My less-than-straight path to here, there, and now
You know that old shortest-distance-between-two-points wisdom? Bah. Straight lines are overrated.
Born and raised in Michigan, I moved to Colorado at 18. Then Washington state, back to Michigan, California, back to Michigan, back to California, and, finally, back to Michigan. Whew.
Meanwhile I earned two college degrees, wrote for newspapers large and small, taught English from middle school to college, married John, and had two wonderful children -- Carmen and Isaac.
It's called taking the scenic route.
The best advice I ever received about writing didn't come from a writer, and it didn't technically address anything related to crafting words on a page.
It came from my mom. About cooking. I was almost 30 years old, and not much of a cook -- while Mom was an artist in the kitchen.
It was storming outside, and I wanted to make Mom’s meatloaf but I didn’t know if I had the right ingredients on hand. I didn’t want to go to the grocery store in the pounding rain and wind. I called her. “What do I need to make a meatloaf?” I asked.
She started to list ingredients as I dug around in the refrigerator. “No, I don’t have much ketchup, and no bread crumbs,” I said. “I’m going to have to go to the store.”
“Hold on," she said. "Be creative. Look for what you do have. Barbecue sauce? Chili sauce? Seafood sauce? You don’t need a recipe. Just use whatever’s in the fridge.”
She gave me more ideas for ingredients, and I decided to give it a try. A little bit of this. A smidgen of that. Periodically I sniffed my concoction to see if the experiment seemed to be working. It was. I put it in the oven, and the meatloaf came out tasting magical, just like Mom’s.
Now I’ve taken her rich advice beyond cooking, to how I raise a family, perform in my job as a teacher, and work at my writing. There is no recipe. Just use whatever is in the fridge.
I was teaching about the differences between revision and editing to eighth graders in Language Arts class. Using myself as an example, I showed two versions of the same piece of writing before and after I'd undertaken wholesale changes based on my critique group's feedback.
The pages included an action scene now part of my second novel, Fault Lines, in which the main character and her two friends are hiding in a dark back yard from an angry neighbor who's looking for them.
The chubby boy with the faux-hawk raised his hand. I called on him, and I waited for the punch line, smiling in anticipation. Somehow this boy, an overgrown kid, could make others laugh without disrupting class or hurting feelings. I loved him, and so did everyone else.
"I think you should have the guy be holding a flashlight and shine it all around and have it almost shine on them," he said of my writing pages. "It would make it more exciting."
I hope my jaw didn't slack open.
Not only was this jokester boy being serious. He was right. About a piece of writing I thought was finished.
That's what I love about teaching: the moment when a kid tells me something I didn't know, when a teenager offers a perspective I hadn't considered, when the quiet one opens up and lets me see clever thinking going on. If I stay open to it, I learn from my students all the time.
I've had grand adventures in my life, many while working as a newspaper reporter. For example, I rode in a hot-air balloon race, ran from a (literally) growling wall of fire that roared up and over a hilltop during a wildfire in Southern California, and I held a baby gibbon in my arms to see how its human foster parents at a teaching zoo replaced an absent mother.
I got to interview Magic Johnson and Sparky Anderson -- two Michigan sports legends I hugely admired. I grabbed locker-room quotes from some Detroit Red Wings superstars -- including Steve Yzerman.
I covered stories big and small. I stuck my nose in other people's business as part of my job, not bad training for a fiction writer. It's taught me what it means to live.
Living means doing what I intend.
Living means following passions.
Living means doing the right thing, even when it's hard.
Living means striving to improve, releasing worry, overcoming fear.
I wouldn't trade my newspaper experiences for anything. However, the greatest moments in my life are often quiet: watching my children, walking the dog, resting in my husband's arms, reading, writing, thinking as I look out the back window and watch trees sway.
Living means choosing joy.