Monday, November 27, 2023

Being Back Home Isn’t Ever What You Think It Will Be

The city’s energy rises around me as soon as we enter, pulsing, buzzing, beating like a heart. I’m in a cab on the way to a reading for my book, Crooked Lines. I am trying to decide if I could live here again.

New York, in all its glory, looms over and around me, concrete, loud and never still. When I lived here many years ago, the energy made me feel like an adventure was always around the corner.

After living in the Midwest for longer than I ever imagined, I am almost a stranger here. Driving around midtown or the upper west side, it feels congested, like there are too many people on the streets.

At home, when I walk around the lake near my house, I may see seven or eight people; rarely more. Here, people are everywhere, and it’s all I can do to keep from running into them.

I am here not only for a book reading; I am here to see my sister, who is struggling with a variety of health issues. I am here to see friends and relatives and have spent a few days with my son and his family outside the city. Now it is New York’s turn, and I am up for that.

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Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash

Sunday, November 19, 2023

What's an Eleven O'clock Number? And Hey, Why Do They Call it That?

Have you ever wondered what people are talking about when they mention “eleven o’clock numbers?” If they’re talking about musical theater, they’re referring to a show-stopping song (aka
 number) that signifies a lead character’s realization, change of heart, or another big moment. The song gives the character time to work through his or her transformation and leads us into the finale, which should bring some sort of closure to the world of the play.

Why do we call these songs eleven o’clock numbers? As it happens, plays used to start later (especially on Broadway), so the song traditionally appeared along about eleven o’clock. Hopefully, if you were falling asleep, the eleven o’clock number woke you up; and to do that, songwriting gods (whoever they are) say it should have at least three of the following traits:

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Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Sunday, October 29, 2023

New Owner of My Old Work Phone Playing Ugly Games


I’m scrolling through emails when my friend’s name appears at the top of my screen. “Jenna,” she writes, “What’s going on? We have two text lines for you and are getting bizarre messages on the other one.”

“I sent only one message today at 9:36 a. m.,” I respond. I am in New York, visiting family and friends, and had made a date with my friend and her husband. I was really looking forward to seeing them but had to cancel after being slammed with a punishing case of laryngitis.

“I sent you a message after we spoke on the phone saying that we were sorry we missed you, and how we looked forward to seeing you again,” my friend continues. “That was on the other Jenna text or appeared to be — it had your photo.”

My heart sinks as I begin to realize what my friend is saying.

“Then ‘you’ replied, “Me too,” followed by “Just kidding. I hate you.” My friend thought I was joking, so she replied with a crying emoji to let me know she understood I was goofing around.

In fact, my friend is encountering an unwilling doppelganger who inherited my phone number, likely a few months after I gave up my office mobile after being laid off. I had sent messages to all my friends about my cell number changing, but knowing that not everyone reads every email, it makes sense that some would hold onto my old number for a while.

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Photo by Devin Kaselnak on Unsplash

Is There an (OMG) Real Person in Your Story or Play? What to Know Before Writing

“Don’t let anyone take the house,” my husband says. His face is calm, but his eyes are not.

“No one will take the house away from us,” I say, smiling, but little gremlins inside my stomach are doing leaps even Simone Biles would envy right now. Still, it’s a conversation I know we need to have.

Just a few months ago, I pitched an idea to a local theater that involves adapting the story of a well-known mover and shaker — and they seem very interested, which is great. I think it would be an exciting play, but the person I want to write about has living relatives and is more or less a contemporary figure.

Most writers have asked questions like this before, and the stock answer is that you are allowed to write about a deceased public figure, living relatives or no, though you want to be sure to get your facts straight. 

Assuming this is true, let’s say there are living relatives. Will they want a say in what you write? Can they get it? What rights do writers have if the person they’re writing about is dead, but family members aren’t?

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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

Thursday, October 5, 2023

The Rule of Silence: For Your Next Writing Vacation


You’ve got five days off and a weekend on either side. You are a writer, or at least you want to be. But every time you start writing, family, friends, vendors, even strangers find a way to interrupt you. What then?

Whether it’s a play, musical, book, short story or graphic novel, you need to write it. You need the time, not only the time it takes to find the words, but the head space required to do your plotting and find the characters.

You don’t even know what you need to get there — but you know you need something.

Enter Joan Drury. Supporter of women. Saver of lives.

Joan founded a group called Harmony Women’s Fund that supported women writers (and maybe other artists, too). She also owned a publishing house called Spinsters Ink and two bookstores. But what she did that saved my life no doubt saved many others.

It was called Norcroft, and it was a women’s writing colony on the north shore of Minnesota. You had to apply, and I was lucky enough to win two spots there during two different summers.

Norcroft not only gave me the time to write by supplying a beautiful room and house, food, and lovely company. It enforced a rule of silence that ensured no one could interrupt me, whether I was using my writing shed, making lunch, or just sitting inside watching a rainstorm.

The silence began at 9 a.m. and was over at 5 p.m. Before I got to Norcroft, I was feeling a bit rebellious about the whole thing and wasn’t sure how I would handle it. I had been told it was because women rarely got to stay in their heads all day long, and writing is nothing if not about staying in your head.

Read more on Medium in Counter Arts.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Dear Friend Took Her Life: I Only Found Out Recently and Am Still Haunted By It


Warning: This article contains some references to suicide. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please tell someone who can help right away!

Call 911 for emergency services

Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Call or text 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Support is also available via live chat. Para ayuda en espanol, llame al 988.

It's three or four in the morning. I wake and sit up, rubbing my head as if I could rub my thoughts away, too. My friend, who had seemed so happy and strong--but you know what I'm going to say here because it's the month for such posts; National Suicide Prevention Month.

Could I have prevented it? I didn’t know about it, and never discovered what happened until years later. My friend and I had drifted apart. It wasn’t intentional, and I doubt either one of us had given it much thought. I had moved to a different state, and we both followed other paths.

We had started on the same path, in a small Indiana town in the middle of winter. I had recently moved there when my (now former) husband Greg accepted a job.

Greg introduced me to Billie, who owned a popular hair salon in the town. She herself was extremely popular: a beautiful, thirty-something, talented stylist. Billie and Greg were both members of the Jewish Sacred Burial Society, a group of people who observe a centuries-old tradition of washing and preparing the dead for burial.

The Burial Society was only part of our conversation on the day we met. Billie promised me she was a “long hair cutter” and I could see she was, with her own hair being long and “stupid thick,” as another friend would say. Because I had long hair too, I knew she would be good at her job. Later, I told her I was just learning to drive,and she told me about her friend Diane, whose rule was, “When in doubt, turn right.”

Before the end of my first hair cut, Billie and I had made a date to go to Chicago. It didn’t take long at all for us to start feeling like old friends.

Read more on Medium.

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

Monday, September 18, 2023

Spiritual Writing Shouldn't be Boring

 Not so many years ago, I thought of spiritual writing as — unfortunately —Boring.

I wasn’t reading a lot of it, mainly because I thought it was mostly sermons by clergy members, and I had very little interest in that. Then, little by little, a new generation of bloggers on religious subjects started to spring up, writing about their own personal connections to rituals, holidays and long-held notions about rules or laws. And, little by little, I started being more interested in what these bloggers had to say.

Some were talking about what it was like to be in a room full of people who had celebrated the Jewish Sabbath (aka Shabbat) all their lives, when they themselves had not. Others wrote about why it was important to them to be married in the church where they grew up and still others wrote about intermarriage with someone of a completely different faith.

Read more in Counter Arts on Medium.