There were lots of Facebook messages this birthday. I enjoyed each one of them. It was part of the celebration, a veritable cyberspace party. And, I was surprised when I read that someone thought I was inspiring. Obviously they had just run out of verbs and that was the only one left. But then a couple more people wrote, “You inspire me.” Inspire? Me? Is this because I’m old or because it’s my birthday? It certainly can’t be because of some level of attainment. What is it that I do that inspires you? It got me thinking about where or how I might be inspirational in my life.
My writing journey is pretty inspirational, at least to me. For the past four years, I have been doing what musicians call “woodshedding,” the process of locking yourself in the woodshed and practicing until you can’t stand yourself anymore. That’s what I think it takes to become a good writer, and in my case a good novelist. I probably threw away more than half the words I wrote last year. So, is this what people mean by inspiring? Or is it possibly the definition of crazy? But I digress.
In January of 2016, I signed with my first ever-literary agent, and a really good one too. I thought, piece of cake. She’ll sell my book to a publishing house. My book will be released to thrilling accolades. Tom Hanks will call me and want to do lunch and I will wash, rinse, repeat and move on to my next novel.
It didn’t happen that way.
I’ve spent the past year learning to revise and rewrite my novel so that it is better. During that year there were some members of my writing community who told me “if the agent doesn’t like it this time, you should just stop.” But I couldn’t stop. How can you turn down the advise of someone who has been in the business for thirty years when you’ve just walked through the door? So I slogged away. I wrote, rewrote and revised, painstakingly correcting the rookie mistakes I’d made in my book. By the end of the year I was exhausted, but the last round of revisions finally made the agent’s cut.
I sometimes get frustrated with this culture of instant gratification, quick results and “it’s good enough” mediocrity. I think there is a special place in hell for self-help gurus whose only success criteria is money and things. And while I have never been a particularly patient person, I scoff at promises to write and publish your novel in 90 days, replete with revisions that take us mere mortals six months to a year to complete. What’s the old adage? Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, and I will add to that, to do it well, you need to slow the fuck down.
And you know what I find really inspiring? The determination to be a viable writer at 65-years-old; making writing a second chapter career and coming face to face almost daily with 30-somethings who can get up earlier than me, write longer than me and have twenty years a head of them to work out the kinks in their craft. That being said, I’ve just started another novel.
Having mulled over the you inspire me comments written on my birthday timeline, I have come to this conclusion: We are all inspired by hard work, tenacity and the striving for personal best, regardless of age or anything else. I will never be a savant. I’m one of those poor schmucks who have to earn every page, every scene, and every chapter that I write. I don’t often get things right the first time, it takes me several. I’ve had to learn to be humble in the face of the competition, become a perpetual student and keep an upbeat attitude of gratitude throughout. Is it the positive attitude juxtaposed to unrelenting hard work that is inspiring to others?
I find deep satisfaction and purposfulness in doing the work of writing to the best of my ability and then pushing myself to do better work. Either I’m a masochist or maybe that narrative is what is inspiring to others.
What’s your take? Do you inspire? Does it happen by accident or is it deliberate? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.
This is Part II of yesterday’s excerpt of The Angel Twin. In short, it is the rest of the chapter. This is day three of the NaNoWriMo Writing Challenge and though I have managed to keep up with the word count that will put me at 50K words in another 27 days, well, let’s just say I am flying by the seat of my pants and wondering whether or not I can do this. I’ll post another excerpt, once I can get through the first week. In the meantime, thanks for the good wishes. Please keep them coming. Here you go:
Rabbi Rosenthal was the only Rabbi in all of Los Angeles who was willing to perform a “mixed marriage.” The couple that sat before him in his paneled study, lined with books, was a shiksha goddess and a young Jew, who had been raised in the Fairfax district of the city. The rabbi had learned that Martin’s parents were not members of a temple; Martin had not been bar mitzvahed; and Martin himself seemed pretty much an atheist. And yet, here they were, like so many couple before them employing a Jewish Rabbi with all the gear to perform the wedding ceremony. That he might return Martin to the fold, was not an entertained thought. That Sami might convert and raise their children in the Jewish faith seemed a stretch. But a wedding was a wedding, and as the couple filled out the check and slid it across the desk, the rabbi leaned back in his leather swivel chair and smiled the smile of resolve.
From the old Rabbi’s perspective, this was going to be more like a “mixed up marriage” than a mixed marriage. As the requisite meeting came to an end, the short lecture about children and faith was met with nods and smiles from Sami and Martin and it was very clear that neither one of them had a clue. The stupor of humor and the faint smell of pot said it all.
Rabbi Rosenthal was a good choice for an officiate, though. He looked like he was straight out of Central Casting. A large and robust man, whose face was framed by snow-white hair and a long white beard, he had the look of someone who had actually been on Mt Sinai and talked with Moses personally, just before he showed up for your wedding. The old man rose from his chair and his desk as the couple left his study, and then clucked and shook his head as the door shut behind them.
Before Martin and Sami joined their guests for the reception, the photographer snapped pictures. This, as far as Sami was concerned, was the whole reason for a wedding—the pictures. She wanted lots and lots of pictures. Pictures that captured a beautiful young woman in a long white gown, the princess at the ball; pictures that could be framed in silver and wood and placed around her house for everyone to see; pictures that portrayed a loving family all leaning together and squinting into the sun as the photographer captured a moment that wasn’t a moment at all, but their real life. Sami wanted pictures that covered up the wild and crazy Sami who took drugs at her wedding. She wanted pictures that made her look normal, acceptable and upstanding. Though she would never tell you that, wasn’t really even aware of it herself, I knew when she and Martin stood on the bridge, heads tilted to touch one another, each of them holding a champagne glass in their hands and each of them smiling a smile that revealed straight white teeth, and sparkling eyes. I knew the posed photographs would be cherished as something to be not just remembered, but something to be aspired to in the grand scheme of things.
But here is the truth. There wasn’t anyone at the King/Fedderman wedding that day, who wasn’t baked. Mrs. King, Sami’s mother had long ago changed her name, several times in fact, with several latest, greatest husbands. But for the sake of clarity and your ability to follow, I will just refer to her as “Mrs. King.” Mrs. King had awakened on Sami’s wedding day and gone directly to the plastic medicine box in her suitcase. A wonderful plastic medicine box, that was really a bead box from a craft store, but held so many more pills than those silly little pill holders you could purchase at the pharmacy. Sami’s mother was a middle-aged woman who had put on weight in recent years. The once slender and sexy woman was now a little dowdy, a little more motherly looking for her age. Mrs. King was blessed with wonderful relationships with several doctors who regularly prescribed a cocktail of speed and Valium, along with other things too. She was especially fond of sleeping pills that eased here into the darkness of night, into deep, undreaming sleep, that never quite satisfied her insatiable need for rest. She appreciated all of her morning uppers with her fresh juice. She was a Mormon now, a slightly frumpy woman who eschewed the evils of caffeine and alcohol. She had landed on this identity when she realized that her last husband was a collector of pornography. Marrying a Mormon, even converting to the faith made her feel that she had smoothed out the bumpier edges of her life and was now on track to being a nice, “normal” wife. Mrs. King too craved “normal.”
Mrs. King had married a man named Nick who was a teacher in the church; who never swore; who did not drink; and whose air force past seemed oh so respectable. And he gently enabled the salt and peppered hair Mrs. King to procure boxes full of legal, necessary medicine to get her through her days. Each pill, in Mrs. King’s mind, was an absolute medical necessity and often when she was alone, she would count them, placing them carefully in the plastic medicine box, grateful for all the many colors and moods that they provided. And on this day, her daughter’s wedding day, she had taken a combination of pain medication for that pesky back pain she so bravely endured, a muscle relaxer and some sort of mood elevator that made her feel happy and alert. She washed it all down with a healthy glass of California orange juice, on the balcony of her hotel room, while enjoying the California sun.
And then there was Mrs. Fedderman, the groom’s mother. Mrs. Fedderman had gone directly to her medicine cabinet first thing that morning and also enjoyed a cocktail of uppers and downers, but unlike the more health conscious Mrs. King, Mrs. Fedderman had poured herself a strong cup of coffee, cooling it down with a fair amount of cream, so that she could wash down what would be her “breakfast.”
Meanwhile back at the wedding, when Martin stepped on the glass and the guests yelled Mazal Tov, three swans moved on cue across the lake, and the photographer captured the picture of two young people looking through a haze of pot and Valium into each other’s eyes as if in love. The whirr and click of the camera that followed Sami and Martin throughout the day was held by a photographer, who unlike the Rabbi, didn’t see two kids in trouble, but knew that his job was to make the worst look the best, so that women like Sami could point to a moment in time, placed in a silver frame and say “that was my wedding day, wasn’t it beautiful?”
The Hotel Bel-Air has a wedding hall, a formal dining room close to the area where brides and grooms say their vows, and a short haired wedding planner in a pale peach suit ushered all 100 guests, who had been given glasses and champagne, into that room with army like precision. Because once the bubble of this happy moment is vowed, fed and danced, the next wedding has already been set up outside and it’s going to be time for you to go. And so it was in the wearing off blur of drugs and champagne, that friends and family filed out the door, having witnessed the Sami and Martin show on a summer afternoon in Los Angeles.
As much as Sami craved those pictures framed in silver, the pictures of happiness and normalcy, Martin craved the wedding gifts. Piles and piles of wedding gifts, all of which had been placed in a garden room with a king sized bed where the two would spend the night. The bridal suite was heavily wall-papered and coordinated with comforters and matching pillows all in some dark red and brown colors that seemed more sinister than wedding like. But the room was tasteful, beautiful in fact. The French doors to the balcony could be seen from the bed along with the rich green foliage that surrounded the small outdoor balcony, a balcony that held a wicker table and chairs upon which they could have breakfast.
On the back of the tall, white bathroom door, Christine had hung a long black and sheer robe with matching panties that had ribbons on each side. They had joked about Martin taking a ribbon in his teeth and pulling to remove the little black naughtiness. But Martin, enthralled with the piles of presents, had not noticed that Sami was lounging across their bed in sheer black ensemble that left little to the imagination. No Martin, was like a child at Christmas. He was busily unwrapping each present and commenting with exuberant exclamation the nature, use and value of each gift. By the time he had unwrapped the 100th’ gift and placed it in line with the other gifts in the room, now ordered by which room he thought they would enhance, Sami had fallen asleep. And thus the wedding day curled itself into a little ball of a wedding night, and the ending to what each of them really wanted and really got: lots of pictures to convey what they were not, and lots of gifts to ease the pain of what they were not. How the intent behind this wedding would grow itself into a marriage was beyond the possible. Sami and Martin had spent a tremendous amount of time talking about what kind of wedding they wanted and no time at all talking about what kind of marriage they would have.
Yet for a moment, before Sami drifted into a deep sleep, she had smiled at Martin eagerly opening the gifts and thought of the normal and happy life of acceptance that she would now live. Normal, once again was the great motivator and driving force, and as my energy hovered in the corner, I felt the calling to do that which I was not supposed to do, and that is intervene before this poor girl turned into her Mormon mother, washing legal or illegal drugs down her gullet with freshly squeezed orange juice!
Note: this is an excerpt from the NaNoWriMo writer’s challenge that I have decided to participate in. I have never tried to write a novel. I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if I will finish the challenge of 50K words in 30 days, but I am going to try. It’s a little scary to put it out there–because this is a writing genre where I don’t have a lot of confidence, and “popping off” about certain 650 word topics is a lot different from making up a story that is good and then telling it. So forgive me now for all the bad writing mistakes I will probably make in the next 30 days. I am going to post a few excerpts from time to time and welcome all comments and most especially support for this undertaking! Here you go:
The Angel Twin
By: Stephanie Raffelock
“You don’t have to do this, you know.”
Christine had taken Sami’s shoulders and was looking directly into her eyes.
“You don’t have to do this.,” she said with all the firmness she could muster. “I can have you into the car and outta here in two minutes.”
Sami pushed Christine hands away and turned to face the mirror where she adjusted her veil. “I make a pretty good lookin’ bride,” she said.
The Hotel Bel-Air had not been Sami’s first choice for a wedding. It was so rubber chicken and green beans almandine. But the place in the canyon had fallen through and wouldn’t have seated a hundred guests anyway. The bride’s changing room was elegantly appointed with nicely draped floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto the lush Bel-Air grounds, and floral print chairs where a few family and friends now loitered, waiting for what was next. Sami had already had several pictures taken: some with her mother, who had surprisingly shown up for the wedding and was acting as if she and her daughter had always been oh-so-close; acting as if her daughter in the pure white gown hadn’t run away from home and moved in with a rock n’ roll musician when she was seventeen. No, mom was just being good ol’ normal mom, adjusting Sami’s veil and smoothing the train of her dress. All photo worthy. There were some pictures with Christine, her maid of honor today, but forever-best friend on other days, and some by herself, sitting poised in front of the window, gazing demurely at her bouquet of white Stefania and pinkish Alstroemeria.
It’s a beautiful place for a train wreck, Christine sighed. “Do you want this?” Her open palm and extended arm was offering a blue 10mg Valium.
“No, I don’t really need that,” Sami said practicing her soft voice. “Okay, maybe half.” Then, “Okay gimme me the other half.”
The little voice in her head that had only a day earlier resolved to not take drugs on your wedding day was quickly usurped by a stronger, more familiar voice that said “what the fuck, let’s party.”
The truth about this wedding, about this very respectful and nicely appointed place, Hotel Bel-Air, was that there was nothing about it that reflected the complexities and reality of who Sami King was. Sami was the girl who took the pill being offered at the party and inquired later as to what it was that she had just taken. Sami was the girl who not only stayed up all night drinking with the boys in the band, but often stayed up for days at a time with a little help from stimulants that came in the form of tiny white pills, or white powder. She was bawdy, loud and funny. She was confident and assertive and it seemed like she wasn’t afraid of anything at all—and yet, here she was on here wedding day, already afraid and knowing that she had made, or was about to make a terrible mistake and that in the grand scheme of things, she would leave another body in her wake and heartache enough to go around.
The wedding is as good a place as any to begin the story. So much happened leading up to this point and I am the most qualified to comment and bring you up to date, because even though Christine is Sami’s best friend, I have been with Sami since the womb. I am her angel. Her twin. I carry the common sense. I’d like to help Sami, but I am here to bear witness to her life, not to interfere with it. Complications kept me from being born– some cosmic last-minute change that put Sami out into the world on her own. Karma. Whatever. Anyway, she has never really been on her own. I’ve always been with her, hoping that at some point she might come to know me. But I digress. Here is how this whole thing unfolded:
When Sami was 19, she woke up late one night with bad, cramping pain. She called a doctor that she found in the phone book and he agreed to meet her at his office. Then she convinced her alcoholic, this is all about me and should never be about you, boyfriend to drive her to the doctor’s office. He complained all the way there, accusing her of being a hypochondriac and a drama queen. He asked her for gas money. He whined that he had better things to do with his time. Unfortunately this was not an isolated description of the kind of guys Sami chose to be with.
The doctor’s exam concluded that Sami had a fairly large ovarian cyst and he made arrangements to have her checked her into Cedars Hospital. On the drive to the hospital, boyfriend kept his mouth shut. Settled into a non-private room with three other young women, Sami got comfortable in the requisite issued white and blue gown that didn’t close in the back and a shot of Demerol that was most pleasant. The very next morning she went into surgery, where both an ovary and a cyst were removed.
Bedside, a few hours later, the doctor explained that the cyst was a “dermoid” ovarian cyst and that there had been little pieces of bone and tissue in the cyst. This was a very creepy story for a very edgy girl. When questioned as to “what the fu…” doc replied, “some say it is your unborn twin. You should have been a twin.” When he left the room, Sami sat with that odd story and the odd sensation of a twin, something she would chew on over years. So, that is I. I am the twin. That is how I came to be, came to know her since the womb, and came to follow her around as an angel bearing witness to her life. Having never been born, I was never given a name. I am just the angel twin.
When the string quartet started to play, Christine arranged parents, bridesmaids and herself at the starting gate and made sure everyone launched down the aisle with Sami following behind on the arm of her older brother. One hundred guests were standing on the well-manicured lawn of the Hotel Bel-Aire, in front of the white, wooden folding chairs that you would expect at a wedding. Next to them was a lake, that for just a moment, Sami pictured running to and jumping off the picturesque arching bridge that went from side to side. “Bride Jumps Into Lake At Own Wedding,” the headline would read.
Walking down the aisle, she looked at her guests and smiled a smile that was really more of a grimace. A face that betrayed what would normally be a day of celebration and happiness, she wasn’t happy. She thought this wedding might make her happy, might instate her as an upstanding citizen in her community—might actually make her normal.
Normal was something that Sami longed for, craved, even felt desperate for. Normal meant a level of okay-ness that made your good heart visible. Most of the people here did not know her that way. They knew her as the feisty girl who partied hard and kicked back shots of whatever. Guys thought that she was “one of the boys” and they dug her for it. Women were cautious of her, and rightly so. She had few true friends. Christine was one of them. Christine knew her good heart. Knew her angst of wanting to be normal and tried to support by teaching her basic life skills, like keeping a checking account and waiting one month before you brought a guy home to sleep with you. “Anyone can keep up party manners for 30 days,” Christine would say. But the 30 day rule rarely stuck, even though Sami recited it often. Christine probably kept her from totally derailing. And Christine always knew to carry a Valium when she was going to be with Sami, because if common sense couldn’t calm her down, Valium had at least a fighting chance.
The two had met at an office party given by Christine’s company, a naked lady magazine that easily lured and captured starlet wannabe’s with the promise of worldly fame, all for the easy price of taking off your clothes for publication. Christine worked for the magazine as a copy editor, training an eye that wanted to write…hopefully one day, something beyond “Your Most Secret Sex Questions for the Editor.” For the present, it was a good job and a writing job at that, and she didn’t have to look at the naked ladies, just edit the inane pictorial bios of “turn-offs” and “turn-ons.”
Anything was an excuse for a party in the naked lady business. Sami had gone with a photographer friend with plans of leaving alone. A party meant free food and that had been the appeal. She was scarfing at the trough of a buffet when she noticed the woman next to her doing the same. “Blind munchies?” Christine had asked her. “Not yet,” Sami replied. And without further conversation they snuck off to an outside fire escape where they lit up a nicely rolled doobie and inhaled deeply, looking down to the throngs of ant-like people, scurrying on the sand hill of the Sunset Strip, that was coming alive in dark hours of the night. From this point forward, Sami decided that they were best friends, and Christine went along for the ride, mesmerized by the unbridled, unrepentant, wild and crazy Sami King.
As Sami reached the small, white gazebo, festooned with flowers that matched her bouquet and the lavender and pink dress colors of her three bridesmaids, the Valium hit, and a warm and a relaxing mood engulfed her like a long, lost friend. Her smile softened from grimace to something pleasant. And though Christine would later describe it as a lamb being led to slaughter moment, Sami managed to slip gracefully off her brother’s arm and offer him a cheek to kiss before he went to join the other guests.
Words blurred into words that did not make sense. Promises and “yes” collided into each other like fat skaters on bad ice, and the ceremony seemed as though it had lasted about a minute and a half. The groom stepped on the wine glass; the hundred guests said “Mazel Tov:” the music burst into something cheery and that was it. One very stunned Sami King had tied the knot and was looking forward to a marriage that would last no longer than any of her previous relationships…about one and a half years.
Still as you will see, the date was to mark a change, an awakening to something a little more ambitious than having “normal” as a life goal.