Monday, August 18, 2014

Home Again

I'm back from the Writers Digest Novel Writers Conference '14 in LA.  Note to self:  ask the WD people if they could shorten that title next year.

Writer's conferences are amazing.  As one writer I talked to put it, "They put two hundred introverts in a hotel ballroom and expect them to 'network.'"  Given the cultural norm, after a while I didn't feel so bad about my networking spiel:  "Hi.  Um.  I have cards.  Do you have cards?  We could trade.  We're supposed to trade.  Someone just told me that.  Oh-- I have to fix that email.  I guess I need new cards..."

My plans for the week are retype my notes, come up with new plots, and become a great writer.  Should be a piece of cake, no?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Feast of the Assumption! Strange City! Angry Cabbies!

Today I am in Los Angeles for a writers' conference, the Writers' Digest Novel Writing conference. Today is the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption. HD of O.

I thought I had it all planned.  I looked up churches, checked out mass times last night, set my alarm at the hotel.  There's a line of cabs out front.  How hard could it be, right?

Plus I made sure it was a well-known church. The Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills.  (I should probably point out that I've never been to LA before and all my knowledge ofhte place is from movies.)  Alfred Hitchcock's parish, if I 'm not mistaken.  I ask you, could it get any more iconic?

So the doorman gets me a cab.  "Church of the Good Shepherd, " I say.

Cabbie glares at me.  In a rich accent- I'm guessing Iranian?--"Where is that?  What is the address?"

"Um.. I don't know."  Now I'm at a loss.  "I could go back inside and ask."
Cabbie starts yelling at doorman.  She doesn't know the address!  Door man starts yelling back.  You mean you don't know where it is

DIH tactfully slips out of cab. Heads back into hotel for the address.

Doorman yells.  Wait!  This next guy knows!

Another cab pulls up.
First cabbie:  (furious) Just give me the address!
Doorman:  (pissed off) I don't know the address!
First cabbie:  (Really furious) I will take her!
Doorman:  Well she doesn't want you!
Second cabbie (same accent as first cabbie but not as angry, which at this point would take a lot):  Miss, miss, I know where it is, I take you.
DIH slips into second cab.  Cab starts leaving hotel driveway.Second cabbie:  I'm sorry, what was the address again?
DIH:  I'm outta here.  (Exits cab)

OK.  Call me a cynic.  But one of  my rules of life is never get into a cab with an angry Iranian if he doesn't know exactly where he's going.  Trust me, budgets have been blown that way.  And worse.

Now my only problem is getting to church later.  I believe Good Shepherd has a 7:30 pm. mass.  I wonder if the cabbies will have mellowed by then.  And I will definitely have the address with me next time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams

Suicide.  What a tragedy.
I went to a university that was notorious for its suicides.  The most spectacular form was called "gorging out."  It meant jumping from one of the bridges into one of the gorges.  It was even a common joke: "If I don't ace this exam I'm gonna gorge out."  Ha ha.

During my years in college there were several suicides.  A graduate student hanged himself;  the body of a young son of a professor was found in a gorge;  there were others. 

One day I heard that an undergraduate I worked with at a part-time job had attempted suicide.  This was my first personal encounter with suicide, and I was amazed at my reactions.

My first reactions was horror and grief.

My second reaction? I wanted to slap him.

"You idiot!  What the hell were you thinking? You think anybody's life is a bed of roses?  Did you ever once think of that?"

That was decades ago.  Then, a few years ago, I learned that a good friend had killed himself.  This time my reaction was different:  I just felt sick.

I'd always thought of my friend Tom as a survivor.  He survived a horrendous childhood under the thumb of a violent, drug-addicted mother, the deaths of all but one of his siblings, and a stint in Viet Nam, and he had overcome his addiction to alcohol.  Twice married, the first time to a girl he'd gotten pregnant, the second time to a woman he met in AA.  Twice divorced. 

We met when we were both training for our black belts in tae kwon do.  Tom helped me a lot, just as he helped everybody in the dojang.  The kids loved to work with him.

He was remarkably gifted.  He restored furniture for a living, and he was an artist in his work.  An artist in other ways too; he painted, he carved.  As I discovered after his death, he was a gifted writer, as well.  And he was funny, too.

But in the end the darkness overcame him.  Hopelessly in debt, mostly because of one of those rotten mortgages, he isolated himself more and more.  He went back to drinking.

In the end the darkness overcame him.  Tom hanged himself in his home.

My friend Tom, whom many people loved and respected, thought he was alone.  I honestly don't know if anyone could have convinced him that wasn't the case.

I imagine Robin Williams thought he was alone, too.  In spite of family and friends and countless fans, he must have felt terribly alone.

That's the real tragedy here, I think.  That so many people think they are alone.  When all the time Christ is calling to us, "Come to me, and I will give you rest."

Robin Williams, like the rest of us, was not perfect.  He cheated on his wives, did drugs, was vilely anti-Catholic (look it up on Youtube).  But his life had meaning, and his death was a tragedy. 

I'll be praying for his soul tonight.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

At the Beach

I am at the beach in South Carolina for a week.  Working on my new novel when I'm not walking up and down the shoreline or scarfing down crab cakes.  This is the life!