Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mel’s Drive-In

Mel’s Drive-In is really a sit-in for us. We drive to get there, but it’s a sit-down restaurant. We go to an Original Mel’s in Roseville, CA. Like the Wikipedia article says in the first link, the Drive-Ins and Originals are related and full of American Graffiti memorabilia. Mel’s is featured prominently in that wonderful boomer film.

You’ve heard of comfort food. Mel’s isn’t just comfort food for us; it’s comfort mood. The jukebox, the tunes from the ‘50s and ‘60s—and where else can you get a cherry, chocolate, or vanilla Coke? Since our Original got a new cook recently, even the burgers are great! Tim usually orders a Graffiti burger. I like the Patty Melt.

There is something magical about being married to someone not only my vintage but from the same time/space continuum within the era. Tim and I were born only 10 days and 23 miles apart. We are reunited childhood sweethearts, and our shared experiences of place, religion, and era form a fabric of continuity between us. This commonality creates a shorthand that makes a lot of explanations unnecessary. We get each other because we are each other in our formative influences.

Every time we go to Mel’s, the music transports us back to the place in the Chicago suburbs where our lives first intersected in 1959. He bugged me at the bus stop. I thought he was adorable. Soon I was gaga over him and vice-versa.

Even though we were separated from 1961 till 1997 with the exception of bumping into one another once or twice during high school, I can’t help but believe the strong resonance of our first love helped draw us together again. I have experienced mind melding and reconnections with people all my life—the topic of the second book planned in my memoir series, Complete Circles: More Hot Flashbacks from My Lost & Found Life.

Today I just wanted to share that Tim and I are celebrating our 10th anniversary on August 30th. I love it when my girlfriends (and more recently my sister) have younger men in their lives … but I’m here to tell you, I’d never trade in my vintage boomer. We’re a matched set!

I know it’s corny, but we also just discovered on our last trip to Mel’s that we like to share the same drink with two straws.

Think I just stumbled or slurped onto a new metaphor for marriage.

Happy Days!

Photo: Tim and I in 1961 at my 8th grade graduation party.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hot Conference, Cool Info

The annual
CSUS Writers’ Conference was hot! For other writers in the Hot/Cool readership within reach of Sacramento, I highly recommend this annual event. It was one A+ presentation after another.

I attended workshops on writing personal essay/memoir, blogging, and the state of publishing. As part of the blogging workshop, we created a
conference blog where you can hear many a cool comment about the conference and tap into some great references for beginning bloggers. (See Learning More About Blogging in the left navigation bar.)

Memoir Magic
The luncheon presentation on memoir by Dinah Lenney, aka Nurse Shirley on NBC’s ER, was many layered and maxi-inspirational. Author of
Bigger than Life: A Murder, her memoir is published by the University of Nebraska’s American Lives Series. Dinah talked about the importance of voice in memoir, how it’s the tone and way of telling that hooks us. To illustrate, she played two versions of the same Joni Mitchell song, “A Case of You,” one sung by Joni herself, the other by Diana Krall. The difference was stunning and evocative! (Diana did it for me.) Dinah's presentation was haunting and left me to notice how elements of drama, singing, and issues with being heard have all led to the development of my own voice as a writer, whether as a poet or memoirist.

Dinah also taught the workshop on personal essay and memoir. Like many of the sessions, it included some writing exercises. My favorite was derived from an old book by Joe Brainard,
I Remember. Originally printed in 1975, there is a 2001 edition now available on Amazon. It is yummy! His device is the simple line, “I remember,” repeated over and over with as the prelude to each of his own hot flashbacks.

I Remember, Too
Here’s some of what I wrote in the exercise based on Joe’s book. I remember:

… the perfume smell and bright hot pink of my first lipstick in its tiny turquoise tube, paying 15 cents …

… the cracked sidewalks or no sidewalks at all in our barely suburb …

…saddles shoes versus bubbles …

… brown linoleum that looked the same, clean or dirty …

… Ding Dong School, Pinky Lee, and Mean Old Mr. Tooth Decay …

Why not write some yourself?

Whistle Stop

Another event off the chart was the Saturday “speed dating” opportunity with agents and editors and the Friday night prelude to the event. The conference staff gave us group assignments and the rules of conduct for the train, namely, we’d get three minutes at each table we chose to visit, then the whistle blows and it’s musical tables—move on.

Babz Bitela from
ES Agency, a local movie agent, gave us tips on prepping our one-page pitch, the down ‘n’ dirty on the industry condensed, plus enormous encouragement. It was the best hour I have spent at a conference in years. Thanks to her advice on that one-pager, I’m happy to report that I have some agent interest in Hot Flashbacks (no details, don’t want to jinx it!). Another big surprise: A new small press in town asked for my poetry book, gathering dust many a year, but still a treasure to me. It has been a family reunion, quite literally, to revisit the poems in Thick Water, a collection about my adoptive family and other non-biological relationships that refutes the old saying, “Blood is thicker than water.”

But more about poetry, the genre where I cut my teeth as a writer, in another post.

Cool Insight
The conference was a signpost of all I have learned about writing in the past three years. It was thrilling to be in the swim and to see that everything I have written since that first published poem in 1973 has been building my voice as a writer. I remembered how "out of it" I felt at other conferences in the past. Now I am getting to know my industry and feel part of it.

That, alone, was worth the price of admission!

Monday, August 11, 2008


Where Coincidences Come From
I say it so often; it’s a mantra.
Synchronicity rules my life. Meaningful coincidences have guided me at every turn. They are the bandstand for playing the symbols. The ability to see them is a special vision we develop from raising our eyes to the sky, arms outstretched, pleading, “How about a hint?” Coincidences are the hint and the heavens are the right source.

“There are no coincidences,” various spiritual teachers of mine have pronounced flatly. Author
Anne Lamott calls coincidences God showing off. Meg Lundstrom, another writer, says they’re a wink from the Cosmos. While I’ve gotten good at noticing them in my own life—yesterday I experienced something completely different. I was the coincidence.

Synchronicity Vortex (Not in
Sedona, AZ)
I was on a food mission, a snack mission to be exact. In order to have a double scoop of Baskin & Robbins, I had to hit the ATM machine at Safeway. Perhaps you’ll remember that Safeway is Sync City for me. (See my
Yellow Highlighter post.). It’s a Las Vegas where I hit the jackpot of cosmic alignment recently, right next to the money machine.

Snack Indecision, Psychic Indigestion
As long as I was at the grocery store, anyway, I figured I’d replenish my microwave popcorn supply. Because of my astrological make-up, a strong
Virgo/Libra blend, I have a terrible time making up my mind, because I want the decision to be perfect. Never mind I was about to indulge in enough ice cream to clog my arteries for a week; I was splitting hairs, three boxes in hand, over which popcorn had the least salt, fat, and artificial ingredients. I took so long; a cop came by. For a second, I wondered if he thought I was the popcorn equivalent of the Frito Bandito, about to empty the shelves of exploding maize—or perhaps to detonate it.

“Do you have a car in the parking lot?’

I answered yes and described it--his next question.

He shot down the aisle, as I trailed a question of my own in his dust.

“Did someone leave their lights on?”

I picked up a sense of alarm in his muffled response I couldn’t quite hear. After all, I was nosing into police business, and he had no obligation to give me such details. The whole thing left me unsettled, because I could feel something was wrong and worth worrying.

This is the downside of being highly intuitive with antennae in every cell of my body. Gregg, my friend and fellow astrologer, says Virgos are so sensitive, we can feel our blood run through our veins. Our bad rep as hypochondriacs is simply a misunderstanding. To us a headache actually feels like a brain tumor.

My Dying Day?
While I’m digressing, I’ve got to say that this increased heartbeat and sensed danger from the cop’s presence was the most exciting thing that happened to me all day. I had actually wondered earlier if it was my time to die. I had spent hours rewriting my book proposal for Hot Flashbacks for the umpteenth time in three years, prepping to meet some publishers and agents at a writers’ conference next weekend. The conference and writing pros—cool. The book proposal? I would rather have a colonoscopy.

In fact, some of my writer friends refuse to write non-fiction because these painful proposals are part of the gig. A proposal forces you to figure out and clearly state what you’re trying to say and accomplish—and requires a plan for how you’ll market copies of your book, once it’s published. Hands down, most writers say it’s easier to write the book than the proposal. Most of them, including me, say it’s the most valuable thing they ever wrote—once it’s over. Like childbirth.

I had unloaded on my sweet and supportive husband about the difficulties of getting my first book published, and the blah-blah-blah of all my frustrations. Why would God give me such an intense sense of mission and vocation, if I’m not supposed to do this … and if that’s the Plan, why is it so hard?

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Maybe there is nothing left for me to do here. Maybe I’m supposed to die soon, because if I can’t do something useful, I may as well. Maybe I’m being prepared for the end.”

Not Checked Out at the Check-Out
As soon as I succumbed to the ice cream cure for depression, I was temporarily distracted, even though I hadn’t tasted a lick. I took my huge purchase of one box of popcorn to the checkout and paid cash.

The checker asked for my Safeway card, which gave me a discount. It ended up costing only two bucks. While I was basking in my good fortune—again, just feet from my magical ATM machine—the young checkout clerk, looked at the receipt to address me by name, as is the Safeway custom. She stared at it for several beats, then asked, “Is your name really Joyce Mason?”

Was she a blog reader or astrology student—someone who’d actually heard of me?

“Yes,” I said, wondering what was up, and deciding not to get into the fact that it has only been my name since I was three weeks old by adoption—that I had another secret, original name.

She looked to be in her late teens, and she must have said, “Really?” four times. “That was my grandmother’s name.” Then she added, “She died.”

“Well, I think I’m still alive. Do I look alive to you?” I asked the three other clerks at the bagging end of the counter, and I began to wonder why this Coincidence had such a big audience. They said nothing, which worried me.

“I am really weirded out by this,” the checker must have said another three times. “I never heard of anyone else named Joyce Mason before.”

I tried to reassure her that it is quite a common name. (
Google me, if you don’t believe me). I know of at least three others in the Sacramento area alone, but she didn’t need those details or my amusing stories about how I found out. She was so spooked; I actually caught her chills. Then I realized what I was supposed to do.

“It’s probably just your grandma, letting you know everything’s OK. Really. Everything’s OK.”

Our Lady of Synchronicity
I looked to my right and the three baggers were there like angels witnessing an apparition. I do not know why they stood out so much to me, wide-eyed and brightly illuminated. There were too many of them for my single item, single bag purchase. Their presence seemed surreal, like Lucia and her cousins at Fatima.

I was shaken as I walked to B&R, but not enough to derail my need for an ice cream fix. I saw the cop cars out front, and I still wondered what on earth had brought our local boys in blue to the scene. Maybe I was going to be arrested yet for scaring children, impersonating their dead grandmothers.

When I got home, that’s when I realized that I had somehow graduated from having coincidences to being one. Of course, God/dess can be a goofball, and since I was whining just minutes before that my life might be over, I got the opportunity to try on the idea by playing Joyce Mason, Somebody’s Dead Grandma.

But I knew it wasn’t this Joyce Mason’s day to die ... because I proved to myself that day; I could still do something useful. I was present, accounted for, and reactive to the mystery of life--a willing participant when called upon for Cosmic Improv.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Dear Abby

“Don’t Know Much About History”
You might remember this line from
What a Wonderful World It Could Be, performed in the late ‘50s by Sam Cooke.

I don’t know much about the subject, myself; because I was too busy flirting with some good-looking heartthrob in high school history class. I usually don’t resonate to anyone or anything before the 20th century. It’s a huge deal when I notice a historical figure.

It finally happened! I am fascinated with
Abigail Adams. Since a major purpose of this blog is to inspire you, I want to share my enthusiasm.

I “met” dear Abby in
John Adams, the seven-part HBO mini-series. It ran in early 2008. Initially, I was enthralled because Abigail Adams was played by Laura Linney, one of my all-time favorite actors.

Memoir Maven

Here’s one fact about second First Lady you might not know. Abigail Adams was one of the world’s greatest memoir writers because she was an avid letter writer. She and husband John exchanged more than 1,100 letters during their 54-year marriage.

Commonalities with Someone Uncommon
Later, I realized I was enticed by what I have in common with Abby. We’re both writers with a history of long-distance relationship, primarily self-educated wisdom seekers, and the combo of supportive nurturer and feminist. There’s the hook I needed to lure me into history appreciation—personal affinities.

Abby’s Bio

Abigail was the first woman who was the wife of one President and mother of another,
John Adams and John Quincy Adams, our first and sixth US Presidents. (Barbara Bush followed.) These are just Abby’s accomplishments by association.

Abigail Smith Adams was born 1744, the daughter of a Congregationalist minister and his wife. She had little formal education but was encouraged to read. Soon she was a voracious learner, conversant on countless topics and fluent in several languages. Most suitors were intimidated by her brains—except for John Adams, who was captivated by her.

bio notes that the long-winded sermons of her father and her bookworm tendencies prepared her for the intellectual tastes of the young lawyer, Adams. After a two-year courtship, they married in 1764. John and Abigail had five children.

John’s successful law practice kept him in Boston, away from the family farm in Braintree, MA. I love the name of their town, almost an inadvertent homage to the brainiac couple. Abigail completely ran the farm and the other family affairs, freeing John to answer his call to committed public service.

Abigail liked public life and accompanied John on his political trips overseas, including a year in France, followed by a move to London when he was appointed Minister of the Court of St. James. Abigail endured “royal contempt” and the tyranny of nobility. She believed John had helped free many Americans from it, thanks to the Revolution.

During the years before John became President, including his Vice-Presidency under George Washington, Abigail took on the enormous job of opening the new presidential mansion, what became today’s
White House. She was a creative, inventive entertainer and manager. She used everything she had learned about protocol and presentation during John’s diplomatic missions in the courts of Europe. She wanted the US Presidency to maintain the same dignity of as the courts of Europe.

Power Couple
The Adamses were the prototype of a partnership Presidency, where the First Lady was a true running mate. This furthered relations between the sexes, a topic on which Abigail was outspoken. My favorite quote from one of her letters to John:

“Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors … If particular care is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation.”

Adams’ Letters
Because they were separated during much of their long marriage, John and Abigail maintained their relationship in their voluminous correspondence. (I recently decided to dedicate my memoir to one of my first pen pals, because I realized she was my earliest memoir reader.)

Abby’s letters weren’t just personal memoirs but incredible documentation of the earliest evolution of our republic. The letters were used extensively in researching the HBO special. They are rich in detail, clarity, and humor. Their topics span the new nation, the American family, the revolution, war, and the new capitol.

Power of the Letter … and the Written Word
To promote the John Adams HBO series and to recognize the lost art of letter writing, HBO and the United States Post Office teamed up to create a campaign called
The Power of the Letter. Its slogan: Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write. The campaign is over but hopefully not its impact.

There are two kinds of history, oral and written. Anyone who has ever played the game Gossip knows which one is more accurate and enduring. I’m glad we maintain a written record of the modern history through e-mail and blogs in a new-fashioned way.

Here’s to Dear Abby!
… a woman of strong convictions, intelligence, wisdom, and masterful writing. Like the columnist of the same name, she had plenty of sage advice to share with her husband, President John Adams. To his credit, he took it.

She is a champion of three things I hold dear: partnership, equality, and the power of words …

… words that educate, enlighten, maintain connections, and help us to comprehend and heal the world around us.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Memoir “Evolution”

A memoir is how one remembers one's own life,
while an autobiography is history, requiring research,
dates, facts double-checked. It is more about what can be gleaned

from a section of one's life than about the outcome of the life as a whole.

--Gore Vidal

When I first started writing Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights circa 1996: I didn’t even realize it was a
memoir. I wasn’t familiar with the genre. I’m not sure I had ever read one. Autobiography, yes. Memoir, no.

Good thing my busy life forced me to back burner the book for many years till I had the time to figure out what I was doing. A few years ago, I ratcheted up my learning curve. My book wrote itself, once I understood the purpose and perspective of its “type.” I quickly found out--memoir is just my type!

I’m here to tell you, it just might be your type, too. As a genre, memoir has been extremely
popular over the past ten years. You used to have to be famous to sell one. Now you just have to have led an interesting life. It helps, too, if you’re funny. Some of today’s best selling memoir writers and their stories are hilarious—David Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, and John Grogan, to name a few.

Memoirs aren’t necessarily just fun and games. They often reach into the deepest pockets of who we are, pulling out illuminating our personal mysteries and our unique learning about life and living. Two of my favorite memoirists in this camp are
Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott. This isn’t to say that their books aren’t also sometimes sprinkled with funny.

I pitch my tent in both camps, deep and funny, in Hot Flashbacks. But here’s the part that may be just a smidge radical. I also make a pitch in my book for you to pitch your tent, too, for a genuine memoir campout.


Hot Flashbacks is a memoir sandwich. There’s the usual meaty memoir in the middle, but it has a couple of extra components you can think of as bread, because they are food for thought. In the Foreword, Coming Attractions, I suggest why it is important for as many baby boomers as possible to write or otherwise record their memoirs. In the Resources, I give readers a jumpstart with information on how they can do that.

To explain:

The real boom in the baby boom is a big blast of insight that periodically explodes over the heads of individuals from one the transitional generations of all time. Imagine what we could do if we combined those ahas!

It isn’t new for “elders” to record their life stories for posterity. What differs now is the sheer volume and timing for the trend to take off. Boomers represent 28 percent of the US population. The Me Generation has always loved to talk about itself. Why not ride the wave of the current memoir craze, which has been cresting for years with no end in sight.

So many people reaching the wisdom years at once is more than a brain trust. It’s nearly an embarrassment of riches. Boomers have the ability to share what they’ve learned about making life meaningful—not just with other people supposedly entering the golden years—but with people of all ages. Hot Flashbacks isn’t just a memoir. I hope it’s the start of a movement.

An “evolution.”

In the ‘60s, many boomers were into revolution—the counterculture— breaking down old structures to give birth to something perceived as better. Positive change would never happen without the occasional shake-up and reexamination of where we’re stuck as a society. How we create change is as important as change itself.

Evolution is a quieter, organic, step-by-step form of doing the same thing. My boomer memoir “evolution” takes the courage to share yourself, warts and all. To show what you have learned through your personal evolutionary process for the benefit of all.

Our world definitely needs your knowledge and experience for cultural enrichment. I want to reclaim the practice of indigenous people over the world, whose elders share their wisdom with their tribe. I call this indi-genius.

Maybe we don’t want to be called elder or anything that smacks of the old Old. But how could we object to sharing our smarts—our insights? To make a better world?

That’s why I have changed it to an acronym and now call us the ME (More Experienced) Generation.

Read a memoir, eventually mine when it’s in print. And while you’re at it, start making notes for yours.

Join the Evolution!


Photo: Joyce Before 60+ Years of Personal Evolution. Taken at Living Treasures Animal Park in Donegal, PA—July 2008.