Posts Tagged ‘writer’

“The Wrong Side of the Road”- by Alison Grambs

IMG_0428I drive this route all the time,” I hissed defiantly as my husband and I zipped down the golf cart path of our Florida community. “I could make this trip with my eyes closed, thank you very much.”

It was, of course, at this precise moment that my husband casually pointed out that I was driving on the wrong side of the road.

And by ‘other side’ I don’t mean I had just meandered a few inches over the dotted line; I was driving entirely on the other side of the golf cart path. A golf cart path that provides for two-way traffic- not just “Alison can drive wherever she wants” kind of traffic.

“Oh, puhlease!” I sputtered indignantly now, rolling my eyes for dramatic effect despite the fact it was pitch dark outside and Tommy wasn’t looking at me. (He was too busy clutching at the hang bar on our golf cart, shrieking that we were about to die.) “It’s not like anyone’s even coming this way,” I pointed out smugly, slowing down the cart so I could turn off onto the grass and reverse the cart. “So, just, ya know, calm down, dude.”

I mean, come on. My husband spent twenty years working in a profession in which he dealt with life and death situations every day. Seriously scary stuff. Hero stuff. Hardly was me and my cute little golf cart going off the road for, like, a nanosecond any reason to get all hysterical, right?

“It’s not like you can even tell which side is which in the dark,” I was stating even more smugly now as we continued down the path…in the wrong direction. 

That’s when my husband pointed out the fact that our golf cart has headlights. Very bright headlights. Headlights that light up the road for a good, oh, quarter mile or so. (Whatever.)

“Well, my contacts are bothering me lately, ” I snipped back annoyed. “I can’t see.”

That’s when my husband pointed out that I was not wearing my contacts. I was wearing my new glasses. The new glasses about which I have been raving because “I can see so clearly in these beauties!” (Whatever.) 

“Well,” I continue, still in defensive mode and still rolling my eyes, “whoever built this path should, like, have marked it way better than they did. You really can’t tell when you’re on the wrong side of the road.”

That’s when my husband pointed out the large median divider to our right. The one that was supposed to be to our left. The one that the designers of this golf cart path apparently added to certain points of the otherwise open path to alert commuters to the fact that there are two separate lanes of traffic.

Again, I roll my eyes, now adding a huffy huff for added effect. “Well, you can barely see that thing!”

That’s when my husband pointed out that the median is not only long enough, and wide enough, to accommodate several full-grown palm trees and bushes within its perimeter, but is also outfitted with myriad reflective devices. Reflective devices he claims are intended to discourage drivers like me from failing to see the median. (Whatever.)

“Well, it’s not like anyone is coming towards us,” I remarked casually. “We’re all alone.”

A comment my husband responded to with some murmuring about how that could ‘change at any time.’ That someone might come from the other direction. (Whatever.)

I was having none of it.

“Well, what can I say?” my voice now raised involuntarily to that slightly hysterical pitch that means I have lost the argument on paper, but am still fighting it hard-as-nails in my head. “I’ve got a lot on my mind. And the last thing I can be worried about is stupid traffic lanes.” 

Although certainly not the response the Department of Motor Vehicles would want to hear, this was true. I did, in fact, have a lot on my mind. 

Only ten days into the month of April and it’s been a whirlwind of activity and stress. Exactly a year has gone by since I was in the hospital. Pulmonary embolisms had sneaked into my lungs and threatened to take me out. Until now, I hadn’t ever really understood how much the whole almost dying thing can rattle a person’s psyche. The world looks different when you come lose to not being in it anymore. Yeesh. Close calls. And we’ve all had those close-calls. The only difference is, I was totally aware of mine at the time.

On top of that, all the longterm, personal writing projects I’ve been working on for the two years are finally coming to a state of finalization now. Which means I have to do the unthinkable: cease focusing on the creative writing (my strong suit and personal joy), and get to work mapping out marketing plans for each of them (so very not my strong suit and so very much not my personal joy.) It’s that time in the game when a writer no longer gets to say, “Oh, I’m still working on that project. Stay tuned.” The work is done, and now has to be pushed out and judged by the masses. (Or, in my case, the one person who will buy my books.)

Plus, I’m really, really disappointed with the season finale of “The Walking Dead.” Is Glenn still alive? Is Daryl dead? Does Alicia Florrick know that her new lover has a penchant for baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire? Not to mention how very weighed down I am by my failure to become fluent in French by the time my mother and I fly off to Paris this summer for a mother/daughter adventure. The best I can do right now is order un croissant. (And I’d probably mess that up by accidentally calling it a poisson.)

“Just get back into your lane please,” my husband, his voice now palpably testy, advised with an exhausted sigh.

It was the kind of exhausted sigh I hear him often. The one he lets out every time I break the kitchen garbage disposal by shoving artichoke leaves into it. The one he lets out when I decide to spray paint a piece of furniture in the house hot pink and accidentally end up spray painting parts of the house itself. The kind of exhausted sigh he lets out when I use the pointy ears of his full-size Yoda figure to dry my wet bras while doing laundry.

“Please…” my husband groans.

But I’m not ready to get back in my proper lane yet. Being on the wrong side, if only for a few seconds, feels good. I feel alive. Granted we’re traveling only 10 m/p/h, but it’s an exciting 10 m/p/h because it feels different. Defiant. Dangerous. Wild. For two years now I have been driving this golf cart of ours down the proper side of the road, following all the rules (well, except for that time I accidentally drove into the exit of a golf cart tunnel, but I digress.) 

There are people in the world who don’t follow the rules. Ever. People who do precisely what they are not suppose to do. People who climb mountains they’re told not to climb. People who write books they’re told will never sell. People who instigate fights they’re told they can never win. People who take up causes everyone else deems futile. People who drink milk not just past its expiration date, but waaaaaaay past it.  

As the golf cart keeps traveling the wrong way I do a quick mental check on where I stand among these people. Do I break the rules? Sometimes, yes. I can be just as impulsive as I can be practical. And, at least creatively, I am quite certain that I function way more out of the box than it in. And I like that. But sometimes I’m so busy functioning outside of the box that I have trouble finding my way back in it when it’s clearly time to grab hold.  That sucks. Then again, sometimes I think I play it too safe. Way too safe. And people who play it safe don’t make history.

But then again, do I want to make history? Not so sure. If it’s making history because I do something important like save people’s lives or invent a cure for a disease or discover a new country, sure. However, with my luck, the only way I’ll ever ‘make history’ is by getting attacked by a Megalodon in a swimming pool. Making the 10 o’clock news for being the first victim to die in the mouth of a previously extinct shark- a shark that then dies of Salmonella poisoning after eating me because I had sucked down expired milk that morning. Well, call me crazy, but that’s not the kind of history I want to make.  

I don’t exactly see my parents bragging at a dinner party about, “how very proud we are of our little Alison. Getting eaten by that historic shark in the kiddie pool at the Motel 6. (And yes, she’s even littler now haha!)” 

Breaking rules is fun. But man, it’s hard to know which ones to break. Hell, do I even know what the rules are on any given day? I mean, when you’re in your 40s, it sort of feels like the rules are always changing and somehow staying exactly the same. Weird. It’s hard to know which rules are for breaking and which are for following. What to challenge and what to accept in life. Which dreams are worth pursuing and which should just be dumped on the shoulder of the road as we drift onto a familiar exit ramp.

I stayed in the wrong lane of that golf cart path for a tiny bit more, trying to come to terms with what kind of person I am when it comes to rules. I doodled along just long enough to enjoy the sensation of the wrong direction breeze in my hair and chuckle at the sideways, wrong direction expression on my husband’s face. I was laughing; he was not. 

And then I freaked out and got back into the proper lane.

Tommy stopped clutching at his heart.

And we moved on…back on the right side of the road. 

 

 

 

“THE END?” – by Alison Grambs

 

Watermarked ImageSome time in between my dream of  becoming the first Sherpa to scale Mount Everest wearing clogs, and my vision of opening and operating the nation’s first Cineplex/Vomitorium, I decided to become a writer.  

I guess it makes sense.  

I mean, I’ve got a degree in English Literature, and can recite the entire Alphabet by heart (although, admittedly, I sometimes forget about the letter “Q” because I don’t think we really need it as a general society.)  Anyway, the point is, my degree and the Alphabet certainly gave me a leg up in the literary world, so I felt an inward gravitational pull to pursue writing.  Thusly, (writers use impressive words like thusly) I worked hard, practiced typing on all forms of keyboards, virtual and real, read a bunch of books by people who were already professional writers (they all used the word thusly by the way), and eventually managed to publish a few books.  One of them has even been translated into Romanian, where I hope copies are still flying off the shelves in the Barnes & Noble wing at Count Dracula’s castle.

But like so many writers of non-fiction eventually do, in recent years, I have turned my focus towards writing novels.

Now, a few years and a lot of index cards, cork boards, notepads and Post-Its later, I am still in the passionate throes of writing my novels.

Since I first began working on my novels I’ve had several bouts of Writer’s Block.  

The first bouts were due to the fact I couldn’t quite settle on a plot for any of my novels.  (Turns out that writing a novel actually requires this plot thing.)  Originally I considered penning a historical  novel – because those get made into hit television series starring the oh-my-god-he-can-even-make-gout-sexy Jonathan Rhys Meyers, whom I would very much like to meet… and strip, piece by piece… of all that armor he wore on The Tudors… with my teeth.   However, that ambition was quickly discarded when I realized writing historical fiction  requires doing research…something at which I, frankly, suck.  So a legal thriller it would be then, I decided, delving into a few Scott Turow and John Grisham bestsellers to get a feel for the judicial system.  But the idea of having to spell out ipso facto and other Latin words proved nothing short of daunting to me.  So, bye-bye went that impulse as well.   Should it be a romance novel then, I wondered as I tapped away at my computer like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.  (“All work and no plot makes Alison a bad writer. All work and no plot makes Alison a bad writer. All work and no plot makes Alison a bad writer.”  Well, considering the fact that I have never  read a romance novel, and cannot say, let alone type the word vagina without giggling uncontrollably, that literary impulse flew out the window just like my parakeet did back in college.  

Ultimately, I made the active decision  to not box myself into any literary genre and just began to write whatever came out of my over-bleached head.

Problem solved… not!

Sooner than you can say “Supercalifrackingisreallybadfortheenvironment”  I found myself embroiled in an inner battle to come up with working titles for my three novels in progress.  Woe was me, though, as all the good titles have already been taken by far better novelists.  But being the problem solver I am, I resolved that issue by titling my three respective novels,  “Read This”, “Read This: Volume II“, and “Read This: Volume III”.  

Problem solved…. not!

Next problem I faced as a novelist was coming up with a gripping/compelling/memorable opening sentence.  After all, everyone who is anyone knows that all the best books have a great opening sentence.  Trouble brewed once agains as the best sentence I could come up with was:

The.

Fearful that “The” might not launch my  career the way say, “Call me Ishmael” launched what-his-name’s, I tacked on a few nouns and verbs to my ‘The”.   Lo and behold!  This act of constructing a complete sentence proved remarkably effective.  Before I knew it sentences began to accumulate on the pages before my eyes!  Mounds and mounds of paragraphs followed, turning into long chapters!  Enough chapters, in fact, that I had to order a printer from Amazon.com! Woo hoo!

Problem solved… not!

Chapters are all well and good, but as it turns out, on top of all the other tedious criteria I’d bumped into, turns out  novels are supposed to have  endings.  Well, guess what? All the good novel endings to all the best stories ever written have already been taken.  So, now I find myself in that uncomfortable literary stand-off.  Do I work really, really hard to come up with three endings to my three incomplete novels?  Or do I just leave them as is and forget about the endings  entirely?   I mean, come on.  Aren’t endings overrated anyway? 

For instance, to harken back to some literary classics – in Peter Benchley’s Jaws, did we really neeeeeeeeed to know what happened to the shark after Quint got swallowed whole and the boat began to sink?  No.   And in The Exorcist, did we really neeeeeeeed to know that the creepy girl with the spinning head was able to spit demons out of her throat and resume normal life as a teenager who just happened to have been possessed by the Devil himself?  Nooooooo. And in Into Thin Air do we really neeeeed to know that all of the climbers on Mount Everest actually make it to the summit unharmed only to discover there is a White Castle drive-thru up there at 28,000 feet?  Nooooooooo.

Let’s be honest.  Once an ending is established in a novel, all the possibilities are squashed.  Where’s the fun in that?

So, at this point in my hearty endeavor to become a bona fide novelist, I’m focusing solely on the beginning and middle of my works- in-progress, and am most likely going to just leave the endings off entirely.  Who am I to be so presumptuous as to tell anyone how a story ends, right? Much better to make them pay $ 26.00 for a book that leaves them hanging, if not slightly baffled… if not completely inclined to sue me and the publisher I don’t have.

Problem solved….totally!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a break from writing the beginnings and middles of my three novels and hit the local White Castle…

THE END

(see how cliché that is?)

 

 

 

   

 

 

“50 Something” Guest Blog- by Jody Romano. (With Intro by Alison Grambs)

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INTRODUCTION

by Alison Grambs

“Hi, Alison. My name is Jody Romano, and I’m calling from the Alumni office at Haverford College…

Uh-oh… the Alumni office?

Panicked, I paused the playback feature on my voicemail, mentally preparing myself for what was clearly about to happen. My esteemed alma mater had decided to rescind my graduation diploma and had taken the extreme measure of dispatching one of its executives to deliver me the woeful news. I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that it had taken Haverford a couple of years longer than I had anticipated to make this decidedly necessary move. But clearly, the day had finally arrived. As best I could surmise, this esteemed Jody person at the esteemed offices of the esteemed Haverford College must have re-read my positively un-esteemed senior thesis on Joseph Conrad and determined I had no business being in possession of an esteemed English Literature degree. As my finger hovered over the playback button on my phone console, my mind raced with the inevitable consequences of being summarily un-graduated from Haverford College. I’d most likely lose my job. My book publisher would void my contract. My father, a proud alumnus of Haverford, would disown me. My husband would leave me. The dog would leave me. I’d end up living in a cardboard box, under a bridge, eating cat food out of a can and wearing tin foil on my ears so the UFOs could contact me for pick-up.

“So sorry to bother you,” the friendly voice continued as I reluctantly resumed listening. “But I’m putting together an Alumni in the Arts event and would love to have you on the panel to talk about your writing career. Give me a call, okay?”

Huh? What? Panel? Me? This made no sense. Haverford turns out really important people – people who are immensely successful and make the world a better place. But I was just a struggling ‘writer’ working at the Friars Club – a singularly un-important alumnus creature, making the world a worser place every day I breathed. Convinced this Jody Romano of the Haverford Alumni Office had simply dialed the wrong Alison Grambs, I returned the call. What followed was one of those life-changing conversations that bonds two strangers so instantly – so organically- that said strangers realize it is nothing short of their civic and moral duty to become close friends. Despite being separated by hectic schedules and a lot of miles on I-80, Jody and I continue to make each other laugh since that first phone call. We keep each other updated as best we can, and support one another’s professional and personal endeavors – and, with equal zeal, make fun of each other’s miserable failings. As a result, when I think back to that Alumni office phone call years ago – I realize it was just one of those wonderfully unexpected magical moments in life that I’m immensely thankful for. (Yes, Haverford. I just ended a sentence with a preposition. Bet you want to rescind my diploma now, right?)

On my mantel there sits… actually, that’s a lie… I don’t have a mantel… it’s more like a window sill with an air conditioner balanced on it precariously… anyway, the point is I have displayed on this mantel/window sill, a plaque Jody sent me as a gift last year. It reads: “Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but they’re always there.” How very, very true. For the older we women in our 40s get, the more we find ourselves leaning on one another for back up through the bumps in the road.

So,without further ado, it is my pleasure to present the following charming guest blog by my friend, Jody Romano, the woman behind the Alumni office voice – and the friend who was nice enough to let me keep my Haverford diploma. Enjoy!

“50 SOMETHING”

Guest Blog by Jody Romano

As I stand on the threshold of 50, okay, well,not exactly the “threshold” as I am only 47 and nine months (funny how we only count the months when we are kids and over the age of 45 – and for completely different reasons!), and I am reminded of when I turned both 30 and 40 and how different my reactions to both were. At 29 I was starting to wonder what being “In my 30s” was really going to mean. How did I have to start acting, what did I have to give up and what did I have to take on as I entered this new decade?

At 29, everything I knew about “Your 30s” came from watching an overly-soulful TV show called 30 Something. According to this incredibly annoying account, which my friends and coworkers in their 30s swore was an accurate representation of their lives, I was now entering a decade that mandated all my fun stop and my new top priority would be whining about my life. Gone were the glory days of being out all night party- hopping in shoes that made the walk of shame all the more challenging. No more 2 a.m. road trips to the Jersey Shore for a slice of pizza, and certainly no more calling out of work on a Tuesday with a hangover-induced migraine. Gone too would be lofty dreams of traveling through Europe with $150 in my pocket and a backpack full of gumption. No, these were the realities of your 20s. Your 30s, according to the show, were about giving up idealistic freedoms to make room for overburdening responsibilities – and, if you were doing it right, these responsibilities would overwhelm you and cause you to incessantly complain to friends about how life had “Done you wrong.”

And so it seemed by decreed that my 30s would be the time when I finally had to accept the fact that Santa Claus was a lie and if I wanted sparkly things under the tree at Christmas I was going to have to get serious about going to work every day (apparently at a job that was required to steal my soul) to earn the money to make the minimum payments on the sparkly things that ultimately would run up my debt to the point that it would eventually screw up my credit score (what was that by the way?) so I would not be able to buy my suburban dream house (that I didn’t know I wanted) and would therefore be stuck in an apartment that wasn’t big enough for me and the sparkly things and the husband and baby I was supposed to have by now … AND breathe!

Was it any wonder that on the eve of my 30th birthday I experienced a full-on panic attack? To my credit, however, that panic attack did happen at a Van Halen concert so I didn’t feel all together THAT old. I was still Running with Devil even if I was crying like Jamie because I would no longer be allowed to Dance the Night Away. And with that, I stepped into my 30s.

When I turned 39 I looked back on the last nine years to see if the TV showed lied. Sadly, in many ways, it really was spot-on accurate. My marriage that began in my 20s ended in my 30s. My jobs sort of paid bills and left me feeling completely unfulfilled and, at times, void of a soul. I never did make it to Europe, probably because I never had a spare $150, and my gumption was needed elsewhere. But it wasn’t all true. There was still fun to be had, dreams to be pondered, and people whining about their lives all the time was still annoying. So maybe there was hope for my 40s after all!?

As the big day approached, I really had no stress around turning 40. I was actually looking forward to it. Perhaps this was because as it got closer I noticed, as if by magic, I was no longer concerned about the size of my butt. I woke up one day and said out loud to myself and the world “Enough already!” I had been worrying about my butt for the last 30 years, and to what end? Wasn’t like it was getting smaller as I got older. But at 40 I was done! I decided that I couldn’t see it so why the heck was I so worried about it, and if others didn’t like it then they shouldn’t look. It was an amazingly liberating declaration, and with this new found freedom from my butt came a sense of empowerment I had never before known! How glorious my 40s were going to be. I was ready to be bold, brassy, full of wisdom and energy and a power from within that world would recognize as something to be reckoned with, “Behold! She is 40 and fabulous!”

And so it was … until perimenopause set in.

Now what, you may ask, is perimenopause? In middle school health class we learn all about the mechanics of human sexuality and the reproductive system. We are told about the awakening of the male sex drive (which apparently never goes back to sleep) and about the blooming of the female flower (which apparently will wilt up somewhere around age 55). What they don’t tell us, however, is that the dying process of that flower can sometimes take years … this is perimenopause.

It starts out slowly and sort of creeps up on you. At 42 I noticed that I wasn’t sleeping like I used to. Seemed I had insomnia quite a bit. Maybe it was because I was worried that something was wrong with both my air conditioning and heating system as I was waking up every night in a sweat. To be sure, I got my units checked out and all systems were a-go — still, I was having those sweats. Hmmm … maybe I was sick because I had also noticed I was more tired than usual, and while I wasn’t eating more than before, I seemed to be gaining weight. Unexplained weight gain. That’s a symptom of something, right? Not to mention the muscle aches and the way my back was now cracking when I stood up. Lyme’s disease! Of course! That had to be it! So off to the doctor I went. I told her my concerns and my tick bite theory, but it was clear she had something else in mind. She started asking me questions about my sex drive, mood swings, and my memory. I wanted to answer her accurately but I found I couldn’t really recall, which was making me both angry and sad and I just knew when I left there I was going to have a headache which was going to cause me to postpone my date set for later that night. Oh well, I didn’t really feel like going anyway.

That’s when she said it, “You are in perimenopause.”

Periwhoapause? Never heard of it! She went on to explain that your 40s are the years leading up to menopause, and that the symptoms I was experiencing could last 10 years or longer. Ten years or longer!! Yikes! I suddenly found yourself longing for the days when all I had to worry about was the size of my butt. But hey, at least I wasn’t 50!

So here I am now at 47 and nine months and I wonder what 50 will bring. Perimenopause turned into actual menopause two years ago so that can come of the list. Yes, I was young for it but I like to tell people I was a menopause prodigy. I have a job that I actually love so no mid-life crisis pending around that. I have been happily divorced now for 14 years, and while I have enjoyed the company of some men in my life during that time, I am very comfortable in my own life … never, of course, saying never. My father passed away several years ago, and I find myself dealing with my aging mother; and while I have no doubt the situation will contribute some defining moments, I somehow think this will only be part of the next chapter and not the whole story. There was never a TV show called 50 Something, so the good folks at ABC have not painted a picture for me, and there is no book called What to Expect When You Can No Longer Be Expecting that outlines, day by day, what those 10 years will look like. I guess that means I am on my own and free to decide for myself what my 50s will hold. No doubt there will be both pleasant and not so pleasant surprises, but I look forward to the lessons yet to be learned. And while things like walks of shame, Van Halen concerts and perky boobs will remain forever in my past, I am not promising that a 2 a.m. road trip to the Jersey Shore to grab a slice is completely out of the question.


“THE MENTOR” – by Alison Grambs

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Last night I was doing some Spring cleaning.

In “Alison Speak” this means moving old furniture around to trick myself into thinking we’ve gotten new furniture. (Try it. It actually works- for about three days. By the fourth, you realize you’re just living an interior decorating lie.) Being the night owl I am, I’d chosen to begin my Spring cleaning project somewhere around the 10 o’clock hour, just late enough to disrupt the neighbors, but early enough to still justify eating an entire bag of Twizzlers. By the time the local news was reporting the usual series of terrifying ‘top’ stories – the kind of stories that can convince even the most hardened of New Yorkers to flee the city for a remote island in the Pacific – I was buried in dust and boxes and all sorts of things I didn’t know were even in our apartment.

Among the long-lost treasures I came across while dragging sofas across the floor, hanging picture frames, and cleaning out desk drawers that had not been opened since the Clinton administration, was a binder dating back to the mid-90s, filled with pages I’d saved from my earliest creative writing endeavors. A short story here, a personal essay there, and a bunch of poorly paginated chapters from the first novel I had attempted to pen. For fear of ending up on an episode of Hoarders, for a brief moment I considered shredding the lot. After all, the pages were nothing but the preserved blatherings of my younger, less-skilled writer self. But before I could eliminate the pile a recognizable signature on the bottom corner of one of the pages caught my eye:

“Love, Dick”

I’d met Dick in Colorado back in 1996. I was visiting my boyfriend at the time, a fiercely talented musician I adore to this day, who was on staff for the summer at a rustic performing arts camp tucked deep inside the valley of an awe-inspiring mountain range. The camp was a remarkable place, a playground of creativity and a mecca for human bonding, and I immediately fell in love with its diverse group of students and staff. Each and every one of them was special. But even among those very special people, Dick stood out. A professor of theater, playwriting and directing at a Pennsylvania university, he was approachable, artsy, engaging, funny, intense, thoughtful, accommodating, and a beacon of tranquility among the gregarious bunch of counselors and students that circled around him throughout each day. You know the type. One of those rare specimens of humanity who makes you feel special and at ease… even if you aren’t really all that special, and have no business whatsoever feeling at ease in this world.

I remember talking a lot with Dick that summer – about his career in the arts and my aspirations to become a professional writer. He was generous with his insight into the world of writing and encouraged me to pursue it. This was either because I showed a glimmer of talent, or, more likely, because I was blocking Dick’s path to the Cheerios dispenser. I loved our talks. Nearly thirty years my senior, but with a keen memory of what it was like to be young and hopeful, Dick had a way of conversing about writing with me that made me feel like I was already a writer, when the truth was, at twenty-six, still weak in character and plot structure, I was still quite far from being one.

When that summer ended, and the students and staff returned glumly to their respective lives across the country, Dick and I developed a correspondence through letters. You see, despite his hectic teaching schedule and other obligations back East, he’d kindly offered to read a ‘novel’ I was working on. For a little over two years a pattern emerged wherein I would mail Dick pages of my ‘novel’ and he’d respond in kind a few weeks later with a lengthy, beautifully written letter filled with all sorts of helpful notes. Only three of Dick’s letters were in this binder I found last night. I don’t know what happened to the others. But I delightedly sifted through each of them into the wee hours of the night, relishing in the painstakingly detailed analyses Dick had taken the time to make of my various ‘novel’ chapters. I hadn’t thought about Dick in years. And as I read through each and every fluid sentence he had typed out to me back in those years, it felt as though I was learning about myself all over again. It occurred to me that Dick was, in fact, just as extraordinary as the flash cards of my memory bank would have me believe. Insights and tips he shared so eloquently throughout the letters resonated with me instantly. He critiqued with a delicacy that made even the harshest of criticisms bearable. He pointed out my strengths, “a Nora Ephron kind of clever, but darker.” And he pointed out my weakness, “What you must focus on is avoiding the ordinary.”

Somehow, Dick managed to walk that fine line of coupling criticism with encouragement, an art only the finest of mentors can perform. Yes, Dick had assured me, I did, in fact, have writing talent. But at the same time, Dick had admonished, my talent was raw and unbridled. Oh, how right he was. I thumbed through some excerpts from this ‘novel’ of mine last night. Parts of it are, I must say, rather clever and charming. But more parts of it are just flat-out awful and most likely made Dick want to gouge his eyes out with the nearest pencil. Of course, at the time I thought this ‘novel’ of mine was wildly clever and a guaranteed best seller. But now? Many years older, and with some decent writing credentials under my belt? Well, I can readily admit that, overall, my ‘novel’ of 1996 was nothing short of a lumpy pile of steaming poop. (Which is precisely why I eventually ditched it to focus on work on writing other ‘novels’ that are slightly less lumpy piles of steaming poop.)

But still, these letters that are now sitting like trophies on my desk are testament to the dedicated mentor Dick was to me. When he’d apologize in a letter for the delay in responding to whatever drivel I had sent him, he would explain that it wasn’t just a matter of needing to find the time to read my ‘novel’, but his insistence on also finding several ‘unencumbered‘ days thereafter in which he could ‘live it‘ completely, to the ‘exclusion of all else.” He patiently sifted through page after page of my writing – paying equal attention to the good and the bad parts of my work. He taught me about ‘character’ versus ‘personality’, and ‘plot’ versus ‘theme’. He alerted me to my weakness as a writer, but did it in such a way that I was not scared off, but instead, inspired more than ever.

Dick forced me to get to know myself. To confront my skills, and my lack of skills, head on. And that really is what a writer needs to do above all else.

In one letter Dick’s notes on my Novel of Poop are accompanied by a humble disclaimer of sorts – Dick citing that his suggestions on my writing are by no means universal. That he offers his notes only to be helpful should they prove to be, and that all he can do is judge my writing based on what he, personally, considers good writing. I realize now that such a disclaimer was Dick’s clever way of telling me to find my narrative voice, and then, more importantly, hone it. And then, even more importantly than that, unearth the confidence to stand by my voice and own it. Dick didn’t want me to focus on producing a best seller; Dick simply wanted me to learn how to write well. And in order to do that, I’d have to take a lot of hits.

In fact, near the end of the last letter I have from Dick, dated February 1998, he writes something particularly charming. It followed a barrage of criticisms from him on a revised set of chapters I must have sent him from my Novel of Poop. Apparently, everything I had done right on the pass before that, I had managed to screw up on the revisions, inconveniently resulting in my Novel of Poop now being a Novel of Extremely Stinky Poop.

“I don’t know if you’re still listening. This can’t be fun to hear…”

I love Dick for writing that. I think it was his way of testing my character. My resolve. Was I smart enough to know that I had a lot to learn? Could I take the heat?

Somewhere around midnight last night I finished reading over Dick’s letters. Each and every one is replete with gems of wisdom I can still apply to my writing now. Yes, he was that good a mentor. That intuitive. That sensitive. And that dedicated to crafting writers out of young souls. How amazing that a person who knew me so briefly – a person whose path crossed mine by sheer coincidence halfway across the country – could prove such a pervasive force in my life so many years later.

As I sat curled up in the darkness of my living room last night, I suddenly missed Dick terribly. We’d lost touch back in 1998, but now it felt like just yesterday I was corresponding with him. I wanted nothing more than to tell this man who had lovingly armed me with the thirst to grow as a writer how very much his guidance has influenced me over the years. How much I appreciate all the time he spent reading my Novel of Extremely Stinky Poop. I wanted to show Dick this blog. Maybe some of my books because, hell, I’m sure he’d be impressed that one of them was translated into Lithuanian. I wanted to write him a letter. Invite him to lunch. Do everything I could do to repay Dick for all his kindness so many years ago.

But I can’t do any of that.

This morning I found out Dick passed away in 2009.

Car accident.

My heart is breaking.

Whether we are writers, lawyers, musicians, cops, dancers, construction workers, or professional eyebrow waxers, we all experience moments like this. Moments in which we realize that someone from our past was nothing short of instrumental in shaping our future. If we’re wise, such realizations prompt us to see to it that, in some way or other, we pay homage to that person. Earn the gifts they bestowed upon us, so to speak. Sometimes we luck out and get a chance to thank that person years later; and sometimes, well, the timing is just off, and that chance never comes.

If you’re lucky, readers, you’ve had someone like Dick in your life. Someone who whispered something into your ear that stuck and made you a better you.

And if you haven’t had someone like Dick in your life yet, I really and truly hope you do some day.

“STOP READING THIS STUPID BLOG”- By Alison Grambs’ bitter and angry Yorkie

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Pssssst.

I’m not supposed to be on the computer right now.

The Doofus has this snotty “No Dogs Allowed On My Precious iMac” policy that I’m supposed to adhere to. Whatever. Blah, blah, blah. Fact is, the Doofus isn’t home right now, (she’s out walking around the city trying to look all cultured and intellectual- and wearing these stupid looking flip flops things she got on sale at Aerosoles that make her feet look chubby) So, I decided to take my chances and finally do what I’ve been dying to do for a looooong time. The Pit Bull next door said it couldn’t be done. That I’d never be able to operate an iMac computer. Well, I call bull—-! Cuz here I am, Mr. Big Face I Eat Small Children Pit Bull, typing away on my mother’s pretentious iMac computer! And I don’t even have opposable thumbs! As it turns out, my paws were juuuuuuust long enough to reach the keyboard, and if I sit up real straight and stretch out my tongue a good six inches, I may even be able to break into her Facebook account and post some, shall we say, illegal photographs. Woo hoo!

Anyway, I’ve spent the last hour reading the crap Ms. Fancy Pants I’m A Writer Doofus writes on this blog. Stories about her travels. Anecdotes about her marriage. Stupid poems about that dumb-ass R2-D2 droid taking up space in our living room with its stupid round head. Wanna know what I think?

This blog is stupid. This whole website is stupid. If you Annoying Humans spend one more minute of your lives reading this website, you are fools.

Trust me when I bark that there’s absolutely nothing worthwhile to see on this Napoleon-was-quite-whatever website The Doofus keeps babbling on. I have no idea why the Doofus even writes it – or writes anything at all for that matter. Ever read one of the Doofus’ books? I mean, come on!!! I’ve taken in more compelling text on the back of a dog food package. And all those stupid drawings the Doofus posts on this site? Like she’s some famous Pablo Picasso? Puhleeeeease! Her art work sucks. Her writing sucks. And ever since The Doofus started mixing in Brussels Sprouts with my kibble, SHE just sucks in general.

The Doofus is always saying stupid crap like, “Ohhhh, but I must take advantage of social media and the Internet because that’s what artists do! They communicate their brilliant thoughts on the World Wide Web.”

Well, let me tell you putzes a thing or two about this stupid Internet thing you’re all power-hungry over. You idiots have no idea what it’s like for us household pets now that you’ve got all this instant technology at your fingertips. It’s like you’ve all lost your friggin’ minds. Everything is about your Smart Phones, your computers, your Twitters, your Facebooks. And I, for one, can’t take it anymore.

Ever since The Doofus started this stupid blog of hers, I’ve been on the receiving end of this “Neglect The Half-Breed Yorkie” behavior of hers.

“Oh, Bily, I’ll take you out in one minute. I just need to check my email for the 400th time this hour.”

“Oh, Bily, I know you want to fetch, but I really have to write this very important blog about how I had a dream some guy shaved off my eyebrow in a dark alley…”

“Oh, Bily, I know you’re hungry, but I just can’t peel myself away from this website where I can buy a six pound can of chick peas for a dollar.”

“Oh Bily, I know you want a bath, but I really must, must, must finish working on this novel I’m writing.”

Speaking of that novel.

The Doofus claims she’s working on one. Some tome that’s gonna ‘change the world’ and win her a Pulitzer Prize. (more like a Puke-itzer Prize, if you ask me, which you didn’t, but I’m saying it anyway because this is MY TURN!) Here’s the thing. While the Doofus was getting drunk on V8 juice last night I took a peak at this s0-called ‘novel’ of hers. Guess what?

It’s POOP! A big, fat, wet and squishy pile of POOP! (and trust me, I know poop… I eat my own sometimes when I’m hungry.)

First off, the novel has no plot. The characters are all idiots. And I’ve heard better dialogue on Saturday morning cartoons. Furthermore, the Doofus uses a bunch of pretentious vocabulary words in this ‘novel’ of hers and I’m pretty sure she’s using about half of them incorrectly. Oh, and she has no friggin’ idea how to use a semi-colon properly. (Haverford College, if you’re reading this, I highly recommend you consider residing a certain someone’s graduation diploma…)

Now before you go off on how ‘unnecessarily mean’ I’m being to the woman who has put a roof over my head for the past ten years, consider, for a moment, why I’m in such a hostile mood.

I’m 10 years old which makes me 70 years old in human years- and that means I now qualify for AARP with the ASPCA. Total bummer because, dammit, I’m way too cute to roll around in one of those wheelchair things that fat little pug down the block is in thanks to a bad hip. My freak-ass stumpy legs make me short to reach the dinner table, but my freak-ass ass makes me too wide to hide under the bed without my butt sticking out. I don’t have a tail like a normal dog – I have some weird ‘nub’ thing that looks like someone’s finger is sticking out of my butt. My floppy ears are constantly getting in my way. I’m missing half my teeth thanks to a fight I lost with the vacuum cleaner. My tongue doesn’t fit in my mouth anymore. I have to pee every twenty minutes because my kidneys malfunction. My kibble taste like wood chips and sawdust. And the last squeaky toy I had just lost its squeak. What’s worse, on paper, I’m supposedly a ‘pure-bread’ Yorkie. But I swear to Dog, something else got in there because I spend my life hearing people point at me on the street and ask the Doofus, “Oh my, what IS that thing? He’s so unusual looking!” And worst of all, I keep getting shoved in that ridiculous motorcycle side car the Doofus and Mr. Doofus drive around in because they think they look cool. (they don’t. They look like idiots.)

So, yeah, I’m angry. And frankly, I want more out of life.

I hear about all these celebrity writers’ and their celebrity dogs, and I say to myself, “Hey, Self. Why can’t that be me with the famous writer mother, huh?”

If my mother were a success, my whole life would be better. We’d live in a mansion in the Hamptons, where all the other famous writers live. Me and my famous writer mother would drive around in a Mercedes convertible, fancy book parties in honor of her best selling novels. And all the fans would ask ME to sign her books because the fans know that behind every great writer is an even better Yorkie. I’d have a gazillion squeaky toy that never lose their squeaks. And I’d fly First Class around the world… me and my famous writer mother wearing matching designer outfits and sipping champagne out of real crystal glasses (rather than the plastic wine glasses The Doofus gets at Bed Bath and Beyond.) I’d rub elbows with all the celebrity dogs of other famous writers! And have a movie made about my life as the beloved pet of the very famous writer who won the Pulitzer for Novel of the Year. And I’d get to meet the Dog Whisperer and whisper in his dog whispering ear, “Give it up, pal. I’m untrainable and will pee allllll over your career.”

But what do I get instead of all this?

A mother who writes stupid blogs on this stupid Napoleon website of hers, and can barely pay her bills because her stupid novel has no plot.

Yeah, being the pet of a nobody sucks.

Uh-oh. The Doofus just got home. Gotta go hide under the bed…

Woof,

Bily