Old Writers Never Die ~ They’re just swallowed up by technology.

I became a new author at the age of 62. That was two years ago and I’m still out there hustling. And I love every minute of this new life.

I’ve been a writer all my life but I never had the opportunity to devote the time to it the way I always dreamed. I was caught up in the workforce. I know what you’re thinking — a lot of writers work and write at the same time. Well, I couldn’t. I was chasing the dollar and embracing the American Dream. I was a money whore. I was balancing a marriage and a nursing career, and I never understood why I didn’t have the energy that a young woman was supposed to have. I was securing that much-lauded 401k plan that everyone was talking about. I had a vision of a comfortable retirement with the little beach house in Florida. I couldn’t fool around with writing when I had all that to do. I worked as a full-time hospital staff nurse. In my ‘spare’ time, I worked nursing shifts for a nursing agency (It’s a temp agency for nurses) at other area hospitals and nursing homes. The money, the work hours, and the overwhelming stress were piling up. I kept on going. I was convinced that the weird symptoms I was experiencing were related to my crazy schedule and lack of sleep. I didn’t take days off. I worked all holidays because I could get double-time for those shifts. I elected to give up all the holidays that could have been spent with my husband and family in order to get those impressive paychecks. I was a working robot. The pain and weakness and fatigue and dizzy spells I was experiencing were related to all the running and working and commuting I was doing. Right?

Wrong.

In 2002, I was literally knocked off my feet by multiple sclerosis. I became a semi-invalid for three miserable years because of a brutal relapse that had been building for some time. The first MRI of my brain showed MS lesions in the white matter that were 20+years old. I had been working with MS for most of my career. It was the reason I hadn’t been able to do all the things I had wanted to do in my life. I am here to testify that you can’t be Wonder Woman when you’re working with undiagnosed MS. Because of my lack of stamina throughout my working years, I had to stick with the priorities in life. And, in that day and time, my priority was working and saving for the future. You have to choose your battles. I chose work.

Ironically, multiple sclerosis would be my release from the stressful life I had always known. I was much too ill to continue in nursing. My life was turned upside down in many terrifying ways. I lost my fat salary with all those extra shifts. I was totally disabled. I plunged into depression that was so devastating as to cause me to consider suicide because of all I had lost. As far as I knew, life for me was pretty much over.

At the end of those three years, I experienced the euphoria of my first MS remission. The word ‘remission’ is the most beautiful word in the dictionary to the MS sufferer. An MS sufferer coming out of relapse is like Phoenix rising. You feel the power of life and freedom that no one else could possibly understand. It’s as if your body and your life are suddenly awash with pure clean fresh air that floods your lungs with life-saving oxygen that runs through your veins like a healing river where before there had been nothing but a stifling cloud of ugly filthy stench. You step out of the darkness into the light of renewed health, if only for a little while.

I started writing again. And, I haven’t stopped. I adopted a minimalist life style. I didn’t do that intentionally. It just evolved. I unplugged everything but the PC and wrote stories — lots and lots of stories. I created manuscripts. I started a memoir that turned into a very healing project. I was more creative than I’d been since my college days. I was gaining momentum and personal confidence. The opportunity came for me to send a manuscript off to a mainstream publisher, so I did. I had typed a whole book on WordPad, printed it out on printer paper, stuffed it into an old manila envelope, and sent it off, all the time thinking, ‘I’ll bet Jack Kerouac did it this way.’

My manuscript was accepted by the publishing house. I can honestly say that I have never received a rejection slip. I’m not arrogant or boastful. I think it must be that God figured I’d had enough misery in my life, and this was the big break he gave me to take the edge off all the crap I’d lived with for all those years.

Then the technological shit hit the fan.

The guy at the publishing house told me that I’d need a Word program in order to proceed.

If you’re young and reading this, stop now. You couldn’t possibly relate. But, if you’re an older writer like me who aspires to be a published author, perk up your ears. Unless you have kept up with all the new technology and already know it all, you’re going to have to get with the program. Don’t be afraid. And don’t be intimidated. Just knuckle down and learn the techno stuff because book publishing is a young person’s game. Young people are publishing the books now. That kindly old scholarly curmudgeon in the gray tweed suit smoking his pipe behind the cherry mahogany desk isn’t calling the shots anymore. His granddaughter owns the company now and she’s coming for you. Get self-help books on anything related to modern technology. Go online and get a list of modern technological terminology and do a refresher course often because even the terminology changes every day. Don’t wait and be embarrassed like I was when I had to go to the new online dictionary to find the definition of the word ‘toggle.’ These things can be humiliating. When you come upon a young editor who blindsides you with conversations laced with words you’ve never encountered in your 64 years on earth, there is nothing that can prepare you for an intelligent conversation with these people. You will end up feeling like an idiot. There’s nothing more degrading for an accomplished and talented senior than to be blinded by technology in a conversation with a kid the age of your grandchildren. Prepare yourself for the onslaught. This isn’t your grandma’s book club anymore. They’re reading books on computerized devices now, and you’d better be ready for the change. Because, change isn’t coming. It’s already here. Old-fashioned books held in the hands will never go completely out of style. But, you’d better prepare yourself to engage intelligently in conversations about the E-Book and its role in the future of the modern-day author. The world is moving fast, and you either keep up, or the train will leave you at the station. I’m not where I want to be yet. I am not too proud to pick the brains of my younger writer friends. I know they don’t have time for my unbelievably na├»ve questions, but they answer them anyway. I do my best to help them in return. There’s not much I can do for them other than help them to promote their work.

And, don’t think for a moment that you can keep on living that technologically-minimalist lifestyle. If you expect to make money selling books, you’ve got to do the whole social-media thing. I’m doing things I never dreamed I’d do. I’m out there on the WEB sucking up to strangers when a few years ago, I seldom bothered to answer my own phone because I didn’t want to interact with other people. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — I know — I didn’t know what any of it meant either. Now, I’ve become an unwitting techno-whore. If you want to be in this game, you have to get out and play with the rest of the writer/authors out there hustling on the WEB. If you don’t, you’ll miss the train. And, we senior writers don’t want to miss the train. After all, we built the damned train. We’d better get the hell on it. We don’t want a bunch of kids running off and leaving us standing on the tracks wishing we’d kept up. We’ve got to revise our goals. I’m going to teach these kids a thing or two. I’m going to blind them with book sales and beat them at their own game.

Living the Awkward Life: Memoirs of an Unrepentant Klutz

I was born awkward. Some of us are, you know. I was an awkward girl. Now, I’m an awkward woman. And, I’m OK with that. Being a klutz is like any other roadblock in life; you either jump over it, or you accept it for what it is, turn around, and move on. I chose the latter after many years spent literally stumbling through life. I had an epiphany when I was a high school freshman. By the time you’re in high school, you can no longer use growing pains to explain the trip-and-fall issue. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try to be happy in spite of your inability to pirouette gracefully through life. When the other girls were doing cartwheels and backflips in gym class, I was tripping on my shoelaces just trying to navigate going up the bleachers. I always admired the kids who could bound up and down steps with arms full of books without hanging on to handrails. Navigating stairs, I would clutch my belongings against my chest with one hand, and hang on for dear life to the handrails with the other. Fear of falling down steps was a lifelong phobia for me. I’d had a lot of practice with falling down steps, and I was getting way too good at it. In high school, I was twice offered a sponsorship by the local American Legion to be their contestant in the annual queen contest for the county fair. The winner would reign over the activities all through fair week, then go on to compete in the Miss Indiana pageant. Other girls would fight for such an opportunity. But, I turned them down for two reasons. I knew it would require an ensemble that included high heeled shoes. And, I knew there would be steps. There would be lots of parading around up and down steps with my farm-calloused feet stuffed into uncomfortable shoes. My one-and-only brush with the royal treatment simply wasn’t worth the risk. I thanked them profusely and turned them down.

I was a very pretty girl. Some people even said I was beautiful. But, I didn’t have the feminine style, grace, and elegance to go with it. With my broad shoulders, long legs, and big farm-girl feet, I was more suited to power sports than cheerleading. Cheerleading was never an option. There was no way I could do a cartwheel or the splits without sustaining permanent injury. Being a flag girl leading the band was too risky. I was afraid I’d fall with the flag and gouge somebody’s eyes out when I fell. Our band director had me play the contrabass clarinet when we marched in events because girls always play clarinets, and I was the only female clarinet player who was strong enough to carry a contrabass. For those of you unfamiliar with a contrabass clarinet, it’s a monstrous thing that weighs a lot and hangs almost to the ground when you’re marching. Playing contrabass clarinet while marching isn’t for wimps. It requires a lot of muscle and stamina, and I had both.

I was a good athlete. I was a power server in volleyball. And, I was a softball ace. I once hit a high pop fly so high and so far between first and second that it hung suspended against the sun for an incredible length of time, and while everyone on the field was watching with awe and admiration, it dropped over the schoolyard fence, landed in the gutter far below, and rolled down a steep hill until it finally came to rest on the parking lot of the local Ford Motors dealership half a block away. That pop fly became legendary. No one had ever hit a ball that hard, that high, or that far. But, it didn’t help my reputation with the boys. No boy wants to hang out with a girl who can embarrass him on the baseball field.

When I turned fourteen, boys became an attraction. In my freshman study hall, I was blessed to sit at a table for eight, and one of the eight was an older man — a senior whom I felt an immediate attraction to because he looked like Little Joe Cartwright of Bonanza fame. I was on one end of the table. He was on the other end facing the opposite direction. He didn’t know I was alive.

I would sit and try to concentrate on my algebra equations while luxuriating in delicious fantasies of riding on the back of Little Joe’s spotted paint horse, my arms tightly wrapped around his chest, hugging him tight, as we galloped together across the majestic rolling plains of the Ponderosa. We would come to a pristine blue babbling stream with lovely clumps of blooming daisies on the shore. Frogs were croaking. A turtle was sunning himself on a rock. Little Joe would stop, and he would lift me gently off the horse. I would flounce my skirts and petticoats and pat my hair flirtatiously under the brim of my yellow gingham bonnet. He would untie the bonnet and lift it away. My hair would tumble to my shoulders in all its blonde glory, and he would be transfixed. I would smile adoringly, and he would profess his love for me as the sun glistened on the water. The water gurgled as it flowed downstream to the aromatic pine forests below. Little Joe would whisper secrets in my ear, and we would treasure this blissful moment forever. He would never be able to live without me from that day forward.

Oh, I had it all figured out.

There came a Saturday afternoon when my mom gave me and my brother permission to go to the local roller rink. It was the first day we were allowed to venture into that exciting place without parental supervision, and we would spend the day. Bill was twelve. I was fourteen. I was filled with joy because there were always cute guys there, skating alone. I was becoming a voyeur of the attributes of the opposite sex. All these feelings were very new to me. Everybody knows everything about everybody in a small town. And, I knew that Little Joe Cartwright would be at the skating rink. I heard it through the local gossip mill that he went there a lot. So, I made a plan. I always, always had a plan.

I got to the roller rink, and sure enough, he was there. Just as I suspected, he was a very good skater. He was skating alone. No girlfriend seemed to be in the picture. My plan was coming together. It was simply a matter of putting the pieces together. I rented a pair of skates, all the while stealthily admiring his skating prowess and his beautiful physique. Yes, sir — I was going to make conversation, and I was going to make an impression. I was up and ready to go.

There was only one problem. I didn’t know how to skate.

But, I had faith in my own perseverance. I have always been a hard worker and I succeed in the things that I really have a passion for. And, today, I really wanted to skate. No, it was much more urgent than simply wanting to skate. Today, I absolutely had to skate. This was the day I would become a really good skater. Tomorrow, I would be even better. I was sure of it. I just needed some practice, that’s all. I mean, I was a big strong girl. Right? I could knock a person out with my volleyball serve. I could throw hay bales with the best of the boys. I could hit a line drive with a baseball bat that would take your breath away. I could drive a Farmall tractor. I could lug a 5-gallon bucket full of chicken feed like a man. I had shoulders like a linebacker. So, how difficult could rolling on your feet be? My big feet would probably be an asset with skating. My grandmother always eased the pain I felt at having to wear size 9 shoes. She assured me that I didn’t have big feet. She said my body was like a strong well-built house and my big feet were simply the firm foundation upon which that house was built. Grandma could always make anything seem better.

So, I began practicing. I spent a very long time hanging onto the railing that ran along all four walls of the roller rink. I would roll along consistently in an effort to get my confidence up. All I needed was to believe in myself. I stoked my courage by envisioning the way it would be once I got out there in the traffic with the experienced skaters. I’d choose a crucial moment when Little Joe was swinging around that far turn over there. I would launch myself into the flow of traffic just in time to skate alongside him, then I’d make a cool comment about recognizing him from study hall, as if I hadn’t even realized he was there. It was a perfect plan. Failure was not an option. I had this. Practice. All I needed was practice.

So, practice is what I did, with my goal right there in sight. The object of all my desires was rolling so close to me at times that I could reach out and touch him if I wanted to. I’d just have to wait to touch him. I had this skating thing to conquer first. Then, my life would change. I mean, it wasn’t unheard of for a freshman girl to be asked to the prom by a senior. My plans were lofty and grand. I never was a small dreamer. My dreams have catapulted me to the moon and the stars. In my eyes, nothing was ever impossible. So, every lap spent hanging on to the rail around that roller rink was like a drop of magic glue that would hold the pieces of my beautiful dream together. There’s no way that I wouldn’t succeed. The handrails were like training wheels for skaters. I understood what I had to do.

The roller rink building was basically a large well-built pole barn that had been utilized for this purpose for years. It was a family-friendly place, and it was a local hang-out for teenagers. I was thrilled to have finally become part of the exciting teenage crowd. I just knew that this place would become an important part of my life from now on. I just needed to, literally, get my bearings, and I’d feel right at home here.

I’m patient when life calls for me to be. I do whatever it takes to get a job done. I’m an expert at waiting. I’ve been forced to wait a lot in my life for the things I’ve always wanted. I’ve always been a late bloomer, a late starter. In this case, I knew that the patience and perseverance it would take to master these skates would make my beautiful dream a reality.

My courage eventually grew so strong that I knew I was ready to fly.

I steeled my nerves, took a deep breath, and scoped out my intended target. He was coming straight toward me in all his Little Joe magnificence. I stood up straight and shoved myself out onto that hard concrete with a satisfied smile on my face. I was skating with the crowd now. And, it was glorious. I was a skater. A real skater. And, it was time for me to make my move.

All I really remember was the whirling and the coolness of the concrete against my cheek. When the whirling finally stopped, I was on my face eye-level to skate wheels……lots and lots of skate wheels. Strangely, the thing I remember most were the scuffmarks on some of the white leather skates worn by lovely graceful girls as they whirred by. Only real skaters had their own white leather skates. It was then that I realized that I would probably never own a pair of white leather skates. I knew I would never be worthy.

Trying valiantly to be a cool girl in the face of such adversity, I tried to stand up on the skates and all I did was roll and fall, over and over and over again. I learned a hard lesson. No matter how cute you think you are, there is no way to be cool or cute when you’re face-down, butt-up on a cold concrete floor while wearing roller skates. Another thing I learned was that good things don’t always come in pretty packages. Little Joe Cartwright simply skated away from the scene of the accident that day. He never offered to help me. The nice lady in the office came out to help me, and that’s when we realized that my left arm was badly broken. She unlaced my skates while I sat dejectedly on the cool concrete, holding my swelling arm. She took my skates off and we walked to her office where she pleaded with me to let her call an ambulance. I pleaded back. I lied and told her that my grandmother was close by, and I would have her take me to the doctor. She seemed satisfied with that. What I hadn’t told her was that my grandmother’s house was several blocks away. All I wanted to do was get out of there. I supported my broken arm with my good arm, and walked, crying, to Grandma’s house. My skating days were over. And, Little Joe Cartwright was just a fantasy. He never lived up to my dreams. After that day, I knew he never would. That one reaction from the object of my dreams taught me that I wanted a man who would help me when I fell. I didn’t need some guy who would simply skate away and leave me stranded.

Study hall was never the same after that. My algebra grades improved a lot because I was concentrating more. And, Mom wouldn’t allow either one of her kids to go to the roller rink alone after that. But, that was alright. I never really wanted to go again. I would learn to do other things well. Walking on wheels just wasn’t my idea of a good time. Walking on wheels had taught me a life lesson. I learned that cute boys are often shallow and uncaring. I knew I deserved a nice boy, and I was intent on finding one, no matter how long I had to wait.

Unbeknownst to me, in my fervor of plotting and scheming at the roller rink, I hadn’t even noticed that my brother Bill had left early because his feet were killing him. He had rented a pair of skates a whole size too small. His feet were seeping masses of water blisters. He had skated and skated and skated himself into a whole lot of misery. Mom ended up at the doctor’s office with both of us that day. She nursed injured kids the rest of that night. That was the day she realized that neither of us was competent to be turned loose at the roller rink. Neither one of us ever went back. And, I’m proud to say that we both turned out just fine.

Last time I saw Little Joe Cartwright, he was fat, sloppy, and bald as an egg, and he was on his third divorce. He had a beer in one hand and was picking his nose with the other. I shamefully admit that seeing him that way gave me a deep and rewarding sense of satisfaction. I’m ashamed of my reaction. But, I’ll get over it.

To be honest, I should send him a thank you note, thanking him for setting my future on a beautiful path. I’m glad he didn’t help me that day. My whole life might have been different. I might have missed out on meeting and marrying the man of my dreams. It sure took me a long time to find him. I didn’t think I ever would. But, he was worth waiting for, as all my dreams have been. He and I have been together for thirty-eight years now. And, he still picks me up when I fall.