all, become the most stable adults in her life, even with Jason’s Alzheimer’s. “Thank you,” she finally managed.

“Don’t mention it,” Maude said, as she reached for paper and began wrapping the horse. “You have so many adventures ahead of you and, apparently, we have a few remaining, as well. This is the least we can do for you.”

Fifteen years later, Madeline, now married with two children of her own, received a letter in the mail. It was official looking from Terence C. Howard, Attorney at Law. She nervously opened it, fearing the fender bender she had been involved in the week before was bringing an unexpected lawsuit. Instead, the letter recounted that boxes would be arriving from the estate of Maude Fredericks, who had died one month before in a far-away state. Though she and Maude had exchanged Christmas cards over the years, Madeline hadn’t visited since Maude had gone to live in a distant state with her sister after Jason passed away. This was the first official word Madeline had gotten regarding Maude for at least five years.

The next day, two FedEx boxes arrived on Madeline’s doorstep. She lugged them into the house and, after finding scissors, she cut through all the tape. Inside one, she found the other iron horse. She smiled. Of course, Maude would want the pair to be reunited. The other box held the silver bowl with the fruit and the egg. What a great surprise. A letter in Maude’s handwriting was enclosed.

It read:

Dear Madeline,

Please know that I have looked at that horse every day and thought of you. I hope you will enjoy having the pair back together and will think of us from time to time.

Just for your information, the horses have grown in value over the years. If you look them up on eBay, you will be pleasantly surprised. Feel free to sell them if you prefer.

As for the fruit and the egg, they are simply sentimental favorites. Enjoy or give away, as you wish.

Much love,

Maude

Madeline immediately placed the horses on either side of her mantle, the egg on her buffet and the fruit on the table in her living room. None of these treasures were going anywhere. They contained memories of by-gone days that were now very precious indeed.

She walked into her bedroom and looked at the photograph of Maude and Jason that sat on her dresser alongside a photo of her dad with his wife of 10 years and her mother and her dentist husband. They had all become her family over the years, most especially Maude and Jason.

Madeline went back into the living room and ran her fingers over the fruit. All those memories of that painful period came flooding back, but now with the awareness that time had righted so much of what was wrong.

She picked up the egg, felt its smoothness in her hand and thought of Maude’s bright eyes when she had spoken of young love. Madeline had learned in her own time how sweet those memories could be to savor.

Finally, she sat down on the couch and looked at the two horses, now reunited. She wished Maude were there for that imagined trek to the river, but then realized that Maude had already made her journey to a place where comfort awaited. She and Jason, like the horses, were now back together.

Madeline leaned back, sighed and was happy. She was glad to imagine those two on their next adventure, wherever it might take them. That was just as it should be, now and forever.

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2nd Night in Ojai

I am sitting in a parked car with my computer. It is pitch dark all around me. The only light is the computer screen. I can hear Ray, Chanel and Jeff laughing around the campfire. I have been responding to my online class’s comments on 20 Minutes of Writing a Day for 1 Month. Today was the end of Week One for them, and I needed to give them my responses before they take their one day off for the week.

Today, we attended Ojai Day in downtown Ojai.  Lots of tents with all sorts of arts and crafts to look at, plus food galore.  We walked, talked, ate and generally had a fun time.  I bought lots of books at the library sale.  My motto: when in doubt, buy a book.

I think it’s time for me to leave this dark car and go rejoin the party.  A spaghetti sauce that I made is simmering on the camp stove.  It’s time to go cook up the pasta and eat.

I wish you all a happy Saturday night.

I am thrilled to be here. This has been a wonderfully relaxing day today. I am looking forward to sleeping in the orange grove tonight while the trees are watered. It will sound like rain…

Good night, my friends.

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Sleeping in Ojai

This entry will need to be short. We are camping in Ojai and I am writing on my phone. It is a cool night with several blankets and a comforter on the bed. The only sound is the splash of the outdoor shower where Ray is right now. (We have hot water). The dogs are asleep on the couch and I am in the bedroom of our Spartan. The air feels clean and fresh.

I am so glad we are here. Our friends are snugly in their tent. There is nothing like camping to clear the mind

Good night to all. Rest well.

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Musings

I am sitting with Elena. This is our first official session in our writing “group,” meaning the two of us. That’s just fine. I enjoy our time together. We both might feel resentful if another person joined us. We might look at them and think, “No, that’s not how we spend our time here. It’s time for you to go.”

I have been very busy with college and law school personal statements. This is good since I have lots of students; not so good in that I end up working long hours. However, I know this is short-lived. There is only one time of year when I work like this and it is now. So, I am glad to have the students. I might feel a bit disappointed if I looked up and I wasn’t booked around this time.

This weekend, Ray and I are going to Ojai to our orange grove and camp with two friends of ours, Chanel and Jeff Friesen. They are good friends and we’re going to be there Friday and Saturday nights, returning to LA on Sunday afternoon. Ray and I will head out mid-day tomorrow to Ojai. I am so looking forward to this time away from work with the intent of doing absolutely NOTHING but relax and have some fun. There is a street fare on Ojai on Saturday and this will be a perfect way to spend the afternoon there. We can just poke around the different booths and eat lunch there in town as well, then head back to the orange grove when we are so inclined. Ah…I am breathing deeper just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I have a do-nothing weekend planned. Yes, I am definitely breathing deeper just imagining how the time will elongate when we’re there with no electricity and only the fire and candlelight at night. I am sooooo happy we’ve planned this. I am in sore need of the respite.

Daughter Elizabeth has a brand new car and is so thrilled. Apparently, this one has some extra bells and whistles on it and she is enjoying the improvements. Her old car has gone the way of the crusher by now, I expect. She loved that Ford Focus, but this one with wire wheels and built-in Blue Tooth is even better. She and Ray ended up getting a great price at Galpin Ford. No funny stuff at all. Just “Here’s the price,” and “Okay, you don’t want all the extras, that’s just fine.” A shock beyond belief after visiting the other car dealerships with all their hard sales techniques. So, happiness is running rampant in reference to this car. Hooray.

I am working with Rachael and another of my students on their personal statements for law school. I’ve been reading sample statements of “the best of the best” and it’s a challenge to come up with topics that compete with people who have are applying with outrageous qualifications like starting their own charity or interning for several years at the office of a senator. Dear Lord. Normal people want to go to law school, too, after all. I realize these are the exceptional essays, but I think a few more examples of people who are only 23 and have mainly worked and gone to school would be appreciated at least by me! I helped Liz with her essay and she got into law school so it may be that these examples are for Harvard and Yale. Well, yes, they are for Harvard and Yale. Perhaps I’ll see if I can’t find a few examples for UCLA or USC. That might be more helpful.

Elena and I are going to explore the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell today. I have heard lots about this book and heard it quoted over and over so I am curious to see what it’s about. I’ve read Mastery, which I enjoyed and Elena tried to read The Power of Habit, which she said she did not enjoy. I own two copies of The Power of Habit and haven’t read either one of them. What does that say?

We are finished with our quick write. Time to read. I am eager to see what Elena has been writing so furiously across the table from me.

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College Essays, Online Classes and A New Car for Liz

I am grateful to have the work, but I am tired. I have been working straight since noon (it’s 8:30) with students on college essays, law school essays, and letters for special scholars programs. My back is aching from being bent over the computer and my mind is less that clear. I’m glad there isn’t one more student or else that poor person might have an essay filled with incomprehensible sentences.

I am also teaching an online class where my students (only 4) write every day for 20 minutes and submit their work for one month. My only job is to read what they submit and comment – no line editing – and I must say that I’m enjoying this process. It’s not tough to read 20 minutes of writing by these four lovely women, one of whom is my beloved former student, Madison, who is now a student at Georgetown University. Just getting to read her writing every day is a treat since we are old friends by now since I have worked with her since she was in 4th or 5th grade and now she’s a sophomore in college. That kind of relationship is hard to replace.

I just got the word via text that daughter Elizabeth is now the proud new owner of a 2014 Ford Focus from Galpin Ford. Hooray. All this evening while I’ve been working with students, Liz and her dad have been out car shopping once again. I am delighted to hear this news. This means Liz has a reliable new car and I get my car back since it’s been the loaner. But the best part is there is no more car shopping. Yes! So, congratulations to Liz and her dad for making this purchase happen. I am pleased all round.

On that note, I will bid you adieu. I think I’ll just curl up under the table and go to sleep. I have a student arriving at 8 am so that might be the best approach.

Good night to all.

'I can't read a word of this essay of yours. Excellent work.'

Work-in-Progress: Not a Masterpiece…

I have been working on my novel in progress. This book is a big stretch for me. It’s about a 17-year-old rural Texas girl, Hannah Price, who is gifted at playing the violin and has been preparing for months to go with her music teacher for an audition at Juilliard. However, just a week before her audition, her father, who is the stable person in her family – her mother is an alcoholic – escapes from the police after being found in a cabin in the woods with a tableful of drugs, a black woman and a biracial child. To add to the confusion, Hannah’s twin brother has the same name as his father (he is a junior) and is taken to jail by the police and charged as an accomplice to the crime since he was picked up by the sheriff not two miles from the cabin. Hannah suspects that her father (along with the woman and the baby) have headed to Los Angeles where his estranged brother lives and she, her drunk mother and the grandmother of the baby, Skinny Hutchins, all board a plane for LA in an effort to find, “The Right Price.” All have their personal reasons for the trip, but Hannah learns more about her family and herself as a result of this journey than she ever would have dreamed.

Anne Lamott in her book, “Bird by Bird” speaks of “the shitty first draft” as a necessity for good writing. Well, that’s good then because this fits right into that category. I am allowing myself the right to do that – not go back and rewrite or edit as I’m going – just because after working on my memoir, which I shifted to fiction, I know that I will be going back later and making huge changes. Right now, I’m just trying to get the story down.

I must say I am enjoying writing this novel. I have a general idea of what’s going to happen, but nothing too specific. That gives me the chance to discover as I write. This is referred to as “seat-of-the-pants” writing versus outlining, but I just have to accept the truth: I am a seat-of-the-pants writer. I have a wonderful time finding out what is going on right along with the reader. We’ll see how I fare. I am trying to just allow myself the right to write and to play. That is good enough for now.

Off I go to bed. I have had a very full day. This is my busy season with college essay deadlines right around the corner. I have also just started teaching an online class.

Sleep well, my friends. I hope I do, too.

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