Life in the Slow Lane

Contemplating life, faith, words, and memories

The Memoir Writer’s Hidden Nerve by Susan G. Weidener — August 3, 2015

The Memoir Writer’s Hidden Nerve by Susan G. Weidener

Today my guest is Susan G. Weidener, author of A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based on a True Story, her first novel based on a true story. In addition, Susan has written two memoirs, Again in a Heartbeat: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Dating Again and Morning at Wellington Square.
As part of her WOW! Women on Writing blog tour, Susan shares her thoughts on the memoir writer’s hidden nerve. Please join us in the comment section to share your own thoughts on this topic.

Welcome, Susan!

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Author Susan Weidener

All writers have “a hidden nerve,” a “secret chamber” which stirs their prose. For some, the hidden nerve is so deep, they can’t write about it – not yet.

When we look at ourselves in the mirror, what do we see?  A reflection? Who are we? Who are the people we write about? Is our honesty compromised in an attempt to “protect” them and/or family secrets and myths? Do we undermine our writing by trying to protect ourselves and others?

It’s easy to confess. Introspection takes a whole lot more courage. Sometimes we don’t even know what we want or need to confess. In A Portrait of Love and Honor, Ava asks Jay what drew him back to West Point year after year even after he kept experiencing pain and rejection. At first, he tells her it was always his “dream” to attain “those gold lieutenant bars.”

As he works with her on his memoir, he begins to realize that it goes much deeper . . . that there were spoken and unspoken messages and expectations by his strong-willed mother. Jay begins to understand that it was his mother’s “dream” to move beyond the immigrant experience and become part of the American success story. “I suppose if my mother could say her son graduated West Point then it would make up for her own disappointments,” Jay tells Ava. And if he dropped out of West Point, he ultimately disappointed and defeated her.

In my memoirs Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square, I write about a woman in white wedding gown who believed that good things come to good people – she believed life was something she could control  . . . until her illusion is shattered by illness and death. As I wrote my memoirs, I wrestled with my guilt and shame. Why had I not been a better wife to my husband at the end of his life? Why had I blamed him, not the disease for shattering my dreams of happily-ever-after?

In writing my memoir, I dropped the pretense that I was ‘perfect’ and tried to make peace with my own unique quirks and flaws . . . and in the process, forgive myself. I had been hard on John because I was losing my dreams and youth.  There were other revelations, too.  John was irreplaceable, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t do it all over again in a heartbeat.

The “hidden nerve” is what makes us tick as writers . . . it’s what makes us want to write our stories.  It’s what memoir writers wish to uncover. dividerAbout A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based on a True Story

A Portrait of Love and Honor by Susan G. WeidenerNewly-divorced and on her own, 40-something Ava Stuart forges a new life. One day, at a signing in the local library for her novel, a tall, dark-haired man walks in and stands in the back of the room. Jay Scioli is a wanderer – a man who has said good-bye to innocence, the U. S. Army, and corporate America. His outlook on life having changed, his health shattered by illness, he writes a memoir. In his isolation, he searches for an editor to help him pick up the loose ends. Time may be running out. He is drawn to the striking and successful Ava. Facing one setback after another, their love embraces friendship, crisis, dignity, disillusionment. Their love story reflects a reason for living in the face of life’s unexpected events.

Based on a true story, A Portrait of Love and Honor takes the reader from the halls of the United States Military Academy at West Point during the Vietnam War to a moving love story between two people destined to meet.

Note: If you wish, you can read my review of A Portrait of Love and Honor: A Novel Based on a True Story at this link.

Get to Know Susan G. Weidener:

Susan G. Weidener is a former journalist with The Philadelphia Inquirer. She has interviewed a host of interesting people from all walks of life, including Guy Lombardo, Bob Hope, Leonard Nimoy, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and Mary Pipher.  She left journalism in 2007 and after attending a women’s writing retreat, wrote and published her memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, a memoir of love, loss and dating again, about being widowed at a young age. Two years later, she wrote and published its sequel, Morning at Wellington Square, a woman’s search for passion and renewal in middle age. Her novel, A Portrait of Love and Honor, completes the trilogy, inspired by and dedicated to her late husband, John M. Cavalieri, on whose memoir the novel is based.  Susan earned a BA in Literature from American University and a master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania. An editor, writing coach and teacher of writing workshops, she founded the Women’s Writing Circle, a support and critique group for writers in suburban Philadelphia. She lives in Chester Springs, PA.  Her website is:  www.susanweidener.com.

You can connect with Susan via:

https://twitter.com/Sweideheart
http://www.susanweidener.com/
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004G7AXQY
https://www.facebook.com/susan.weidener

dividerWhere You Can Purchase A Portrait of Love and Honor:

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Social Workers with Guns, a Memoir by Fred Weinberg, Today’s Guest — March 3, 2015

Social Workers with Guns, a Memoir by Fred Weinberg, Today’s Guest

Fred Weinberg is the author of a recently self-published memoir, SOCIAL WORKERS WITH GUNS, reflecting on his 30-year career as a parole officer in New Jersey and New York between 1958-1988. I learned of Fred through Francine (Fran) Silverman, an online publicist who gets her clients on the radio, a radio host, compiler of 16 ebooks of talk radio shows and editor of a bi-weeky newsletter for authors.In today’s post, Fred via Fran is allowing me to share an excerpt from his memoir. I suggest when someone asks about being too old to write, share Fred’s name and approximate age with them (he’s over 80!). Obviously 80 plus is not too old to write.

From Campus to Career

By Fred Weinberg

Following In His Footsteps?

As long as I can remember I believed my dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a dentist. The first failure was being rejected by the University of Pennsylvania, his alma-mater. I managed a last-minute acceptance to Tulane University and struggled with chemistry in a very competitive pre-med program. Eventually I flunked out.

With some assistance from an older sister, I was accepted at the NYU Pre Social Work program. I did well and was rewarded with a scholarship to the Graduate School of Social Work at the age of 24.

Unsure of My Future

Yet I was still unsure about a career in social work and dropped from the program.

Turning Point

On a snowy and hazardous car trip to Trenton, NJ, when I was feeling especially blue, I inadvertently found the Central Office for the New Jersey Bureau of Parole. Four hours later I was offered a provisional appointment as a parole officer. That snowy day in March 1958 that started so badly would be a turning point in my life and set the stage for a 40-year successful career in criminal justice.

“Retirement”

After retiring 27 years later as Chief of the Bureau of Special Services at the New York State Division of Parole, I was looking for another career.

Volunteer Work

A friend suggested I do some volunteer work and put me in touch with a New York-based Elderhostel program. This led to doing hospital work where I was offered a job helping to formulate an advocacy program for patients in the hospital’s ambulatory care center and was offered a part-time job as Team Leader.

I now volunteer in the hospital’s pediatric department once a week.

At 81, I don’t have a plan. I take it one day at a time and I don’t think in terms of age. I recently expressed interest in another Reserve Inc. job and I’m hoping to get a shot at an interview because I know this one is right for me. If not, who knows what’s around the corner?

*Follow Your Own Dreams

*Learned Skills Can Often Be transferred from one career to another

*If you wish to continue working in old age, develop skills while young.


Do you have stories you’ve not yet shared with your children or grandchildren? Think you’re too old to write them down or speak them into a tape recorder? Or maybe even publish them? Take a lesson from Fred. We all have ups and downs in our lives, and sometimes they can help younger generations make wiser decisions than we did. Write now!

A Certain Certainty by Daisy Hickman — February 24, 2015

A Certain Certainty by Daisy Hickman

I am honored today to have as my guest, Daisy Hickman, author of Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place (read my review here)Daisy and I share a love of great art, both in painted and written form. Today Daisy writes about one of our favorite artists, Claude Monet, as she offers the history of a print she recently acquired as well as some of Monet’s own words with us.And now I give you Daisy and her beautiful post.

A Certain Certainty

Last year via the Art Institute of Chicago’s online information, I stumbled across a winter landscape that I loved immediately. I should have known it was a Monet. Drawn to Claude’s magnetic work for as long as I recall—Monet and the other great impressionists—I’m pretty sure I must have been around during this era of controversial artistic endeavor. In a former lifetime, you know!

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.” ~ Monet

Long story short, I bought the inexpensive print, had it framed, and find myself drawn to it a great deal. Never tiring of it, but always calmed and inspired by its quiet eloquence.

The original 1895 oil on canvas painting is in the Art Institute of Chicago – a gift of Bruce Borland – and though I’ve never seen it, I’m content to imagine its comforting presence.

  • But how did this wonderful painting come to be? What was Claude thinking as he created it?

Monet traveled to Norway in 1895: a trip that evolved into a difficult two-month campaign because of the harsh, winter conditions. Nonetheless, the ambitious painter captured 29 Norwegian scenes during this brief period. Reportedly, there were at least six views of Sandvika, a village whose iron bridge may have reminded Monet of the Japanese bridge at his home in Giverny.

One of these views—inscribed, lower left: Claude Monet 95—is simply called Sandvika, Norway, 1895.

Stunning in its simplicity, the eye is immediately drawn to the touch of red – the various shades of blue, lavender, and charcoal. Clearly, it is a quiet winter day, yet, the distinguished artist managed to capture something more. This “something more” is what I ponder and explore when I gaze at this print – often before falling asleep at night.

Here is what I have to so far: the bridge is key, don’t you think? Who will cross it next, and why? Almost as if it’s waiting for someone to emerge from a warm house, maybe not until spring, maybe before. And the trees, bare and somewhat lifeless, yet also patiently in waiting. I should point out, though most of you already know, that Monet painted outside. This painting was no exception.

From the Art Institute of Chicago website: “Although he was somewhat perturbed by the interest taken in him by local painters, he probably added to his celebrity by stubbornly insisting on working outdoors in the poorest of conditions. He wrote to a friend in Paris: ‘You would have laughed if you could have seen me completely white, with icicles hanging from my beard like stalactites.’”

“It’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So we must dig and delve unceasingly.”  – Monet

I agree with him here: We must dig and delve unceasingly. So this painting, as an inspiring focal point, will continue to be a welcome source of observation and reflection for me. There is a certain certainty about it, don’t you think? The unspoken promise of days to come. Warmer days, that is. But there is an air—an impression—of quiet contentment, as well. Remembering to value each breath, despite external conditions, comes to mind. Though winter, the painting is still bursting with life.

I’ve always felt that, as a writer, I am also an Impressionist. This is where I am most at home – when I’m capturing something more than black and white facts. In looking for that hidden, but enduring pattern, for an insightful observation that would be easily overlooked, for me, this gets us closer to the reality of our brief lives than the swirling sea of details that are entirely fleeting.

But, finally, we also can see in this painting the uncertain nature of life. Hidden lives under each white roof. Beginnings and endings alike. A sky that reveals little.

Monet lived from 1840-1926, yet, his endearing spirit is here with us now, and perhaps that is all we can really know about life. Everything changes, yet, nothing changes. Finding peace within paradox must be why I love this painting. Looking closely, I see that it’s all there. Life in subtle shades; life in constant flux; life being transformed moment by moment. Unseen, yet, felt.

Bravo, Monet. You captured my heart. ~

  • Thank you, Sherrey, for this lovely opportunity to share these thoughts on your inspiring blog. You are such a warm and generous friend. In the spirit of Monet, merci!

More about Daisy Hickman

D.A. (Daisy) Hickman is a poet, an author, and the 2010 founder of SunnyRoomStudio–a creative, sunny space for kindred spirits. Hickman holds a master’s degree in sociology from Iowa State University, and earned her bachelor’s degree at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. A member of the Academy of American Poets and the South Dakota State Poetry Society, Hickman is at work on her first poetry collection and on a memoir.

Where the Heart Resides: Timeless Wisdom of the American Prairie was published in 1999 by William Morrow (Eagle Brook imprint. In 2014, Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place, the second edition of Where the Heart Resides, a 15th Anniversary Edition, was published by Capture Morning Press.

Silenced Voices of Abused Children — February 23, 2015

Silenced Voices of Abused Children

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Today I am pleased to join Gwen Plano on her blog, From Sorrow to Joy–Perfect Love. Last week Gwen visited me, and now I have the privilege of visiting Gwen. I hope you’ll come over and read my post and take a look around Gwen’s blog.

Silenced Voices of Abused Children

Via Lloydminster Interval Home
Via Lloydminster Interval Home

A little spoken of tragedy in our world is the silenced voices of abused children. Voices silenced for a variety of reasons are a hindrance to well-adjusted lives and justice for these children. Their scars are invisible, etched in tiny hearts and minds forever.

I was born in 1946, the first year of Baby Boomers. Our parents adhered to firm rules of 1940s and 1950s etiquette and discipline. Mama and Daddy were firm believers in proper behavior from their offspring.

Some likely familiar phrases heard on a regular basis in our home included:

  • Children should be seen and not heard.
  • Children should not speak unless spoken to.
  • Children should stand when an adult enters or leaves a room.
  • Children will not talk back or sass their parents or other adults.
  • Children will not begin a conversation with an adult; always wait for the adult to start the conversation.

These are only a few of the rules laid down for children in our family and culture to follow. Some of these often heard rules instruct children to be silent in certain situations involving adults. These instructions lay a perfect foundation for silencing children who are victims of abuse.

Read the rest here…

Forgiveness by Susannah Birch — February 19, 2015

Forgiveness by Susannah Birch

Today it is my pleasure to introduce my guest, Susannah Birch. Thank you, Susannah, for sharing with my followers.
In Susannah’s own words,

I’m passionate about women’s rights in childbirth, support for families of those who are mentally ill and domestic abuse prevention, particularly against men and children. I’m a freelance journalist, online marketer, blogger and content creator.

I am also a qualified birth doula. I’m an activist and survivor of childhood trauma & I’m currently preparing to publish my memoirs. I run a local writing group and manage the website and social media for the Toowoomba Writers’ Festival.

I’m going to change the world – watch me.

Join me in welcoming Susannah Birch to the blog.

Writer Susannah Birch

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It took me 25 years to forgive my mother for trying to kill me.  It took me 11 of those years to realise that I had something I needed to forgive her for.

When I was two years old, my mother experienced her first bipolar psychotic episode and believed that she had been told by God to sacrifice me just as Abraham had been called to sacrifice his only son in the Bible. Unlike Abraham, nothing told my mother to stop and I sustained such serious injuries that my life hung in the balance. It was only because she came out of her psychosis enough to realise something was wrong, and ring the police, that local emergency services were able to get to me in time. [Trigger Warning]You can listen to the full story here.

My mother spent a year in a psychiatric hospital and then came home to live with my father and I. My father was assured that my mother was fine and although we lived with my paternal grandparents, I felt that my life was normal and that my mother was too.  I could remember the event; I just assumed that because other adults accepted my mother’s current mental health, it was a onetime event outside anyone’s control, even my mother’s.

It wasn’t till my mother experienced a breakdown when I was 13, taking me to the other side of the country and changing her entire fashion style, beliefs and social habits that I started to realise something wasn’t right. My teenage years were confused attempts to find the mother I’d never had and at the same time push her out of my life for what she’d done to me.

I rushed into a relationship, marriage at 20 and then just a few years later, I had my first child. Instead of making me understand my own mother, it confused me even more.  I didn’t understand how my mother could have done what she did, but I experienced graphic images in my head, imagining what would happen if some part of her was somehow in me. It wasn’t till years later that I’d realise this was just a facet of OCD and other issues that became more obvious after entering motherhood.

My relationship with my mother followed a pattern. I’d try and make contact in an attempt to find the mother I so very much wanted in my life. It’d always end in tears. Over the years I had a screaming match with her in the middle of a downtown area, hacked her Facebook account and messaged all her friends, refused to talk to her and yelled and swore at her.

I kept hearing how forgiveness would make me feel better, lift a burden off my shoulders, allow me to let go. All I felt when I thought of forgiving my mother, though, was that I’d be condoning her behaviour and admitting my own weakness.

In 2013 I read a book called Mummy is a Killer by Nikkia Roberson. It told the story of how Nikkia’s two siblings were killed by her mother. I finished the book in two days but the part that amazed me the most was that Nikkia had forgiven her mother. The first tiny piece of me started to question how I could take the same journey.

The day I forgave my mother came and passed without me even realising it. The first few tendrils of forgiveness didn’t feel like anything more than compassion, like walking in someone else’s shoes. My thoughts subtly changed from being about what she’d done to me to how she must feel, having done what she did. My anger started to change into something else. I thought of all the issues my mother had had over the years as she buried that traumatic day, tried to rewrite history and slid deeper into her illness in an attempt to erase her awful memories of what her own hands had done.

There is no simple journey to forgiveness. No one can tell you how to feel or how to forgive. It’s just something that happens, either as a culmination of learning and thinking or from slowly looking at the events that require your forgiveness.

I never believed that forgiveness was more about me than her, until I felt it. It’s a wonderful feeling. I don’t condone my mother’s actions and I still don’t have contact with her, but I’m at peace with what happened. And for the things I did to her on my journey to forgiveness, I feel that she needs to forgive me too. While what she did to me was outside her control, what I did to her wasn’t outside mine. Maybe, at some step on my future journey, we’ll both be able to find the answers and the forgiveness we’re both looking for, even if it’s not together.

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Learn more about Susannah Birch ~

Susannah Birch is a freelance Journalist, online writer, blogger, birth doula, activist and survivor. She’s currently editing her memoirs. She has a loving husband, two daughters and is slowly piecing together how the events of her childhood changed her life. She talks a lot, writes a lot and likes to analyse and understand everything around her. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Generational Messages by Gwen Plano — February 17, 2015

Generational Messages by Gwen Plano

Today it is my pleasure to introduce my guest, Gwen Plano. Gwen is a writer who spent most of her professional life in higher education. About a year ago, Gwen’s first book, Letting Go in Perfect Love, was published by She Writes Press. More about Gwen a bit later.

Join me in welcoming Gwen Plano to the blog.

Gwen Plano, author of Letting Go in Perfect Love
Gwen Plano, author of Letting Go in Perfect Love

I am honored and grateful to be a guest on Sherrey’s blog today. She asked that I consider reflecting on generational messages, and I am pleased to do so.

Earlier this month my dad celebrated his 96th birthday. His strong physique has weakened with age along with his awareness of time. When we talk, he shares stories of his youth, and like the paddles on a riverboat, these stories repeat in rapid succession. For my dad, time is not a linear experience; the distant past is his present. He struggles to recall the name of the caregiver who has helped him for the last three years, but he excitedly recounts his fist fights with Albert, Samuel and Tom when he was just a boy of 8.

When I was a child, my father was a formidable presence in our home. Having grown up “dirt poor” as he would say, he was especially sensitive to anyone who had less than we. His expectations for his seven children became the moral standard that reverberates in each of us today. “Who do you think you are?” he would say if he imagined one of us was acting uppity. With a tone that sent shudders through me, he’d add: “Remember, you could be that person some day!” And so it was that we learned to share what little we had—and to fear the possibilities that might become our fate.

Gwen, holding Baby Tina with some of her siblings 
Gwen, holding Baby Tina with some of her siblings 

While dad taught us determination and fairness, mom provided nourishment both literally and figuratively. Her days were spent caring for her unruly tribe. With a baby in her arms and a toddler at her knees, she’d go about the tasks of the day. It seemed she was always standing at the stove preparing yet another meal or at the sink washing the pots and pans. And, when she did these chores or hung the wash on the clothesline or gathered eggs for the day, she prayed—for a sick friend, a struggling newborn, and the deceased. Her diverted eyes taught me about a world I could not see.

As the eldest, much was expected of me. I learned to cook before I could read, to be a mom to my siblings when there was need. Somehow through it all, I felt alone and wondered if anyone noticed me. I’d watch mom with the babies, and when she cuddled them close, my heart ached for the same. When I look back through the years, though, I wonder if perhaps my mother had the same longings as me. Like her, I turned inward and began to dream—of non-earthly realities and of kingdoms across the seas.

I’ve come to realize that who I am stretches deep into my ancestral heritage. My father’s experience of the Dust Bowl, of starvation, of dire need has made me compassionate and generous to those with less than me. When I see a beggar on the street, I always think, he or she could be me. And, I see my dad as a boy, hungry and lean.

Gwen and a haystack
Gwen and a haystack

Similarly, my mother’s life of prayer and sacrifice became an integral part of who I understood myself to be. Selfless to a fault, mom never thought of herself or her needs; nor did I—until I realized I had lost me. One tragedy after another finally awakened the yearnings within my heart and led me on a journey of recovery. Letting Go into Perfect Love is my memoir about the steps and side-steps I took to find the one Love that would bring me peace.

Here’s more about Gwen Plano ~

Gwendolyn Plano spent most of her professional life in higher education. She taught and served as an administrator in colleges in New York, Connecticut, and California. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in nutrition from San Diego State University, was awarded a Master’s Degree in Theology from the University of the State of New York, and the completed a Master’s Degree in counseling from Iona College. Finally she earned a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University. Plano is also a Rieki master and a Certified LifeLine Practitioner.

About Gwen’s First Book:

In Letting Go into Perfect Love: Discovering the Extraordinary After Abuse, Gwen bravely recounts a violent marriage that lasted twenty-five-years–and the faith that opened her heart to hope, to trust, and to awe again. As a survivor who came out of the relationship determined to start new, Gwen artfully depicts the challenges and triumphs of balancing the obligations of motherhood and career with her family’s healing process.

Alternately heart-wrenching and joyful, Letting Go into Perfect Love is a powerful story of triumph over adversity–one woman’s inspiring account of learning how to forgive the unforgiveable, recover her sense of self, open her heart, and honor the journey home.

Gwen’s book is available on Amazon.

Connect with Gwen here:

www.gwenplano.comwww.facebook.com/GwenPlano1

Disclaimer:

I am an affiliate of Amazon. As such, if you buy a copy of Gwen’s book from Amazon, I may receive a small percentage of the sale. This distribution in no way impacts the price you pay for the book.