When You See A Car Crash Coming, What Exactly Are You Supposed To Do?

Try and thwart said crash, obviously, and in doing so save a life or two. Easy to say, hard to accomplish. Harder still when the life belongs to someone you love, and they don’t know, or can’t accept, that they’re in a vehicle whose brakes have gone out.
A certain writer I know loves his metaphors. This title was my own. I’m not talking about an actual car crash here. I’m talking about the hell that is anorexia.
Someone else I know (my sister) is dealing with something along those lines. I will not use her name here, because I don’t feel right doing that (this particular post is the toughest and most delicate to write, yet one I’ve known I had to write, if I could get permission to do so; she gave me permission, so I’ll do my best). If you’re any good at deduction, you’ll know the name of the beautiful, fun, kind hearted, caring person I’m talking about. You probably already do. If you ask me who I’m talking about, though, I won’t tell you. If she wants to reveal herself or comment via social media, that is entirely up to her. This is her story. I’m going to offer you, raw and largely unedited, my perspective on it.
When she was little, my sister looked up to me. I was older and knew lots of stuff. Her favorite phrase, when my brother and I would come over to see her, was: “Da brudahs aw heah!” and she’d come running out the front door into our arms. I carried her around the house, and when we went down stairs, she’d grab onto my shoulders from the front, a method we devised, so I could use the railing, and she’d hold on tight until I told her it was okay to let go. She loved spending time with me. We watched movies. We got lost in books together. We danced to Doo-Wa-Ditty, her favorite song as a kid. We found out that Grease was, and remains, the word. My brother and I showed her the magic of Jim Henson so that, unlike most in her generation, she grew up with an appreciation of the muppets.
One of the things I did too much of as a kid: Falling. If she was with me when a fall occurred, she had  two fall-back (interesting choice of words, I know) questions she’d always ask. “Are you okay? Should I get Mommy?” I always told her no, I was fine, but I was always so touched by how much she cared.
As we’ve gotten older, and age and time and my own limitations have changed our relationship, allowing it to evolve, we have only grown closer. I am grateful for that closeness every day. That no matter how hard my life gets, there’s always someone out there hoping for the best for me.
I do the same for her. Always. And I began hoping harder once I noticed what I call “the change”.

It was a gradual shift. It didn’t happen all at once. I would have noticed that. Or at least I’d like to think so.
I don’t have the greatest eyesight, so the weight loss my sister underwent was not immediately obvious to me. But her changing habits with food were. She started eating salads. Then “eating a salad” became not eating anything, really, just pushing it around the plate so it might look eaten. At least, that’s how I saw it.
Only when I could see her ribs did I say something to the effect of: “Are you okay?” This was met with a look of disdain and angry assurances. The last thing I ever wanted to receive from my sister was bitterness, yet I felt it then. My inquiry was entirely out of the deepest and truest care.
Later still came: “If I eat that, it will hurt my stomach.”
This was something I accepted, even though I didn’t fully believe it or understand it. It was becoming clear to me that she was in trouble, and I wanted, with everything I had, to fix it for her. She was, after all, the little girl I’d sworn to the Heavens I would protect. I would teach her everything I knew (and she’d learn so much more). I would make memories with her (like Build-A-Bear Workshop, baseball games, that time we went to Borat when she was thirteen, and I was the coolest brother ever). If anyone tried to hurt her, I’d get in their way. I know she would do the same for me.

So here, I offer something more than hope. Something more than the modicum of protection that hasn’t worked to this point. I offer my quick, down-and-dirty letter to Anorexia.

Anorexia:

I’m so damn sick of you I can’t see straight (I’m legally blind, so that’s not surprising, but that’s neither here nor there). You have spent a good part of the past hurting someone I love more than life itself. That ends NOW. I want you to tell her it’s okay to eat. I want you to give her back her love of food, a love I helped cultivate.

I want you to remind her I don’t care what she looks like; I’d love her whether she were a waif or a whale. The only thing I want to make sure she looks is happy.

I can’t do this alone, so I need your help, Anorexia. It’s so strange asking for help from your sworn enemy, but that I am willing to do today, at this moment, to save my sister’s life.

If you need collateral, fine. I’ll give you ten years of my life to assure she has ten happy years herself.

I don’t know what else to say. I’m a writer, it’s what I do, and I don’t know what else to say. Just please let her go. Stop holding her hostage. Let her be who she wants to be. Let her be the little girl I fell in love with years ago. Let her be the woman I respect and love beyond words who will change the world with her positive attitude and her willingness to talk to anyone.

Let her love herself. Let her see in the mirror the person we all see.

And, for God’s sake, let her eat.

 

 

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You Are The Toughest Critic You’ll Ever Face!

It all started in our grandparents’ house, with one always-there set-piece; a bar. That is where my brother and I, together, wrote our first plays. If you don’t believe me, most of them are on film somewhere (thanks, Grandma).

What am I doing today? Right after I finish this blog post? I’m going to get back to creating worlds that weren’t there before I found them, gave them light and life, and began marking down their stories. Yes, I’m a novelist, short story-ist, and poet. In this case, though, I will be telling a story in the form of a play. That’s right, I am proud to be a budding playwright. It all began so many years ago in front of and behind that bar, and it continues (I do recognize that last phrase could mean different things to different people).

  One of my old teachers used to say as we read Julius Caesar, “There is some beautiful language in here; Shakespeare kind of had the beautiful language thing down. But a play is not to be read.” He said this even though that’s exactly what we were assigned to do.. “A play is to be performed on stage and seen in a theater.” I agree.

My brother is an actor. The stages are bigger now than our first. And he’s a good one. Well-trained, always and forever passionate about the work, no matter what work he might have in a particular period of time. Even back when he was in elementary school and we (the whole family; Dad would bring congratulatory flowers to be given at the performance’s end) watched him as the lead in Tom Sawyer, he knew everyone else’s lines before they did. He could memorize lines the way I eat chocolate cake; in no time.

We had our paths in life. I was a writer. He was an actor. We supported each other. I remember a particular day full of stage moms when he didn’t get an audition, and I had been there the whole time he was auditioning.

“You did great,” I told him. He had. “If they didn’t want you, that’s not on you. You did everything you could.” We spent the rest of the day making fun of the stage moms with their affected my-kid’s-better-than-your-kid, look-at-her-up-there stage mom accents that made those women sound like old-time-y movie stars but made them look like weirdos who had put their dreams in their children and whose behavior wouldn’t fly anywhere but as a stage mom.

Over the years, he honed his technique. He wrote plays himself (I told you my brother was well-trained.). He even began his own acting company.

Meanwhile, I wrote my stories, largely unseen. The literary writer does not get flowers. He doesn’t have to remember anyone’s lines but his own. He doesn’t know if, when he finishes, anyone will care about what he’s written. There are no “opening nights”. He can only hope. And sometimes, he can confuse his solitude for the outside world telling him he’s no good. At least, I can.

And that brings us back to this blog’s title: You Are The Toughest Critic You’ll Ever Face. Basically, whatever you do, at times there may be no one who’s a bigger or better ally than you. “I’m so good at this job!” At the same time, there may be no harsher judge. “If I were good at this, wouldn’t other people see it? I must suck!”

Last year, I wrote a story I thought could turn into a play. How cool would that be? That people might come to see the story I wrote on-stage! (No stage-moms allowed.). I took it to my brother and said, “What do you think? Does this have potential?” It did. He loved it.

“Would you want to turn it into a play?” I asked.

“Why don’t you do it?” he said.

“You think I can?”

“Sure.”

So I began writing a play. Even though I doubted I could do it (because, you know, that happens all the time, and it’s easy to do; doubting ourselves is easy; proving the doubter wrong is work).

Off I go now, back to that play after a bit of a break, to prove the doubter, the critic, inside of me wrong. And every now and then, when the writing gets tough, I will remind myself that it all started in our grandparents’ house with one always-there set-piece; a bar.

 

 

 

Being Different

Being different has always been a calling card of mine, whether I want it to be or not. Sometimes I do, and I’m happy to take on all comers who want to know what cerebral palsy is. (There’s a difference between what it is and what it’s like for me. There are five kinds of palsy, believe it or not, but that’s getting a bit too technical.) Sometimes I don’t, and I dream of a normal life, where the only thing special about me is what I’m doing now (hopefully). In the year 1982, it was pronounced, in one wordless action, by a doctor with both too much medical experience and too many years on a planet that had outgrown him–a dangerous cocktail–that I should be “different” for a lifetime.

No one gave me a heads-up on this. I found out years later that I had fought for my life that first night.

Fought and won.

Congratulations! You’ve won the grand prize, Being Different Forever! Over-the-shoulder glances as you pass people in malls! Looks of doubt when you tell people, “I can do this job.” You will never play a sport in any meaningful, competitive way.

As we get to know each other, readers, you will find that, while the palsy has hindered me at times, I believe it has also given me a perspective from which few ever have the chance to articulate. Sure, I’m different (to some), and sure, it makes me mad at times (the handicapped guy who goes through life without complaint is a nice little myth, but it’s not true to me, and if I’m going to write my truth on this blog that means telling you it’s not true), but as mad as it makes me… it could be worse.

I could have fought and lost.

To the hospital nurses who saved my life, to the people who fought alongside me, and still do (you know who you are), to the kids at school who didn’t mind my being different, and who are still my friends to this day, to my best friend, who let me pitch and who pitched so I could hit, and told me I was good, and who read my stories and would tell me when they were bad, to the little sister who will stare a dirty look dead in the face with a look that’s even dirtier, until the offending glancer turns away, thank you all. You make being different worth all the work and the tears.

 

 

 

Who Do You Write Like?

I know, it’s a strange title. But it’s a question I get a lot (my high school English teacher would bristle at that use of a lot: “A lot is a place where a house is built, ladies and gentlemen!”). Often. It’s a question I get often. There. Much better.

Some people write mysteries. Others write thrillers. Suspense, perhaps. Then there’s literary fiction, where the use of language is almost more important than what that language actually says.

There are so many different genres—YA (young adult), magical realism, fantasy (which differs slightly from the broad sci-fi designation)–that to pigeonhole a writer into one, and only one, is not fair to them. Yet it’s done all the time.

I write stories I would want to read. I think every writer does. Mine do tend to land in the fantasy genre (though rarely, if ever, do they contain mythological creatures).

A conversation I’m very used to having when I’ve just met someone:

“What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh. That’s great! What do you write?”

“Fiction. Short stories. I’m working on a novel.”

“Ah,” says the interested party. “Who do you write like?”

I write like me. My books are my books. But the potential reader doesn’t know my work. So I have to take a shot in the dark that they might know the work of someone else.

“Do you know Mitch Albom?” I ask.

“The Tuesdays With Morrie guy?”

We’re off-track just a bit. “He’s written novels, too. The Five People You Meet In Heaven?”

“Oh, sure,” says the bookworm. “I like that one. So you write like that, huh?”

“Kind of.”

It’ll be confusing if I tell the guy, “I have cerebral palsy. You might have noticed I walk a little differently? I write stories about people who are just like you. They experience life just like you, and have wants and hopes and dreams like you. Only, like me, they have palsy.”  He might think my stories are only for people with palsy, as opposed to what they really are: Stories I–and hopefully many–would want to read about interesting characters in fantastical situations, one of whom might just happen to have what I have and walk like I walk and experience life the way I experience life. I’ll just let the Albom comparison stand.

When It was suggested that I keep this blog, I gave a firm “no” at first. I feared blogging would be like shouting into a dark void and hoping to hear my words echo back in the mouths and minds of actual readers. But I changed my mind when I realized that, through this blog, people who were truly interested could discover “who I write like”.

I write like Mitch Albom, preferring his secular slant on things to another of my favorite authors, Richard Paul Evans’ more obviously religious style. That is not a comment on either writer. I enjoy both. Personally, I believe in a higher power (though I know people who don’t), and I would like to believe that, when the time comes, I’ll be able to ask Him (or Her) why I was given my exact obstacles in life. God’s plan might be enough for some. It isn’t, for me. There has to be more.

I write with just a bit of the sarcasm my grandfather gave me. I write with humor that isn’t mean but can be biting sometimes, if it’s done right. I write characters who aren’t perfect, because no one is perfect. I do prefer Frank Capra films over scary movies that stay with you at night, and that preference leaks into my words and work.

Put simply, I. Write. Like. Me. And I’m as proud of that now, as a novelist seeking representation, as I will be should I find it. I hope you will want to read what I have to say, because I’ve got a lot to tell you!

*Grin.*

 

Dreams

Dreams (not the night-time diversions, but the dreams that stretch deep into our souls and sometimes help us discover who we really are) are those wondrous things that we humans hope for, wish for, cling to. Or–if we’re lucky–they’re the goals we not only set for ourselves but realize.

One of life’s greatest lessons–and one of the toughest to take to heart, I’ve found–is this one:

Do not let other people tell you when your dream should die. Those who don’t understand a dream will want you to give it up because your dream isn’t their dream. Do something practical, they’ll say. They are sure to end said dream prematurely, if allowed. Instead, let the imagination that gave birth to a particular dream be its judge.

In other words, don’t give up on something if it matters to you. If it matters to you, it’s worth the fight.

Always.