There are dozens of blogs, books, video, workshops you can view on YouTube, dozens of ways to learn a craft. Should you want to learn to crochet … you can. Would you be interested in the technicalities of a sewing machine that embroiders delicate designs … you can learn those as well.
And the craft of writing? But of course. And a half dozen or so blogs I read regularly, they also are most insightful in the craft of the written word. One such blogger has an entire encyclopedia of emotions. There is yet another where you can learn thousands of synonyms for dialogue tags, descriptive, different … what is called “fresh.”
My mother always told me I was a fresh kid, a stubborn brat to the last.
I do not purport I could in any way equal these amazing posts or craft books.
Instead, I claim my natural rights to dissect my own reactions to my world … her sadness and her joy … the comedy and the tragedy … in my own words and for my own edification.
She first came to me at the tender age of seven. It was a significant number … that number seven. For me it heralds the hump year of a decade and the year in every decade since in which something terrible has happened to remind me.
In my late twenties, this incurable passion for which there is no reprieve, came to me when the two were mere babes, when life was still a promise yet fulfilled, when it seemed anything was possible. She prodded and poked at me, her laughter mocking my efforts to stretch my psyche across the page for your entertainment.
She came in the night when my defenses were worn, and she attacked my senses until they bled. And the words grew from my type-written journals to compact flash drives.
Often when the poet paints her words across the page, she uses the lightest touch, the faintest hint of colors, the soft hues of night, the splashes of seasons, the kaleidoscope of daylight playing in her head.
Conversely, she might strike out, slash the page with her words, tear your heart with her sad songs, penetrate your brain to unleash the beast hidden in caverns where few may travel.
When at last I left my beloved Brooklyn for the hills of Northern Manhattan, my babes were at my knees. Each took a hand which became symbolic of our unity and strength. When life hit hard, each held me solid, reminding me how fragile the connection of our union could be, and how easily it could be severed. But not yet.
All was possible, all waited around the next bend in the road … white lightning and wine filled the new rooms with delightful delirium.
Several decades evaporated and I began again. My parole from the confines of personal responsibilities garnered me eight glorious years.
During that amazing time I found my voice, I attempted to learn my craft and I played with style, form and function, the eternal battle, waged a war inside my bobble head.
I love the idea of playing with my girls. One might call it women’s fiction. Another one might call it young adult fiction. People who have read some of the stories from Sunset Park can never agree. Few have read The Five Seasons, half by size if not by emotional content. And again, they would read about Viola and Sandy, Lucille and the Bradley Street regulars and they would not be able to agree.
These are the stories of young girls growing up in the fifties. I am so in love the idea of little girls as they grow, like a butterfly as it struggles from its cocoon, I love the idea of them growing up to fly free and wild.
For that reason, I carved out over two years of my writing life to tell about them, the girls and boys, their parents, teachers, their struggles and their vindications.
One little girl broke my heart. I have no idea how a fictional character can break one’s heart, but I do know without a single conflicting thought, Betty Jean broke mine.
At first I wanted her to triumph over her adversity. I wanted her to grow up and rise above …
But in real life, we do not always rise above. In real life many are beaten down, never to rise again.
Why then tell her story?
Because it is the Betty Jeans of our world that makes all women tender and vigilant, powerful and determined. We live not so much through them as for them. We become what we would have loved for them to become.
As of this day, I cannot tell you with any certainty that I know what will happen to her as a grown woman. All I know is that the shadows of her past stay with her and that bright promise, that hopeful seed that was planted in the rich soil of life, did not bloom.
You know her as well as I. She was the kid in the back of the room, the one who never quite fit in, the kid whose face no one remembered later. “You know that girl. The one who sat next to Mary Spinoza.”
But heads would shake and no one could recall. She was the kid who you saw walking alone in the park, the one who was detached. Kind of cute in her own way, but you shrank from her. Something told you to give her a wide birth, to stay on the other side of the street. Maybe because when you were a kid, you thought that what she had was contagious.
Ah, but you became convinced that what she had was not contagious. No matter. She turned the corner and you gratefully went off to meet your friends for the weekend dance in the high school gym.
And as you grew, you shunned them. Those hallow eyes that penetrated your skull … the women who panhandle, those lost souls who wear long sleeves to cover the evidence of personal shame, the old lady bent and broken, wishing now only for final peace.
You were wrong. Sadness is most contagious. It clings to our souls, haunts us in nightmares. It follows us like a persistent shadow, the premonition of a terrible truth.
And it is the reason I cherish funny. I embrace laughter. I crave escape from the truth in their eyes. I turn the music up and I pretend.
And despite all my lame efforts, that one who does not exist haunts me, looms the tallest, and will remain with me forever. It is so very simple you see.
Betty Jean broke my heart.
Don’t ask or wonder where I think I am going with all of this. Only that I so enjoy using this venue to play with words and people, images and those loose ends we need so desperately to tuck into the cloth.
Has a character ever haunted your dreams or
demanded your attention?
Tell me if you know the answer …
is sadness contagious?