Heeding proclamations by New Mexico’s Governor, Michele Lujan Grisham, I’m pretty well hunkered down with occasional breaks for desert-air walks in our ‘hood or pick-up of groceries ordered online, supplemented by an unexpected visit to Walgreens for an RX where I found dishwasher Finish packets and disinfectant for toilets. “It doesn’t matter what it says,” Frank said, when I pointed out reference to “toilets.” “Disinfectant is disinfectant.” On these pick-up ventures, we’re masked and gloved. Our nearest neighbor offered to get whatever she could find at Costco in Albuquerque: paper towels : ) I’m spending a lot more time in the kitchen, a decided change from our habit of going out a couple of nights a week. For my birthday on April 3, we ordered take-out from Sassella, a wonderful downtown restaurant – delish.
Tomorrow was supposed to be the Santa Fe Symphony’s Annual Spring Gala, a major fundraiser, at the beautiful Eldorado Hotel & Spa: Lumière, A Night on Bourbon Street. One of the decorative elements? Masks! Because of the virus, lots of performance cancellations. The Board took up a collection for the musicians, many of whom under the best of circumstances are financially strapped, but they’ll need more.
Meanwhile, Frank has a bone-on-bone hip issue but until elective surgery is back, he’s toughing it out. Thanks to Zoom, we’re not totally isolated. I take Balance and Yoga classes twice a week – not nearly as gratifying as in-person but I’m grateful to be able to do his without having to leave home. And Frank, as president of the Santa Fe Symphony, is able to hold regular Board meetings. This should be an opportunity for me to write but for many days I was so consumed with awful news that I couldn’t quiet myself mentally or emotionally to do much of anything. On the plus side, I’ve been in touch with nephews in Houston and cousins in Washington and Oregon.
I subscribed to StoryWorth for Frank who’s really taken to it. He receives or makes up one question a week, e.g., What do you remember about your grandparents? Your first boss? You email your responses, including scanned photos, to StoryWorth and after a year or so, you’ll have a book that may interest your children and theirs. I learned about StoryWorth from Maxine Neely Davenport, a marvelous local author (mysteries and sort stories) with a lifetime of accomplishment (went to law school at age 40 and climbed twenty-six 14,000-foot high mountains), who died after suffering severe injuries in a car crash just before the virus hit Santa Fe.
We’ve been invited to a virtual cocktail party this evening. Think I’ll put on a pair of earrings to dress up my jeans, grungy top and comfy slippers. BTW, we’ve become addicted to the daily New York Times Spelling Bee that we play on our iPhones. Don’t like to stop ‘til we’ve attained Genius, which can lead to near-sleepless nights.
A few good things about being quarantined at home per Frank with a few additions by me:
When Banged-Up Heart was published, I traveled the country to do book readings -- in book stores, private homes and libraries. Thanks to my enterprising publicist, I did TV and podcast interviews and sent my book to anyone who evinced an interest in reading and reviewing it. Encouraged by other authors, I entered non-fiction competitions and started winning awards. When offered a seat at the Homegrown Authors table at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, I jumped at the chance to fill it. Behind the scenes, I joined a small group of authors to talk about marketing. With their help, I honed my elevator pitch for face-to-face encounters with tourists as well as Santa Fe locals at the market. “Are you writing another book?” people often asked. “Not now,” I said. I couldn’t imagine getting off the promotion treadmill long enough to take a deep breath, let alone write. But the question rattled around in my brain: Would I, should I, could I write another book? There was the book I had planned to write when I retired – about wise women between the ages of 60 and 90. “That’s a whole other skill set,” editor Morgan Farley said. “You know how to write a memoir. Why not write another?”
At book readings, several people had asked, “Will you write about your Greek lover, who I mention fleetingly in Banged-Up Heart? “Oh, I don’t think so,” I’d said. If I were to write another memoir, I wanted to explore something that had befuddled and pained me since I turned eighteen. Last year, just about this time, I started writing Memoir #2, an exploration of the relationship with my troubled mother. And then one day this summer, I realized I was no longer writing about the relationship with my mother. I hadn’t forgotten her but in telling my story, I found myself in Greece. And now, aided by letters and journal entries, I’m writing about my Greek lover!
So, where am I with this? In an earlier post, I wrote about moving with my husband Frank from the village of Galisteo closer to Santa Fe in January. The move interrupted my writing big-time but while it slowed me, it didn’t stop me. As you probably know, Banged-Up Heart took six years -- three years to write a first draft and almost that long to rewrite. Having learned a lot from that experience, I’m on a much faster track. That said, I’m feeling the press of quickly passing time. Late this summer I decided to go full bore with Memoir #2, putting into it as much time and energy as I could muster. Homegrown Authors, the brainstorm of author Maxine Neely Davenport, was an energy-depleting labor of love I could no longer afford. Every Tuesday, beginning in May, I would wake at 5 a.m. in order to get to the market by 6:30 a.m. for the 7:00 a.m. opening. By the end of the day I had no energy to write. With a heavy heart, I “sold” my seat at the Homegrown Authors table to another local author so that I could put my Farmers Market energy into Memoir #2. Today I say NO more often than YES to daytime lunch dates and other non-book-related temptations but reserve evenings to be with Frank. I’m deep into my story but I have a ways to go. Please stay tuned.
On a wintry day in January nine months ago we packed up and moved out of Galisteo, an extaordinary community located along the Galisteo River, 23 miles south of Santa Fe. For eight years, since the day I married Frank, I called Galisteohome and today I still miss it more than any other place I’ve lived.
When I first opened the heavy hand-carved door and walked into our Galisteo house with its high ceilings and bank of windows overlooking the Galisteo Basin and very few neighbors, it took my breath away. Although not mine in the usual sense – Frank and his first wife had built it 20 years earlier – I loved it as though it were. High above the house on the 12-acre parcel runs a rocky ridge with many Native American petroglyphs, some more than 700 years old -- serpents, suns, figures. My favorite, a pair of feet etched into the black volcanic rock.
From my office in the back of the house, I would see rabbits scampering across the rock-strewn hill covered with junipers and other dusty green scrub, hawks floating with the winds and an occasional prey-seeking coyote. More than once I spotted a raven on the rim of the birdbath, its sleek black body dwarfing the clay basin. Many winter evenings, we would hear the hooting of owls nesting in the rocky ridge, but the only owl I sawwas in a photograph taken early morning by an overnight guest. The wide-eyed owl was perched on the deck railing in front of the house. One day, a roadrunner settled on my office window sill and tapped insistently on the glass as if demanding notice or an invite to come in. It was in my office in this frontier house that I completed the rewrite of my memoir, Banged-up Heart.
It’s not just the house I miss but the community of Galisteo. Named for Galisteo Pueblo, one of several abandoned and ruined Tanoan villages in the basin, Galisteo has been a filming location for several movies, mostly westerns (e.g., Crazy Heart, Silverado, and Young Guns) and boasts a number of notable residents, including artists Woody Gwyn and Judy Tuwaletstiwa, art critic and curator Lucy Lippard and fashion designer Tom Ford. Our nearest neighbor, on the other side of an arroyo lined with cottonwood trees, was architectural photographer Nick Merrick and his wife, artist Shaun Gilmore who live in a house once occupied by Burl Ives. We particularly miss the commarderie and friendliness of the wonderful, varied people who live in Galisteo.
Our decision to leave Galisteo was not easy. I was beginning a second term as a member of the Galisteo Association where Frank had served earlier, twice, and we loved being part of community get-togethers over chile and margaritas, art and movie showings at La Sala, the volunteer fire department BBQs and parties, even clean-up days to clear litter from paths and roadways. At home I was happily ensconced in my back-of-the-house office arranging book readings in a variety of venues. But Frank had been elected president of the board of The Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus, which was undergoing dynamic change, and found himself driving to Santa Fe at least once a day and often, again, in the evenings. The frequent commute to Santa Fe, not only for symphony matters but also for groceries, book-related meetings, and golf (for Frank, not for me) along with the fact that we were on our own septic tank and well, that I’d slipped once or twice on stair steps separating one half of the house from the other and there were many systems to keep the house going that I feared I might never master, weighed heavily.
One day, more than a year ago, we plunked down a deposit on a house not yet built, 15 minutes closer to downtown Santa Fe on a lot atop a mesa with an unobstructed view (from the back of the house) of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The blueprint was compelling, a somewhat smaller house than the one in Galisteo, all on one level, high ceilinged and contemporary with nearby golf courses and a fitness center.
Before the move, we discovered that most of our Galisteo furniture would be too big and/or too rustic for the new house. For the first five months in our new digs, we camped out with a good bed, a picnic table in the kitchen, my baby grand piano and our office furniture. Now that we have furniture in place, shades on the windows, and artwork on the walls we love our new house with its great back-of-the-house views. We’re not as overnight-guest-friendly as we were in Galisteo, but sofa pull-outs work pretty well. No longer on a 12-acre lot, we have close-by neighbors but we think we’ll adjust. We like those we’ve met and no one yet has built on either side of us. We’re just five minutes away from golf (for Frank) and the fitness center where we both take Balance classes and where I try to squeeze in a yoga class once or twice a week. Unlike my office in Galisteo, my new office is in the front of the house. From my windows I no longer see wild rabbits or soaring hawks and ravens but an asphalt roadway lined with yellow-blooming Chamisa and lavender Russian Sage. Not too far away, beneath cloud-filled blue skies I see a number of flat-roofed beige geometric houses and in the far distance, the Ortiz Mountains. I’m ever hopeful that one day I’ll hear the tap-tap-tapping of an insistent roadrunner and if I do, I just might invite him in.
Blog Tour Dates & Links
July 8 (today) @ The Muffin
Interview and giveaway.
July 9 @ Book Santa Fe Crystal Otto
Crystal J. Casavant-Otto shares her review after listening to the touching and inspiring memoir Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis.
July 10 @ Lisa Buske
Lisa Buske reviews the Audible version of Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss by Shirley Melis.
July 11 @ Bring on Lemons with Tara Forst
Wisconsin mother and business woman Tara Forst shares her thoughts after listening to the inspirational audible version of Banged-Up Heart by Shirley Melis.
July 12th @ BreakEven Books
Today's Author Spotlight at BreakEven Books is on Shirley Melis and her memoir Banged-Up Heart - now available on Audible!
July 13 @ Bring on Lemons with Angela Williams
Angela Williams reviews Shirley Melis's Banged Up Heart.
July 14 @ Bring on Lemons with Cathy Hansen
Educator and Entrepreneur Cathy Hansen reads and reviews Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis. You'll want to stop by Bring On Lemons today for your chance to learn more about this touching and encouraging memoir (now available on Audible).
July 15 @ Lisa Haselton
Shirley Melis is being interviewed today by Lisa Haselton. Stop at Lisa's blog to learn more about Banged Up Heart, a non-fiction, memoir (now available on Audible), about finding the courage and strength to love again.
July 16 @ Bring on Lemons with Madeline Sharples
Fellow memoir writer Madeline Sharples interviews Shirley Melis about her book Banged Up Heart. (now available on Audible) Don't miss this heart felt interview about courage and love.
July 17 @ Jerry Waxler
Coach and Author Jerry Waxler shares his thoughts after reading Shirley Melis's memoir Banged Up Heart.
July 18 @ Deb Blanchard
Teacher Deb Blanchard gives insight into "Banged Up Heart" the touching memoir by Shirley Melis (now available on Audible).
July 19 @ Linda Appleman Shapiro
Don't miss today's interview between memoirist Linda Appleman Shapiro and Shirley Melis. Find out more about Melis and her memoir Banged Up Heart (now available on Audible).
July 20 @ Bring on Lemons with Penny Harrison
Wisconsin business owner and avid reader Penny Harrison shares her thoughts and feelings about Shirley Melis's memoir Banged Up Heart (now available on Audible).
July 22 @ Memoir Writers Journey with Kathleen Pooler
Kathleen Pooler shares her thoughts with readers of Memoir Writer's Journey - find out what Pooler has to say about reading Shirley Melis's memoir Banged Up Heart.
July 23 @ Bring on Lemons with Pang Papathopolus
Wisconsin professional caregiver and health care worker Pang gives her review of the Audible version of Banged-Up Heart by Shirley Melis.
July 24 @ The Constant Story with David W. Berner
Author and radio personality David W Berner reviews Shirley Melis's book Banged Up Heart and shares his thoughts with readers at The Constant Story.
July 25@ World of My Imagination
Nicole Pyles shares her review of Banged-Up Heart on Audible - hear what she has to say about this memoir in it's audio form!
July 26 @ Bring on Lemons with Michelle DelPonte
Michelle DelPonte shares her review of the Audible version of Shirley Melis's Banged Up Heart today at Bring on Lemons. Don't miss this exciting blog stop and book giveaway.
Inspired by a close friend whose vision is failing and a total stranger who asked When can I hearyour book? I started pondering the possibility of offering Banged-up Heartas an audiobook.
A few months ago, at a monthly meeting of the New Mexico Book Association, the program speaker, Laurie Bower, riveted my attention. Laurie, an audiobook narrator, talked about the process of producing an audiobook. I asked her for her business card and a couple of weeks later, I called her. Laurie suggested doing a fifteen-minute reading for my reaction By this time I’d started writing a second memoir and couldn’t envision taking the time to be coached on how to read an entire book -- there’s a lot to it. I emailed Laurie several pages of text that included dialogue by six characters.
Plugging my ear buds into my laptop, I listened to Laurie read. And then I asked my husband Frank to listen. “Marvelous,” he said. I agreed. Within days, I signed a contract with Laurie. “I’ll read a few chapters at a time and download them though ACX (an Audible affiliate) for you to listen to and edit,” she said. “I should have this completed by January 20thso we can meet your goal of having it out by Valentine’s Day.” I liked the idea of having the audiobook out by February 14th, the date my paperback had been published two years earlier. What I didn’t foresee was that I would be consumed with moving from our house in the village of
Galisteo into a brand new house closer to Santa Fe the month of January. By the time I completed my proof-listening, I was behind the eightball. Laurie told me that ACX would require time to put the audiobook through a process called “Quality Assurance.” In fact, it didn’t take long, but I missed my February 14thtarget by one week. On February 21st, ACX sent me a congratulatory email: “Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Lossis now on sale at Audible, and it will be available on iTunes and Amazon within the next few days.”
I’m eager to know what listeners think about the audiobook. You can post reviews on Amazon or comment on FaceBook and Twitter via my website: www.shirleymelis.com.
Feedback from one listener: “As familiar as I am with your story, I am more enthralled than ever to be hearing it read aloud. You certainly chose well in deciding on Laurie Bower. I continue to be impressed with the depth of her voice quality and with her ability to articulate clearly.”
A silver Jaguar pulled up out front. Through the front window, I observed Paul. He moved with agility despite a slight hitch in his gait. Trim, with a head of thinning gray hair, he was not unattractive in a dark brown leather jacket that was just a little too long. Suddenly, we were face-to-face and embracing. We chatted a few minutes with my friend Gay before walking next door. I had wanted her to meet Paul, and I was eager for her daughter Kerry to meet him too. They had known the significant men in my life, including Nikos, the Greek physician whom I once had almost married.
Kerry and Dick met us at the front door. After quick introductions, Kerry invited us into the dining room for a glass of wine.
Sitting quietly, tasting the wine, I was struck by Paul’s easy affability. What gave me pause was his jacket. What had looked so good through the window was indescribably cheap-looking up close. From across the table, I noted his broad-boned face, well-defined cheekbones, and strong chin. His nose, injured in an accident years ago, was somewhat bulbous with a cleft at the end, but I was not put off by it.
We stayed just long enough to finish the one glass of wine. Back outside, Paul opened the door of the Jag and I stepped in, sinking comfortably into the leather seat. The sun was setting.
“I know this neighborhood,” he said as he maneuvered through Raleigh’s rush-hour traffic toward Chapel Hill. “I used to date someone who lived on Glenwood Avenue . . . a lot of years ago.”
Trying to picture Paul “a lot of years ago” was a stretch, although I’d seen photos of him in younger years on the walls of his office.
It was to be an at-home dinner. Paul had told me that after Sharon died, his children hired a chef to prepare gourmet meals for him, which he was enjoying. The problem was quantity, he’d explained, saying there was so much delicious food that he was throwing weekly dinner parties. When he’d suggested we share one of his gourmet meals, it sounded tempting.
As we neared Chapel Hill, I recognized the area. My husband Joe and I had driven down from Virginia a number of times for special events – birthday parties, book signings, weddings. Usually, we’d stayed with friends in Durham, but Joe delighted in showing me Chapel Hill, where he’d lived in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.
As Paul pulled into his driveway, I was hopeful that we might be a match. I wanted to know him better. Joe had liked Paul, although he’d described him as consumed with work and neglectful of Sharon at times. But that was years ago. Paul had spoken movingly of Sharon at her memorial service, and I suspected a softer side. I was hoping for Joe’s sensitivity and charm, someone who loved animals, someone who enjoyed music and theater.
He led the way up a wooden stairway to the wide front door. Like the rest of the house, it was made of dark wood. As I remembered from the times Joe and I had visited, even on the brightest day, the interior of the house was dark except for the atrium.
Paul switched on a light, revealing a small kitchen table set with two placemats hugging one corner. The overhead lighting was aimed toward the table, the rest of the kitchen in semi-darkness. “Have a seat.” Paul pointed to one of two straight-backed chairs. I sat down, noting the old flooring and dark cabinets, unchanged since I’d first set foot in the house, while Paul went to the fridge and came back with a decanter of chilled white wine. He offered me some (though he was not drinking alcohol for health reasons), which I accepted. Then he got two small glass bowls filled with several large peeled shrimp and wedges of lemon from the fridge, placed one on each mat, and sat down.
“The cook couldn’t come yesterday because of the holiday, so we’re eating what she made last week.”
Vision of a delicious gourmet dinner suddenly gave way to images of stale, dried out food, tasteless and worse. Was it my imagination or were the shrimp ultra-chilled, the lemon wedges flabby? Why hadn’t he suggested going out for dinner? As soon as we’d gotten through the shrimp, Paul stood up, and cleared the empty bowls from the table. A buzzer sounded, and he reappeared with Tupperware containers filled with steaming side dishes that he placed on the table. A buzzer went off again as he made another trip to the microwave, returning with a plate that had a single thick fillet of beef in the center which he placed in front of me. After he returned with a steak for himself, I
easily cut into the tender fillet and closed my mouth on a piece that was absolutely chilled.
“I’m sorry, Paul, but my fillet is cold.”
“Oh, I can fix that.” He jumped up from the table. “I’ll just put it back in the microwave.”
He did not offer red wine to accompany the steak, so I continued to drink the white. Except for the on-again, off-again buzzing of the microwave, it was quiet. Paul, a presumed music lover, did not have any music playing in the background.
“I’d like to hear more about your new real estate project.”
“I’ll tell you about it as soon as I reheat these fillets.”
This real estate venture was in addition to his consulting. For as long as I’d known Paul, he’d done consulting, and had continued since retiring from the university.
“Say,” he said, cutting into his reheated fillet, “whatever happened to that fellow named Richard, the one I met at Joes birthday party? I sort of figured you’d be seeing a lot of him.”
I swallowed hard. Richard, a few years younger than Joe, had been Joe’s best friend and a good friend to me too. When his wife was alive, the four of us had seen a lot of each other, taking weekend or longer trips together, and after her death, Richard had been like a member of our small family.
“Richard moved back to Ohio.”
I had not been happy with his decision to return to Ohio, where many of his relatives still lived. But I thought I understood in part why he had moved. “You know I love you,” he’d said to me shortly before he left, about a year after Joe’s death. I had suspected he might, but at the time, I was incapable of reciprocating his feelings, and I think he knew that.
“Tell me,” Paul said, as though mentally ticking off a list of must-ask question, “why haven’t you retired?”
“Well, I’m a bit dubious about my financial situation.”
“Tell me what it is.”
Without hesitating, I proceeded to give him a general picture.
“You could easily arrange for a fixed annuity that would pay you a certain amount each month, and you’d be fine.”
I assumed that Paul, with his various business interests, was an effective money manager, and made a mental note to ask my financial adviser about this type of annuity. (When I did, I found it was actually not in my best interest.)
Paul started talking about there being no good reason for me not to retire.
“There’s another reason I want to work, at least through the summer,” I said, interrupting what was becoming a rant on the subject. “I’ve arranged for a recently discovered young relative in Prague to fill a summer internship at the
Airports Authority where I work.”
“Does he need protection?” asked Paul, somewhat derisively.
“He’s never been to the United States. He’ll be staying with me, and I want to help him as much as I can.”
“I’m planning to take a cruise this spring,” Paul said, abruptly changing the subject, and, without outright inviting me, started in again about the desirability of my retiring right away. As he talked, I looked at him intently. Ever aware of eyes, I found Paul’s bright gold-brown eyes a bit small for his face, and his wide smile marred by nearly non-existent lips.
“I’ve met a lot of women in the last few months, but none of them appeal to me.” Appeals, I thought, almost saying it aloud. “None of them appeals to me.” I couldn’t help it. I was a demon for correct use of the English language, much as Joe had been.
While I was mentally correcting Paul’s grammar, he moved his chair closer and turned, pushing his face inches from mine.
“Well, Shirley, why did you want to have dinner with me?” Taken aback by the question, I sat back in my chair and thought for a second.
“The possibility of a romantic relationship had crossed my mind.”
Paul grinned, his thin lips stretching wide. “I’d like to fly up to see you again on Valentine’s Day.”
“Oh, that might be nice.” On the other hand, I thought, it might not be. Paul’s manner coupled with his apparent assumption that a micro-waved week-old dinner in the kitchen was an appropriate dinner date wasn’t computing as Valentine-worthy. Suddenly, he kissed me hard on the mouth, his lips closed. Surprised, I blanched and stood up, excusing myself to use the bathroom. This wasn’t even close to a match, I
thought, as I looked in the bathroom mirror to repair my lipstick. Why had I thought it might be? Joe was right. Paul had the charm and sensitivity of cardboard. I should have insisted on going out to dinner, then he could have just taken me back to Raleigh. Now what was I going to do?
When I walked into the dimly lit living room, I heard sounds coming from the kitchen. I supposed he was cleaning up. He had that ‘everything in its place’ way. It would be so easy to just walk out the front doo, but then what would I do? Feeling trapped in a situation of my own making, I sat down on the long upholstered sofa. Within seconds, Paul walked in and sat beside me. Without reaching for my hand, or pausing to talk, he kissed me again. I tensed, inwardly recoiling.
“Paul, would you play the piano for me?” I asked, hoping to put some distance between us.
“Sure,” he said. “Whaddya wanna hear?”
“How about show tunes and jazz?”
An accomplished jazz pianist, he had played at Joe’s birthday party not that many years ago. As he started, I could feel the tension in my body start to ease. What a talent, I thought, wishing there were other aspects of Paul I could appreciate as much. He must have played for thirty minutes, maybe longer, when I stood up, purse in hand.
“I’m sorry but I need to be getting back.”
“Okay,” he said, getting up from the piano bench and putting on the leather jacket.
“I enjoyed your playing,” I said, following him out to the car. Paul said nothing as he opened the door for me. It was pitch black, a moonless, starless night. He had just driven onto the highway heading to Raleigh when he announced, “I can’t get an erection because of the prostate surgery I had,” then went on to describe it in some detail. Joe had told me about the cancer. It was serious, and we’d been concerned about Paul’s survival. His erectile function, or lack thereof, had never crossed my mind, at least not until now. His voice rose: “It’s been seventeen years since I’ve been inside a woman!” I said nothing, not knowing where this clinical confession was going. “But I’m taking treatments to correct the condition, and . . . I’m doing this just for you!” I could feel my jaw drop. For me? Why not for himself, or for Sharon who’d had a vested interest in the relationship? As if nearing the finish line of a race, he went on: “Rest assured, I have no trouble finding the G-spot!” I really didn’t want to hear this, any of it, not on a first date, maybe never! Nonetheless, my curiosity was piqued.
“What are the treatments?” I asked, thankful for the cover of darkness. He explained that he was getting injections directly into his penis. In fact, he said with notable enthusiasm, he had recently experienced an erection improvement, describing the angle as a mathematical percentage. Suddenly, I found myself feeling sorry for Sharon for so many reasons, Paul’s physical complaint perhaps the least of them. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car, away from this man.
“Can I give you a ride to the airport in the morning?” Paul asked, pulling up outside the house in Raleigh.
“Thank you but the family’s planning to take me,” I said, opening the car door. I gave Paul a perfunctory hug and then got out. Fighting the urge to run, I closed the car door and turned toward the garden gate. Opening the front door of the house, I let out an audible sigh.
It was 10:30. Gay was in the living room, sitting in an easy chair, ostensibly reading the Times.
“My date with Paul was less than stellar,” I said, taking off my shoes and falling back onto the sofa near her chair.
“Did you notice his leather jacket?”
“Yes,” she said knowingly.
“Well, my evening with Paul was a lot like his jacket – cheap and a little too long. But to his credit, he plays wonderful piano.”
I do not have children and yet, I don’t recall deciding not to. In my twenties, living in Greece, I became pregnant. I had stopped taking birth control pills while living apart from my Greek lover – a way of showing him I would not be sexually promiscuous while separated. When we got back together, I started again taking The Pill but, apparently, not soon enough. The would-be father, my lover, a physician who had practiced medicine in Germany, was unemployed. He talked about our having children when he could support a family financially. After the abortion, I felt grief-stricken. My feelings baffled me because I knew I had made the right decision.
A few years later, back in United States, I married a man 21 years older than I. At the outset, before we married, he made it clear that at his age – in his fifties -- he did not want children. He was haunted by memories of his first wife who, after suffering a miscarriage, succumbed to tuberculosis and died two years after their wedding. He blamed himself for her pregnancy, which he thought had weakened her, making her susceptible to TB. I did not object to his not wanting children. Nearly 35 years old, I was not aflame with desire to be a mother. “We can concentrate on your career,” he said, mindful that his would soon be waning. And we did.
Now in my seventies, I do not regret not having children of my own. Pondering the road not traveled is a futile exercise although I sometimes wonder what kind of mother I might have been. And if I’d had children, how would I have evolved? Giving my energies to my work and my husbands – I have been widowed twice – allowed me to evolve into the person I am. And now, married to a man who brought a fully formed family – three grown children and six grandchildren – into my life, I am enjoying this new chapter to the hilt. Family gatherings around holidays and in-between are special occasions because family members are scattered geographically from New York City and Chicago to Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. This month we’ll be spending holidays together in Mexico, exploring Mayan ruins and doing a bit of snorkeling.
I’d been writing my memoir for three years when I called my first draft DONE and looked for an editor who could tell me what was missing.
“I know exactly what’s missing,” editor Morgan Farley said, two weeks after I handed her a 400-page manuscript. “For starters, you have four books in one. I’ve noted the number of pages in each and would suggest you go with the one with the most pages, because that seems to be where your energy is.” Early in the process I’d shared the first 60 pages with my goddaughter, an author of books for middle-school-aged children.” “Shirley,” she said, “you need to finish this. Others will want to read it.” Really? If that’s the case I’d better go the distance and make it worthwhile, I thought. “But you need to write about Joe (my first husband),” she said. Taking her advice to heart, I wrote about Joe and once I’d done that I figured I might as well write about my philandering Greek lover and my troubled mother.
Lesson #1: A memoir is not a beginning-to-end autobiography. It’s a slice of your life, limited in scope, with a unifying theme. My scope? 2 ½ years. Theme? Finding love late, losing it too soon yet choosing to love again.
Lesson #2: Sources. Some memoir writers journal, others keep diaries, letters and scrapbooks. In college I was a history major with a healthy regard for original sources. My original sources for Banged-Up Heart? Emails and a detailed journal. Good recall of conversations helped too.
With the scope narrowed and the theme clear, there was still a lot missing and yet, I thought I had put down everything!
Lesson #3: A memoir is more than the visible, external story. In my 2 ½-year story, there was a lot of action, a lot of drama, but action alone is not enough. Explicit in the definition of memoir is “intimate experience,” intimate meaning deep within. I had to go deep inside, reliving some painful moments, to find the unvarnished truth. And once I acknowledged it, I had to have the courage to put it on paper and let the chips fall where they may. This was hard for me, initially, because I’m not by nature introspective but with questions and guidance by my editor, I found I could be. Often, a simple question, e.g., What were you feeling? could, once I was home alone, trigger recall of intensely felt emotions.
Lesson #4: Use the tools of novel-writing to make your memoir come alive. Create scenes, characters and dialogue. Resolve tension. Show rather than tell. As a longtime business writer, a scene was where a meeting took place. Dialogue? Reporting contrasting views by one or more speakers, while germane to business writing, was hardly a conversation.
Scene-setting: We create scenes to help anchor the reader with where we are and what’s happening, with enough detail to give a sense of place but not too much – too much detail can inhibit the reader’s imagination. A scene takes place in one place and one time period. Whenever you move location or time in a significant way, it becomes a new scene. In a scene, you want the reader to see, hear and smell, even taste and touch everything you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. This gives the reader a sense of being there, in the moment. (See page 100 in Banged-Up Heart.)
More on creating scenes: A scene is a moment when something happens and someone responds in the outer world. The reader wants to see you externally and internally. Tell your story as you would to your best friend, allowing a kind of intimacy to happen.
Lesson #5: Reflection. A memoir is more than using fiction techniques. In memoir-writing, part of the process is reflection. You have a point of view at a certain time, but you need to look back and reflect on that point of view from where you are now. (See examples in Banged-Up Heart on pages 21, 33 and 71.)
Lesson #6: Unpack key moments. Slow down so the reader sees and hears what you see and hear, so the reader is in your skin. (Beginning on page 258, you’ll see nearly two pages that started out as nine lines before I unpacked the moment.) Slowing down was hard for me. When I was working with lobbyists in a fast-paced environment, I did a lot of things almost simultaneously.
On slowing down by author Natalie Goldberg: “Writing can train you to wake up. I had to get slow and dumb (not take anything for granted) and watch and see how everything connects.”
Lesson #7 Voice. When you slow it down, your natural voice can come out.
Lesson #8: Tell on yourself. The more you can tell on yourself, the more the reader will like you and trust you as a story teller. (See page 50, my reaction to John’s revealing my age to Carla.)
Lesson #9: Use slang or colloquial expressions. These communicate a little of who you are and make the writing more lively. (See “chowing down” on page 21; “hardly ready for prime time” on page 22.)
Lesson #10: Show feelings through what the body does. (Examples from Banged-Up Heart and a few from Jennifer Lauck’s Blackbird: Instead of “John listened attentively to my story,” I wrote “His eyes never left my face.” Others: I nodded my understanding; her eyes opened wide; alarm rang in my brother’s voice; my stomach moves around and around the way it does when I’m hungry except I’m not hungry; she breathes in and out like she can’t get enough air and sweat dots poke out on her top lip.
Lesson #11: Revise by free-writing. I had to re-live some painful moments by re-entering the experience in mind and body. To do this, I often set time limits, e.g., 15 minutes on a particular moment, using pen on paper, NOT computer.
Lesson #12: Pacing. When I wrote my first draft, I wrote down everything without a thought about pacing or structure. But in rewriting, I had to think about pacing. When looking at a paragraph, think about it in terms of action. What are you trying to make happen? And weigh whether stuff is extraneous. Too much can slow the narrative. With our own lives, it’s hard not to think everything is important, but you have to include only those things that are good for the story. (The sentence on page 2 of Banged-Up Heart, “Would you like to take a walk?” replaced three pages of extraneous stuff in my first draft – a lot of detail about what I was wearing and how John and I walked down the porch steps to the public sidewalk -- I cut all but this one sentence.)
Pacing as it relates to chapters: Look at each chapter and ask: Does it stand alone? Does it have a beginning, middle and end? You need an arc in each chapter where something happens. Episodic does not a story make. Each chapter has a purpose, structure and action that give it momentum. Each chapter should have one full scene with dialogue, characters and description.
Lesson #13: When writing about travel, write about the unordinary. For example, many people have not been to Botswana (pages 75-80) but in writing about France where many readers have traveled, the challenge was to make it new by experiencing it through my eyes, e.g., What was it like to climb all those steps to the abbey at Mont Saint-Michel? (See pages 105-106.)
Lesson #14: Logistics -- Don’t get hung up on logistics, getting from place to place – it’s TMI (too much info.)
Lesson #15: Remember the power of short, declarative sentences. They add tension and a sense of urgency. (See 148, in emergency room.)
Lesson #16: Revealing intimacies – Someone asked if I had any qualms about revealing intimacies found in my memoir. Yes, initially I did. But when my editor asked questions I had to answer, I became more comfortable with revealing and decided that if I wasn’t hurting someone else, I would tell the truth. Reviewers have called Banged-Up Heart “remarkably candid,” filled with “. . . and shocking honesty.”
Lesson #17: The strength of a memoir is the weaving together of present time with reflection on times past. This is how we experience life. We’re in present time but going in and out. Present and past are possible when you slow the action and your story becomes rich with layers of memory and feeling. Although I discarded all in my first draft except the book about John, I was able to use a lot of the writing I’d already done. For example, Joe comes in as my backstory in the context of meeting John. (See pages 3-5.) I selected anecdotes from the Joe story and placed them in the narrative about John and me. By doing this, my story became more poignant. It gave the story of John and me more depth and me as a character more depth and vulnerability and makes it easier for the reader to identify with me.
By Shirley Melis
“I came here expecting to buy produce, and here I am, buying books!” The tall man in khakis and a blue polo shirt cradled three books in one arm while his wife listened to another author at the table pitch her book.
Home-Grown Authors, sponsored by the New Mexico Book Association, is the brainchild of Maxine Davenport, a local author who writes compelling short stories and novels about strong women. Love Is a Legal Affair is her latest. As many as six local authors can be found indoors at Santa Fe’s Farmers Market every Tuesday morning until Thanksgiving. Their works of fiction and non-fiction run the gamut from westerns and murder mysteries to memoir and travel stories.
• Gone to the Dogs is author Tom Lohr’s story of his 103-day odyssey to find the best combination of baseball and hot dogs at major league baseball parks in North America.
• Belinda Perry, author of An Old Woman’s Lies, also writes westerns, using the name William Luckey. “When I started writing westerns, I figured no one would buy a western written by a woman,” Belinda confides.
• Taking the act of walking seriously is author Michael Metras’s mission. Germany to Rome in 64 Days: Our Pilgrimage is Michael’s book about a walk he took with his wife, whom he met on a walk across northern Spain. On the Germany-to-Rome trek, each went through nine pairs of shoes.
Farmer's Market Author's Table
NM Book Association sponsors the table, exhibitors must be members of NMBA. For further information about exhibiting, please contact Maxine Davenport: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authors present on October 10, from left to right (and latest publication):
Maxine Neely Davenport ("Love is a Legal Affair")
Shirley Melis ("Banged-Up Heart")
Roberta Parry ("Killing Time")
Tom Lohr ("Command Decision")
Belinda Perry (pen name: William Luckey, "Time Alone")
Melis, Shirley. "We Will It So." Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss. Santa Fe: Terra Nova Books, 2017. 65-68. Print
I inhaled deeply. It’s really happening, I thought. I’m getting married for the second time in my life, and it feels right. The first time, thirty years ago, had felt right too. I thought of Joe, how shattered I’d been by his sudden death and how, when I could feel again, I’d wondered whether I would ever stop feeling sad. Joe had been like a symphony—strings, brass, wind, and percussion—largely agreeable, occasionally discordant, and always provocative. We had shared so much, and through it all, Joe had always been there for me. Without warning, the symphony had stopped, and the resulting silence was deafening. I had felt bereft.
I looked out at our guests on the patio below. Their faces, dappled by shafts of sunlight through leafing trees, were upturned and smiling. Almost everyone there, with the exception of John, had known Joe. They knew how stricken I had been after his death and, three weeks later, the death of my father. They knew I had tried, not without mishap, to put one foot in front of the other until I thought I could make a new life for myself. If they were surprised by the suddenness of my decision to marry John, they didn’t let on.
I stood on the balcony, my left hand holding a bouquet echoing the colors of my dress: deep pink and white roses, lavender freesias, and a singular white stephanotis peeking past lilacs. Their delicate scent wafted through the air. My fingers tightened on my brother’s arm. My eyes were riveted on the minister as he read the poem John and I had selected, “The Ivy Crown” by William Carlos Williams. I remember fighting back tears, mindful of my makeup helper’s warning, “Whatever you do, Shirley, don’t cry!”
is past. This is
the heart says,
and not even the full of it.
are permitted --
though they will come
before our time
We are only mortal
but being mortal
can defy our fate.
by an outside chance
even win! We do not
look to see
jonquils and violets
but there are,
At our age the imagination
across the sorry facts
to make roses
stand before thorns.
love is cruel
and totally obtuse --
at least, blinded by the light,
young love is.
But we are older,
I to love
and you to be loved,
no matter how,
by our wills survived
the jeweled prize
at our finger tips.
We will it so
and so it is
past all accident.
-The Ivy Crown by William Carlos Williams
This poem was my heart speaking. With more of my life behind than ahead of me, I did not regret the passing of spring. It was in the spring that I had been mesmerized by Nikos. I had not seen clearly the pitfalls of loving someone who was not trustworthy, of living in a centuries-old male-centric culture, of being far away from close, sustaining friendships. When I married Joe, who was all that Nikos was not, I grew up, becoming someone better than I had been—more accomplished, more self-confident and kinder. Despite our difference in age, I was not prepared for his death. Like an arrow, it had pierced my heart, emptying it of joy. “Remember, Shirley, you are alive!” a woman I barely knew said to me nearly two years later. Her words rattled my brain. Did I want to do more than survive? Yes, as improbable as it felt, I wanted to love, perhaps more than to be loved, but the path was unclear. One afternoon, alone in my bedroom, I took off my wedding and anniversary rings and placed them in Tiffany boxes in the back of a dresser drawer.
Ringless, I would tell the world I was ready to move on, but I felt naked and hypocritical. My scarred heart still longed for Joe. I was not ready. I was not ready the day John walked into my life. When I was younger, he would not have appealed to me. Too quiet, too nondirective. So different from Joe. But I was older now, more self-possessed and self-directed. In the summer of my life, I found myself appreciating John’s many qualities, including the quiet, nondirective ones. Like a budding rose, my heart had slowly opened until I found myself capable of loving again. By loving John as I did, I was able to step away from the grief that had run through me like a raging river, its currents swift and unstoppable. Granted, I did not know John fully, but given time, I would. Given time, I would come to know his shadow, and I would love that darkness in him too. I harbored no doubts. My unspoken vow: I love you past all accident. I love you forever.
As Kim read, I thought of John’s courage—his determination to live and love despite the cancer diagnosis, the divorce, the death of a fiancée. Against all odds, we had survived to reap the joyous reward of discovering one another. We were astonished that at our age, we could be so deeply in love. The words of the poem Kim had read came back to me: We have, no matter how, by our wills survived to keep the jeweled prize always at our finger tips.
Ours was a bold marriage. We had been together only thirty-two days over a span of five months when we pledged the truth of our very beings to one another.
I'm Shirley Melis. You may know me as Shirley M. Nagelschmidt, Shirley M. Bessey and now, Shirley M. Hirsch. Each reflects a particular phase of my life. Banged-Up Heart is a slice of my life's journey and in telling my story, I'm giving voice to my long silent "M" by reclaiming my maiden name, Shirley Melis.