The Return of Music Tuesday with Cathy L. Mason

Cathy L. MasonReaders, I’m thrilled to bring back the popular Music Tuesday blog series with a wonderful author I’ve recently met. Her name is Cathy L. Mason, and this is a beautiful and sad story about how music influenced her relationship with her mother. Thank you so much, Cathy, for sharing this story with us.


She was the first-born daughter of a first-born daughter.  I was her first-born daughter as well.  Perhaps that’s why we struggled to bridge the ever-present gap.  Too similar? Maybe too different.  We both definitely wanted to be in control, especially with regard to the music.

We both played the flute and piano.  I was the better pianist, even as a child, and she excelled as a flutist, but for too long we tried to keep up with the other.  Eventually we retreated to where our strengths lay and learned to make music together, rather than bumping up against each other’s ego.

Her talent was burnished to a blinding sheen by a laser-focused determination to practice hours every day, while I only played at playing.  My moderate abilities came naturally, which frustrated her.  We got past that.  Mostly, anyway.

When we came together and performed music we loved, though…magic happened.  Her brilliant tone and disciplined capabilities sent melodies swooping and soaring across the most beautiful of performance arenas.  I gamely kept up, although I cheated my way through the difficult parts.  We both knew it.  It was usually all right, but I always knew I could be better if I exercised the self-discipline she did on a daily basis.  I still didn’t want to.  I was a lazy musician and nothing was going to change that.  I knew I was somewhat of a musical fraud – I just hoped no one else could tell.

In my teens I was called to a musical position in our church she had yearned to fill.  It hurt her deeply and she couldn’t speak to me for some time.  We weren’t close anyway, but the chill cut through.  I had wanted the job as well, but never thought it would be given to me.  I was happy, but that joy was tempered with the knowledge that she felt undermined and publicly embarrassed.  Every Sunday, as we attended church and I fulfilled my new duties, the wound was reopened once again.  It took a long time to recover.

Again we made music together.  We took on more difficult pieces, especially those few had performed or even heard of.  I practiced how to cheat my way through the rough spots, while she practiced her runs and difficult intervals endlessly in the search for utter perfection in execution and tone.  My ability to gloss through passages I should have learned well grew, which annoyed her.  It was a mixed blessing – she didn’t like it, or respect it, but it gave her the opportunity to perform more because few accompanists could keep up with her.  She needed to perform.  So did I.  We knew each other well enough that no one could take one or the other’s place.  It was a beautiful, dysfunctional codependence.

Our reputation grew and we made music more often, but, as is so often the case, we again felt the divide.  I married and began raising a family, while she coped with a hellish marriage and health issues.  We communicated sporadically, but rarely performed together again.

Years passed and I missed our music.  I sometimes dug it out of the closet and ran through passages myself, but it wasn’t the same.  She wasn’t playing much any more, but I didn’t know why.  We lived a few hours apart, so it wasn’t practical to simply start up again.  And…she was different.

After a number of phone calls it became clear she was in a steep decline.  She indicated she needed help with her home, yard, and finances, so we reconnected.  I was shocked at her appearance – she was thin and almost frail, but still in good spirits.  It took very little time to realize she was losing a battle with Alzheimer’s, although it took some time to have her officially diagnosed.  We also learned she struggled with aphasia, a condition in which individuals cannot produce the word for a common object even though they know what it is.

Our lives descended into a strange dance of charades and guessing games.  No wonder she wasn’t playing.  We still hoped, though.  During subsequent stays at a senior living community and, toward the end of her life, an assisted living facility dedicated to individuals with serious memory loss, we tried what we could – Aricept, musical therapy, crafts.  Nothing worked, but I hoped, so hoped, we could rekindle that magic one more time.  Anything for more time.

We placed her beloved music stand in her tiny room, along with a church hymnal.  She deposited it in the bathroom.  We turned her t.v. to channels with religious music, always a favorite.  She could not turn it off on her own, so she would unplug it and then not recall why it was unplugged.  We encouraged her to attend the small church services local religious leaders would bring to the facility she lived in.  She loved them, but didn’t participate.  The words to familiar hymns were no longer there and the melodies she so loved were lost in the mists of time.

She tried to bring them back.  She leaned forward eagerly during the short meetings, attempting to mouth familiar phrases during songs and lessons.  She looked around at fellow residents, hoping to pick up cues for appropriate behavior during various portions of the services.  It was to no avail.  I thought her musical training and life-long body of work so ingrained in her would be the last to desert her during her decline, but it was irrevocably gone.  It was devastating.

And yet…

During her last few months we had several somewhat lucid conversations about our musical history.  She missed it too.  She knew it was gone, though she didn’t know why, and sometimes our discussions veered into strangely funny territory that had nothing to do with music at all.  That is life with Alzheimer’s and aphasia.

Still, the music did connect us.  We never played together again, but we relived a few wonderful memories.  She would beam, almost childlike, when I recalled certain performances.  We even laughed a couple of times at some of the crazier situations we found ourselves in.  We both needed that during those difficult months and years before she succumbed to a major stroke.

Maybe the gap between us was bridged after all.  Music is, as always, the great uniter, no matter the form.  For that I am grateful.


Cathy L. Mason holds a bachelors degree in Sociology, with emphases in Abnormal Psychology, Family & Human Development, and pre-law studies.  She also holds a masters degree in Criminal Justice and Corrections, with emphases in Abnormal & Deviant Psychology, Domestic Violence, and Forensic Criminology.  She is a lifelong musician, hardcore scrapbooker, voracious reader, and has recently discovered a great love of ancient history.  Her life is made better by her husband of almost 33 years, four amazing kids, and 3 1/2 perfect grandchildren.

Cathy has published three non-fiction books, including one called Nancy, about her mother. Cathy’s Amazon author page is here.

You can visit her on Facebook here.

And on Twitter here.

Posted in #musictuesday, aging, art, family, memories, music, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Throwback Writing: New Blog Series, Submissions Welcome

typingLast week, I went hunting through my attic for Davie Bowie memorabilia. I was writing an essay on Bowie–one of my favorite musicians of all time–and wanted to add some pictures. Well, I did find a few things, and you can read the completed essay here if you’d like. However, I also came across an old literary magazine from my college (The Alembic, Providence College) that contained a couple of my poems written in the mid-eighties.

Reading them was a little disturbing. At first, I felt like I’d run into a old friend from whom I’d been estranged for many years. And yet, after reading the poems a few times, I was able to bring myself back to those days when I was terribly insecure, secretly ill with an eating disorder, and desperately trying to figure out who I was.

I got a little sad too. I wish the Mary Jo (that’s the name I used back then; it’s short for Mary Joanne) of the mid-eighties could’ve looked ahead a bit and seen that things got better. But then again, who’s to say what the next thirty years will bring?

Anyway, here’s one of the poems, called “Party Girl.”
























See what I mean?

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any old writing that makes you cringe in some ways but also helps you understand yourself and where you come from a bit better? If so, please dust it off and contact me at I’d love to feature your work in this Throwback Writing series. Poems and very short fiction will probably work best, but excerpts from longer pieces will also be considered. 

Thanks! I look forward to reading your old stuff!

Posted in aging, art, growing older, guest post, life, memories, poem, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

My Favorite Blogs of 2015—Part 1


Hello and happy 2016! I hope you’re looking forward to a year of peace, fun and good reading too. I haven’t been around this space as much as usual lately, as things have been a bit crazy. Life, right? But most things have been good, and I’m grateful for another year with family and friends.

Meanwhile, the Internet spins on, and lots of people have been posting great stuff on it. Hence, I’m hoping to use the month of January to share some of my favorite blogs with you.

This week, I’ve decided to focus on blogs written by women I admire. Unfortunately, since I also wanted to limit this post to about a thousand words–and I admire a LOT of women writers–I’m not able to include all blogs I’d like to this week, but will share as many as possible in the days to come.

So without further ado, let’s get started. All these blogs made my year a better one, and I hope you’ll love them as much as I do.

Jacqueline Cioffa: I discovered Jacqueline’s blog through the Twitter meme #MondayBlogs, which, by the way, is a wonderful way to discover new writers. Jacqueline writes about life and living with mental illness in a style that’s so raw and unblinking that her words really do feel as though they’ve bled onto the page. Jacqueline has also written two wonderful novels, The Vast Landscape and Georgia Pine.

Spirit Meets Bone: a blog by Sheila Moeschen. It would be difficult to find a blog more beautifully written than Sheila’s. Never have I read one of her posts without feeling awed by the quality of the writing. But even more importantly, Sheila’s writing makes me feel better–perhaps even safer–in this chaotic world. On her blog, you’ll find breathtakingly gorgeous creative nonfiction, and Sheila also writes lots of other stuff too. She’s a regular contributor to Huffington Post, and her work has also appeared on sites like and I AM THAT GIRL.

Collected Essays of the Anxious Mind: a blog by Stephanie Ortez. Stephanie and I have many common interests, so when I found her blog, I bookmarked it immediately. One of the many things I love about this blog is that Stephanie writes often about her passion for music in ways that hit home very hard for me. She’s also a mom who, like me, struggles with anxiety, so I find her words both beautiful and comforting.

The Lithium Chronicles: a blog by Nicole Lyons. As you can see, I’m drawn to blogs that focus on mental illness, at least some of the time. As a person who spent over fifteen years as a functioning—but also very ill—bulimic, I’m inspired by the way Nicole manages bipolar depression while also being a terrific mom, wife, and active member of the mental health community. Incredibly knowledgeable, she writes with a keen sense of self-awareness, a positive attitude, and a great sense of humor. In addition to The Lithium Chronicles, Nicole also maintains a popular blog on PsychCentral called Embracing Balance.

Terry Tyler: I first learned about Terry’s blog when she kindly reviewed my novel, Living by Ear on it. Since then, I’ve been a huge fan for many, many reasons. In a nutshell, Terry is a novelist—an excellent one, with over ten books on Amazon—who truly adores literature and writers. Oh, and she has a fantastic sense of humor. Sometimes she interviews other authors, sometimes she reviews books, sometimes she writes about life, relationships, or cosmetics. But I’ve never come across one of her posts that I didn’t enjoy. Currently, Terry’s running a series called “The Z Files,” in which she chats with various writers and bloggers about their zodiac signs and whether or not they feel they exemplify the traits of those signs. Very interesting, and fun too! One of Terry’s books that I particularly enjoyed is a novella called Round and Round.

Rachel Thompson and Bad Redhead Media: Two blogs by Rachel Thompson. If you haven’t yet read Rachel’s blogs, you owe it to yourself to give them a look, because Rachel’s a superstar. Not only does she oversee Booktrope’s Gravity Imprint, but she also runs the book promotion company Bad Redhead Media, has written and published four books, runs several Twitter chats—including the weekly #sexabusechat and #Gravitychat—and still manages to be a mom and overall lovely person. But wait: there’s more. On her blogs, Rachel shares tons of wisdom every day. Her personal blog, on the Rachel Thompson website features her own writing and some from other writers, with a focus on relationships, abuse, life in our current society, illness, and recovery, while on the Bad Redhead Media blog, Rachel generously shares lots of marketing tips for writers. Superstar? Yes.

Feminine Collective: Feminine Collective is actually an entire website, but it’s amazing, and it also features lots and lots of great writing, and houses TEN INDIVIDUAL BLOGS, so hey, I’d say it fits on this list. Started in 2014 by Julie Anderson and Marla Carlton, Feminine Collective is my favorite place to find raw, unfiltered stories, poems, essays, and articles by emerging writers. Everything on the site comes straight from the heart, whether it’s someone’s memoir about a good or bad relationship, a humorous article, a poem, or maybe just some helpful tips about applying eyeliner.

JT Twissel: a blog by Jan. Jan’s blog can always bring a smile to my face, unless of course, it makes me cry. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Jan because she’s a fellow Booktrope writer, and she’s a lovely, generous person. She’s also a super talented artist and novelist—I love her books Flipka and The Graduation Present, and am looking forward to Willful Avoidance—with a funny, quirky style. If you check out her blog, I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did.

Paula Reed Nancarrow. Paula is a storyteller extraordinaire. Everything she posts is simply exquisite. A writer and performer working in Minnesota, she writes about life, folklore, aging parents (some of Paula’s most beautiful posts are about her aging mom and dad), pop culture, history, and more. If you like sincere, honest, well researched, literate writing, I feel certain you’ll be bookmarking Paula’s blog.

OK, I’m already well over a thousand words, so will stop for now. Please tune in next week. Until then, happy reading, and happy new year!



Posted in #MondayBlogs, beauty, blogs, life, literature, musing, publishing, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

(De)Caffeinated Confessions Writing Competition Prize List

If you enjoy writing and want to help a great cause, this competition may be for you. Check it out. It’s open to all ages too–kids are welcome!

On The Verge

Haven’t quite decided whether you’ll get your funny on and submit? Consider the prizes you could win! And remember, this competition benefits a little boy and his service dog, so you are a winner just for submitting.

(De)Caffeinated ConfessionsThe Gold medalist will receive: 

  • publication in On the Verge

their choice of a EITHER a not-so-humble caffeine bundle that includes: 

  • one Ninja Coffee Bar ($199.99  value) and
  • coffee beans, tea leaves, mug


  • $150 cash

Silver medalist receives:

  • caffeine bundle including beans, leaves, mug OR
  • $45 cash
  • publication in On the Verge

Bronze medalist receives:

  • caffeine bundle including beans, leaves, mug OR
  • $35 cash
  • publication in On the Verge

This competition is based in the U.S. Out-of-country medalists will receive a cash option in place of bundles.

Please use the following guidelines when submitting:

  • One story per submission.
  • Submissions should not exceed 2000 words.
  • Submissions should be in pdf or docx format.
  • Do not put any identifying information in your…

View original post 118 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

3 Day Quote Challenge: Awareness

quote Thich Nhat HanhThe other day, one of my favorite people and bloggers, Stephanie Ortez, challenged me to write three consecutive blog posts about awareness, using relevant quotes. I’m not sure if I’ll manage to write all three, but I’m giving it a go with this one.

Awareness—or mindfulness—for me is about being in the moment: experiencing a brief period of time and embracing it for what it is, because it’s a unique experience.

I first became aware of this practice when I was at a local park one day with my kids, who were toddlers at the time. I was chatting with another mom, or maybe I should say I was prattling on, as I tend to do sometimes. If I recall correctly, I was brainstorming out loud about vacation ideas and career plans: popular topics of conversation among stay-at-home parents. But instead of chiming in with her ideas, the other mom dropped a little buzzkill on me by saying, “I’m really just trying to live in the moment as much as possible these days.”

Huh? To say I was stunned would be an understatement. I mean, we were pushing our kids on swings on a humid summer day, and I was also keeping a strict eye on my son in the sandbox, who had a tendency to bite other kids when he got angry. I was dying for a glass of cold water while desperately needing to pee, and there were no facilities of any kind at the park. In other words, talking about jobs and vacations felt like a welcome diversion, and I couldn’t understand why would anyone want to savor that particular moment.

Of course, I understand now. Those relatively carefree moments at the park may be slightly stressful and rough on the bladder, but they’re also fleeting. Both of my kids are now in high school, and although I realize I no longer have the physical energy to care for toddlers, I wouldn’t mind going back to that moment for just a little while, and I’m grateful to the other mom who introduced me to mindfulness, and helped me focus more on seemingly insignificant times.

Nowadays, I try to be mindful whenever I can. The world is becoming an increasingly scary place, and there are days when I’m almost paralyzed by the fear of what will happen to my children as they navigate the teen years. Will they make dangerous choices? Get involved in the wrong things? Associate with people who will lead them into dark places. And while I fret about the future, I also worry about the past. Did I teach them the right stuff? And what about all the other people who’ve influenced my children’s thinking? I’m sure everyone has had good intentions, but have serious errors been made?

And here’s the most frustrating part. The answer to all these questions is who knows? Really. Who the hell knows?

That’s why I’m grateful for mindfulness. Because without it, I wouldn’t be typing right now. I wouldn’t be enjoying this quiet moment. I’d probably be crying, pacing, or envisioning various versions of the future: some peaceful, some tragic.

Instead, though, I’m doing my best to focus on breathing, and appreciating that I’m in a warm place with a roof over my head. A minute from now, the dog will probably jump up and demand his dinner, or the phone could ring, informing me of some triumph or tragedy.

We’ve seen terrible things happen recently all around the world. Closer to home, there are people in my life who are hurting terribly. Hence, I’ve been spending a lot of time hoping and praying that things will improve, hoping people can be healed physically and emotionally.

Meanwhile, as the holidays press closer, many people are anticipating joy, togetherness, warmth and love. Others expect pain and isolation. But again, who knows? Almost anything—good or bad—can happen in a second and everything can change.

In the end, then, the only thing we really have—the only thing we can be truly certain of—is this moment right now. And so, if you can, take a deep breath and feel it for what it is. Honor the emotions you’re feeling, embrace them, and realize they’re yours. Never again will you feel exactly like this.

OK? And when the moment’s over, try to be kind to someone else. Make a phone call, help someone with a chore, give someone you care about a hug. In other words, share the mindfulness. Give another person a reason to cherish a moment too.

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, here’s a wonderful article by Thich Nhat Hanh, pictured above.

Posted in awareness, mindfulness, living in the moment, life, parenting, reflections, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Go See Jonathan Richman if You Can!

jonathanIf you’ve watched Jonathan Richman play live, you don’t need to read this post. You already know why seeing him is a life-affirming experience like no other, and if you live near any of his upcoming tour dates, perhaps you’ve already got tickets.

This post, then, is intended for those who haven’t seen Richman in concert. But perhaps you’ve heard of him anyway.

You may recall his early days as the “Godfather of Punk” and frontman for the legendary Modern Lovers, best known (to me anyway) for songs like “Roadrunner” and “Pablo Picasso.” Richman grew up in Natick, Massachusetts, and wrote “Roadrunner” as a musical homage to the Velvet Underground song “Sister Ray.” But unlike “Sister Ray”, its lyrics are about driving around the suburbs of Boston late at night with the radio on. Now, since I also grew up in the Massachusetts suburbs, “Roadrunner” was a standard on the beloved local radio station WBCN. (RIP, BCN). I probably heard “Roadrunner” at least once a week as a kid/teenager, but because it was something I grew up with, I didn’t pay all that much attention. I was more interested in “complicated” artists like Queen, Bowie, Roxy Music, and a whole bunch of others. I didn’t yet recognize the genius of Richman’s garage stylings and direct delivery. I do recall wondering–probably around age thirteen or fourteen–why anyone would write a song about driving past the Stop & Shop. I mean really? There was a Stop & Shop supermarket in my hometown, and it was the farthest thing from glamorous. Of course, I was too young and dumb to realize that that was the whole point. Anyway, here’s my favorite version of “Roadrunner.” It’s been covered by lots of artists–from Joan Jett to the Sex Pistols to Phish–but nobody does it justice like Jonathan.

Or perhaps, like some people, you first became acquainted with Richman when his song, “Pablo Picasso” was covered by the Burning Sensations in the movie Repo Man. I saw that movie in the 80s, and noticed the song, but had no idea it was written by the same guy who wrote “Roadrunner.” But, in fact, “Pablo Picasso” might be Richman’s most famous song of all. It’s been covered by Bowie and John Cale, as well as the Burning Sensations and so many others. Richman doesn’t play it much–if ever–in concert anymore, but here’s his version of it with the Modern Lovers.

In truth, though, I didn’t think about Jonathan Richman much–one way or another–until somewhere around 1995, when I was about thirty-one and my boyfriend (now husband) asked if I wanted to go see him at the Middle East nightclub in Cambridge. I think my response was something like “sure.” I don’t know what, if anything, I expected, as in those days, my future husband and I saw a lot of bands. But the Richman show really surprised me, because although he was a terrific singer and musician, he was also a true storyteller. I was completely taken by his sincerity, honesty, and willingness to put himself out there a hundred percent on stage. Even then, though, I didn’t exactly become a superfan. Blame it on being in a relatively new relationship, struggling to figure out what I wanted to do for a career, having an eating disorder, and whatever else was happening in my life in those days, but I didn’t consider the show a life-changer. In my opinion, it was just a really good one. I couldn’t find a video from that exact show online, but here’s Jonathan doing “Let Her Go Into the Darkness” on Conan O’Brien during that same time period.

Shortly thereafter, Jonathan was featured fairly prominently in the movie There’s Something About Mary So even if you’re not familiar with him by name, if you saw that movie, you might remember the troubadour and drummer who played and sang at different points throughout it. Well that was Jonathan Richman and his longtime drummer Tommy Larkins. Here they are playing “Something About Mary” at the late, great, Joey Ramone’s birthday party in 1998. And no, as far as I know, Jonathan didn’t write the song about me :)

Are you feeling it yet? Fast forward to 2014, when Mike and I went out to see him at the Middle East again. By this point, he’d stripped his act down completely to just acoustic guitar and the phenomenal Tommy Larkins on drums. I can honestly say that it was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and it entered the realm of what I’d call life-altering. The entire experience was such a unique blend of humor, romance, intrigue, and honesty. I think it’d be safe to say that everyone in the room was in love with Jonathan that night. Once again, I couldn’t find a video online from that exact performance, but here he is doing “Keith Richards” at the Bumbershoot in Seattle in 2014.

And then, just this past Tuesday, Mike and I went out to see Jonathan at the Somerville Theater. Both of us were a little worried that the show might not be a great as the one in 2014, and we even briefly considered staying home, in order to preserve that wonderful previous memory. But in the end, we went and were really glad we did. The songs were all different, but the passion, joy, sadness, romance, and beauty remained intact. During the show, Jonathan talked about the importance of human interaction, and said he doesn’t own a cell phone. Nor does he own a computer. He finds beauty in everyday things like talking to people who work at truck stops, and the quirky nature of humans. As an encore, he sang “As My Mother Lay Lying,” about his mom’s death in a nursing home, and pretty much everyone in attendance was brought to tears. But Jonathan reminded us not to feel sad, because the song is about the beauty of nature and life. Then he and Tommy waved goodbye and were gone. I walked out into the cool evening air reminded of so many things I take for granted, and wishing technology weren’t so much a part of my everyday life.

It seems ironic, then, to be blogging about the experience and embedding all these YouTube videos into the text. And yet, three days later, I can’t stop thinking about the performance, and believe the best way I can keep the flame alive (so to speak) is to recommend that people who love simple, honest music and exquisite storytelling do what they can to see one of Richman’s live performances. I promise that the videos here don’t even hint at the magic of the real thing.

Here’s a recorded version of “As My Mother Lay Lying”, as I couldn’t find a good live one to post.

And just because, here’s a short interview with Jonathan and Tony Wilson in London, back in 1978, when Jonathan was just a kid. It gives me goosebumps to see him saying this stuff almost forty years ago and still holding true to the same values today.

Have you been to  Jonathan Richman show? If so, what did you think? I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks so much for reading!

Posted in honesty, jonathan richman, live events, live music, music, sincerity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

FREE Kindle Books (Including Mine) for Everyone–Until 11/14

prefunk graphic

My publisher, Booktrope, in conjunction with Runaway Goodness, is giving away over 200 Kindle books this week in a promotion called Prefunk the Holidays.

It’s a pretty amazing promotion, with books in almost every imaginable genre being given away, and you can search the Prefunk list by genre. But the free part ends on 11/14, so don’t wait. After 11/14, all books in the promo will be specially priced at $2.99 until November 30.

The two novels I currently have published with Booktrope, Living by Ear and Leaving the Beach are part of this promo, so if you haven’t had a chance to check them out, now you can get them totally free!

124_0.036824001390495169_beach_cover-bpfbtLeaving the Beach is the story of a bulimic woman obsessed with music and rock icons. Although it’s pure fiction, it certainly draws on my own experiences with music and eating disorders. It has never before been offered free of charge.

high-res cover LBELiving by Ear is about a mom in her forties trying to resurrect her music career while also struggling with serious marital issues. This is the first time it’s been offered for free since Booktrope republished it.

OK! So have a great week, and treat yourself to some FREE new books!!

Posted in books, free, promo, promotion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Something Completely Different: The Best Lipstick Ever

lip butterIf you read my blog, you know I don’t normally write about beauty products. Except on the extremely rare occasion that I do, because I’ve discovered something I believe some readers might like.

And yes: first world problems. I get it. Nothing about this post will help make the earth a better place. The most it could possibly achieve is reducing the number of “wrong” lipsticks bought and discarded. Then again, you might hate my new favorite lipstick; thus, your tube will end up in the trash, increasing the amount of junk on our planet. Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that this post has negligible value.

But for the record, this lipstick has made my life a little more stress-free, and perhaps it’ll do the same for you.

Let me start by saying I’m not a person who feels the need to wear lipstick every day, but ever since elementary school, I’ve appreciated a good lip balm. In the old days, it was basic cherry Chap-Stick, but as I grew older, I discovered that I preferred balms made with more natural oils like safflower, argan, and castor seed (rather than petrolatum). They went on more smoothly and seemed to moisturize better.

But somewhere around the time I got out of college and started working, I also realized I wanted to add some color to my lips at times. And anyone who’s ventured into the world of lipstick knows there are lots of options. I started out with basic, inexpensive drugstore brands, only to find that most were too waxy, gooey, pasty, or shiny to wear on a regular basis. I’d buy one, use it for a few weeks, then either get sick of it or lose it. Or, on a really unlucky day, it would melt in my purse and make a terrible mess.

Eventually, I decided to “go professional” and seek out the assistance of beauty consultants in department stores. But even then, I was never able to find the “perfect” one. One memorable experiment was a Chanel product that smelled amazing and came in a little case with a paintbrush for easy application. I loved the dark-but-neutral color, but every time I’d wear it, I’d find myself desperate for a glass of water after about an hour. To this day, I don’t know what it was about that lipstick, but it seemed to dry out both my lips and my mouth.

Then, I went through a Mac Russian Red phase. If you know Russian Red, you know it’s a great-feeling lipstick in an iconic color, but it was too much for me. I guess I’m just not fancy enough for something so bright and noticeable, because every single time I’d go someplace wearing that lipstick, I’d end up in the restroom, wiping it off with a tissue.

Next, I tried lip stains. I walked into Sephora one day and asked the makeup consultant for a good one, because I’d heard stains were the “next generation” in lip color. The woman suggested one made by Tarte, and it seemed to serve all my lipstick needs. Then, one day, after wearing it for a few hours, I noticed it was fading in blotches. Yes, like I said, first world problems. I continued to use that stain and even bought a new tube when the original ran out, but it wasn’t particularly cheap, and I didn’t love it.

Hence, I reached the conclusion that lipstick was one of those things that just couldn’t be perfect for me. It was always going to be problematic in one way or another, and if I chose to wear it, I’d need to deal with the consequences. Most of the time, I’d just slap on some natural mint lip balm from Trader Joe’s and go about my business.

But over the summer, my daughter suggested that I might like a certain drugstore brand called NYX Butter Lipstick. Of course I was skeptical—especially since this stuff retails at stores like CVS and Target for about five or six dollars a tube, but I figured it was worth a try. The shade my daughter suggested was called Pops, which has recently been changed to Root Beer Float.

Well, I can’t even tell you how much I love this stuff. It contains no petrolatum, and feels much more like a lip balm than a lipstick. It doesn’t dry my lips at all; in fact, it actually seems to moisturize them. And the color is nice and subtle. I know everyone’s lips are a slightly different color, but this one seems fairly universal. It doesn’t bleed, so no lipliner is necessary—not that I’ve ever mastered the art of lipliner—and it stays on for hours without getting blotchy.

And it costs about six dollars! Once I discovered how great it is, I actually bought two tubes: one for home and one to keep in my purse, and it’s possible that this will be my brand for life. (Unless, of course, this brand gets discontinued, which I’m sure will happen someday). Until then, though, I’m a satisfied customer!

Above is a picture of the tube if you’re interested, and here’s a photo (lip selfie?) of me wearing it. Maybe none of this sounds appealing to you, but if it does, check it out. And if you do, please let me know what you think! Muah!!


Posted in beauty, beauty products, cosmetics, lipstick | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

How Do You Know When You’ve “Made It” as a Writer?

successHas it happened to you? Have you “made it” as a writer? I have! But before you read on, please note the quotation marks around the words made it. Because…well, you’ll understand soon if you don’t already. Here’s my story.

The year was 2007, it was autumn, and I’d been querying my first novel manuscript for about a year. I should probably put quotation marks around the word novel too, because I’m not sure if that manuscript actually qualified as a novel. But back then, as far as I was concerned, it certainly did. Not only was it a novel, but quite possibly a bestseller. Although I was pretty sure it’d work even better on the big screen. And everyone knows selling film rights is the real definition of writing success. Right?

What genre was this manuscript? Good question! It started out like erotica, but then sort of became women’s fiction, then sort of became a mystery/thriller. And it had so many great elements. Sex! Romance! Betrayal! Sleazy characters! A gorgeous-but-suspicious house cleaner! Sexy guys who tour around as children’s entertainers, but are actually wild, partying rock musicians! (I sincerely wish I were joking about that last part, but I’m not.)

Several of the literary agents who took the time to formally reject the thing pointed out that the story had no discernible plot, and some noted that most of the characters were cardboard. At least one asked what the point of the whole thing was. And was there any lesson or message that the reader should take away? Well, no! It was literary fiction. And isn’t literary fiction supposed to keep you guessing?

You can see where this is going. I’d written over three hundred pages of utter crap. It was fun, though. While my kids had been in preschool, I’d sat on the couch hacking things out, day after day. Hmm, what should I write today? Oh! I know. I’ll write a chapter about a man and woman having dinner in a restaurant, but I’ll make it read like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. Yeah. That’ll be cool. And it’ll be a nice contrast with the previous chapter, in which the man seemed totally normal, because in this chapter, he’ll be acting bizarre. Why so bizarre? Hmm. Maybe he’s on drugs, or maybe he’s just got a strange personality. Or maybe he’s a criminal! It would have to be up to the reader to figure things out, because the writer sure as hell didn’t have a clue.

Yes, this is embarrassing for me to admit, but that’s how I thought bestsellers got written. Years earlier, I’d fallen in love with movies like Blue Velvet, and had been left with the very arrogant impression that I could write something like that if I just took the time to do it. As if!

Anyway, one day in 2007 as I sat at my computer reading yet another rejection letter, my doorbell rang. It was a friend dropping something off, and when I told her of my difficulty finding a literary agent, she told me she had a personal connection with a very good and successful one. She and the agent weren’t exactly friends, but acquaintances, and maybe if I queried her, I’d get a better response.

I wrote to that agent immediately, and was surprised when she replied quickly, saying she’d like to see the first chapter. Excited, I sent it. A few days later, the agent wrote back, asking for another chapter or two. Then, she requested the full manuscript.

And that’s when I “made it.” In my head, of course. I’m not sure why I became so convinced that this was going to be it, but I did. The truth is that the beginning of the manuscript wasn’t so bad—especially since there was no real indication as to where it was headed—and other agents had also requested additional pages after reading the first couple of chapters. But this agent came with a personal connection, and, of course, I was tired of querying.

I should also mention that the holiday season was fast approaching, and I’m sure the agent was busy with holiday stuff. In any case, throughout November and December, I didn’t hear a peep from her. But instead of being rational and assuming she had other things on her mind besides my silly manuscript, I assumed she was crazy about it. She’s probably reading and rereading it, trying to figure out how to sell it at the highest price. Or maybe she’s talking to film producers already.

My holidays, therefore, were pretty good. I went to various parties and events feeling a true glow inside. By next holiday season, I’d think, I might be up for an Oscar! Or no, maybe not next year, but the year after, because it takes a while to make a good movie. When people asked what I’d been up to, I’d tell them I’d finished a manuscript and had my fingers crossed about something really big. And each time I’d say that, I’d believe a little more strongly that my story was going to explode—in a good way.

And here’s the hardest part for me to admit. I developed something of a haughty attitude. I’m normally a pretty humble person, but the prospect of becoming a superstar brought out some undesirable aspects of my personality. Sometimes, I’d just waste time fantasizing about the dresses I’d wear on the red carpet, but other times, I’d actually think of myself as a cut above my friends and fellow writers. After all, they were still working at normal jobs, raising families, or hacking away at short stories, screenplays, or novel manuscripts. But I was Hollywood bound.

Then, one Friday in January, I woke up feeling anxious and shaky. And later in the day, things got worse. Terrifying, disgusting, and shocking thoughts kept going through my mind and getting stuck there. I truly believed I was having a breakdown of some sort, and made an emergency call to my therapist. She agreed to see me first thing Monday morning, and helped me understand that I was suffering from a common anxiety symptom called obsessive thoughts. She also gave me some good strategies to stop those thoughts from controlling my life, and assured me they’d go away if I practiced the strategies.

But of course, she also asked if I was particularly stressed about anything. I told her about my “prospective book deal,” (imagine that!) and the movie deal I was also hoping for, and she asked if I was worried about what fame might mean for my family and me. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that not only was I terrified of fame, but of what it was already doing to me. Who was I becoming? What had happened to regular old Mary? And what would happen if my fantasies became reality?

Well, as you might guess, I never found out. A few days later, the manuscript appeared on my doorstep, along with a lovely note from the agent, explaining why the story wasn’t working for her.

Of course, I cried. And questioned, and screamed a bit. But eventually I paid attention to what her note actually said, and realized I had a lot of work to do. I went back to the drawing board, starting a new manuscript, but also reading lots of books about plot and character development. I read novels and watched movies critically, paying attention not only to the stories, but how the writers conveyed those stories.

But as all that was happening and I began to write more purposefully, I also grew increasingly aware that my idea of “making it” as a novelist was pretty screwy. Yes, I’ve now got a wonderful agent and publisher, but what I really want is to become a better writer each day. Because writing isn’t about making money, or winning awards, or walking red carpets. Sure, those things happen sometimes, but some of the best writers I know have never achieved any of that, and don’t really aspire to it.

The other day, however, a writer I really respect shared a note she’d received from an anonymous reader. The note told the writer that her words had helped the reader—who’s suffering from serious medical issues—to keep breathing for another day. Now that’s my definition of “making it.”

Posted in literature, movie deals, novel writing, publishing, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Halloween Book Hop–Tricks and Treats for Everyone!

Halloween Hop Button (1)Hi Readers,

I wanted to let you know that I’m participating in a fun Halloween Book Hop this year. Over 130 authors from many different genres and publishers are taking part, and every one is offering either a “trick” or a “treat” to people who visit their Facebook page.

Today, I’m giving out pdfs of LIVING BY EAR to anyone who clicks on my Facebook author page and leaves a comment about Halloween.

And if you’d like to check out the entire blog hop and visit ALL the sites, here’s a link to the event. It runs until October 31st, and there’s lots of stuff to win.

Have fun, and happy Halloween!

Posted in blog hop, game, halloween | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment