Writing with My Best Friend-Publishing From a Solid Foundation

With our self-inflicted publishing/90th Birthday party too close on the horizon (81 Days, 11 hours, 5 minutes and a rapid descent of seconds, according to the count down website I found), it has become necessary to press ahead (groan) with a self-publishing option. First, a word about the kindness of strangers regarding the manuscript I had sent out.

Yes, they were rejections, but such lovely rejections. I embraced dearly departed Caroline See’s advice and wrote thank you emails to the publisher at one publishing house who had responded that they didn’t publish memoirs or biographies, and yet took the time to read the book, responding with some editorial comments. Wow. Didn’t expect that kind of compassionate contribution to the process. It really buoyed my faith in humanity.

She also recommended with our impending deadline, that we look into self-publishing, and recommended CreateSpace, an Amazon off-shoot company that provides editing and publishing services from soup to nuts. Having been through the template-learning process with Lulu.com, the re-formatting to the new template was pretty painless, and yesterday, we had a conversation with an editor to choose the publishing features we’ll use.

It was extremely helpful and instructive to learn how the process will go moving forward. We are on an aggressive timeline so will need to make decisions about photos and editing to be ready 8 weeks before Dec. 1st. So we will be rocking it from now until the first week in October.

There are discussions we are still having about the arc of the book, how to keep the narrative uncluttered, and ways to make the title of the book A View From The Wings tie to another image Jimmie had come across in the mid 90s by a professor from Harvard.  Last night at the end of a long week at work, I tried to listen and hear the importance of this imagery to him and understand how to make the connection tighter. We had a basic disagreement about how to do it, and anyone who knows us knows that disagreements are pretty far outside the boundaries of our experience. I think we’ve had one flat out fight back in the early 80s, consisting of irritation, not even harsh words. Our friend ,John Rubinstein, jokes that we are the most irritating people:

You two probably never fight because you are both so nice. (said with a slight exaggerated sibilancy on the word nice)

Jimmie and I have always agreed on things political, though this presidential election cycle has taxed our relationship a bit, Jimmie staunchly insisting on candidates other than the “I’m with her” candidate. It’s happened before when he voted for Ralph Nader. In fact it’s not the least bit unusual for him to be much further left than me. It’s something I’ve actually always loved about him. He keeps me politically honest.

We agree about the theatre. Usually our reviews of shows (of which we have seen hundreds together over the course of our married lives) are usually pretty aligned. Our taste in television rarely sparks discomfort. We look at each other when there’s too much blood, we reach for the mute button when there’s anything like torture on, or food porn, and we look at each other. So we’ve spent a lot of time looking at each other over recent years. Carl’s Junior commercials result in absolute facial fascination. And let me be clear, I’ve got no problem at all doing that; Jimmie  seems quite contented to gaze at me as necessary.

But an aesthetic difference about imagery was tougher for me to accept, and I found myself feeling worn down and a bit saddened last night, that as we headed into the publishing process that (gasp) we were at odds. I chalked it up to being overly tired and we kissed and made up before going to bed because, well, you know the adage…

This morning’s light brought the “big pour” of concrete in the building site across the street from us, and while I spun at the DTLA YAS class, my pal Ellen and I watched the relentless cement trucks lining up on Hope Street to empty their contents into the big hole. The cement cranes arched over each other like the graceful necks of dinosaurs grazing on the savanna, and when I returned from my class, I ran to the balcony to watch as their necks dipped and pecked, filling the spaces between the rebar grid. To the northwest corner of the pour, I could see men smoothing the pavement at ground level.

I am such a construction geek. I come to it legitimately. It’s a blood relationship to concrete, my grandfather having owned the largest concrete company in Northeastern PA. This morning, when I was walking home, I passed two construction workers, both Dads, with their four children under 8 in tow, walking eagerly down to where they could show them the activity across the street. It is magical to see the beginning of the process, to the end, so clearly demonstrated north west of us, with the now lighted spire of the tallest building on the west coast. I (of course) attended that big pour as well, which was probably four times the size of our little pour going on in the neighborhood.

So what does all this have to do with self-publishing a book? I am well aware that our process of publishing this book has as much to do with the foundation of our marriage, our trust and respect of each other, the history of our dipping and pecking in the savannas together. As much if not more than the content or caliber of the actual book. I know that our foundation is solid, well-cured and will withstand whatever small editorial disagreements we have. We are both energized by the process, looking through pictures to include in the book, and examining the structure of the book.  It is an accelerated process by virtue of the construction deadlines I’ve imposed on it. But I promise there won’t be any pictures of concrete pours in the final product!img_6943



18 of 56/57

For some reason, I decided to set a probably unachievable goal for myself just before my 56th birthday. 56 isn’t exactly a landmark birthday, though I suppose it does represent cresting the wave of the 50s and sledding down the slope toward 60.

After spending a blissful week of no exercise (I don’t count  pushing a vacuum and making a few beds as real exercise) for our son and his girlfriend upon the birth of their beautiful baby, I returned with renewed vigor to my gym, YAS Downtown, where I began to go on a daily basis beginning on Boxing Day.

Continue reading “18 of 56/57”

Mennonite Spin Class

I just got back from my Mennonite YAS class. YAS class consists of a half hour of spin followed by a half hour of yoga. Mennonite All those long blue dresses would get caught up in the wheels of the bikes, wouldn’t they? I can hear you asking yourselves this important question. But the white caps would be good sweat absorbers during the half hour spin followed by half an hour of yoga, right?

I like to rest my bible up on the handlebars next to my water bottle for quick text checks during those particularly challenging hills and sprints.

But no, dial it back, my friend. My reference is merely an observation of the gender sorting that seems to take place every Saturday morning in my downtown YAS class. Our fearless instructor, Stephanie, is great. We find our bikes- most of us creatures of habit-I head directly for the bike under the fan, left side, front row, near the open doors for as much air as I can muster. It’s funny, because I am definitely not a front row kind of gal in the exercise realm. Academically, I would always position myself toward the front of the room, so as to better hear and be less distracted from the shenanigans in the back, the row upon row of hormonally charged note-passers were a distraction in my day. Now the notes are passed virtually and as a lecturer, I know that the better or at least more attentive students are sitting closer to the front of the room.

But where group exercise goes, I have always been a back row kind of gal.

Not so with spin, probably because I usually attend a 7:15 spin class where there are about two or three of us, so I know a retreat to the back is futile. The instructor will find me, so I might as well take advantage of the fan.  What happens in this YAS class each week is that the women clump on the left side of the room, and the men configure themselves on the right side in a straight line across the mirror, like horses at the starting gate, leaping at the reins, their individual lanes ahead, poised to break out and win the race. I prefer to think that the women’s collective on the left side is, by proximity, driving our team on to victory over the men. I’m not competitive, by any means, as my son can tell you.

Mind you, this is never mentioned or commented on. But it has happened the last three weeks. About ten  to twelve students, all arrayed the same way.

Cut to the yoga room. This is even more obvious. The practice is that you place your mat in the room ahead of time and get whatever toys you need to put by your mat to survive the session; my pile includes sixteen blocks, two straps, and a one touch EMT button that will summon the fire fighters should I fall over during the Warrier 3 and break a hip. I am a stage manager, so I get there early; generally, there is no one  in the room when I go to put my mat down, i,e., there are no influencing factors as to where in the gender stream I will end up.

And yet, at the end of the yoga class today, I turned my head and observed that our mats were neatly arrayed in two rows, women in the back, men in the front. Weird, right? It has made me so curious. What is at play here?

I know why I choose the back right corner of the yoga space to unfurl my mat. I want to be as unnoticeable as I can when I topple over or lay on my back in the amended pigeon pose (who made up these names?). Perhaps the young women in the class enjoy watching the broad sweaty backs of their male counterparts, but as far as I can tell, most of the men arrive as couples amongst themselves, so it may not be hopeful longing that positions the women there. Could it be that we really are adopting the historical directives of our foremothers? In religious gatherings, women cede front position to the men? Or, Is everyone in the yoga class as skills weak as me? No, again, casual observance shows good form in both the men and women’s practice.

I am flummoxed by the trend, but don’t see myself breaking my habits. I like the bike I like, I like the mat position I like. But the imp in me wonders what would happen if I took a position in the front row of the right side. Or said, in a loud voice as people were setting up their bikes, “Hey has anyone else noticed how we have self-sorted into men and women in these classes? What’s up with that?”

For now, I am content to allow the Mennonite spin experience keep happening unimpeded. If you have any ideas, or have observed this happening in your classes, let me know! There must be grant money out there for research. Maybe we could get funding from the Axe, or Secret deodorant companies. Just a thought on this quiet segregated Saturday.

“Oh, Calamity!”


Big Little LiesI try to get 5 servings of reading a day, but of late, with the start of the fall semester, I’m ending up with a brief midnight snack of a read. My current book  is fantastic – it is “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty. In it, the main character, Madeline, uses the phrase “Oh, calamity!” when things go wrong (which they do with endlessly entertaining frequency). Really, you will enjoy this book.


“Oh, calamity” was a line from a children’s book that they used to read to Fred when he was little. The whole family said it now. Even Madeline’s parents had picked it up, and some of Madeline’s friends. It was a very contagious phrase.

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

“Oh, calamity!” That’s what went through my head on Wednesday, Sept. 3rd,  when I arrived at my YAS gym and saw a stranger wearing the headset that my usual spin instructor, Beautiful Jim, usually wears. Elizabeth, behind the desk, greeted me and with the apologetic demeanor of someone who knows she is about to give very bad news, said “There were a few changes made over the weekend.”

“Oh?” I said, brightly, thinking Jim had a conflict with today’s class time or something.

“Jim has been moved to the 5:15 PM slot and won’t be teaching the morning classes anymore.”

Oh crap. Am I about to drop big bleary tears on the sign in sheet? How mortifying!

“Oh no! I am so sorry to hear that!” Turning away, I trudged into the spin classroom, and dropped my bag on the floor by the mirror.

I saddled up in spite of my grief, and the friendly 7:15 AM spin imposter, Stephanie, came over to stand in front of my bike. She had an amazing smile, and was deeply tanned.  She had turned off her mic and leaned in conspiratorially.

“Jim said to take good care of you,” she said, as I continued to fight back the tears that threatened to well up.  “He said he is going to miss you.”

“Thanks,” I said, and off we went.

Anyone who spins knows that the classes can vary wildly depending on the instructor. I knew that this was the case when Stephanie basically skipped the warm up that over a year I had become accustomed to doing with “Beautiful Jim.”  Her warm-up was theoretical, not practical – “Loosen up those shoulders and neck,” replacing Jim’s instructions – “5 Shoulder rolls to the back,” and then “Roll those shoulders forward,” etc.

Stephanie was kind, you could see it in her face, but man, she was tough, and there were really no transitions or seated moments between the sequences. Her instructions to crank up the resistance were more frequent and  by the time we started the second rep of the class, I was straining against an unfamiliar heaviness which was much more grueling than my usual workout.

I know, you are thinking – well, that’s good for you, Els. Good to change-up the work out. Quit whining! (You were, weren’t you? Yup, I knew it.)

And so it went. I showed up at the class on Friday and it was just Stephanie and me. No other spinners. This had happened a few times with Jim, and was really okay with me.

I have to give Stephanie her cred where it is due – she took off her headset and came over to the bike next to me and we spun (spinned?) together, her talking me through and correcting some bad habits that I didn’t even know I had. I was thrilled at the end of the class and felt really happy about how it had gone.  I thanked her enthusiastically. Jim? Jim who?

Then Monday the 8th came and I slept in.

Wednesday the 10th came and I slept in.

Friday, the 12th, nope, didn’t hop out of bed.

The week was rough. There were meetings and some stresses at work which were not facilitated by my skipping my exercise or routine. Just as we need our 5 servings of vegetables, and for me my midnight snack of reading, so it was proven to me this week that I need at least 3 servings of exercise a week, and I’m not doing myself any favors by skipping any of them. Bloated, cranky, less productive, surly even.

So this morning, I both slept in, then took Jonathan’s class – I knew it would be rough, but I also knew that I needed it. And now I feel terrific. No more calamities.

At least not for now.

Lose Yourself on the way to Valencia

This morning, the warm up music for Jim’s 7:15AM spin class at YAS was Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” and hearing it again made my heart fill with happiness and anticipation. Eminem’s song might seem an unlikely anthem for a 54-year old college professor of technical theatre.

But where this song took me was back to my days as a hard-driving hockey mom. I say hard-driving because then, back in 2000-2003, approximately, we drove an average of five round trips a week from our home in Van Nuys to our son’s hockey rink in Valencia. And that was just the practice trips. Practices were usually three nights a week, and then there was a game a week. He might also have a few other coaching sessions other times during the week. The game trips were sometimes even longer, as we travelled to Anaheim, Riverside, Encinitas, etc. for the games.

And all along the way, this precious time spent sometimes together as a family, or me solo with our son on some practice nights were some of the happiest times of my life.

Chris chose the music to listen to in the car during these 45 minute  to 1.5 hour trips to Valencia. As any parent of a  teen knows, the resistance to our music  or NPR can be so strenuous and unpleasant that one would do anything to  minimize stress or strife in the car. Even listen to Eminem.

I remember once, a few years later when Chris had more sensibly elected to play with a team in Panorama City, we were driving to practice one night and were fighting in the car about homework, or a messy room, or some other now insignificant issue, when my cell phone rang. This was pre don’t-answer-your-cell-phone-under-penalty-of-death-or-major-fines, so I picked it up. Chris continued to harangue me, and if you were to go to the archives of KCRW’s website, you would hear him in the background nagging at me and my shocked, anger-tinged voice answering and turning sweet as I said Hello to Matt Holzman, who was calling to tell me that I had just won a 17′ iMac computer. My anger and the resulting embarrassment at having been caught fighting in the car with my son by Matt Holzman turned instantly to wonderment and elation, as Chris listened and fumed in the passenger seat. Let me just say that was the best way to end an argument I have ever experienced.

But back to our friend Eminem.

That song became our pre-game anthem, blasting in the hockey-gear- stench-filled car on the way to points arctic for weekly games.  And it was sweet, the anticipation of the game, of seeing the other parents, of watching the boys as they blasted out of the locker room, fully charged and ready to win. And the writer in me admired the lyrics booming from the CD player in the car:

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready

Those were good days, those hockey days. Ice Hockey is a total commitment, financial, time, energy. The hockey parents used to joke that hockey was cheaper than rehab. We spent so much time with our boys and with each other. Holidays, every weekend, and several nights a week cheering them on as they became men. Those night drives to Valencia  after a long day at work were grueling, and yet transformative of him, of me, of our family, and ultimately of our relationship. And sometimes just the sound of a song can make you lose yourself. This morning, I was a proud hockey mom again, feeling energized, happy, and ready to spin my heart out. Thanks, Eminem.