Almost There

Daring to shout your dreams to the world lets others dream, too.

A young child looks up at a yellow wall with “believe in yourself” in cursive
Photo by Katrina Wright on Unsplash

I am posting from a different place than I normally write, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania for my uber-talented sister-in-law’s birthday.

I came to the East early to spend two nights on my own in New York City. I love being alone there, walking wherever I choose, changing my mind when I want, stumbling upon a late-night event, cheeks numb with the cold. For a brief flash of time, I inhabit an alternative “me” — a fairytale where I am young and creative and soaking up art and possibility — not the same-old-same-old person, a lady I like fine but who feels like she exists substantially in reference to the people she loves — mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend.

On the train from Newark Airport to Penn Station, I found my pen and spiral notebook and wrote about my excitement about the next day’s meetings with “literary people.” The happy flipside of “impostor syndrome” is that meetings like these do not feel banal, but thrilling. They feel like they belong in someone else’s story.

The train slowed to a stop under the Hudson River, waiting for a track to open. I remembered being 16, waiting at an “El” station in Chicago with a group of kids from a summer theater program at Northwestern. We had just seen a play and were heading back to campus, when a woman on the platform shouted to us in excitement, “I just got cast in a Kevin Costner movie!”

She had come from a pay phone, this being 1986, which also explains why she wasn’t texting this news to a friend but screaming it to us, a group of teenage would-be actors, wondering if a creative life might be possible. Here it was in the flesh. I studied her face, telling myself to remember this moment when she someday accepted an Oscar. Did she know that in sharing her excitement she was giving us reason to believe in our whispered dreams?

I saw the movie. She had one line. I don’t recall seeing her in anything else. That’s not the point. These tiny moments of delight may be the beginnings, or they may be all we get. So we may as well blow them up big. Feel our presence in this world.

The train begins to move again. Almost there.

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. Medium, FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

This is what life is like now

A desk’s drawers give clues to who we are, and who we might become.

a desk with a laptop, green spiral notebook, and pouch of glass beads
Do our desks hold the answers? (photo: Laura Diamond)

This is what life is like now.

The sound of my husband watching television migrates from the living room, through the door, and into the room where I am writing. I turn on white noise to block out the voices on the news channel. Digital nature sounds wash over the commentary by Whatshisname, you know, the journalist from Watergate, whose name will come to me any second.

This is what life is like now.

A digitized monkey (or is it a bird?) interrupts my thoughts, so I lower the volume as I sit at this desk we bought at the vintage store for Maria to do her homework and keep her things. Now that she lives on her own, it is a space for me.

I wonder where this desk lived before we brought it home. Who rested their arms on its surface and what work did they accomplish before it was emptied and restored? If this desk were marooned on a desert island and found in a hundred years, what would its contents say about who we were?

In the top left drawer, Maria’s high school student ID and an old pair of glasses hang out with sticky notes of forgotten ideas scrawled in my handwriting. Hairbands, hers and mine. A pouch of glass totems I made a few years back, with drawings and words of inspiration like, “I have everything I need.” “Write and share the love!” “50 is fun.” Ha.

Bob Woodward! Phew. This is what life is like now.

Beneath that drawer, a deeper one holds my things — filled spiral notebooks, a box of blank cards in case the need arises. Happy Birthday. Thinking of You. With Sympathy. A burnt candle in a small glass jar. A new candle, unlit.

On the opposite side of the desk, like the other half of a brain, a drawer with closed legal files for people I once spent hours with, interviewing them about the violence that made them leave behind everything they knew and owned and touched — all the things that told their stories until the moment they ran to seek refuge. Folders with research on the basics of asylum law as I learned it. This drawer is heavier, and harder to slide open.

I open the last drawer, the wide shallow space in the center, holding the last scattered clues to who I am, or who I have been until now: two glue sticks — one old, one new. A charger that doesn’t fit. Soft ear plugs (forgotten). A Shutterfly photobook coupon (unused). The empty red box for a fancy pen with my name engraved on it, a gift from a friend that reminded me that in her eyes, I am a writer. Blank 3×5 cards at the ready. A recently rediscovered photo of my then-three-year-old niece riding my back like a pony in my parents’ living room, her arms and eyes lifted in joy. Closest to my hand, the last thing I put inside: this year’s birthday card from my husband, bright yellow and in bold all-caps: YOU ALWAYS BRING THE SUNSHINE.

This is what life is like. Opening drawers, physical and emotional. Examining mementos and discovering which ones still stir something. What will we keep and what do we throw away? Are we content with the contents as they are, or is a purge coming? Does one drawer call to us more than another? The answer to these questions answering the persistent one: who do we want to be now?

. . .

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. MediumFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

These Things We Love

The unpredictable bliss of salvaging a memory from a (sometimes) fruitless writing practice.

(photo credit: https://www.firstpalette.com/craft/leaf-rubbings.html)

These sagging couches, broken with the weight of brother-wrestling, and binge-watching, stained with old chocolate and fresh dog lick. They were once pristine, even measured to fit the room, with cushions like single beds, not broken up in twos or threes, representing my hope for kids’ sleepovers, now the soft landing for teenage boys sleeping late..

These dogs, scratching on the glass door to be let in and not taking no for an answer. Can’t they see my pen is moving across these lines? Don’t they know I am trying to drop into a memory or uncover a turn of phrase that could make my day, if only they would bug off?

These drugstore notebooks, not so precious, filling up with last week’s bad ideas and false starts, the same stuff from the week before, maybe a good paragraph waiting to be rediscovered, reshaped, and repurposed.

What is the point of all these scribblings that come to nothing? Is it simply in the exercise, writing as sit-up or squat, their value in how they may have strengthened me?

Or could there be buried treasures hiding, as ordinary as beach glass, to pick up from time to time, maybe bringing back a memory of an ocean’s spray, or the time a wave knocked me over and I got up laughing and soaked, wholly forgotten until I revisited the page where I wrote it?

These things. These decisions to etch in ink for my own muscle memory, later to be remembered, something found and forgotten and found again.

Like this morning, flipping through pages, finding something written at a different desk in a different city, a memory stirred by the view from the airport shuttle bus from San Franciso to Marin. As we passed Stern Grove, a memory comes alive — just for a second, like flash paper — of being twenty-six and with a friend in a grove of redwoods. And though I can’t remember the specifics, I remember there was music playing.

. . .

Laura Nicole Diamond is the award-winning author of Shelter Us: a novel, and Dance with Me: a love letter, and editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood. She is working on a memoir about becoming a foster mom to a teenage asylum-seeker. MediumFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Keep going

It was not only the pain that surprised me, but its staying power. For a full week my hamstrings ruled my life, keeping my strides short and slow, the unexpected ache a reminder that life was unpredictable. That the choices we make have ramifications beyond our awareness.

I had done 108 sun salutations in a row on a prompt from my yoga teacher. And I could barely walk. There had to be a lesson in here somewhere.

The practice had something to do with the equinoxes and solstices and a new age yoga tradition, our teacher said, as she announced at the beginning of class that that was what our next hour (or more) would hold. It felt like a dare, or being brought in on a secret. Since that day I have been wondering if I would do it again today, the summer solstice.

What is it about a dare? We dare ourselves to test our strength or will, accept challenges for our own entertainment or self-evaluation. Am I strong enough, determined enough, curious enough to try something new and complete it? And while yoga is not supposed to be a competition, I admit that is embedded in this practice for me, too – am I as strong in mind and body as others who complete this? (When my husband climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, those had to have been some of his motivations – to test his strength and determination, to satisfy his curiosity, and to harness his competitive nature with the powerful knowledge that Martha Stewart had summited the week before.)

So yes, each of these questions pushed me to start and kept me going when I wanted to stop. Then I waddled around in pain for a week wondering how something that in smaller amounts felt soothing and restorative could hobble me so? Too much of a good thing? If I repeat the practice today, will it lose some of its power because I have done it before? Our yoga teacher reminds us that every day we show up different. Some days our work or relationships flow, other days are more of a struggle.

So, yeah, I’ll try it again. I want to see what I’ve got today. My mind is not as set on success as it was the first time. That may make it harder to get there. I may need to take it in chunks of eighteens, or nines, or even threes. I may be reminded that there are many ways to complete something that feels too big, so big you might as well not even try. These are the lessons I anticipate, to be reminded that there is nothing too big, so long as we determine to keep chipping away at it, or building it, inch by inch, whether writing a book, or starting a business or repairing a relationship. The only way to find that rhythm, that flow, is to start. Feel your way, stretch yourself, breathe, rest, sip water, be gentle and forgiving, keep going.

Confidence

“Confidence is so overrated.”

I am on a zoom gathering of women writers that a guardian angel put in my path in late December or January. The group had been showing up daily since the second week of the pandemic shutdown last March. The idea was to begin their workday with camaraderie and accountability, to counter the isolation of the shutdown, to say “This is what I am working on today” and regroup a couple hours later to report on their progress (even if what is reported is a nap, a walk, a kid’s orthodontist appointment). They welcomed me — a stranger — with astonishingly seamless grace.

I come back week after week because writing takes cheerleaders. And mentors. And role models. I come back week after week to speak into existence a book that has been in process for years, and may be unseen for many more, if not forever. To make it real, like an imaginary friend they can see, too. When I feel stuck or dejected, there are voices saying, “we get it,” “this too shall pass,” and “try this.”

During one check-in, a discussion of “confidence” bubbles up. It can be elusive when what you are working on is so speculative. When thousands of hours could come to nothing tangible.

“Confidence isn’t the driver for me,” one says. “The driver for me is I have to tell this story. It’s passion.”

“Passion beats confidence every time,” another agrees.

Another says, “I don’t think I’ve ever really had confidence, but more a feeling of faithfully knowing I was meant to do something…most of the time I had no idea what would happen at the end.”

Faithfully knowing. This rings some internal bell. Faithfully knowing is stronger than intuition or a hunch, which are sometimes all you get and good enough. It is what guides us as we create — whether an essay, a painting, a meal, a relationship, or a life.

The challenge is to get quiet enough to hear that inner knowledge, and have the faith in ourselves to follow it. Voices shout over it and block it out. Fear. Anxiety. Self-doubt. They are all my voice, saying “Get real” and “Who do I think I’m fooling?” I turn up the volume on my computer and listen to these writers share what they are working on, and get back to work.

Weeds

Weeds push out between the stones lining the path to our front door. When they reach a critical mass, so shabby and untidy that even my eyes cannot pretend not to notice, I renew my campaign to eradicate them. I sit on the path cross-legged and armed with a screwdriver, podcasts and overheard conversations of passersby for company. One hour at a time, day after day, I chip away at the task from sidewalk to door. Oh, the satisfaction of seeing measurable results.

“Satisfaction of seeing measurable results” is the antithesis of my writing of late – and by “writing” I mean revising. Where Elmore Leonard claimed to have “just left the boring parts out,” I struggle to identify which passages need elimination.

If only the weed-words in my manuscript called attention to themselves the way these weeds stand out against the stones. I need only look for green and pull — the editing equivalent of deleting adverbs. (Or, as Mark Twain advised, “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”)

I have avoided the more challenging weeds in my backyard, the ones that bloom alongside the roots of lavender and lilies, and braid with their stems. It takes patience, and digging beneath the soil, twisting them around my dirty fingers, to pull them out by their roots. I never get them all, and I pull out parts of the plant, too.

As I pinch and extract small shoots with roots as fine as baby hair, I find myself hoping that by some magic these hours will transform into an ability to do the same with words: to recognize what does not serve the story and will suffocate its beauty if left there, and to have the confidence to yank it out, no mercy.

As the pace of our lives Before Pandemic begins to bloom again, before extraneous pastimes take root, we can ask, does it bring meaning and serve beauty?, and landing on an answer, confidently weed away.

Writer’s Life: Cathy Zane

The current stop-the-world era prompts a lot of big feelings. Anxiety. Generosity. Even creativity. This is a time I do not wish to look back upon and regret spending too much time freaking out (a certain amount of freaking is required), and too little time creating and giving. It’s the latter two that have prompted the renewal of the “Writer’s Life” feature, to help readers and writers find each other.

What better time to introduce author Cathy Zane, whose generosity comes across in her tweets, and whose novel, Better Than This, will be featured for 99 cents on BookBub this week, beginning April 14. Meet Cathy:


1.      What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

As a parent, I learned to provide structure and discipline, but also to “go with the flow” and be flexible – and I think both of these apply to writing. “Seat in chair” is the structure for me – but I also pay attention to when I need to take a break, put the writing project on the shelf and come back to it later.

2.      Where do you write? What do you love (or hate) about it?

I have two places that I write. The first is a small library/office that looks out on a wooded hill. It’s great when I feel like being “cocooned.” But when I need to feel more spaciousness, I write at my glass topped dining room table.

3.      If you had a motto, what would it be?

Kindness first – or as I held it in my head as a child – “follow the Golden Rule.”

4.      Who inspires you?

Nearly everyone – from great leaders to everyday people. I think it would be easier to answer what inspires me – and that would be acts of kindness, compassion and generosity.

5.      Is there a charity or community service are you passionate about?

Literacy – the desire for everyone to have the opportunity to learn to read and have access to books and other reading materials.

6.      What are you reading now?

Reading is my favorite thing to do – so the answer to this question changes nearly daily! I typically read at least a couple books a week, often in tandem. I just finished The Dali Lama’s Cat by David Michie (very relaxing and comforting book in these current challenging times!) and I’m nearly through The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle.

7.      What is the most satisfying part about being an author? What do you least enjoy about being an author?

I love the process of writing – I lose time when I’m in that flow and it’s exciting to see where the characters will take me and where the story will go. I also feel gratified when readers express that my writing has been comforting or supportive to them in some way. The least enjoyable aspect for me is the marketing and self-promotion – which I know is common answer for many writers!

8.      If you weren’t an author, what would you be?

Well, I’ve been a nurse and a therapist, but if I missed any “calling” in life, it would have been to be a teacher. I think teaching and guiding and supporting others has always been my core sense of purpose in life.

 

Cathy Zane is a former nurse and psychotherapist who draws on experience in both her careers, as well as in her own life, to create narratives of growth, healing, and empowerment. A lifelong reader, she believes in the power of fiction to comfort, inspire, and connect us to our shared humanity. Her award-winning novel, Better Than This, will be BookBub’s Featured eBook deal for $0.99 on April 14. Visit her at www.cathyzane.com

Writer’s Life: Jane Green is Back!

In anticipation of the June 4 publication of Jane Green’s new novel, The Friends We Keep, I am happy to share the Writer’s Life Interview on the occasion of her previous novel’s publication (Falling). She shares her motto (something aspire to live by it, though it’s not always easy), and tells about where she likes to write, and why. But first, a bit about The Friends We Keep:

Evvie, Maggie, and Topher have known each other since university. Their friendship was something they swore would last forever. Now years have passed, the friends have drifted apart, and none of them ever found the lives they wanted – the lives they dreamed of when they were young and everything seemed possible.
Evvie starved herself to become a supermodel but derailed her career by sleeping with a married man.
Maggie married Ben, the boy she fell in love with at university, never imagining the heartbreak his drinking would cause.
Topher became a successful actor but the shame of a childhood secret shut him off from real intimacy.
By their thirtieth reunion, these old friends have lost touch with each other and with the people they dreamed of becoming. Together again, they have a second chance at happiness… until a dark secret is revealed that changes everything.
The Friends We Keep is about how despite disappointments we’ve had or mistakes we’ve made, it’s never too late to find a place to call home.
The Friends We keep by Jane Green is out June 4th, but available for pre-order now at the following links:

Jane Green photo credit Ian Warburg (004)
Jane Green (credit: Ian Warburg)

What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I was very much an invisible child, and always say I became a writer because I was a reader; I found my solace and joy within the pages of books. Invisibility as a child can manifest as an adult who needs to be seen. I don’t know that I write for attention, but it is the way I can best express myself, and the way I am seen.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I have a little office in the bowels of the Westport Country Playhouse. I get too distracted at home, and suspect that renting an office would be too isolated. I need to be surrounded by people and feel in and of the world, whilst still having enough privacy to write.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

Do As You Would Be Done By.

Who inspires you?

Strong women who understand who they are and make no apology for it.

What charity or community service are you passionate about?

The MRA, Melanoma Research Alliance, for funding research and drug development that has completely changed the prognosis of stage IV melanoma.

 


Jane Green is the author of 16 New York Times bestselling novels, and a regular contributor on radio and TV, including Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart show, and The Today Show. When Jane is not writing, cooking, gardening, filling her house with friends and herding chickens, she is usually thanking the Lord for caffeine-filled energy drinks. A cancer survivor – she has overcome Malignant Melanoma, she also lives with Chronic Lyme Disease, and believes gratitude and focusing on the good in life is the secret to happiness. Jane lives with her husband and blended family in Westport, Connecticut. (From http://www.janegreen.com).

Learn more about Jane on her websiteFacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest

Where to find a muse? Look right in front of you.

Muse. (v) To wonder; (n) A mythical source of creative inspiration.

For years motherhood was all I could feel, think, or write about. It drenched me (though sometimes it felt more like drowning) and consumed me. From the first days of feeding, changing, and tally-marking pees and poops (must make sure the pipes work), to driving tests and college applications, motherhood has been a 100% all-in operation.

But the intensity and shock do give way. We do settle into our skin. We do find a new normal. This is not a bad thing for humans, but not optimal for writers. Faded along with the initial shock and the keeping my head above water, went my muse.

I have been in the market for a new muse. While I wait, I write what’s in my heart. My grandmother’s story has a lot to say. She keeps me company — part guardian angel, part gossip partner. I’ve written about her here, here, and here; I’m sure I will write more.

And then there is Maria, who joined our family almost four years ago, just after her 18th birthday. Her story, and our joined stories, lately command my mind. She is a refugee and a role model. A college student and a pre-school teacher. She is like a sister and daughter, a cousin, niece and granddaughter; yet she belongs fully to another family. She is a confidante and a sage, a knowledge-sponge and a striver. She is vulnerable and strong, disciplined and determined, and an empathy-conduit between the worlds she straddles. She is a laughing, living, longing reminder that politics is always about real people.

Feels like the motherhood muse may have a new chapter…

 

 

Writer’s Life: Camille Di Maio

IMG_5186_8.5x11-791x1024

Author Camille Di Maio and I have a couple things in common: we both like to belt out show tunes on a whim, and to have travel adventures. Someday I hope to add to that list what she has accomplished today — the publication of a second novel. Today marks publication day for Camille’s second novel, BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS — no easy feat for a home-schooling mother of four! Meet Camille:

  1. What have you learned from parenting, or from your own parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

I have four children, ages 18, 16, 12, and 8. What I have learned through homeschooling them and running a large business out of our home is that they are watching everything. Whether any of us is aware of it, they are influenced by our every action, positive and negative. How did that affect my writing? It motivated me to press on through all the hardships that come with writing a book — finishing it in the first place, receiving rejection letters from agents, and pushing through difficulties to achieve a dream. I thought that writing a book was something I would do after they were grown, but through the process, I realized that it was so very important that they were there to see it all play out. Whatever they choose to do in the future, they will face adversity. They need an example of perseverance. So, the need to set a good example affected my writing in that it propelled me to write in the first place.

  1. Where do you write? What do you love about it?

My favorite place to write is a coffee shop. It can be hectic to write at home (although truthfully, that’s where most of it takes place). I’m an introvert at heart, so I love the buzz of having people around me but the privacy of  being in my little cocoon. I also love to write at a beach. The vastness of water is so inspiring to me. We are making a big life change to move from Texas to the East Coast, so that we will have more opportunities to enjoy a coastal life!

  1. If you had a motto, what would it be?

My favorite motto comes from (Saint) Mother Teresa of Calcutta:  “Let no one come to you without leaving better or happier.” It is paramount to me that every encounter I have with someone is positive and loving. This is not always possible depending on the circumstances, but I can say that I try with everything I have. The smallest things can make or break a person’s day.

  1. Who inspires you?

My Aunt Cheryl inspires me. There is nothing she won’t try, no adventure she won’t go on, and she boldly sported a bald head as she fought through two bouts of cancer. She is unashamedly herself and her thoughtfulness knows no boundaries. She always puts others first. I aspire to be half the woman that she is.

  1. What charity or community service are you passionate about?

For many years, I have run an unofficial group called Camille’s Theater Club. I organize group tickets for hundreds of people when Broadway shows tour through San Antonio. This has helped many families — including my own — receive huge discounts on ticket prices, introducing many people to theater who might not otherwise have been able to afford it. Many times, a group of us met before a show for dinner, and that camaraderie was so much fun. Sometimes we wait at the stage door to meet the stars of the show. We have seen some amazing performances and created great memories.

  1. What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

Right now, I am reading an early copy of THE WEIGHT OF LIES by Emily Carpenter. It is my favorite book of the year and I think it will be a tough one to topple. My favorite book of all time is OLIVIA AND JAI by Rebecca Ryman. It was her debut novel and is simply breathtaking.


21734-DiMaio-BeforeTheRainFalls-FT

Find Camille here:    camilledimaio.com    Facebook    Twitter