FRED Talk

Among the many Presbyterians who have roamed the earth and made our world a better place along the way, we have two Freds I admire and respect enormously:

(1) Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: An ordained Presbyterian minister who never had his own church but had a different calling: to do something about children’s television. And he sure did! Take a stroll down memory lane with this ~1-minute video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eInUUfyqa5o

(2) Frederick Buechner (pronounced “BEEK-ner”): An ordained Presbyterian minister who never had his own church but had a different calling: to be a teacher and writer of fiction and nonfiction books, essays, and sermons. He did it all in a big way!

Let me introduce you to Frederick Buechner talking about tears in this ~1-minute video clip (1992): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1RLZGtDtrc

See what I mean? He writes: “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.” I take these words to heart.

Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner

I highly recommend this book!

My decision to write my own memoir was inspired by reading Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets: A Memoir (Harper Collins, 1991). He tells us we all have secrets, “which are both very telling and very important to tell.” He makes the case that “secrets kept buried can cause harm.”

Anyone who knows firsthand that “unspeakable things happen” in your life may also discover taking the “don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel” approach can lead to some serious trouble down the road. Again, that’s what happened to me.

Fred Rogers, who I’ve read considered Frederick Buechner one of his favorite writers, is quoted as saying: “You know how when you find somebody who you know is in touch with the truth, how you want to be in the presence of that person?”

Precisely! That’s why I’m drawn to read Frederick Buechner’s body of work. He writes in an extraordinary, thought-provoking manner. His words speak volumes to me when he writes: “you cannot go it alone.” I’m proud to declare myself an enthusiastic fan of his work and gladly join the ranks of those who call themselves “Buechnerds.” I invite you to visit frederickbuechner.com today and take any of his books for a test drive soon.

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Remembering Barbara Jordan

When you spend time in the presence of someone with such clarity of purpose, your own longing for clarity grows stronger.

For me, that someone was the late Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (1936–1996).

Barbara Jordan and me, May 1993

In May 1993 I was on assignment to attend a meeting in Austin, Texas. My task as a communications officer working with a national health care foundation was to absorb every talking point and nuance, collect soundbites, and serve as a rapporteur to capture highlights from the discussion at an Advisory Council meeting chaired by Barbara Jordan. For me, this was the best of times in my career and the worst of times in my personal life.

Barbara Jordan had impeccable credentials as a lawyer, a teacher, a scholar, a champion of civil rights, and an elected leader whose distinguished political career spanned several decades.

When Barbara Jordan spoke with her distinctive broadcast-quality flair, everyone listened.

I was blown away by her eloquent and powerful voice. As I wrote in Chapter 22 of my book:

The strength of her convictions and quality of her mind—her voice combined with the power of her in-your-face charisma—inspired action. When she rubbed her hands together and said, “I’m sitting here all lathered up about this idea,” I could feel her energy.

Now when I gaze at this photograph taken during my brief interaction with her, I look beyond my anorexic body—protruding bones and striated skin—and recall the strength of her hands clasping mine. I carried this photograph in my briefcase everywhere I went for several years so I could take it out whenever I needed the reminder to “be strong.”

I will always remember the warmth and robust spirit of Barbara Jordan. She touched my life. I celebrate her ability to inspire people like me who were stumbling in life to wake up to the possibilities and move forward.

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Reaching Out to Clergy

Sooner or later, someone like me—who finds out he or she is married to a person with unresolved sexual orientation issues—will show up at your door, asking for prayer and guidance.

How have you developed empathy for the so-called straight spouse? Formal training or was it an on-the-job “thrown into the lion’s den” experience? What resources do you have handy to help in such situations?

I was brought up in the tradition that when something serious happens—something personal, private, and overwhelming such as a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, a family member dies unexpectedly, a marriage is in trouble—it’s time to slam on the brakes, stop everything, and make a beeline to one’s clergyperson. It’s a matter of talking to someone who can be trusted, someone who will listen, someone who may not have all the answers but will offer a prayer and guidance for the next step. That would be you!

That’s why I recently mailed a postcard to clergy who may have an open mind and an open heart to my love story.

I was so bold (and even controversial?) to take it a step further and encourage clergy to consider asking a couple before they make their marriage vows this question:

“Do you have any unresolved questions about your sexual orientation? Have you talked about this with your partner?”

I welcome candid reactions to my suggestion. Good idea? Bad idea? Too uncomfortable? Distasteful? Not clear enough? Rewording needed? It’s worth a try?

As I wrote in my epilogue:

I would love to encourage any clergyperson who performs wedding ceremonies to  include some discussion of sexual orientation as part of the premarital counseling process….It may or may not have made a difference when Victor and I met with our pastor as an idealistic, lovestruck couple at 22 years of age. But such a question just might open the door as a conversation starter and serve as a point of reference for further conversations with a caring and competent clergyperson.

A note about my book: No profanity and no curse words, but it does have alcohol use, adults behaving badly (including me!), and a couple of sex scenes.

Most important, I give thanks for all those precious clergy who can indeed check the box:

□ “I have respect and empathy for the straight spouse.”

I welcome opportunities to serve as a panelist alongside caring clergy to explore what we all can do to make the church a place of emotional support—more so than gossip—when people have disruptions in their personal life as well as visit as a guest author for book club discussions.

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What Happens Next?

In my wildest dreams I would dare to hope readers would respond to my love story in meaningful ways. But I’m overwhelmed with these initial responses from readers:
• “I literally cannot put this book down.”
• “I’m devouring your book.”
• “This book makes me stop and think, and stop and think, and stop and think.”

Furthermore, I must confess I had no idea what impact publishing my book would have on me. It turns out the thrill of holding one’s own book never fades. I wake up in the morning and say to myself, “My book is done.” I crawl into bed at night and give thanks that “my book is done.” But then another thrill takes hold: People are actually reading my book! My cup runneth over with gratitude.

So now I’m fired up to ride the roller coaster of book promotion—prepared for tight turns, steep slopes, and sometimes upside-down loops:
• My first speaking gig was by invitation of the Gay Activist Alliance of Morris County (GAAMC). We made history together: I was the first straight spouse (technically I’m a former straight spouse) to speak to this group (“at least in the past decade”). We had a lively discussion, excerpts captured on a 15-minute video available to all GAAMC members via Facebook.
• My first Indie Author Day at Springfield Public Library in Springfield, NJ, was such fun! The library rolled out the red carpet for six local authors to celebrate their books. Library volunteer Amefika Gray of Renewed Media LLC produced a 1-minute video of this event.

• My first book fair, River Reads, in Stockton, NJ, featured ~45 authors (too many to count). I met dozens of people, spreading the word about my book. Lesson yet to be learned: Sell more books than I buy. I showed enormous self-control to only buy a couple of books that day. Book fairs are like candy stores for me; I want to buy almost everything I see!
• I served as moderator for a Self-Published Authors’ Panel Discussion at the 2017 Women Who Write Conference in Madison, NJ. Many relevant questions were posed to the panel of five authors by an engaging audience—women of all ages and all walks of life.

So far it’s clear to me: We all need to speak the truth and live our truth along the way.

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“Behold, My Book Is Born!”

Book Arrival at Vivian's Doorstep

I wrote the following poem to celebrate my new arrival:

Special Delivery

A brown truck moves up the lane
and stops in front of my house;
then the driver loads eight large boxes on a dolly
that rolls down the driveway to my front door.

I inspect the boxes: No damage in transit and dry.
So far, so good!
My husband’s pocketknife slices through the exterior packaging
to reveal more packaging inside.
Pawing through the white filler paper, I peek in to see my own book,
straight from the printer’s.
I pick it up, gaze at the front cover, then turn to the back cover.
I flip through the pages, hoping for no missing pages
like checking for ten fingers and ten toes on a newborn.
I turn to page 237 and breathe a sigh of relief:
The correction for “jam-packed” was made.

I ponder the journey:
the decision to conceive
the care and feeding in chasing my dream
gestation way more than nine months
with plenty of intense labor pains.

I pose for a picture
caught up in the euphoria
of now being a published author
and say, “Behold, my book is born!”

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Why Now?

I crossed paths with this quote from Jack Kornfield, author of Buddha’s Little Instruction Book (Bantam, 1994): “The trouble is, you think you have time.”

These eight words moved me to take action. I have been chasing after my dream to publish my memoir for several years: workshop after workshop, critique after critique, agent query after agent query, writing and rewriting a crackerjack book proposal.

The final nudge came when I read these resolute words from Louisa May Alcott: “If I can do no more, let my name stand among those who are willing to bear ridicule and reproach for the truth’s sake, and so earn some right to rejoice when the victory is won.”

Now I feel time is of the essence. No more fussing about my manuscript, no more revisions, no more delays. I asked myself, “What’s possible? What’s reasonable? What’s desirable?” And then I made a firm decision: The best year ever to publish my book is now. So that’s what I’m doing.

I’ve learned so many lessons about preparing a book for publication. It’s been a marvelous adventure so far. I’ve developed a new appreciation for all (at least a million!) decisions a writer makes all along the way. I’ve also learned to expect curve balls. Fortunately, I’m no stranger to curve balls, as evidenced by the subject matter of my memoir.

You may notice the rollout of my book is rather unconventional. For example, my paperback is published before my ebook (available 9.15.17).

Note: Only the paperback version of my book contains every word of a poem that literally changed my life titled “Repairs” by Susan Bright, thanks to permission granted by Plain View Press. If ebook readers want to see this poem, it is part of an excellent collection of poems in a book titled Bunny  (not available in digital format) at this link: http://www.plainviewpress.net/gallery2/pages/bunny.htm.

Furthermore, as a courtesy, I want to first distribute my book to my family (it’s a surprise!), as well as those who are part of my story and those who helped me in the creation of my book. That’s just the way I am. We’ll see how this all works out.

Most important of all: Blessed are they who read with an open mind and an open heart.

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Why Bother?

I am terrified of being misunderstood.

Am I choosing the right words? Do I unintentionally offend someone? Am I writing to impress or express? Are my sentences clear and concise? Do I have the correct spelling and correct pronunciation? Does what I have to say matter? Does anyone really care?

I wrestle with these questions and many more, as most writers do, on a daily basis.

But I also think about the alternative: Never mind. Remain silent. Be a turtle and stay inside my shell. Pretend everything will turn out okay for everyone else without my voice in the wilderness.

Then I ponder the words of C.S. Lewis when he wrote these words in his book, The Problem of Pain:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

I also embrace this advice: “We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.—Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus), rhetorician (circa 35 – 100 AD)

So I decide to rise up, take a fresh look at my journey, and dare to tell my story. Why? Because I believe in the power of storytelling, which can help others along the way.

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