"The Call"

I am a writer. I can't tell you how long it took to finally say those words out loud, or to list my occupation of forms as "writer." It actually took my son to "out" me.

I had been writing away for about three years and had even had a short story published, but still I didn't consider myself a real writer. Real writers made a full-time living off of their work, dabblers like me were just rank amateurs. Now, this standard only applied to myself...anyone else who put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, I called them writers. The standard's just always been different for me...and don't make me wax neurotic by asking why...God, that's what therapy's for!

Anyway, I'd written a novel based on the published short story; a short story I might add that had placed first in the Sleuthfest Short Story contest and had been published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and had actually paid me $862, cash on the barrelhead. But I didn't have an agent or a publisher and the book was "making the rounds" looking for someone who would believe in it enough to actually agree to represent me and then try to sell the thing to a publisher. I was not having much success. My husband (at the time) was on my back to "get a real job" and I was fairly depressed about my chances of ever getting my toe in the door of the published world when Adam made his move.

He was in Ms. Thorne's second grade class and it was Meet The Teacher night. When I showed up we were instructed to look at the pictures and attached biographies our children had done of one of their parents. They were posted on the wall above our heads in a border that ringed the classroom.

Adam took my hand and began to lead me over to the middle section of the back wall. There, on manilla drawing paper, was a child's view of me...brown curly hair, a big smile and wild-looking dark eyes. Below the image was the story of my life as Adam saw it, neatly lettered in his childish scrawl..."My mother is a mystery writer."

I remember the lump in my throat, the tears burning my eyes, and the way he smiled up at me as I hugged him to me and said, "Oh, Adam, it's beautiful!"

He saw me the way I only dreamed of being. For him, it was a reality.

Months later, lying in my darkened bedroom, I actually went so far as to pray that my Sierra girl would live to see daylight on a printed page. I knew, good minister's daughter that I was, better than to pray for something so selfish and insignificant when people around the world were in pain and suffering, but nonetheless, I did.

I even promised to go to church again.

My husband told me I had "an obsession," and should get over it.

Two days later, the phone rang. A woman's voice asked for me and said, "I LOVE Sierra!" And just as I'd done when my first story got published, I thought, well, I can die now because surely this is the best life can ever get! However, unlike the first time, I did not go out and buy a new computer, 90 days same as cash...I knew better than to do that again! But I hung up the phone and screamed, danced, cried, said a big Thank You and in general, made a complete fool of myself. It was almost as good as giving birth, because in a way, I was giving birth...to my fictional daughter and her crazy, fictional world.

That Sunday I went to church.

Five months later, the book finally sold to St. Martin's Press.

And you know, ten books later, I still can't quit my day job, but it pays a good half the bills and I get to stay home more with the boys which was my goal in starting this career. I work like a dog to learn my craft, to become a better writer and with each book I think I get a little better. But it's night's like last night that remind me of the gift and the dream of this profession.

Last night the phone rang and it was V. (She's the one in the thongs, you remember her!) She said, "I hate to call you at home, but I've sort of got a problem..." I should mention here that in my day job I'm a psychotherapist, so calls like this are not at all unusual, however, this call wasn't one of those.

"Did M. tell you I've been writing a little bit and that I submitted a story?"

Yes, but she hadn't said anything about submitting. M. is not a writer. She would have no idea how much V trusted her just in telling her that she wrote, let alone that she'd submitted. I mean, when you submit a story, the risk is that you'll get rejected...and when a writer gets a story rejected it is like they have personally been rejected. It's a shame based business, that's why we're so secretive...at least, the writers I know are!

"Well, I just got a phone call and it was from the editor. She wants to see the rest of the book, only since I sent it in, I've been working on it (Something all writers do...we tinker endlessly...) and now I need to add 3 thousand words. I just called to see if you had any advice on how to do that."

She was glossing right over the biggest news, the most wonderful moment, in a writer's life...V had just received "The Call!" It was time for celebration!

"It's a romance, right?" I asked.


"Hell, add another sex scene! That's what we're all looking for anyway. Now forget that. It's time to celebrate!"

A short while later, the three of us gathered at my house to drink a glass of wine and celebrate yet another accomplishment. M. had just finished her first metalworking project, a glorious, copper fountain with a tin roof.

We set up the fountain, drank the wine, and toasted ourselves. We grinned and did little victorious, happy dances. It was in the joy of that moment that I realized what I should've been accepting all along. No one can "make" you an artist and no one can take it away. It doesn't matter how anyone sees or labels you. Becoming an artist is something that bubbles up, like M's fountain, from the very bottom of your soul. It can't be stopped or denied. The little voice just keeps coming up with words or images that find their way to paper or copper or canvas despite self doubts or the censorship of others.

As my grandmother would say, "She was born to it."


Thong, butt not forgotten....

I was at lunch today when the subject of thong underwear came up. Now, okay, this is probably the accepted undergarment of choice among women under 30, but somehow (although I haven't taken a survey), I'm pretty sure it's not terribly common among us hovering around the 50 year old mark. I don't know why not. It's perfect for us. I mean, our butts are sagging, our panties are always riding up our cracks because they can't find a way to cover that much territory, and we're constantly battling pantylines. We need thongs far more than some taut-assed, 22 year old!

Anyway...my one friend, let's call her V. for the sake of modesty and me not getting my ass kicked for telling you her inner secrets...anyway, V. gives my other friend a big conspiratorial grin and leans in to the table. "Guess what, M?" she says. "I've started wearing thongs!"

M. screws her face up into this little frown and looks confused. "Underwear?"

Well, duh! But M's blonde in every sense of the word AND a recovering debutante. Life has presented her with plenty of obstacles to overcome and I must say, she's done quite well overall, but the concept of one of us wearing some of those was just a bit much for her to handle.

"Well, of course!" V says.

"How'd you get used to that string running up your crack?" M. asks. "I tried, but I just couldn't get used to it! How long did it take you?"

V. gives me that, debutante! look and rolls her eyes. "About a day," she answers.

"Yeah, M," I chime in. "It's only about a day if you don't have one of them debutante super smooth asses!"

M does that little debutante sniff thing they all do and says, "Screw you!"

Which prompts V. to add, "I love 'em! You know why? It makes your pants feel like someone's stroking your ass! I can't remember the last time I felt that!"

We all laugh cause it's true, but don't feel too sorry for us...

I'm wearing thongs, too, and that makes me think of the other good thing about thongs...

"Hey, I like them because I can walk around thinking I'm half naked. You know, it's like your ass isn't wearing underwear, which it really isn't, so in a way you're naked."

We get out into the parking lot and as V walks away to her car, I lean over to M and say, "Hey, look, she's not wearing any underwear and her ass is getting stroked while she walks!"

M. can't help herself. She calls out, "Nancy says..."

I punch her, but V. has already guessed what we're saying. She stops dead, right in the center of the lot, bends over and shakes her tail at us. "Nope, see? Pantylines!"

Yep, we may be getting older, but we sure aren't getting any less wild.

I'm thinking of adding some of those temporary tattoos to the small of my back...hell, maybe even to my left cheek....See, while those 20 year olds only have asses the size of postcards, I've got a billboard to work with! Hey, maybe I could do like that man's doing with his forehead, auction off space on my posterior for advertising space....yeah, I know...who would see it? And once they had, who would remember what the ad was for?!


More than they'll ever know, and probably more than they should!

Okay, I'm new to this and I know I should spend time introducing myself and telling you about my wild life and the kids and why life is so insane all the time around here, but I just keep thinking about last weekend...

It was Dad's birthday and so the boys, Martha and I piled into the car and drove four hours to New Bern to celebrate it with him. He was turning 78 and he is our idol as well as our hero. But that's where the birthday problem comes in...What do you get a man who is so cool he needs and wants nothing?!

I thought the DVD of "What the Bleep Do We Know," but discarded that idea when I learned there was a woman channeling a spirit involved. Dad's a retired Episcopalian minister and while he's closer to being a Buddist, channeling somehow pisses him off. He thinks you need to listen to the voice coming from within you and not the ones allegedly transmitted through another person's voice, particularly if said person is making money off the deal, but I digress...

So, I settled, finally, last minute on another idea; a photo album made into a hardcover book from our annual pilgrimage to a hot dog stand outside of Beaufort...Deb's Dogs. My brother and his family come down every year from outside of Philly, link up with my sister and her kids, and my crew and we all go to eat the best hot dogs at the absolute funkiest roadside stand in the universe. Ok, maybe not the universe, but Deb's Dogs is housed in half an old gas station, and the other half is like a Moose Lodge or something, and there may even be a used appliance dealer somewhere within the confines of the building because there's always a bunch of used stoves or refridgerators or lawn furniture scattered about the place.

And it's always packed with vehicles and people waiting on dogs.

So, back to the story...He loved the album. His best times are when we're all clustered around, hanging with him and telling stories.

In our family the birthday person gets to choose their favorite food for the birthday dinner, as well as their favorite cake. His was carrot and dinner was steak. He's on a health kick and constantly shaking off one form of cancer or another, so red meat is a rarity.

And Martha burned it.

But Dad loves my friend and the steak was still tender, so all was forgiven.

We sat around the table, eating, laughing, and listening to Dad's stories about the old sailing days. If it weren't for calamity, my dad would've had no life at all. This one particular story involved a young woman named Lois, a 21 foot wooden sailboat, a ferocious lightning storm and the Savannah Yacht Club's annual regatta and race. Unfortunately, Dad's boat took a hit that burned out the entire engine and the jib halyard, leaving them with only the mainsail to make it in to the club docks. This was complicated by all the boats waiting to start the race, a crowded dock, no one knowing his boat was disabled and a gust of wind coming just as Lois was headed forward to drop the anchor. The boom jibed, wacked old Lois off the deck, and I guess that's how he ended up with my mother.

I mean, Lois was fine, she just didn't opt for Date # 2.

But that's not the good part of Dad's birthday.

Dad lives in a small, three-story condo overlooking the Neuse River. It is quiet and surrounded by marsh on one side, and woods and fields on the other. In the distance you can see the marina. So the boys and I take our schnauzer, Maggie, out for a last night pee, and the stars are just amazing. We all stand in the middle of the field, staring up at the constellations and trying to identify them, like Dad taught us, only we can't remember this one group.

Adam volunteers to run up and get Grandaddy and when he arrives, a meteor shower begins and we all see falling stars and I tell them about the time in my childhood when Dad woke us all up in the middle of the night to go outside and lie in the grass behind the garage so we could watch this wonderful shower of stars. I look at my boys and think maybe they will always remember this night, just this way, on Grandaddy's birthday, for the rest of their lives.

But noooo....this isn't even the best part!

Dad decides to show us the latest condo project, a series of porches that will be added to each end condo. (He's taking the condo presidency seriously and because he's our idol, we willingly follow him.) We troop across the field, through the breezeway and out onto the narrow strip of grass that divides the condo from the marsh. Just as we step out far enough to see, there is movement from the first floor left-hand side condo. The 8' blinds covering the window are jerked up and there, framed against the brightly lit backdrop of his living room, is a naked guy!

The man, a scrawny, young guy, just stands there for a moment, peering out at us, while everyone but apparently me, stares back, frozen, unable to look away. Finally, the guy jumps to the side, and we all race for the elevator, laughing hysterically. That's when I learn that I am the only one who, for some unknown reason, averted my eyes to be polite! (Me, freaking polite! Now there's a first!)

We race back to Dad's condo, where my sister has the last word. She listens to our tale, smiles wisely and looks at our father, whose first name is Richard. "Well, you know what he was trying to tell you, don't you?" she asks.

She doesn't even wait for him to figure it out.

"He was saying, 'Happy Birthday, Dick!'"

And no, that's not all....

Wednesday night, Dad calls. "George stopped me today," he says.
A little flicker of dread ignites somewhere in the pit of my stomach. "The naked guy?" I don't even know his name, but I'm just guessing here, since I don't know anyone we have in common named George.
"Yep," he says. "He's become concerned with the security around the condos. Says a black guy moved in with a white guy on the third floor and the guy has a tattoo." (Of course, Dad is colorblind, so telling me that George identified these guys by their race, only sets poor George up to fail in whatever he says to Dad after this...) "He said John saw another guy flipping up the doormats on the second floor because he just moved in and couldn't remember which condo he lived in. George says a police officer and his family are moving in next to us for awhile. Says the guy is 6'8", black, a former marine and George is just real glad because he thinks we have a ring of dope dealers renting a condo. George said he was in bed last Saturday night when he heard something outside his window. So he pulled up the blinds and there were these four black men, big guys."

I'm dying. "No, he didn't!"

"Yep," Dad continues. "Said by the time he changed out of his pajamas and got outside with the flashlight, they had made a clean getaway."

Deb's Dogs Posted by Hello

Maggie the Wonderdog! Posted by Hello

Dad in his element, feeding the grandkids! Posted by Hello