“Diggin’ Up Bones”

Readers of my memoir find out early on in my love story why I consider St. Patrick’s Day 1990 one of the worst days of my life. So it may come as no surprise that since then I never touch a drop of alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day. I prefer to give a listen to Randy Travis singing “Diggin’ Up Bones” as he soulfully ponders “sittin’ alone” and “resurrecting memories” and “exhuming things that’s better left alone” [link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wc5GLG5JtQo]. So much drama in my life I could scarcely take it all in!

[Photo courtesy of pexels.com]

Here I am, 30 years later, with vivid memories of that day etched in my mind when I was so overwhelmed by a totally unexpected curve ball that rocked my world. But today we are all on the cusp of a totally unexpected pandemic with uncertainties looming all around. I’m reminded of living in a world in the early 1990s when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was a death sentence. Those of us who survived without the loss of loved ones to that horrific virus now are facing yet another threat of colossal proportions. I’m tempted to succumb to fear and despair.

I must confess that when many people last week went out to stock up on toilet paper, I stopped at an uncrowded card shop to stock up on sympathy cards. (What does that say about me? I guess I’m preparing for the worst, knowing it will not turn out well for all of us.) But I’ve also learned to armor myself with knowledge and faith and empathy for all involved.

Only this time around, no matter what the future holds, I cherish anew the pure joy of taking long, deep breaths without any respiratory distress in this one-day-at-a-time world. What a gift life is!

Plus, thanks to Frederick Buechner who wrote this prayer for his brother, not a churchgoer, upon his brother’s request when facing a terminal prognosis, I claim it as a perfect prayer for me as well and place it on my nightstand for handy reference:

“Dear Lord, Bring me through darkness into light. Bring me through pain into peace. Bring me through death into life. Be with me wherever I go, and with everyone I love. In Christ’s name I ask it. Amen.”—Frederick Buechner

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“Be Like a Bird”

“Let us be like a bird for a moment perched,
On a frail branch when he sings;
though he feels it bend, yet he sings his song,
Knowing that he has wings.”—Victor Hugo

[Photo courtesy of pexels.com, showcasing the photography of Lucas Pezeta]

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Making Room to Grow

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“People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do a husband or wife. The rules are the same. Look for something you’ll feel comfortable wearing. Allow for room to grow.”—Erma Bombeck

These words from beloved Erma Bombeck always make me smile.

First, it reminds me of my dread of bathing suit shopping, which explains why I keep wearing the same stretchy black one-piece with a thigh-forgiving skirt ruffle I bought many years ago at a shop near the lake—on sale in October when buying a swimsuit was the last thing on my mind. It fit, it was snug enough to stay put but comfortable enough for body movement, and—much to my delight—I didn’t have to think about wearing it until the following summer. Never a fashion statement for me, a swimsuit is a matter of having something on hand in case I’m unable to talk my way out of a full immersion water activity. You see, I don’t consider myself a strong swimmer, and I most certainly don’t allow others to photograph me at the beach; it’s not an image that brings me joy. I can share intimate details of my love life in my memoir, but I’m not letting my body parts all hang out in a bathing suit photo. I’m far more comfortable dressed in layers to match my self-defined modest and wholesome sensibilities—a place of safety.

These words from Erma Bombeck also remind me how unconventional (a polite word for being a misfit) I am. I never “went shopping” for a spouse. Quite the contrary, I contemplated life as a “spinster”—not because I wasn’t the marrying kind but because I had decided no one wanted me in that way. As a college student I was preparing myself for a meaningful future without the presence of a man in my life. But all that changed when “Victor” came into my life. I fell head over heels in love with him (a curious idiom to use for a person without any gymnastic abilities—that’s how unexpected true love was for me). I had no doubt he fell head over heels in love with me, too.

So we made marriage vows and embarked on countless adventures together. We followed the rules: We felt totally comfortable with each other and allowed for room to grow. Or so I thought.

Those who read my love story discover how the totally unexpected happens—and how I get myself in some serious trouble along the way. It turns out I needed to “allow for room to grow” in other ways.

Let’s face it: I don’t have a beach bunny body. I see those swimsuit issues of magazines showing photos that benefit from airbrushing all the scars, stretch marks, and other imperfections away. I also know plenty of people don’t like the way they look in a swimsuit. In fact, my Google search tells me “swimsuit anxiety” is a thing. But now it’s time to allow “room to grow” in my thinking on this subject in two ways, which can make us feel so much better:

  • Focus on what our bodies can do (such as walk, jump, sit, lie down, relax) as opposed to what they look like.
  • Be aware our loved ones are far more likely to remember the fun times we have playing in the water, not how awful anyone looked in a bathing suit.

News Flash: Attitude adjustment now in progress.

[Photo courtesy of pexels.com, showcasing the photography of Toni Cuenca; I’m not ready to publicly pose in a swimsuit…yet or perhaps ever.]

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High Praise by Book Judge

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Drum roll: And the winners are…

I’m told my book was one of the “more than 2,300” book submissions for the 26th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards program.

Here’s how it worked: Submit book, completed form, and entry fee by May 2018 deadline. All winners are announced in the March/April 2019 issue of Writer’s Digest. (For more details visit this link: https://www.writersdigest.com/writing-competitions-preparing-your-entry)

Judging results for The Straight Spouse: A Memoir by Vivian Fransen (Open Door Publications, 2017):

  • Structure, Organization, and Pacing: “OUTSTANDING”
  • Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: “OUTSTANDING”
  • Production Quality and Cover Design: “OUTSTANDING”
  • Plot and Story Appeal: “OUTSTANDING”
  • Character Appeal and Development: “OUTSTANDING”
  • Voice and Writing Style: “OUTSTANDING”

Judge commentary (abbreviated): “A well-written and interesting glimpse into how massively a heterosexual spouse can be impacted by an emerging gay spouse. While Victor showed concern and love for his wife, his liberation was her trauma, (and) she suffered a crisis of identity that was almost fatal….This book should find a wide readership.”—Judge, 26th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards

It turns out my book is not an award-winning book this time. But it’s clear my book did “win” some respect, empathy, and accolades during the judging process. I love Writer’s Digest!james-patterson-wd-cover

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Giving Thanks

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I must confess that now, more than ever, I look for an Acknowledgments page before making a final selection on buying a book. If none, it makes me think (1) the author and/or publisher were too much in a hurry to include any mentions of others or (2) the author is a lone ranger who does it all without any assistance from others or (3) some other unknown reason accounts for the omission of this opportunity to express gratitude.

For me, the Acknowledgments section in my book is a sort of love letter. You learn quite a bit about me by reading this piece. Here’s what I wrote for The Straight Spouse: A Memoir:

My cup runneth over with gratitude and affection for those who helped me write, “revise, revise, revise,” and then prepare this book for publication.

It takes a village to write a well-crafted memoir. So I turned to many people for constructive feedback and advice at different points along the way. Special thanks to Glenn Arnowitz for being my first test reader of an early “memory dump” draft, along with Melanie Rigney for her initial professional evaluation. I am grateful for the ongoing critiques and extraordinary encouragement of all members (and talented writers!) in the Watchung Writers Group and the Cranford Writers Group.

I appreciate all the learning experiences gained by participation in various workshops and programs including The Writers Circle, Sharpening the Quill, Women Who Write, and Creative Nonfiction classes. I am so blessed to have received classroom instruction by Paula Balzer (author of Writing & Selling Your Memoir, Writer’s Digest Books; 2011), Jonathan Callard, Waverly Fitzgerald, and Joelle Fraser. I am eternally grateful for advanced one-on-one instruction with Mary Cartledgehayes (author of Grace: A Memoir, Crown Publishers; 2003). I also applaud the valuable assistance of Ronit Wagman through New York Book Editors.

I appreciate the encouragement, experience, and expertise of Karen Hodges Miller and her colleagues at Open Door Publications. Karen is a caring and trusted friend who makes book publishing dreams come true!

I salute my public school teachers (especially Mr. Robert Paul!), Sunday school teachers, and college professors who, in their own way, showed me the power of developing a “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” mindset.

I give thanks for the literary and spiritual insights gained as an enthusiastic fan of the work of Anne Lamott, C.S. Lewis, Frederick Buechner, Jeannette Walls, Meredith Gould, and Dr. Thomas Howard. Likewise, the music of Buller, Balzer, and Aichele; Ellis; George Beverly Shea; Iris DeMent; Jonatha Brooke; Lui Collins; Natalie Cole; Suzy Arnowitz; and Tracy Chapman nourished my spirit as I worked on my memoir. You have all touched my life in meaningful ways!

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