Like many writers that I know, I tend to dislike being the center of attention, even if the attention is positive. However, today is Veterans Day. It is a day to commemorate the extraordinary lives led by those in service of the nation, and it is time to honor the brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who safeguard our peace and freedom. I was deeply honored and humbled to have been selected to represent my military brothers and sisters at the Inspire (AGL Resources Professional Women’s Group) year-end event in Naperville, Illinois this evening. I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Inspire managing team for their assistance and support.
My name is Pamela Reid. I am the Program Manager, Operations, Quality Assurance for Nicor Gas. I report to Leticia Quezada, Manager, Compliance Assurance, who reports to Rick Lonn, Director, Compliance Assurance in Atlanta. I’ve worked at Nicor Gas since June 1997, more than 16 years, but, unlike most of my counterparts in management, I came to Nicor Gas at 27 years of age. What did I do for the nine years prior to my arriving here? Well, I am also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and served during the First Gulf War. I can tell you that those early experiences helped to shape the person I am today. Later, I will share some of my personal beliefs and core values in hopes that others may be inspired by my words.
Before I share those thoughts, I would like to tell you a little about the journey that led me to become a military veteran. I was a High Honors student in high school and an Illinois State Scholar. I achieved a nearly perfect score on the English, Reading and Writing ACT Tests. However, if I chose to attend a university, I would have to do it on my own. I was undeterred. I went to the library and, in researching scholarships and grants, I learned that, as a resident of the state of Illinois, if I served at least one year of federal active duty service in the Armed Forces of the United States, and was honorably discharged, I would be eligible for the Illinois Veteran Grant (IVG) Program. Qualified applicants could use this grant at the undergraduate or graduate level for the
equivalent of four academic years of full-time enrollment. This program pays all eligible tuition and mandatory fees. I had found a way.
When I entered the service in 1986, many Marines felt that women had a lot to offer the armed forces, but the Marine Corps' duty was to develop and employ an effective fighting force. There were very important roles that women played in that effective fighting force, and many opportunities for women to add to the 212-year history of locating, closing with, and destroying the enemy through fire and maneuver. But not with a combat MOS. Options being somewhat limited for women Marines, I opted for an administrative MOS. I administered pay and personnel for the Marine Corps, collecting, monitoring and conducting audits on source documents, references, records, Leave and Earnings Statements, bonds and allotments, disbursement notices and pay, and took corrective action as required. My first duty station was at Marine Corps Air Station, Tustin, California. I was happy, for a while. I was awarded meritorious masts, selected to compete on special recognition boards, and received Certificates of Commendation. I was thankful for these opportunities, but I was bored. I expressed interest in a more challenging role. The command master sergeant called me into his office to let me know he’d personally recommended me for Marine Corps Security Force (MCSF) Guard duty.
I became the first woman Marine assigned to Security Forces billet at Marine Barracks Pearl Harbor, newly opened for women by U.S. Congress. Elements of MCSF were assigned world-wide to naval installations that, in the opinion of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, represented a high value target or security risk. I had to be physically fit and mentally capable of enduring the rigors of combat. I had to have the requisite knowledge to safely and properly employ the service rifle, pistol and shotgun. As a member of a reaction force, I conducted offensive infantry tactics in confined spaces, ashore and afloat, to restore breached security and provide the final barrier/element of an integrated security plan for the asset being protected. I had to possess skills in land navigation and patrolling. This was exactly what I had trained for since first arriving at Parris Island two years earlier so, like my male counterparts, I was well-prepared for such a challenge.
Having qualified as a high expert with the M16 service rifle, with multiple awards, afforded me the opportunity to become the first woman Marine selected for the Marine Barracks Rifle Team. I competed in events with the M14 United States Rifle, the M16 Service Rifle, the M1911A1 .45 Caliber Pistol, the Smith & Wesson Model 59 / 9 mm, the M2 .50 caliber machine gun and the combat shotgun. I also served on a multi-service detail that carried flag-draped coffins, one by one, out of the back of a C-141 Starlifter cargo aircraft on the base flightline at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii at 1900 hours on days the remains of U.S. service members killed in Korea,
Vietnam, or elsewhere, arrived for transfer to the Central Identification Laboratory for forensic examination and eventual return to next of kin.
Like many young Marines, I was extremely proud. But the truth was, I was not all that special. Every Marine is a leader. Leadership is found throughout the ranks and at every level of the Marine Corps. Every Marine is trained to act instinctively and effectively, regardless of the situation. Leadership training is critical to ensuring all Marines are not only prepared, but also prepared to lead. It is this level of military readiness that, ultimately, saves lives. Marine Corps principles such as "strive for excellence, “lead by example" and "make sound and timely decisions" are lessons that I continue to apply at home, in the community, and in the business world.
Let’s talk about excellence. You may think that striving for excellence means perfectionism. Perfectionism is the opposite of excellence. Perfectionism is about shielding yourself out of a fear of failure. It is about uncertainty and doubt. Excellence is about getting the most out of our talents. It is about knowing yourself and your strengths. Excellence means utilizing your talents so that, when you move on, you’ll have left a better place for those who follow.
I believe there are no coincidences in this life. If you are here, whether you intended to be or not, you are here for a reason. So, find your passion. One of my passions is writing. I wrote a historical novel that was published in 2010. At that time, I was a single parent with two small children. I worked tirelessly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. every night simply because that’s when my children were asleep and I could immerse myself in my work. Out of some hugely misguided notion, I also insisted on writing my first novel completely in long-hand, pen to paper, later transcribing it to word processing software. It took me six agonizing months to complete the historical research and two more years to have a submission-worthy manuscript. It was painfully exhausting. But, make no mistake, it was never a sacrifice. Only when I am immersed in a new writing project do I feel alive. Writing is my passion. What is yours?
Have you ever thought about what you really want to do in life? Not your profession or hobby, but on a much deeper level. What impact do you want to have on the world? How do you want to be remembered? First, identify your mission. Then, identify your values. Once you can align yourself with what matters most to your heart, you become empowered to make the right choices. If you can learn to foster your talents, and leverage others along the way, you’ll become that person in your community and workplace who inspires other to embrace life. Your talents and your strengths, and, ultimately you, yourself, are your greatest assets. Likewise, when you are working on your goals, or on activities aligned with your mission and values, throw yourself into it. Your love for that task will not go unnoticed. Identify the hard work you need to do to move your projects forward.
Consider the vast amount of life experience and the commensurate lessons you have to share with others. Don’t squander your experience or your knowledge. Be inclusive, not exclusive. We are the sum of our parts and every single person in this room has gifts to share. Be an inspiration to others. Give without expectations. Share your knowledge and expertise freely with others. While we usually see giving as a way to getting something, it is incredibly satisfying to let go of this expectation. When you meet people, open your heart to their lives and stories because, let’s face it, life is about the relationships you build along the way. So, have you checked your compass lately? Our compass tells us how to steer the ship of our life, and when adjustments are needed at the wheel. Once you have done so, set your compass true, and then stay the course.
In closing, I would like to say how proud I am to have served my country in the armed forces. My time in the
military allowed me to learn many life lessons and, for that, I am truly grateful. Please remember those who serve and have served. It is because of their sacrifices that we are able to say that we live in the land of the free. May God Bless You and May God Bless America on this Veterans Day!
On my way home from work one summer evening, I saw a middle-aged woman standing on a patio outside a garden apartment with an older woman who I assumed to be her elderly mother. The younger woman was brushing the old woman’s thinning white hair, her eyes closed in what appeared to be unadulterated joy. It was a fleeting glimpse of a truly intimate moment between two people—one not often witnessed by a complete stranger—and my eyes filled with tears.
I was inexplicably reminded of how much my young sons reviled the sights, sounds and smells of my grandmother’s nursing home—especially the smells: a mix of dried urine, diarrhea, medicine, floor cleaner, cafeteria food, and decaying flowers. For a woman who hid lavender-scented bath soaps in her dresser drawers to fragrance her unmentionables, I assumed it was a miserable existence for her. So, when the weather was temperate, I whisked her outside to breathe the fresh air, feel the sun on her face, and listen to the birds. But these trips seemed somehow painful for her and, for whatever reason, she only wanted to go back inside.
I often brought my 10-lb Shih Tzu to the nursing home with us and, each time, my sons and I had to run the gauntlet of people lining the hallways. Even patients who were normally unresponsive would light up at the sight of a little dog. My grandma liked the dog, but was much more interested in talking to me. The conversations were painful at the end. She repeated every question at least a dozen times in the hours we spent together, and my sons and I patiently answered them, over and over again, hardly missing a beat.
Long after she’d forgotten the names of both of her great-grandsons, my grandma still remembered me. She always seemed to be searching for familiar faces in the crowd. She recognized me immediately, even when I arrived unannounced and, each time I met her, I embraced her and kissed her lips. This is a ritual common in our family—no air kisses or stiff hugs for us. On the rare occasion a family member or close friend turns their face away when I try to kiss them, I cannot help but feel offended. It is simply not our way.
This is my message to the young ones. Touch the old ones in your life. Let them feel your hands in theirs. Kiss them without retching like you’re embracing a homeless person. Answer their questions without irritation. Do not try to correct their grammatical mistakes, explain what century they’re living in, inform them about who has died, or get them up to speed on current events. They don’t care. They are institutionalized. Have compassion, for this may be you one day. If you’re lucky.
I still feel physical pain at the thought of my grandmother. I remember how her skin felt soft and thin against my own, and how her fingernails were perfectly manicured and polished, even in the nursing home. Granted, her toenails were jagged and thick, the skin on her face and around her hair was dry and peeling, her clothing was wash-and-wear and covered in dandruff, and her shoes, though brand-new, were left untied, the toes cut open, to relieve her swollen ankles and feet. But those are not the things I choose to remember about her life.
Many elderly folks chew with their mouths open and drool when they sleep. So what? They don’t care—why should you? I understand there exists a certain amount of fear and angst around aging in the American culture today. I can empathize. But how would you feel if people were offended by you? If they backed away when they saw you? If they averted your gaze? I saw my own children treat my grandmother in such a way more than once and, though I completely understood why, I was still ashamed.
There is an old Irish saying, “A son is a son till he takes him a wife, a daughter is a daughter all of her life.” My daughter Brighid was born on September 8, 2011. She was at least a month premature and spent an entire week in the neonatal intensive care unit. The gestational diabetes that wreaked havoc on my body during pregnancy had taken a heavy toll on her as well: she had a sizable hole in her enlarged heart, her blood sugars were dangerously low, and she was unable to breathe normally during feedings. She often turned blue in my arms. She even occasionally stopped breathing while sleeping in her incubator at night.
But there were a few gifts she gave us during those first critical weeks of her life. The moment that Brighid was born, I heard a sweet noise, similar to the sound a little lamb makes. This fragile vocalization, common in premature babies, only lasted about six weeks. Brighid was born without eyelashes. She had no cartilage in her ears; they lay close to her head, resembling tiny flaps of skin. I used to gently peel her ears away from her head and hold them on my fingertips as she slept in my arms. Between the two of us, my husband and I have raised four boys and, to me, she was absolute perfection.
It is deeply satisfying to see the sun strike her hair, bringing out the brown, gold, and red highlights—my hair. I love that her eyes are cornflower blue while mine are dark green and her father’s are brown. I love how her skin is the color of sweetened, condensed milk. I love how she’s tall like her father. I love the soft curve of her belly. I even love her sweaty little feet. I love how she holds onto my hair when I’m carrying her, refusing to let go even when I try to put her down. I love how she shrieks at the dogs when they wander in her direction, waving at them to come closer as they're high-tailing out of the room. I love watching her play with her toys. I love how she squeals at the cat when he’s sleeping on the back of the couch and he lazily opens one eye before falling back to sleep. I love the tiny dimple above the right side of her mouth that only appears when she’s thinking about smiling.
I love how she screams at the top of her lungs, waving her arms and shaking with excitement, when she sees me at the end of the day. I love how she flirts with her brothers and how she reaches up to touch my mother's face. I love how her eyes light up when she sees her bathtub being filled with water and how she quivers with anticipation as her father sets her down inside. I love how she bounces up and down on her round little bottom when she hears music playing—even when no one is watching. I stare at her constantly, amazed at her beauty and brightness.
Having a daughter has been therapeutic for me. It has helped to heal my soul and made me happy in ways I never expected. And if the Good Lord calls me home before Brighid has time to get to know me, I’m certain that her brothers will tell her how honored and privileged I was to have met her. “Although they came through you, they belong not to you, for they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. And theirs is the world of tomorrow; they need the confidence and courage to create the new world, a world full of love and peace” – Author unknown.
A few of you might remember that, not too long ago, I was a divorced, single mother with two young sons. My former husband was absentis parentis so, quite literally, the whole world revolved around my boys—ages five and 18 months. For 15 years we struggled. I worked incredibly hard trying to build a successful career. I paid my way through college—not once, but twice. We lived for many years in a squalid apartment complex amongst drug dealers, convicted felons and, sadly, other single parents. I couldn’t afford to buy two new winter coats each year so my boys had to alternate, buying clothes several sizes too large to make them last. We never took a family vacation. We don’t have a single family portrait of the three of us. Family portraits were a luxury we couldn’t afford.
By the time I met my current husband, my sons were nearly grown, and the toughest years were behind us. But the years of hardship had left me feeling philosophically skeptical, infallible, mistrustful and arrogant. Then I met my husband. After a courtship that lasted several years, we took a giant leap of faith and got married in 2009. It
has not been an easy marriage. The past three years have been fraught with financial woes, unemployment, family drama, work stress, a new house, a new baby, two dogs and a cat, bad neighbors, and the associated stress that all those things bring.
When my husband and I were still dating, before we were even engaged, I felt strangely compelled to write about him. My husband fascinated me. I admired him. He was a scintillation of so many of the things I felt I’d lost with the passing of previous generations. I barely knew him, but I knew enough. This list is a reminder of the potential of our relationship and it is a celebration of his uniqueness. Little did I know my appreciation of him would help carry me through some very tough times. So, in celebration of my husband, I would like to share this list with readers, and challenge them to do the same.
The Top 25 Things That Make You Uniquely You
1. When you smile, it lights up a room.
2. You are a 6’4”, 275 pound Drama Queen. You writhe around in agony when you stub your toe on a piece of furniture. You’re an example of why God doesn’t let men have babies.
3. You are fiercely protective of your family. Especially of your “little” sisters, ages 41 and 46.
4. You adore your son Andrew. You beam with pride whenever you talk about him.
5. You are unapologetic about your political views.
6. You are a dreamer. You wistfully hope for things with no expectation that you will ever have them. You only hope.
7. You are old-fashioned in your beliefs.
8. You love the Marine Corps with all your heart. That is the only time I’ve ever seen you cry. Except when you stub your toe.
9. You are the quintessential dog-person. You’d prefer to be in the company of animals than most people.
10. You believe that you and John Wayne were actually “tight.”
11. You are an old soul. You remind me of everything that I’ve lost with the passing of earlier generations.
12. You know the titles of old movies on TV, ones from the “golden era” of film. I don’t know how you know such things.
13. You are a natural historian. You have a deeply abiding respect for the past.
14. You are intelligent. You have many divergent interests. You can discuss a multitude of ideas and topics.
15. You are child-like. You love wandering through antique shops looking for old toy trains.
16. You are a Boy Scout. You have a certain innocence about you that I cannot even fathom.
17. You have broad shoulders.
18. You are what I believe every man should be. What I hope my sons one day to become.
19. You admire the strength and courage of other men. Especially if they also happen to be Marines.
20. You love your mother. Even though you’re a pain in her rump.
21. You never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
22. You love an audience. I’ve seen you hold court in a room full of people you don’t even know. At a party you weren’t even invited to. You are a ham. A glazed ham, but a ham, nonetheless.
23. You love my cooking.
24. You get extremely cranky when you need a nap. Or when you need to be burped, or changed.
25. You make me feel safe when I’m with you. I know in my heart that you love me.
My next two blog posts will be a departure from the norm for me as both will encompass some very personal feelings about two very important people to me—my husband and my daughter. I am a private person by nature; therefore, I also try to be sensitive of the privacy of others, especially my own children. If I offend someone who knows me well, I expect them to reach out to me in private to express their feelings. A public forum is never the place to air your grievances. Unbridled rage and sarcasm only make readers wary. And do not confuse public interest with empathy; at the most, you are mildly entertaining, like scanning a National Enquirer at the grocery store checkout. Nothing more. Those who feed into your e-tantrums and daily rants are not your friends—trust me. They will not be there when the crowd grows bored with you and moves on to the next titillating topic.
I revile bloggers who post scathing rebukes electronically as a way to exact punishment for perceived wrongs. I shake my head in disgust when I read unflattering posts about easily identifiable family members or friends written in what appears to be some form of cheap entertainment. I wonder how these otherwise intelligent people fail to realize that a blog is not a child’s diary that can be kept under lock and key. A blog is a living, breathing document. A scathing post can have deleterious and long-lasting effects. If your relationships are strained to the breaking point or, worse, you can count lost relationships among the collateral damage, you are probably one of the offenders of whom I speak. I admit that this self-ascribed “Code of e-Conduct” is the hope and dream of a fatally flawed individual and, as such, I am sure to fail miserably now and again. No matter, it is enough to strive for excellence; no one will crucify you if you fall short on occasion.
Sadly, my hyper-sensitivity to privacy issues has also worked against me, preventing me from sharing my thoughts and feelings about the people I care about the most. I intend to remedy this situation by writing opuses for two people of whom I’ve never written about publicly—pieces that, in the event of my untimely departure, I would be proud for them to read and share with others. I am not an emotional person by nature; however, I am a human being who, like you, loves her family with all her heart. It seems shameful not to try and capture my feelings for the ones I love in words, if for no other reason than simply to raise them up. To my husband and daughter, thank you for trusting me to write about you. I promise not to embarrass you; well, not intentionally, anyway.
Political correctness has gone rogue. Certain words, uttered innocently or in jest, are enough to get you strung up these days; or, at the very least, blacklisted for life. It has become a serious faux pas to utter such oldies but goodies as “black,” “boob,” “blind,” “bum,” “cracker,” “crazy,” “deaf,” “drunkard,” “dumb,” “fat,” “fireman,” “gay,” “garbage man,” “ghetto,” “girl,” “handicapped,” “honey,” “Indian,” “midget,” “old,” “oriental,” “policeman,” “redneck,” “retarded,” “secretary,” “stupid,” “ugly,” “white,” “whore” and, my personal favorite, “Christmas.”
Are some of these terms offensive? Perhaps for some, but not me. Why? Because they’re just words, people! I am a writer. I celebrate words. And I don’t discriminate—I love them all. I celebrate each word’s Etymologies: its history, its languages of origin, the meaning of its root words, its place in our culture, and its evolution over time. I appreciate how words reflect our differences through dialect, pejorative, and hyperbole. Words tell us so much more than the word says itself by its very meaning. A word, whether spoken or written, reflects the user’s level of education, values, feelings, culture and ethnicity.
It has become a witch hunt of sorts these days, vaguely reminiscent of the days of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. Every time I watch the evening news, open my personal e-mail or peruse the Internet, I am bombarded by streaming news of writers, politicians, celebrities, sports figures, and artists crucified for insensitive comments. How this happens, with the legions of PR folks paid to manage the verbal diarrhea, is truly beyond me. All of this political correctness has spawned what I like to refer to as the “Gold Star Syndrome,” where the first person to admonish another for his or her political incorrectness earns the gold star for the day. What is the result? Carefully scripted press releases by people who do not wish to be publically flogged for every verbal misstep. The PC Police are ever-vigilant.
At times, language or verbiage is unmistakably offensive; other times, the offended parties seem only interested in furthering their own social or political agenda. This is America. I served four years in my beloved Marine Corps (which, by the way, has taken political incorrectness to an entirely new level) to preserve those freedoms which ensure the rights of the stupid and idiotic to say pretty much whatever the hell they want. I could also defend the use of curse words in the common vernacular because, from a historical perspective, profanity has been used in our English language since medieval times, many having originally derived from Old English (e.g. shit — interj. Vulgar Slang. Used to express anger or disappointment. [Middle English shiten, to void excrement, Old English scīan (attested only in compound bescītan, to befoul). See skei- in Appendix.*]
The one caveat is that a place of business, educational institution, or public office absolutely must dictate what is, and what is not, acceptable language. Granted. But, be careful, folks. Because when you tread on the rights of every wackadoo and nut bag who issue forth an opinion, either privately or in public, you’re doing the exact same thing to yourself. The destruction of the fundamental right to self-expression happens in the tiniest degrees, as most bad things tend to do and, in our zeal to make everyone feel comfortable, we are dancing dangerously close to the flames of institutionalized thinking.
I always cringe when I hear well-meaning people talk about prohibiting groups like the Klu Klux Klan from organizing publicly to prevent them from spewing their racial hatred. I say, “Let ‘em spew!” Nothing changes hearts or minds faster than the public outcry elicited by such an event. Don’t allow old fears and hatreds to fester in the darkness, hidden away behind closed doors, skulking about in back rooms, waiting to corrupt the hearts and minds of the innocent. Bring them out into the light. Offer those with differing viewpoints to express them openly, without fear of governmental, legal, or media reprisal, in order to begin the necessary dialogue that will truly usher in change.
For those of you who have eagerly enlisted to the ranks of the Politically Correct, it is my personal opinion that a hyper-sensitivity to certain words only belies your own emotional baggage, feelings of inequity, or insecurities. It also invites further abuse. So, pull on your big-boy (or big-girl) pants and stop acting like a victim. I appreciate any person with the stones to even HAVE an opinion on much of anything these days, especially if it runs counter to the delicate sensitivities of society as a whole. Since when does the good of the whole supersede the rights of the individual?
Here’s what I think. If you have something to say, for heaven’s sake, say it. Say it in your own voice, write it in your own words, and create it in your own style— political correctness be damned. Do not be afraid, PC people! You can handle this. Really.
I have come to the conclusion that a large subset of the American population suffer from a bloated sense of entitlement. Such an unrealistic symptom is often attributed to the poor, the uneducated, the minority classes, or to the otherwise socio-economically disenfranchised; however, on this point, I beg to differ. More often I have seen an exaggerated sense of entitlement in the young, the well-educated, in the “upper-crust”of society. All things considered, I suppose a sense of entitlement crosses demographic boundaries.
Wikipedia describes those who suffer from this affliction as persons who “arrogate to themselves the right to demand lifelong reimbursement from fate.” Really? Here are my thoughts on the matter: Young adults are not entitled to a college education paid for by their parent, taxpayers, or the federal government; children are not entitled to any modicum of privacy, at school or at home; those who’ve been blessed to have received a higher education are not entitled to certain wages or privileges in the workplace; American companies are not entitled to be frequented by American consumers; servicemen and women are not entitled to a job when they return home;
workers are not entitled to a living wage; Americans are not entitled to Internet access, a cellphone, or to cable television.
Now, let me differentiate between being deserving and being entitled, because the two are not the same. I strongly feel combat veterans are deserving of preferential hiring. I, myself, am a veteran. But any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who feels entitled to preferential treatment is disabled in ways they may not even comprehend. Many such deserving and hardworking individuals do not get what they deserve in life. That’s how life is sometimes.
But a sense of entitlement breeds apathy, resentment, sloth, ineptitude and, worst of all, arrogance. It is a hunger that America cannot afford to feed anymore because it is devouring the creative juices and innovative thinking of an entire generation. It is a cancer that threatens to consume itself and its host along with it.
I often think about my grandmother who was a young girl during the Great Depression. The Great Depression was a time when nothing was wasted. Folks were remarkably self-reliant, and proud of it. Only in an emergency did they rely on family, friends and neighbors to help them get by. How many of you actually know your neighbors? Is this what we have become as a society? Is this the legacy we want to leave our children, and our grandchildren? Not me!
So, what’s the cure? Work!
Work hard. Work harder than you ever thought possible and, afterward, revel in what you have created. Then, get up the next day and do it all over again. Humble yourself. Serve. Don’t be a generation of consumers. Create! Innovate. Inspire. Collaborate. Take the road less-traveled. Suffer a few sleepless nights in pursuit of your dreams. Because until we become hungry again as a nation, any sense of entitlement will only deepen the divide between us.
My name is Pamela Reid, and I am the author of "The Weaver’s Loom." I grew up on Pigeon Hill, a community of Hungarian, Luxembourg and Romanian immigrants in Aurora, Illinois, where I uncovered my own Hungarian Jewish heritage - a secret kept hidden for three generations.
"The Weaver’s Loom" is a story about forgiveness. It explores the struggles of two beautiful cultures, bound together by the great human tragedy, the Holocaust. This is no political novel. It is an illumination of an enduring friendship between two unlikely women with an indomitable will to live.
One of the main characters in "The Weaver’s Loom" is based on a woman named Mary Lanka—my great-great grandmother—whose single defining legacy was having two children by a Jewish man in Hungary. "The Weaver’s Loom" is technically a work of fiction; however, like most historical fiction, a good deal of it is based on fact.
How do I get my ideas? Well, life has a funny way of providing oceans of material from which to draw really great stories. I was also lucky enough to come from a family of truly great storytellers. Family gatherings were never wasted sitting in front of the television, drinking wine and playing cards, or pecking away at electronic devices. When my family gathered around the dining room table for a meal, before long, either my grandmother or father was hip-deep in some hilarious story about a long-dead relative.
Meals carried on late into the evening. Coffee and desserts were promptly served, but folks still lingered in their chairs, picking at the crumbs on their plates, not ready to leave the table. It didn’t matter how many times you heard a story, the telling and retelling was filled with such vivid detail, it was as though you were hearing it for the very first time.
I grew older, and my grandmother, frailer. I began to worry about all of the wonderful stories that would be lost upon her passing. I bought a digital tape recorder for her to talk into, but she wasn’t interested. She said that
sharing stories with her family was enough. What I didn’t understand was that she NEEDED human interaction to draw the stories out of her. Grandma eventually moved into a nursing home, growing more silent and withdrawn with each passing day, and when she passed, her stories died along with her.
Through the artful storytelling of my mostly poor and uneducated relatives, I learned what the “arc of a story” was LONG before I ever put pen to paper. Unfortunately, natural-born storytellers are becoming rarer, while published authors almost commonplace; however, the work of today’s author is critically important to the next generation of up-and-coming storytellers.
What advice would I give to a young writer? Well, last Thanksgiving I was cornered in my living room by an aspiring young writer who wanted to know how to get published. Of course I was flattered he would think enough of me to ask for my advice, so I gave him a high-level overview of every book I’d ever read about how to get published.
“Yeah, but how do I get published? I REALLY want to get published.”
I took a deep breath. I reiterated how to get published in both traditional and non-traditional terms. I gave him several of my own query letters, scratching the titles of important resources to pick up at the library.
“Yeah, but how do I get published? I’d do ANYTHING to get published.”
This went on for nearly an hour. Was I annoyed? Yeah. I had worked in the publishing industry for more than 25 years—in my earliest days, as an underpaid, unappreciated flunky. I had survived seeing my hard work stolen by my editors. I’d anguished over credit taken for my ideas. Yeah, I’d paid my dues. This young person’s need for instant gratification was too much for me to bear.
I cut him off mid-sentence.
“Do you want to get published? Or do you want to be a great writer?”
“No. One does not necessarily mean the other. What do you want?”
“I want to be a great writer.”
“Excellent! What do you like to read?”
“Nothing. I hate reading.”
“Okay. Then, you will NEVER be a great writer.”
Why did I say that? Because, over the course of the past 43 years, I’d learned that solid writing technique was mostly a matter of osmosis. Garbage in, garbage out. Fill your mind with great writing and, voila, you WILL get
better. Your vocabulary will improve, your sentence structure will improve, your dialogue will improve, your character development will improve, and your plot line will improve. The literary classics are like Miracle-Gro® for an aspiring writer.
So, for aspiring writers of all ages, here are my suggestions.
Learn how to listen—and, I mean, REALLY listen. And not just to praise, because 99% of the praise from family and friends is the rough equivalent of a fart in the wind. Listen to your critics and detractors. Search for that one
nugget of truth in their words that will help you rise to the next level.
Observe the world around you.
Take time to figure out what makes people tick. Especially the ones you DON’T like.
And, most importantly, let it marinate. Take time to reflect—and evolve. Because great writing does more than just entertain a reader. It TRANSFORMS the reader.