Healing the Heart – Allowing myself to cry

Dad-2013-03-08I allow myself to cry. I cry for what used to be. I cry for what was. And I cry for what will never now be.

Images play havoc with my mind. The smile on my mom’s face when she returned from the ER with the revelation that her abdomen was full of cancer. The way my dad looked sitting in his Gerry chair all dressed up in a suit and scarf for my mom’s funeral. Mom reaching out to cup my face between her hands, as I leaned over her bed at Hospice, responding “I love you too,” and then, “Don’t cry.” Dad waving good-bye to me from the foyer on the last day I visited before the “event” that ended with his death. Mom in the good days. Mom in the bad days. Dad crying. Dad laughing.

The images of mom and dad fight for my attention. I allow them to pass through my mind’s eye. Some insist on lingering a while. Some persist in returning. I will never forget.

It’s been a little more than three months since Mom’s cat scan thrust us all into darkness. A little less than three months since we moved Dad to the nursing home. A little less than two months since Mom breathed her last. A little more than one month since we buried Dad. The 2nd, the 4th, the 10th, the 21st, the 25th, the 12th, the 18th, the 26th, the 1st. Milestone dates marching in rapid succession.

I allow myself to cry.

It seems fruitless to do otherwise.

Self-Publishing—what not to do

Advisory: This post disregards, violates and otherwise ignores all advice to self-published authors regarding professionalism, such as: Be professional. Or if you can’t do that, at least act professional.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 — afternoon

You’d think I’d know better. I mean, after all, I was a high school valedictorian and managed to earn a bachelor of science in Chemical Engineering. You’d think I could manage to to update my Amazon.com book page. But then I haven’t done that in over a year. Maybe if I were 25 or 30, or whatever age one is at the prime of one’s mathematical ability, which I correlate to analytical ability, or a basic ability to think oneself out of a paper bag, I could have figured it out even if it was a year later. But, no.

I sure hope I haven’t inadvertently unpublished my memoir from Amazon.com. All I wanted to do was update my book description.

Give me strength.

Here’s the good news:

After publicly announcing I was abandoning all efforts at marketing my self-published book, I made personal record-breaking sales in October and am looking at a fairly good month here in November too (still a pittance for real authors, but good for fledglings like me). I don’t know how. I don’t know why. Maybe it has to do with some kind of fancy Amazon.com algorithm that pops my book up in front of the right eyes. Who knows? But I’ll take it.

In his infinite wisdom, Mark says I should keep doing what I am doing—nothing.

I also received a letter this week from the Midwest Book Review where I had requested a review of Dancing in Heaven in July. It read, “I’m very pleased to announce that the November 2012 issue of our online book review magazine “MBR Bookwatch” features “Dancing in Heaven.” (Along with a gazillion other books, but hey, I’ll take it.) You can read it here. It’s under “Greenspan’s Bookshelf” and you have to scroll to the bottom. But it made me all kinds of happy because I can add it to my marketing materials (which are largely nonexistent). And which brings me to the present crisis of the day.

I decided to update my book description on my Amazon.com page.

I read a good article at Catherine, Caffeinated, “The 11 Ingredients of a Sizzling Book Description,” by successful Kindle sales author Mark Edwards. I thought the tips looked good, so I spent all day sprucing up my book description, and attempted to update my Amazon page.

But I forgot (it’s been a whole year remember) how to make revisions and ended up, without fully realizing it, on the publish a book page. You know the rest. (If you aren’t trying to sell a book out there on the web, you can’t imagine what a mangled up mess of author pages, book pages, passwords, user names, web addresses, and a whole lot of other things I have to contend with. And clearly, I am not contending with them very well.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012 — night

I received an e-mail from Amazon.com stating, “Per your request, we’ve unpublished your book, ‘Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir’ . . . It should become unavailable to buy withing 24-72 hours. . .Republishing requires approximately 12 hours.”

I read it aloud to Mark who said, “I thought you were going to keep doing what you had been doing — nothing. Are you trying the Cabbage Patch strategy and building interest by making your book unavailable?”

After two frantic e-mails to Amazon.com, I’m afraid to try to republish it, since it doesn’t appear to be unpublished yet. I know it’s just a matter of a day or two, but I just hope I don’t lose my “likes,” reviews, and tags. I sent a third e-mail.

E-gads.

Now I wait for 12 to 24 hours to see if I’ve made a complete mess of things, or whether the gurus at Amazon.com are going to bail me out.

Stay tuned.

Friday, November 15, 2012 — before getting out of bed

I checked my iPhone for e-mail messages and found this one from Amazon:

“I’m sorry for the inconvenience caused. Every time you make changes for your book in the bookshelf, it will go to the publishing status. (Who knew?) There is nothing to be alarmed as it’s a standard procedure. (Again, who knew?) I’ve republished your book on your behalf. It could take close to 24-48 hours for the title to appear as “Live” on the KDP Bookshelf. It’s common for a product description to take 36 – 72 hours to be fully updated on the web site, so yours should appear online soon.”

Good to know.

Read more posts about self-publishing, some of them actually helpful, at my Self-Publishing page.

A hard life

My grandmother died 28 years ago on November 1st, All Saints Day, which we thought was kind of appropriate as she was a faithful soul who helped to clean and take care of the church a half a block away from her home.

Below is a short excerpt from the story I am working on about my father. This selection is told from my father’s perspective, in his voice.

R.I.P. Grandma.

A Hard Life

(1930s – 1940s)

My mother had a pretty hard life. It’s very sad when I think about it and how little appreciation I had for that.

She got home from work probably about 4:00 or 4:30 in the afternoon. She made dinner out of whatever she could scrounge up. I was a bad boy. I raised Cain about what we had for meals and I have regretted that many, many, many times over the years. I’m a mashed potatoes and gravy kind of a guy. I wanted a full meal with meat, potatoes, and vegetables. If we didn’t have that, it wasn’t a meal in my way of thinking. My parents had two limitations: one, their financial ability to provide it and two, before the end of the war, whether they had rationing capabilities to provide it.

My mother had a number of family events that she always enjoyed, but my dad was a wet blanket on every one. He never missed one that he didn’t make at least somebody miserable, in particular my mother. He didn’t want to go.

When my mother wanted to go somewhere she’d get us all ready to go and then he would refuse to go. Most of the time we went anyway. Because we didn’t have any transportation, the Wirrigs would come and pick us up, generally Paul. Paul always represented to me the person I would like to be.

My dad never watched the kids. Mom would always be mad at him. With just cause. I can’t ever remember my father ever doing something that was really a help to her.

My mom didn’t like the fact that my dad was an alcoholic. And she couldn’t do much about that. She’d do what women generally try to do—threaten—but that don’t stop them.

[. . .]

My mother never had time to play.

She told me she was going to teach me how to cook enough that I could be self-sufficient when I got older. She taught me how to bake a cake from scratch. It was almost a sin to think about making a cake out of a box.

I also watched her fry chicken and saw what she did, but there was nothing formal about learning that.

I was supposed to keep the weeds out of her garden. I never did.

After the war, the factory where she worked went back to making underwear. Those ladies really worked hard sewing their stuff. I worked there my junior and part of my senior year cleaning the place at night. Those women leaned on those sewing machines just flinging the fabric through there. They got paid by how many they did. So they worked hard.  They had to. That’s why I say my mother had a pretty hard life.

1942 – My dad is the oldest in the center of the picture. Another baby would be born later to complete the family.

One year later — a review of Self-Publishing

One year ago tomorrow Dancing in Heaven-a sister’s memoir appeared for sale on Amazon.com. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me on this journey. I’d especially like to thank everyone who read and reviewed the book for me. This has been a big help. You can find links to these reviews at my Dancing in Heaven page.

If you’ve read the book and would like to leave a short sentence or two at Amazon.com or Goodreads, it’s not too late. The reviews absolutely help me.

As I was looking back over my posts regarding my memoir and self-publishing, I came across the following:

I know I need to write her story, but I am afraid I have waited too long and won’t be able to remember it clearly. I am afraid it is too soon and I will remember it too well.October 5, 2009 – from Dancing in Heaven

I remember very clearly writing this in the middle of the night at our old house with Arthur, who was just a puppy then, at my feet, three years ago,  almost exactly two years before I published the finished story.

Isn’t it funny that it all started at this same time of year?

I had a finished draft a year later in November of 2010 and started deliberating about what I should do with it. I’m not going to drag you through all that again, but if you missed it, you can find all my posts about Self-Publishing here. By June of 2011 I had decided to go forward with self-publishing and with a lot of help from my graphic designer daughter, had a proof copy in my hands before the end of September. I did a little video of that thrill to share with you in case you missed it. That was a high point of the journey.

After a few rounds of proof copies and edits, Dancing in Heaven went up on Amazon.com, and other sites as well, October 7, 2011. I was actually visiting our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson when that happened. I had prepared some excerpt posts in advance to be able to blog from St. Louis. For some of these I taped myself reading the excerpt as I sat out on our screened in porch where I sit as I type to you today.

Over the past year book sales have done little more than trickle in. I’ve sold almost or only (however you choose to see it) about 300 books to date. And I owe a nice portion of that to three individuals: my good friend, teacher, and mentor, Jeff Hillard who has made Dancing in Heaven one of the required books for his Cincinnati Authors’ class two years running;  a good friend and high school classmate Nancy Henry Chadwick who chose it for her book club’s selection and hosted a book discussion; and Teresa Hutson Simmons, also a friend and classmate as well as the librarian at the Kettering College of Medical Arts, who shared the book with her colleagues and invited me to speak to students. Friends and bloggers who wrote reviews, interviewed me, or allowed me to guest blog also were very helpful in promoting the book. Again, links to these can be found at my Dancing in Heaven page.

At first I had a pretty good idea who was buying my book. Now when the sales trickle in, I always wonder. Who is it? Where did they hear about it? I sold one book recently in the UK — my first book sold out of this country. Is that one of you out there reading my blog? I’m happy that Dancing in Heaven has made its way into the right niche market at Amazon.com judging by what recommendations come up when I search for it.

I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve given away over the past year, but if I were guessing I’d say in the neighborhood of 50 — not all that many, but a fairly high percentage of those that I sold. I’ve debated doing mass giveaways, one of the Indie tactics to generate publicity and sales, but I’m not convinced that it will actually result in readers of the book. If anybody asks me for a book, I gladly will give them a digital copy. If someone offers to do a review, I send them a print version if they’d like. Many people have told me they’ve shared the book with someone else, so it’s hard to know how many people have actually read it. But I think 350 is a good, yet conservative, number. And I really don’t think that is bad.

Early out I made efforts to get reviews, to get involved with Indie organizations and support groups, and to try to promote my book. I quickly became disenchanted with what I saw as the Indie rat race, and soon stopped overt efforts. I know that my sales would be much better if I would promote the book with any regularity, energy, and enthusiasm. I just don’t want to spend my time doing that. I still occasionally make a lame effort or two at promotion, but mostly I have removed myself from that arena and will allow Dancing in Heaven to sink or swim on its own.

Would I do it again and self-publish another book?

I’ve thought about this a long time, and I believe I would. In fact, I probably will, if I ever finish my father’s story.

Would I show it to someone from a major publishing house if they came to me and asked to see my manuscript? Duh.

Will I spend a lot of time generating book proposals and summaries and query letters and wait perhaps years to try to get my next book accepted by an agent and then published? Not likely.

Will I do anything differently the next time? I will probably make every effort to keep my costs as low as possible. But I still will pay for good editing and cover/book design.

As disenchanted as I’ve been with trying to rise above the clamor and market a self-published book, I’m even more disenchanted with the notion of having to get that opening paragraph of a query letter so perfect that it will knock the socks off the agent who is buried beneath a pile of them. Did that agent have enough coffee that morning? Is she in a good mood when she opens my envelope? Was mine the last one to be opened at the end of a very long day? I just can’t deal with that kind of stress and dependence on luck and timing.

If I were a famous personality would I try to get an agent? You betcha.

Do I hope the world of self-publishing figures out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff? Of course. (Assuming my book/s fall into the category of wheat.)

Am I glad 350 people have read my sister Annie’s story? Absolutely. It’s made it all worth while to me.

A sneak peek of Dancing in Heaven

I just wanted to let all my blogging friends and those who have followed my self-publishing journey know that Dancing in Heaven is being featured in a “Sneak Peek” today by Indies Unlimited.

Indies Unlimited is dedicated to the independent authors, publishers, reviewers and readers. “A major challenge for any indie author is the lack of established infrastructure in place to market indie books. It can be challenging and time-consuming to get the word out about your book, to find reviewers, and to drive traffic to your website or Facebook page. As a new author, I was delighted to discover a very high level of mutual support and camaraderie in the indie author community. This platform is born from that spirit of mutual aid and support.” (About Indies Unlimited)

Dancing in Heaven will also be featured in the Indies Unlimited Store.

The Sneak Preview is a short excerpt from Dancing in Heaven that hasn’t yet been published on my blog. (You can read/hear me read additional excerpts at Dancing in Heaven.)

I’d like to thank Indies Unlimited, and all of my readers in advance for reading and sharing with your social network this opportunity to get the word out about Dancing in Heaven.

I hope you’re having a great day.

The weekend is coming.

Writing through the grief

Just a short note today. I’d like to invite you to read my guest post, How Memoir Writing Helped Me to Grieve My Loss, at Kathleen Pooler’s blog — Memoir Writer’s Journey. Kathleen is a writer and a retired family nurse practitioner. She is working on her own memoir about “the power of hope through my faith in God. Hope Matters” and believes “we are all enriched when we share our stories.” In the 2-1/2 years she’s been blogging, Kathleen  posts writing and publishing tips that have helped her along the way.

I initially found Kathleen on Twitter and when I realized she was a nurse practitioner, I asked her if she’d like to read Dancing in Heaven. Nurses have been among my best supporters. She subsequently read and reviewed Dancing in Heaven on Amazon and Goodreads.

I’d like to thank Kathleen, for the lovely reviews of Dancing in Heaven and for inviting me to be her guest today.

I hope you are able to take a minute to read my thoughts about writing through the grief.

How Memoir Writing Helped Me to Grieve My Loss~ A Guest Post by Christine Grote

Needed school supplies — midlife nostalgia

I’ve been seeing abundant back-to-school ads lately, the only herald to the new school year now that folded supply lists are not arriving here, one way or another, in duplicate, triplicate and at times quadruplicate.

I had a love-hate relationship with school supplies. Office supply stores with their stacks of colored notebooks, racks of hanging pen packs, and an endless variety of sticky notes, erasers, rulers, scissors, and well, office supplies in general, have always enthralled me. Like a good hardware, craft, or fabric store, I love the possibilities of an office supply store.

Over the years I developed a system that worked fairly well. First we dug out the school backpacks from the corner of the closets where they were carelessly tossed on that last day of school, still filled with the broken pencils, doodled-on spiral notebooks, dried out markers, and lots of dust, paper scraps, broken lead, and pencil shavings.

Then we sorted out the salvagable from the trash.

That’s where the negotiations usually began.

“My list says I need five one-subject spiral notebooks.”

“You have two in here that you only used a couple of pages in.”

Problem number 1. No one wants to use old notebooks that may have curled corners on the covers, scribbles inside, and a few missing pages.

I have a box full of partially used notebooks that will provide all my notebook needs for decidedly the rest of my life.

It would go on from there.

“Do you really need a new eraser? What’s wrong with this one?”

“It’s got ink marks all over it.”

“It looks to me like someone wrote in ink all over it. Who could have done that?

“And the corners have crumbled off.”

“It still works, doesn’t it?”

Granted, we’re only talking about a few cents here or there at times, but the bill when we left the office supply store never failed to shock me.

How I miss those days of juggling 2, 3, or 4 supply lists and keeping track of who had what, crowding the five of us into the store aisles while the cart filled up with necessary items, denying the unending stream of appeals for the frivolous, until my willpower ran out from fatigue and confusion, and I found colored gel ink pens and mini-staplers in my cart at the check out.

We’d arrive home with our heavy bags and set up in the dining room where we sorted, labeled, and filled backpacks.

Actually, now that I think about it, there is a lot about those days of school-supply shopping that I frankly don’t miss at all. But some parts of it were rather nice and I remember those days of excitement for a new beginning in a new grade at occasionally a new school.

And I love office supply stores.

I think I’ll go there today. There are a few things that I need.

Mark Joseph’s (our youngest’s) first day of school, 1996.

Build me up Buttercup

Songs really have a way of transporting me to a different time and place.

Pandora is one of my best discoveries on the web. I love defining my own radio stations. If you’ve not done it, you should give it a try. I just heard  “Don’t sleep in the subway Darling,” on my Petula Clark station.

Now it’s playing one of my old favorites – Ferry Cross the Mersey by Gerry and the Pacemakers. I just love this station.

In the time it took me to look up the links, Ferry Cross the Mersey ended and now they’re playing another goldie, God Alone Knows by the Beach Boys.

Earlier today I heard Build me up Buttercup by the Foundations and was instantly transported back to the talent show my 7th grade year of grade school. I wasn’t performing in the show, but my sister Carol was. She and a friend had worked out a baton routine to this song. My sister had never really done baton before other than to just play around, but her friend knew what she was doing, and she taught Carol.

Carol practiced and practiced and practiced, forever engraving the song into my mind. I knew every step of the routine by heart from watching her practice.

They had little costumes made up and everything. And I think it could have been a knock-out performance.

But Carol didn’t have as much confidence as perhaps she required. She told me before the show, “I hope I catch the first toss. If I catch the first toss, I’ll be fine.”

I sat in the front row of the balcony as Carol and her friend came on stage with their batons and the music started. I held my breath when Carol tossed the baton into the air. Then my shoulders slumped when her spinning baton fell with a thud and a bounce to the floor. Oh no.

I don’t think Carol caught even one of the subsequent gazillion tosses during that song that never ended. And I cringed from the cheap seats every time. The rest of the audience responded as you might expect teenagers of the junior high variety to respond. It was mortifying for me as a mere spectator to my sister’s disastrous performance. My heart bled for her.

But she stayed out there on the stage and kept doing the routine, tossing the baton into the air and dropping it. I suppose she had options. She could have left the stage in the middle of the routine in tears. But she saved the tears for later and saw it through.

Here’s to you, Sis, for an amazing performance of perseverance.

And thank goodness we’re not in junior high anymore.

A Review: It Rains in February by Leila Summers

It Rains in February: A Wife's Memoir of Love and LossIt Rains in February: A Wife’s Memoir of Love and Loss by Leila Summers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It Rains in February, the story of author Leila Summers’ journey with a severely depressed husband intent on ending his life is a compelling story. In some ways I felt like I was on a speeding train headed for a certain crash ahead, but with no way off.  And no way to stop the train.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do.

Through sharing her thoughts, feelings, hopes, struggles, and desperate actions along this fateful journey to try to save her husband’s life, Summers gives us all the great gift of a beam of light shed upon one of the most inconceivable tragedies anyone ever has to face—the loss of a loved one to suicide.

“Why did she do it?” “How could he possibly do it?” “I can’t believe she did it.” We all ask these questions when we hear someone has taken his or her own life.

After reading It Rains in February, you may not understand one thing more than you do today about suicide or the possibility of prevention. But you might gain a glimpse into the heart and soul of a tortured man and the helpless and hopelessness of a woman who loved him beyond reason, who made every valiant attempt to save him, and who, in the end, could only suffer the blow.

This book will stay with me a long time.

My gratitude to both Leila Summers and Robyn for her courage in telling the tale.

View all my reviews

Father’s Day

Just like last year, I’m in a dilemma about what to post for Father’s Day. Maybe I should just post a bird photo and ignore the whole thing, I considered. Then I thought maybe I should write a “What I’m not getting you for Father’s Day this year,” post that lists all the things I used to be able to buy for my dad but can’t any more: fishing poles, wood tools, a book about WWII, gift cards to Panera . . .a tie. That would be depressing. Instead I found my post from last year, and I’m reposting it. This is a first for me, but I think it still applies.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Over the past three days I’ve tried to write this post for you, Dad.

I wanted it to be a happy tribute to you where I talked about all the things you’ve done for me over the years. Like the time when you took me sledding at Mote Park and halfway down the hill I heard you yelling my name and turned to see you running down the hill behind me. A much larger boy was on a collision course with me, and you were yelling for me to roll off the sled. I can’t remember how that all ended. I only remember you trying to save me and that I didn’t get hurt.

I started looking through old family photographs, thinking maybe I could do a photo collage of you for this Father’s Day post. But what I found were photo after photo of me and my sisters and brother and only a very few photos of you. Mostly they were of you holding Annie for her photo.

Why didn’t you have someone take more pictures of you, Dad? I’d like to ask you that.

You were always behind the camera looking at us. I do the same thing. I take most of the photos. When one of the kids complains that I’m not in many, I just say, “I’m in them all.  I’m looking at you.”

I love this picture Carol took of you when she was in high school and taking a photography class using the 35mm camera you carried through Europe. This is how I remember you most.

Did I ever tell you how proud I am of you and the successful man you made of yourself from your rocky beginnings? Do you know that’s how I feel about you?

Do you know how much I value your home-grown, down-to-earth wisdom?

I know it always bothered you that you never went to college, but I don’t care at all. I’ll always consider you one of the smartest men I’ve ever known.

Do you know that?

What do you think about what you’re going through now with Alzheimer’s?

There are so many questions I’d like to ask you.

But I don’t want to talk about that now. I don’t want to talk about what we’ve lost. I want to talk about what we have.

For today I just want to say how proud I am of, and how much I love the man you were . . .are. The man you are.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Here’s to you, looking at me.

1958 – From left to right — my sisters Carol, Kathy and Me

I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Father’s Day:

If you are a father, I hope you will be the best father you can be.
If your father was not the best man he could have been, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive.

If your father is still with you on this earth, I hope that you will cherish every moment.
If your father is no longer here, I hope you will find comfort and peace in your memories.