Digression: On getting used to being called Ma’am. And interesting article/essay by Shannon Kavanaugh.

Not exactly sure when it happened.  When I officially became a ma’am and/or entered the ma’am era of my life.  There was a spattering of incidents during my mid to late thirties, mostly from younger women in shops I though were being snippy and/or condescending.  “Thank you ma’am.”

What rattled me though was at 39, I was going to Kripalu center for a dance class.  I was in Park Street station en route to South Station to catch my bus out to Western Massachusetts, when I heard a youngish twenty-something guy say: “Can I help you with your bag ma’am?”

And I was thinking what a nice kid, offering to help some lady with her bag.  And you do — know where this is going right?  Yeah he was speaking to me.

I politely thanked him but declined.  I was officially a ma’am.  But Kripalu was a mind opening experience, I made some wonderful friends, came home recharged and wrote away.  And figured I guess I’m going to have to get used to ma’am.

So yes it’s ten years later and I still get called ma’am.  I have politely declined offers of seats on public transit and sometimes accepting them.  I do schlep a lot of bundles into work and the post office — I’d like to think that is why people on the train feel bad and offer their seats — but I guess it’s Mother Time as well.

For example: Friday night, alighting the bus, I thanked the driver and said have a good weekend and he replied: “Thank you ma’am.”

Oy.  And on another somewhat related note.  I thought this was an interesting short article/essay via Dame Magazine:  Women of Certain Age Don’t have to Settle by Shannon Kavanaugh.  Link/URL is below.





Letter to Cassandra, Tues. 12-Wed. 13 May 1801 — “I am more anxious to know the amount of my books, especially as they said to have sold well. — “

In this letter to her older sister Cassandra, Jane Austen writes from the Paragon in Bath, which seems to be a temporary accommodation, since she mentions looking at different properties.  The exit from their home at the parsonage at Stevenson seems to be first and foremost on Austen’s mind retelling her older sister an update on possessions that have been sold: “Sixty one Guineas & a half for the three Cows gives one some support under the blow of only Eleven Guineas for the Tables.–Eight for my Pianoforte, is about what I really expected to get; I am more anxious to know the amount of my books, especially as they are said to have sold well.–” (Per the notes/citation: The Sale at Steventon Parsonage, Collected reports, IV.  R. Vick.)

Austen’s descriptions of her activities in Bath are interesting. Often it seems she is trying to provide similar comparisons to places back in Hampshire: “Think of four couple, surrounded by about an hundred people, dancing in the upper rooms at Bath! … for tho’ it was shockingly & inhumanly think for this place, there were people enough I suppose to have made five or six pretty Basingstoke assemblies.”

Austen faithfully updates Cassandra on places that they visit, her uncle’s health improvements and new acquaintances: “Another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card table, with six people to look over, & talk nonsense to each other.”

Austen’s wicked wit is prevalent as well and you can sense as a reader that she is making the most she can out of these anecdotes, usually at the person’s expense: “I respect Mrs. Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but cannot feel a more tender sentiment.–Miss Langley is like any other short girl with a broad nose & wide mouth, fashionable dress, & exposed bosom.”

Austen also includes notes on her wardrobe and her mother’s health before wrapping up this letter.  Many scholars theorize she did like Bath or enjoy her time there, from this letter it seems clear she was having difficulty making the transition from Hampshire to Bath and finding people she liked and found interesting.

In the quotes, all grammar, abbreviations and grammar are Austen’s own.  All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Oxford University Press, 2011.


Literary Digression: Write what you know & serendipity?

Right now I’m trying to finish a novel.  I started it around May 2018, when my mom’s cancer returned and she had to have surgery.  The idea began a few years before when I interviewed a young man who quite spookily — looked a lot like my high school unrequited crush.  And I was thinking about a woman (character) who had this similar experience happen, but then fell in love with this young man’s father.  Logistically though, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do the meet cute – until I took a tumble a few weeks before my mom’s surgery.  I used the experience of my fall, and emergency room visit and conversation with the one of the medics as inspiration start point, and then fictionalized it.

Originally, I was thinking of something light and fun – and I was encouraged reading about the trend of “up lit” or uplifting stories.  But being a writer is always an adventure and as the characters developed they became more complex.  It grew into a story about two people nearing midlife (50), with their individual personal and professional lives already full of work, debt, responsibilities and other issues such as mental health — despite all they fall in love and bring out the best in each other — and it’s not easy but spoiler alert they do manage to make it through some tough times and make it work. And I’m still working on the ending and wrapping it all up though.

The lead female character is a character I wrote about in several short stories when I was in my 20’s.  She was sort of a victim back then, but now she has grown into an interesting adult with strong and weak points.  She is very much a committed artist and still very naïve in certain ways.  The lead male character is completely fictionalized.  Even though I use the conversation I had after my fall with the medic who brought me to the ER – I took a page and flip it down and around because in reality (my life experience), I was sort of like his aunt asking him questions.  Now, it’s sort of taking that write what you know about and going to the next level because that was just one single experience.

Eventually I was thinking what if two people who meet due to a one time event (medical fall) and have this one conversation which changes their lives – because they both realize they don’t want their meeting or conversation to be over.  And they both go to look for each other and as a result realize they had all these connections in common.  Certainly, the idea of characters in a love story sort of orbiting around each isn’t new but I sort of try to avoid the cliché but bringing in some darker points into their story.  These two lead characters are older, again nearing mid-life and well not to generalize but usually everyone has a story by this time.

Plot and theme drives a story but as both a writer and reader I think if you don’t care about these characters there isn’t much of a point.  My fictional male character got more complex as I wrote him and I did a little bit of research when I first started out — more about that later.

Write what you know can tap out.  I wrote a first novel or novella in my mid to late 20’s.  It was about a social worker and a man she does not realize was once a famous (a one hit wonder musician), and she is what I call “zero tolerance” on substances — all she sees is he is an addict and alcoholic living in recovery.  I wrote this novel in the years before cell phones and the opioid (pills) epidemic.  I have never been a social worker but I worked for a small nonprofit agency at the time who worked to get women into retreatment that had histories of incarceration and non-violent offenses usually around drugs.  I also volunteered for a grassroots nonprofit that worked with the homeless and met another woman who started her own nonprofit group, doing outreach to homeless women on the streets that were afraid to go into shelters and get help from the established social service agencies.  Many of the experiences I had working and volunteering and the people I met at these agencies inspired me — when writing this first novel/novella.

Around 2003, I started to play with the idea of another novel, about a group of women trying to save the world – it became a hybrid I think of sci fi and dystopian fiction but I felt like there were important backstories between the women and their relationships with each other, social commentary and also a couple of love stories woven in there too.  Consistently I worked on this book from my early to late 30’s.  To use a painterly term it was like a written mural.  But it required research into history, archeology, botany and physics.  I sort of fell down the research hole especially with the physics and math which I again I fictionalized for the plot/theme/engine of my stories—and I often had to go back and make changes and adjustments because of advances in science and technology.  Some of the tales I wove within the plot of my mural are now similar to some nonfiction theories being put out there which is pretty ironic — sort of like “the truth is stranger than fiction effect” playing catch up.  The research though I think overwhelmed me and the project demanded more time than I could give but in 2008, there was a turning point with ill family members I could not really focus on it, and  so for personal reasons I mainly stepped away from it.  At first I hoped revisit it when I had more time to really give it the TLC/tender loving care for revisions that it needs.  But it’s been so long, I’m not sure this will ever happen though.

This new novel has been written over the last year and I’m now in my late 40’s.  I think it’s hard to go back to work on a novel that you began at a different age, such as 20 or 30, because even though my style remains the same — I think it has evolved especially in longer projects.  I tend to be more experimental with dropping pronouns and clipping words a few other stylistic quirks in my short stories.

This third book I think is probably the most readable in the traditional sense that I have written as far as structure goes — although again I think my style is still there it is just modified.  Generally though, I think I could go back to the book I started to step away from 10 years ago but not the short novel I wrote in my 20’s — it’s just too far away.  I wouldn’t want to take away how I wrote back then which again has some significant differences to how I write today.

That being said I was cautious about the amount of research I put in while thinking about this male lead character.  I looked up requirements about becoming a paramedic noting the differences between an EMT/Emergency Medical Technician and a certified/advanced Paramedic in my state.  I did visit a few online message boards and tried to get a sense of the work load and schedules — again they varied but I found what I was looking for and/or what would be common in the city/region where I live.  And I knew I would fictionalize certain things which is writer’s prerogative but I didn’t want anything too glaring — that is completely annoying and off base either.  My male medic character started to take shape – again with positives and negatives all very complex and he went in directions I did not originally plan or expect.  The component of serendipity started to take shape but I think that often happens when you are in the throes of writing.


Jane Austen’s Persuasion and exploring the ideas of love and romance lost and found (again).

Recently, JSTOR had a short article called “The Physical Pleasures of Jane Austen’s Persuasion” by Erin Blakemore — Here is a link/url:


The author, Blakemore makes several interesting points about why this Austen novel: “often gets overshadowed.  It’s more subtle and less action-packed than fan favorites like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and is one of her less-frequently adapted books.”  Which is very true.  I think my favorite and one of the more recent adaptations was in 2007 with Rupert Penry-Jones, who is my age born in 1970, so he was about 37 when he played Captain Wentworth.

Obviously, Austen wrote according to the social customs of the time and even going outside that circle was a bit much for the proper constraints of the family.  Even though her family encouraged and supported her writing to a point, when Austen was published to save any undue embarrassment, her work used the fail safe generic pen name: “By a Lady.”

Persuasion, again to note, is a later Austen novel which features older characters, a love affair that was once young — in that it was originally two people who fell in love during their youth, but the match was not approved due to social structure, specifically because of Wentworth’s class and income during their youth.

And I will note here, it’s not mentioned here in Blakemore’s article, but I think Persuasion becomes a fan favorite as people age, because there is a romance there in the whole idea of a second chance at love. But more on that later.

During the novel, Wentworth returns to Anne’s life during a financial crisis, and he is also older and here is big news: fiscally stable.  He is no longer a gamble or a risky choice, but the cliche of a “catch.”  As is custom, many younger ladies are busy vying for his attentions for a match.  But it is as Austen wrote overall documenting their later year romance — and I’m paraphrasing here — it is definitely “still on” between Anne and Wentworth.  The attraction materializes to the point, where the reader notices both parties never really lost their emotion or physical attractions to each other.  Blakemore notes, “Austen’s use of blushes, beating hearts, physical gestures, and almost-contact–devices that weave a web of physicality around Anne and Wentworth.”

But there is a bit of plot and obstacles to wade through before the older and wiser couple are finally united, including the use of the letter for Wentworth to declare his love for Anne.  Austen often uses letters in her novels Darcy writes to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice explaining his actual relationship with George Wickham and disclosing the near scandal involving his younger sister Georgiana.  Willoughby writes perhaps the original sad “Dear Jane” letter to Marianne in Sense and Sensibility — striking their entire romance and returning the lock of her hair for good measure.

During Austen’s life and time period, letters were the general and most common form of communication, after face to face conversations — so it makes sense Austen would use letters so often in her plots to convey critical information that characters cannot for whatever reason communicate in person.  In Darcy’s case, I believe he was ashamed in the lapse in his care-taking of his sister and the situation in general that he did not want to disclose it — until being absolutely pushed over the line — which he was by Elizabeth’s rejection of his proposal and then criticizing his treatment of Wickham; having only heard Wickham’s propaganda about Darcy.  Willoughby was also procrastinating to the point of hoping to have his match for the money and run away for his genuine love for Marianne.  But her letters and confrontation at the ball forced his hand to for once tell her officially in writing — and again I’m paraphrasing here — that their relationship was done and over.  Yes a little bit of mansplaining with both characters but in the Regency style.

Love is never easy.  Love can hurt terribly.  Love sometimes works out and sometimes it doesn’t.  And the idea of falling in love in different times of your life can be complicated as well — the intensity might  be different in your 50’s than in your 20’s but perhaps just in a different context.  I try to remember all this and Austen’s take on it as I draft the pages of my own novel — about two people in mid-life finding each other and trying to weave their lives together around other responsibilities and limitations their lives have posed for them.   Unlike Anne and Wentworth, my characters did not have a youthful romance — but find they have many connections and coincidences in common.  That whole idea of a small world or six degrees of separation — I’m kind of playing with it and I’m not sure my two characters would have fallen in love when they were younger.

The idea of having a second chance at love or another chance at love for an individual should not be dismissed and I think should be celebrated as much as “young love.”  Because older love can be hard worn and won.  Sometimes people have limited choices, the life they live molds them into different people, and they find someone they love or love again, but in a different way, perhaps years later.  And this timeline it makes their love just as precious as a youthful couple trying to figure things out.

Perhaps it is the romantic in me but I think people can have more than one great love in their life.  It’s possible maybe not for everyone but I think it is a variable.  I’m not sure Jane Austen would agree with me about that but if given the chance I’d like to ask her over a cup of tea.






Digression/Thoughts: Snow Beauty Tips.

This weekend we are having two (2) rounds of snow.  Today, the snow is just tapering off and starting to melt and freeze into “sleet.”  Which is heavy to move.  So I have already cleared the front walk and side walks and the front part of the driveway.  Next up to tackle the car and the backyard — for my mum to turn the car around because she fears backing out of our driveway.  And I fear the condition of the asphalt pavement of our yard which I’m hoping will be fixed/repaired this spring/summer.  We ran out of time last year.

Shoveling snow is not a fun task but it is expensive to pay someone and also our driveway and yard are not in great shape.  I don’t think most contractors would really take care and so I’m doing it myself.  Most days it’s not so bad not counting sub zero temperatures and wind.  Also it is generally quality time for me to do some thinking about my writing or other things rattling around in my mind, but it can make you tired and also take a toll on your physical exterior — here are some snow beauty tips.

Stretch first, nothing fancy. Simple stretches, turn your head, roll your shoulders, stretch your legs up against the wall and do some upper torso bends–only as far as you can go.  There is a lot of bending at the knees — so get ready.

Wear good waterproof boots.  I used to wear black Timberlands via my ex. My first pair were awesome still made in Italy but the second pair not so much — I fell a few times and have since broke up with Timberland.  I have boots from Canada called Toe Warmers one pair for shoveling and the others are more of a regular walking boot.  Both are waterproof and I love them.  My aunts gave me holiday gift money this year so I got new ones because I’m hard on shoes in general plus the salt from the snow and seawater in our yard when it floods, tends to also deteriorate things a lot faster.

This may sound counter intuitive but wear sunscreen. Yes, before you layer up on the clothes wear sunscreen even on darker storm days.  The atmosphere isn’t what it used to be and the bad rays get through whether you are shoveling snow or sun bathing.

Prep your skin.  I find hydrocortisone cream not ointment is good for the face especially for when the wind is intense.  It is usually not that expensive and easily found in chain pharmacies and stores, at least in the U.S.  Let it soak in while brushing teeth, then I put on my foundation or base which has sunscreen.  If it’s below zero and really dry I also put night cream under my eyes and let that soak in too.  Then I dab a moisturizer with sunscreen on top, corners of my eyes, my frown line between my eyes and my neck.  I tend to have oily skin so I mostly oil free moisturizers.   Sometimes I forget but it’s probably good to cream elbows, knees and rough patches and feet before you get dressed to go out especially if it’s extreme cold.

Wear sunglasses to shield your eyes if it is a sunny day & protect from glare off the snow.

Don’t forget lip balm.  Doesn’t have to be fancy.  I tend to avoid the ones with menthol, camphor and mint because I find them drying but that is just me.

Take breaks.  Try to rest about an hour between rounds of shoveling.  Have coffee or tea to warm up and hydrate with water to keep your energy up.

Shower or bathe, post shoveling — it helps with muscle aches and then you can cream your skin again to lock in moisture and soothe it.  Again, my skin and hair aren’t as oily as days gone by, but they still produce a layer of oil that protects me from the elements.

Optional — rest and curl up with good book until next batch of snow.