Saturday, April 26, 2008

Missing the point

My family is so used to me writing about other people, even when I write about myself, that they completely miss the point when a story is about me. In this case, the story is Love is Enough from Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul on sale now at bookstores all around the world, and online. (Yes, it's a plug for the book even though I don't get royalties.) Not to give too much away, but the story is about being adopted and giving a child up for adoption.

I spoke with my sister, Carol, this morning and asked what she found inaccurate about the story. "Well, you knew who adopted Jaime and you knew where he was."

"Actually, I didn't know where he was and that's not the point of the story. The point is giving up a child and how that feels. It's about me."

"Oh." Okay, the "Oh," came after much more conversation and repeating the mantra, "It's about me and giving up a child not about who adopted him or what happened later. It's about me."

My family is so used to me being out of the spotlight and giving up center stage the few times I get there as soon as one of them, or anyone else, bumps me off. I feel like I've perpetually had the hook around my neck and I've been dragged to the wings because everyone else is more important, especially in my family. And I gave way, not willingly but because I really don't like bloodshed . . . if it's mine. I've shed enough blood, voluntarily and involuntarily, for vampires and blood suckers of all kinds. I've always been the family's Uncle Tom, smiling and nodding and moving to the side to let them promenade past me -- and more often over me -- while I continue smiling and nodding. It happens a little less now that more of my work is getting published, but that's only because of the reflected light, such as it is, that shines on them. They are quick, however, to point out where I made a mistake or misrepresented something despite the fact that they were not present during the events I write about or were so busy focusing on themselves that what happened to me wasn't important or even notable. I am quick to remind them these days that they weren't there and couldn't possibly know what did or did not happen and that it's not about them: it is about me, my views, my experience.

I could -- and probably should -- go on to remind them of situations in their lives that they have either pushed aside or remember in a way that's not accurate, but it wouldn't solve the problem or change anything. It definitely wouldn't change them.

That's the thing about memory, it's a very personal thing and we remember what is important to us regardless of how someone else sees it. We are often like blind men describing an elephant with no real experience of having seen an elephant or even the things we touch and use as examples. A blind man who has never seen a rope and only felt its texture would be reminded of a rope when feeling the elephant's tail, etc., but he has no real experience of what a rope is, what it looks like, how strong or weak it is, or what it really is. We are all blind men when it comes to memory and experience. We cannot see things as another sees them, even when we can sympathize, because we do not live in their skin and have not had their experiences or been changed in the same way.

The Christians and gypsies who lost family in the Holocaust cannot understand the Jewish experience of losing family in the Holocaust even though the experience is similar because Christians and gypsies do not share the same identity or history as Jews, do not feel the same isolation or exclusion. Gypsies come close, but they are not Jews and Jews are not Christians. Religion does not define the gypsy or the Christian in the same way religion defines Jews; it is not as culturally or even sociologically ingrained. Gypsies and Christians may share deep ties to their religious beliefs but they are more than their religion, and in some ways less. And yet it is the Jews who take center stage when the Holocaust is mentioned. Few remember that more gypsies and Christians died in the camps than Jews, which does not diminish or detract from the Jewish experience or the horror of what they lost. There are fewer Jews overall than Christians and gypsies and losing so many families was the difference of taking a cup of water from a barrel versus taking a cup of water from the Mediterranean.

It is the same for me. I am one of fifty writers and few outside my family and friends would notice if the book didn't have my story in it, but that doesn't diminish what I contributed in time and in opening up a part of my life that I have held silent and close to my heart. One of my cousins, when she wrote to me about reading the books, said she had forgotten about Jaime. I haven't. During all the years since I gave him up a week before Xmas, I haven't forgotten him or forgotten how it felt to hand him over to someone else and walk away. It was easier to tell people I lost him a week before Xmas when he was twenty months old and let them believe he died than to go into all the details of why I gave him up. He was one child and I am one mother who made that decision among tens of thousands of mothers who chose to let go. I am a cup of water from the ocean and yet I feel more like a cup of water from a barrel.

Too often people focus on the wrong part of a situation, the wrong moment in a person's life, like Carol focusing on what Jaime's life was like when his adopted parents changed his name and where he lived and went to college. It's not about them. It's about me. It's not even about Jaime. It's about me. It's about what I felt and still feel. It's about how society sees a woman who gives up a child, who doesn't, as my mother always claimed she would do, strap a mattress to her back to support her child. It's about how giving up someone so much a part of my soul diminished me and left a void that can never be filled. It's about me. It's about how doing the right thing can hurt more than soldiering on and how the scars still bleed and never heal. It's not about how a blind man describes an elephant but what the elephant really is. It's about me.

Friday, April 25, 2008


There's so much light spilling through the windows I thought it was later than it is. I usually have a good sense of time and don't often have to look at the clock to tell what time it is, rather knowing almost intuitively from the position of the sun, but my intuition is off this morning. I guess it's because I didn't wake up until 6:30 instead of my usual 4 a.m. I don't know where they move to morning person came from or why after decades of shunning dawn, except when I stayed up all night, I feel ready to get out of bed and get on with my day. I'd say it's moving closer to becoming a senior but that seems like a too easy answer and doesn't really answer anything. I still stay up until pretty late, although sometimes I am ready to crawl into bed at 9 p.m., and sometimes even 8 p.m., after long full days of work. Then there is a reason to get up in the dark hours before the sun pushes up over the horizon. Maybe it's the birds that start singing the sun up even before it's ready to stretch forth it's gaze and spill molten light over the distance that wake me, except that I'm usually up before they are. I do remember when it first happened -- at the cabin.

There were no blinds or curtains or drapes or anything at the windows in the cabin and I moved the bed so I could see the sun rise through the pines in lock step formation down the hill. A woodpecker began his tap-tap-tap-tapping in high speed staccato and the sound drilled into my dreams, tap-tap-tapping on my shoulder to get my attention. I'd brush it off and plunge back into my dreams when the first golden spears struck my eyelids and bored down into my dreams. I'd burrow deeper into the covers but the light bent and twisted and found me again while the woodpecker tap-tap-tapped more insistently.

At first, I grumbled and carped about being waked before the morning was distant enough and then I opened my eyes one morning and was stunned, my usual grumble half carped, as liquid gold showered everything from snow-capped mountains to serried ranks of ragged firs, welling over the dusty window sill and gilding the dusty spider web, turning it into a complicated cat's cradle touched by Midas. I was awed. I didn't need an alarm clock any more as my body and senses tuned to the light and the darkness and the rhythms all around me. I knew the moon's phases as well as my own inner rhythms and welcomed the full rising moon on nights when everything was an ethereal blue and the spider webs danced and drifted on unseen currents like luminous ghosts. Even in the midst of my technological playground, I was intimately aware of the music and movement of the world around me. For the first time in my life, the sun wasn't a heartless taskmaster pulling me from soothing and adventurous dreams to a cold, harsh reality but a soft lover's whisper that illuminated a warm and welcome reality. Glorious morning and mysterious night were playgrounds where I played and danced and breathed with equal joy, one no longer more dear or more welcome than the other.

You could say I'm a morning and a night person now, shifting easily from one to the other as the seasons turn and the earth and sun continue their dance to and fro, far and near.

I have lost a little of that communion in the past few weeks, but it's a temporary loss. It will return when reality settles into a new pattern and there are no other sounds or energies to distract me.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Looking the right way

Just when you think everything is going your way, someone changes the rules and you're left floundering around sticking a finger in the dike to plug up the hole and prevent a flood. Standing there all alone while the world goes on around you, you keep your finger in the hole and pray it doesn't get any bigger or that someone will come along with the right things to help you patch the hole. Just when you have run out of options and are beginning to feel the hole get bigger and the trickle turn to a streamlet, a friend who noticed you were missing and stopped by to check on you helps you put everything to rights. There is nothing to do but thank them.

It's hard sometimes to see all the people who have so much to be thankful for complain so bitterly about what they don't have. Some people have the right to complain. Come to that, everyone has the right to complain but they should be ashamed to do it.

Last year I reviewed On Strike for Christmas about a group of women in a small town who stop doing all the things they do for their families during the holidays. They want to teach their families, but mostly their husbands, how much work they do to make the holidays special. Their husbands respond with varying degrees of success and along the way husbands and wives begin to realize they all have a lot to learn about each other and themselves. One of the characters, a widow who is jealous of her friends for throwing away what she would give anything to have, is full of anger over what her friends are doing. They have so much and she has so little. She feels like her friends are spitting in prosperity's eye. She doesn't see that prosperity is within her grasp if she would but open her eyes and reach out to take it. Instead, she's too busy being angry and jealous and focusing on what everyone else is doing instead of looking at what she already has. I'm guilty of the same thing.

Over the past two years I have struggled to make ends meet. It's been difficult but I've been mostly content. I don't spend much money on myself but my bills were paid even though the cupboards were empty most of the time. I listened to friends and family who had their own homes and either a spouse who brought in a second income or made 3-5x what I made and wondered what they had to gripe about. They went on cruises, bought third and fourth cars, took vacations several times a year or went out to eat 2-3x a week. What did they have to complain about? They didn't struggle and juggle finances so they could cover their bills, pay the rent and still have enough money to buy something other than seventy-nine cent Banquet frozen dinners to last until the next paycheck or splurge on a bag of grapefruits, oranges or apples. At least water was free. Working more hours didn't help because the work just wasn't there and the only thing that saved me most weeks was the reviews I posted every Tuesday morning. I didn't realize someone saw what I was going through and was willing to help. I was looking in the wrong direction.

Blame it on pride or on the fact that I'm not comfortable asking for help. Blame it on stupidity or shame or whatever you like, but there's really no one to blame. We all get to a point where we're so busy looking around that we forget to look right next to us. That lesson was driven home for me late last night when I was worried about a situation I found that would keep me from moving to the cottage next month. I was busy running numbers again and again hoping that somehow they would come out in my favor, but they resisted my efforts. Somewhere I had to find some extra hours so I I could plug the hole in the dike. And then a friend quietly asked me a question and told me to check something in a few minutes. I agreed but went doggedly back to work for another couple of hours to pound out a few more reports, diving into work to keep my mind off my problem. When I finished, I checked and got a big surprise. My friend took care of the problem and asked for nothing. I wept.

I can't say there won't be times when, like my sister Carol, I won't look at someone else's life and see only that they have so much when I have so little. I'm not envious of the things they have but I do confess I'm a little envious of what they throw away without thinking. I don't want more things. I don't want to be married. I didn't until recently want my own home. I do not want to have to struggle alone any more, but until last night I didn't realize that I don't struggle alone, that there are people who care and are willing to share their tools and show me how to deal with problems that crop up. For them I am very thankful. There are no words to explain or show the depth of my feeling except in saying, thank you for caring and for being there. It makes all the difference that you were looking the right way when I wasn't.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Catching up

The new season, and the last for a while, of Doctor Who has started and overall I'm impressed with the show. The Narfer commented that one of the episodes was dire and dark, but it reminded me more of an early episode when William Hartnell was The Doctor. They were in Mexico among the Aztecs and one of his companions (he had three) was upset about the sacrifices and wanted to change them. As the Aztecs queen/leader/oracle, she started changing their culture and the Doctor told her that wasn't acceptable. She had to accept their customs without changing them or making them over in her own image. It was the same sensibility that the current Doctor showed in the second episode of the season when they went to Pompeii the day before it destroyed the city and Herculaneum. The Doctor said some points in history are fixed and others are not and he was willing to let the disaster happen without saving any -- almost. Donna convinced him to save one family and it turns out they were the ones who coined the word "volcanic". Just when you think the Doctor is changing a fixed point in time it turns out he's not, that it was meant for him to save the family all along, which in turns argues for the fixed point in history theory and the theory that everything is predestined even if we don't know it, sort of like Meg Ryan in the present following Hugh Jackman into the past to become the great grandmother of her recently ex-boyfriend. Nothing like sampling the fruit before you're the seed.

Battlestar Galactica is back and is following a strange story arc, although an interesting one. It seems one of the Cylon skin jobs just spaced the last of the five remaining Cylon skin jobs, if that's what they are. The Cylons are fighting among themselves and destroying some of their own by not having the resurrection ships jump with them when they attack some of their group; they are dying and this time they won't be coming back, so there is trouble in toaster paradise. What was most interesting to me is that some of the Cylons think of themselves not as God's instrument but as programmed machines with a softer side, sort of like Sears. Okay, not like Sears, but I couldn't resist. Starbuck is back in a brand new off the showroom floor Viper and she thinks only a little time has passed when it has been two months. The Cylons don't seem to know about her so what happened and where did she come from? Have the current writers delved back into the past to pull the light beings from reruns to help with Starbuck's return? It certainly has all the earmarks, but one never knows what goes on in a writer's mine, even the writer at times.

Desperate Housewives (yes, I watch it) has surprised me, not with its story lines, because it's still just Knotts Landing with a smaller community and smaller incomes, and without the nefarious J. R. Ewing mucking around and injecting venom, but with a budding friendship that does not bode well for the future. Something tells me Bree Hodge and Katherine Mayfair are headed for a hair pulling, eye scratching, leg biting cat fight that even the dark and salty goodness of Adam (Nathan Fillion) can break up, but I'm sure he'd rather watch Katherine get the lemon meringue pie stomped out of her anyway.

At long last, Moonlight returns on Friday, April 25th and I am glad. Talking about dark and salty goodness. Mick St. John is what has been missing from my weekends. The show got off to a rocky start but it has gotten better and it's definitely different than the usual vampire fare and a little closer to Stoker's vampire vision since these vampires can go out in the sun without exploding into a pillar of fire and being reduced to ash. They do suffer but not in the usual comic book way and the only way to kill a vampire is to cut off his head. Stakes through the heart just paralyze them, even if they're made of wood. And to add my take on Spike's Leman's concerns over a newly created vampire not recognizing the vampire who made him and yet being able to recognize Mick as "like" him, I think the vampire who made him was not the same kind of vampire -- a killer -- that Mick is and has had to be. The guys a professor and more of a geek. Add to the confusion of being turned and not knowing what was happening to him, the disorientation and the bombardment of so much coming at him so fast, it's easy to see that by the time he confronted Mick he was a little more in control and less deluged by the flood of sensory input that he was able to recognize one of his own kind. Okay, so actually two possibilities. I may not be right, and I did notice the gaffe when it happened, but I think I'm probably close to what the writers intended, or at least what they'd say once they noticed the gaffe when vampire lovers from all over the world stuffed their email in-box with complaints about it.

The only thing to catch up here is packing for the move, which will happen after May 2. The lease is signed. The deposit is paid. I'll pay the rent at the beginning of May and begin shuttling things from here to there. I'll move something myself, like clothes and sundries, a bit at a time until the movers arrived on May 8th to pack up the rest and shift the heavy stuff from here to there. I've hired someone to steam clean the carpets and someone to do a final cleaning on the place and make everything ship shape and Bristol fashion. The utilities and phone are scheduled for the change and I'll be one day without an Internet connection, unless I can find a local unsecured line to ride along but it will give me time to inaugurate the kitchen, make the bed for the first time in months and sleep in my new place. I might even get some reading and writing done or at least get some of my books unpacked and put on the built in shelves while I luxuriate in the blissful sound of silence and the feeling of privacy. A friend mentioned yesterday that I was spoiled by the seclusion and privacy of the cabin and she's right. Once I get moved and settled in maybe the deep crease between my eyebrows will finally soften and dissipate. Stranger things have been known to happen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

And it's only Tuesday

As of 2:30 this afternoon, the lease on my new place will be signed and I will be one step closer to moving, one step closer to my dream. It's a short step, but a step nonetheless. I picked up the money this morning when I went out to buy some groceries.

When I fired up the work computer and signed in to my email, I had a surprise waiting. I had inadvertently used Muslin instead of Muslim in a review I emailed last night. I check these things, but sometimes I miss little details, kind of like my supervisor spelling my name wrong so that a review doesn't show up when I do a search. It's not a big deal. However, what she added to the email was a big deal.

Our boss, the owner of Author Link, Doris Booth, read the two reviews and liked what she saw in the review on Jon Land's latest novel, The Seven Sins and she sent it to Jon Land and his PR person. Less than 10 minutes later his reply and Doris's comments were forwarded to to me with the subject line: "Praise for Jackie Cornwell". Here is a copy of the original email.

* * * *

Look what Doris got back from the author of Seven Sins.


> DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed;
>; s=dktest; h=From:To:Subject:Date:Message-ID:
> MIME-Version:Content-Type; bh=LcG8SjXyv5W6KHuiZ4lLHxuBrFQGzinay7
> H2bw/gEoo=; b=UPC8gtjQbxeQo+ZGzbKeGuf9xP/+XAOgT8mOQtrDcM1dkEU8MX
> KwQzGxEbXNfG77
> From: "Doris Booth"
> To: "'Elaine Lanmon'"
> Subject: Praise for Jackie Cornwell
> Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2008 11:12:57 -0500
> X-Mailer: Microsoft Office Outlook 11
> Thread-Index: Acikk7i+rkWKzaj3QumPRi4dTFOsuA==
> X-Chzlrs: 0
> X-Spam-Level: 0/7
> X-FS-Classification-spam: 0
> X-FS-Diagnostics: database-version=2008-04-15 tests=WHITELISTED,FS_CLASS_SPAM_0
> Elaine, please pass along Jon Land's comment to Jackie Cornwell, along with my own. Jackie is terrific!
> Doris:
> What a great review! And I say that not just because it was so positive, but also because of the excellent writing and the reviewer's clear grasp of the subject matter. Kudos to whoever that person is!
> Jon
> Doris
> Doris Booth
> Editor-in-Chief
> Manager, Authorlink Literary Group
> (972) 402-0101
> Fax: 866-381-1587

* * * *

To say the least, I was flabbergasted and I'm still doing a great imitation of the Cheshire cat. It's really great to know that an author appreciates my writing, but even better to be told I got what they intended. It's happened before, and from very well known authors, but seeing it myself and not hearing it second hand, just makes my week, and probably my month. I've not reviewed any of Jon Land's books before, but I will definitely look out for the sequel to this book. I couldn't put the book down. The book isn't due out until June 2008, but look for it if you like a fast-paced tale of intrigue with complex characters.

After everything I've been through in the past few weeks, it's like a little signpost on the path that tells me I'm going in the right direction and the little bumps and pot holes don't matter.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Things are changing

I got the word this morning I got the cottage . . . all to myself. It's not perfect; the master bedroom is smaller than the one I have now, but the other bedroom has built in bookcases. Guess where my office will be? The living room is bigger and longer and there's an tiled entry way with lots of closet space, a deck and plenty of privacy. The gas stove and the dishwasher make up for the lack of cabinet space, as do the long and roomy counters. There's also a tiled breakfast bar with room for 3-4 stools so I'm not complaining. Unless you build the house yourself or stumble onto the perfect place, everything is a compromise. At least there are no neighbors close by since the cottage sits well way from the street and there is plenty of space on both sides. My parking spot is off the street and right by the front door, which is just one step up to the deck and one more into the house.

I've already contacted the movers, arranged for the utilities to be shut off here and turned on there and scheduled the phone service to be switched, and I get a much faster DSL line, from 1.5 to 7. Talk about zooming along. I sign the lease and give up the deposit tomorrow afternoon, but I'm looking forward to the change. All I need to do now is contact the cleaning service and coordinate them to come in and make this place ship shape and Bristol fashion so I can leave with a clear conscience. Life is good.

Oh, did I mention the privacy and no landlord counting how many times I use the toilet or how long I take a shower or run water to wash dishes?

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Money, money

Reminds me of a song: Mony, mony, except that wasn't about money and money is on my mind a lot right now. Robbing Peter. Paying Paul. Shifting, checking, rechecking, adding, subtracting, subtracting more than I had, and juggling, lots of juggling. And frustrated and angry.

You'd think as big a publishing phenomenon as the Chicken Soup books are they would be on time with payment, but they're not. I got my author's copy well ahead of schedule, and the book plate with the names of Jack Canfield and crew, but no check. The letter I received with the book said I would receive the check about 30 days after the release date. That has come and gone and gone a long time ago. The book was available on Amazon January 22nd. No check by February 22, or March 22 either. I emailed in March and was told the book had not been released until March 11th and I would receive the check 30 days from that date. Guess what? No check yet. I emailed again and was told this time that it would be 30-60 days; that wasn't in the letter or the contract. I emailed a third time and was told that things were in a bit of a mess since they were consolidating their office and moving departments around and it would take some time to figure out who and what went where, but I would be contacted, and I was contacted. I was told checks were "in process." I never did get an answer for what "in process" meant or a firm commitment on when my check would be sent, so here I sit, still frustrated and getting angry. I don't like having to keep asking for money that is owed to me.

Conversely, my dealings with Adams Media, owner of the Cup of Comfort series, are completely different. I got the check for the book before I got the book; it arrived last week, about 30 days after the release, by FedEx, with post cards announcing the book to hand out at book signings, which are being coordinated and set up as I write. Two other local authors and I are clubbing together to promote the book, and we will all be paid for our efforts. I'm handling press releases and they are handling setting up the signings; they've done it before and I'm more comfortable with press releases and contacting media. It works out well for all three of us. We're all three on the slate for the Mountain of Authors next year. I have several other books coming out this year with Cup of Comfort and I'm looking forward to dealing with them because they have been a joy so far, but they would since Adams Media is a subsidiary of F+W Publications who owns the Writers Digest imprints, among others. Nothing like having your foot in the door with a publisher when it comes time to deal with them on my own.

When I came back from seeing yet more places yesterday, the mail had run. I held my breath as I walked to the mailbox and pulled out the magazines and a few envelopes tuck between the folded magazines. I wanted to see two things: check from AuthorLink and one from Chicken Soup. I got the AuthorLink check for the two latest reviews, no surprise there. They are very good about paying me on time. I turned around and got back in my car to deposit the check, but there was another surprise waiting for me when I opened the envelope. The check was more than expected, twenty dollars more. I asked for and received a raise in January of $10 per review and the check yesterday reflected yet another raise of $10 per review. I was stunned. That's a hefty raise in such a short time and I'm grateful for it. Just what I needed, a big old ego boost.

I had spoken to the big boss at AuthorLink a couple weeks ago when I had to contact her about releasing information regarding my annual income. I did the same with my medical transcription employer. I've always thought I'd have to wait until I died and was hovering around the wake or the memorial service to find out what my bosses thought about me, but I was wrong. Both of my bosses praised me in such terms I blushed a deep crimson and couldn't get the shocked smile off my face for quite some time. I got effusive rave reviews from both of them, but this is a rave review I didn't expect for another year or so.

Into every life rain must fall, but once in a while the sun shines through the clouds with a brilliant burst of light that dusts everything with gold. Yesterday was one of those days. Now, if I can only find the right place to move and get that over with a minimum of fuss, I'll be very happy.