Friday, October 26, 2012

Trashy First Lines


I hit the trashy romance section of my local bookstore, pull out the first book that catches my eye, and with hand to chest, in an expectant, breathy voice, let go with, “I’d been having the same dream for the past month—the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me.” Oh. My. Why don’t I WRITE this stuff?!? And more importantly, why don’t I HAVE that dream? My daughter and I take turns reading first lines, out loud and with expression. If we’re lucky, those around try to catch a peak or a listen. “Lips light as the touch of a butterfly’s wings, but far more sensual, brushed the back of her neck, a male hand on her shoulder enclosing the small intimacy in protective secrecy, before he whispered in her ear.” Oh, tell me, tell me. Tell me what he said. “Nipple tattoo, madame?”

Hmm. Had not considered. This game is too, too fun.

“Lucy Cunningham’s control tops were so tight that her inner thighs hissed like a swarm of cicadas with each step.” Ok, well. Not sure where the author is going with this one, but hey, we all need some lovin’. And given the usual lean-legged, buxom bodices that grace most of these shelves and my own five-two, hundred and forty-eight pound, B-cup frame, I may just stick Lucy in a shopping bag and take her home.

I see from the covers of these steamy stories, and just in case there’s a little role-play in your future, that cowboys are out and kilts are in. Knights are okay, but only if you wield a sword, a big sword. If you don’t have a sword, best to have a hatchet, a knife, a gun, a rope, anything long and manly, and preferably popping out of slightly unbuttoned jeans and held like you mean it. Abs of steel are mandatory, absolutely mandatory. If it’s a holiday, you must have a bow.

You should know that I secretly dream of penning such novels.

I spend entire afternoons scrawling pseudonyms in curlicue letters on purple page. I say the names out loud with a dreamy look in my eye and practice my signature, quick yet elegant, for my hundreds of fans. I imagine the wicked double life I lead. By day, I am the cardigan wearing, college instructor, mother of four, pushing peace, love, and compassion for all, Mama Gandhi in a tan Prius with soup in the crockpot. By night, I fling ample-chested, satin-gowned protagonists across beds of wildflowers by men the likes of which I have never seen in real life.

Truth is, I am embarrassed to even think of writing some of the lines I see in these stories, I can’t develop a character or sketch a plot for shit, and under no circumstance would I ever feel comfortable having my children share my bodice-ripping titles with their friends. Color me conservative.

Other truth is, I actually enjoy marching out into the world with magic wand and love beads in hand. I live to move, motivate, encourage, inspire. I live to change lives for the better, to shine light on the dark places, to bring everyone together into one gigantic group hug. Did you feel that? That was me, enveloping you in a light of love and protection, spreading good vibes, positive energy, and really great karma. Are you living your life? Or, are you just existing? Find what it is that makes you so you and go throw that out to the world to lift others up, to provide opportunity where opportunity is needed, and to do what it was you were put here to do. For gosh sake, don’t just sit there, you’ve got some joy to spread.

So as much as I do enjoy a great first line, I think I’ll stick to the hearts and flowers, to the peace and compassion, to the Kumbaya. I’ll stick to my words on loving yourself, loving others, and loving this world in which we live. I’ll focus my days on bringing about as much positive change as I possibly can, one essay at a time. But for now, if you will excuse me, I have a glass of wine waiting for me, and a date with Lucy Cunningham. Any man who can get into THOSE skivvies is worth at LEAST a second read.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

About that Dream


“This moment will never happen again.” I sat with a student the other day. Well, I say he was the student, but really, I was the student. He, the teacher. This young man has been given a second chance at life. He has been given many second chances. The doctors have told him repeatedly that he should have died. He is, perhaps, the most hopeful, most compassionate, optimistic person I know. He sits across from me and waxes philosophical on the purpose of life. He is in awe of the concept of time and stressing to me the significance of showing gratitude for every second. This moment will never happen again. “Look. It’s gone. We have only this moment," he points to the desk for emphasis. "Too late. It’s gone now.”

I am sitting in the pew one Sunday morning. The priest of our large downtown congregation has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She has undergone chemotherapy, prepared her children for her possible death, and come to terms with the life she has led. She stands before us now in all of her beauty, bald head wrapped in a silken blue scarf. She speaks of the certainties of life. “The only certainty in life,” for effect she inhales deeply, then releases the breath slowly and loudly, “is this. The only certainty in life is this one breath.” We are moved. The crowd is silent. “Each day I wake and give thanks for this one breath.” She breathes deeply. “And this one.” She breathes again. “And this.”

I get caught up in living out my purpose. I get caught up in following my path, doing what I was put here to do. I get so caught up in following my destiny that I become paralyzed because I question what exactly my destiny is. Do I even believe in destiny, in fate? I don’t know. That’s like asking if I believe in Santa Claus, in God, in the living Elvis. Some people believe. They feel strongly. I have never sat for lattes with any of those. How do I believe in something I have never seen? How do I believe in a construct with no tangible evidence? I do believe in choice, in free will. I do believe that I end up in the direction that I go. Maybe destiny exists. Maybe I end up at the same point, destiny, no matter which path I take to get there.

If all I have is this one breath, am I thankful for it, am I using it to benefit myself or others, am I living this breath, or dying with it?

With this breath, I am putting word to page. I find joy in that. I hope you find joy in the reading, so that I am not wasting your one breath.

I am a fan of Martha Beck. She is a life coach who melds the mystic with the scientific. She does it well. She speaks of following what she calls “the urge to merge.” We all have those things inside of us that will not go away, those urges, desires, dreams. No matter how blatantly we ignore them, they are like the child who grabs the parent’s face and turns it to her when she feels the need to be heard. Beck tells us to move toward that. As long as the urge is legal, moral, and does no harm, we should keep moving in its general direction, asking ourselves, “Does this action make my heart happy, or does it make my heart sad?” Move toward happy.

I had a dream. In the dream I am sailing. The waters are beautiful. The sky is clear. I do not see my end point, but I know exactly where I am to go. This is odd for me, for two reasons. Number one, I do not sail. Ever. Number two, in real life I lack all sense of direction, both literally and figuratively. I get so caught up in the end point that I cannot focus on the drive. I want to be there. I need to know where “there” is. I panic. How will I know how to get “there” if I don’t know where it is I am going? I remember my dream. I remember the peaceful feeling of knowing that I would arrive at my destination soon, that it was where I was meant to be, and that I was safe in the now, guided by a higher hand, perfectly on course.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother and a teacher and a writer and a doctor. I saw all of these things as different, as existing in multiple people, as options a, b, c, and d. In reality, I have become and am in process of becoming each of them. Only now I am feeling uncertain as to my little girl dream. Is this what I really want? Is this where I am meant to be? Am I one and not the other? Should I jump ship, find a new path? Why am I on this Earth? Am I doing all that I am capable of doing, using all of my resources, throwing out to the world everything I have to offer? I am feeling that familiar panic, lost in the vastness of the possibility.

Then I remember the dream, the peaceful feeling of knowing that I am on course and exactly where it is that I am supposed to be. I slow myself. I inhale deeply, find my heart, and ask simply, "What is it that I am meant to do with this one breath?"



Saturday, October 20, 2012

WE DID IT !!!


I am not much one for accepting “no” as an answer. I have come up against too many walls in my day to let something as simple as an obstacle stop me from getting what I want. So when I found myself once again querying agents with nothing but rejection slips in the inbox, I asked how I might move this writing business to the next step.

I have been content for the past while to have my words on blog. You guys are a great audience. As much as I enjoy the process of writing merely for the process of writing, I do enjoy a good parade across a stage. I have felt the need lately, however, to move these words in front of others. I have felt the need to take the next step. When the traditional publishing route failed me, I decided to try a more modern approach. Be gentle with me now. This self-publishing stuff is stressful. While I was born with pen in hand and sketching out a good thought comes as easily as breathing, tech issues and I have, well, issues. I am not a cover artist. I can barely shoot a photo that isn’t blurred. I format text in my nightmares. But I have done my best, and that is all that I can ask of myself at this point. My words are out there. That is what is important.

Thank you so much for reading me, for supporting me as you have. As much as I complain about exposing myself to you, I do get a slight kick from it. I am hoping that this posting to blog is not a completely selfish act. I am hoping that I give you something in return, that I enrich YOUR life as much as you enrich mine.

So, shall we celebrate together? Take yourself on over to Amazon and check out my author page. That’s my face. On Amazon. How cool is that? Just a warning, though, that is also my life on Amazon. Be on the lookout for some great mental breakdown essays to follow.

https://www.amazon.com/author/tammieortlieb

Friday, October 12, 2012

Real as it Gets


SO enjoy a conversation where I can say whatever is in my head and the only thing I have to worry about is showing up as the lovelorn protagonist with more than slight stalker tendencies in a New York Times best-selling cheesy romance novel. The problem with me being friends with a writer is that everything that falls out of the mouth is potential for material. The advantage of being friends with a writer is that that material generally stays on the page. On the page, words are true or not, twisted or accurate, added to, subtracted from, omitted altogether. Maybe it happened like that. Maybe it didn’t.

Often when you read me, you try to decipher clues as to the identity of my characters. Maybe you hear bits and pieces of a story you recognize. Perhaps you catch a partial description of someone who sounds familiar. Many of you have gone as far as to ASK that you show up in my essays. Some of you have requested that you NEVER appear. Know that if you prefer to stay off the page, I do honor that. Sometimes I honor it painfully. For example, and this is for those of you who have hinted in less than clever ways, no, I am not having marriage difficulties. My husband is a private sort who prefers his business not be paraded in front of hoards of strangers. But, believe me, as soon as that particular go-ahead is given, I see writer’s cramp in my future. The thing you should know is this, not everything I write is true. Sometimes one person is three. Sometimes three people are one. Sometimes I embellish a situation just to pretty it up, just to create a picture, just to make it flow. Besides, what does it matter? A good story is a good story.

But I try to stay close, as real is often more fascinating than fantasy anyway. This, for me, is the draw of the craft.

Take the young man I chatted with in the hall the other day after class. He was born a crack baby. His “mother” gave birth, then left. He stayed in the hospital for six months while the doctors waited for him to die. I cannot even list for you the physical conditions he suffered as my brain shut down after just the first few, but it was something about a scar on his chest because something about his lungs or his heart or maybe both, a mark on the back of his head for I don’t remember why, barely two pounds, that was what he weighed, barely two pounds. What else? What else did he say? He was talking, yes, but I could not hear. I could not hear because my own head was shouting, “You should be dead. You should be dead.”

But, he lived, and at eighteen months was adopted out to a family who would eventually have five biological children and fifteen adopted children. This young man grew up in a home with twenty children. Discipline was harsh. The children were polite and well-behaved not because they understood that was the way to be, but because they were afraid of being beaten if they weren’t. But the parents made certain the children did well in school and knew that school was important.

So this young man studied hard and got good grades. In high school, he played baseball. All four years. The doctors told him no, you won’t be able to do that. You won’t be able to play sports. You will struggle in school. You will struggle for your entire life. You will not be like the other kids. You may want to play sports, but you should not try. You won’t be able to do that. He heard a lot about what he couldn’t do, what he shouldn’t do. What he wants to do is to be a counselor. He wants to help those who are struggling in their lives. He is visibly concerned about teens who commit suicide. He tells me stories of how this moves him, how he wants to help. He can’t imagine, he says. He can’t imagine how anyone can be so unhappy with life. I look at him as he tells me this, and I think to myself how he is so full of love and concern for others when at first I would think it he who needs the love and concern.

Sometimes the teacher is student and the student, teacher. I look at this young man as he speaks, and I think of all the obstacles he has faced in his life and how he should not be standing before me right now. Yet, he speaks and lives and behaves in the most upbeat, positive fashion, without ever a complaint and with the utmost concern for the good of others. He has done that which doctors have told him he can’t, he won't be able to, he shouldn't. He has done it, he says, because he knows that he can. He has done it, I think, because he has a beautiful soul and lives not for himself, but for humanity and all that he might contribute to it.

I will tell you that THIS character is real, THIS story accurate, and THIS only the beginning of what I am certain will be a beautiful tale.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Affairs of the Heart


Me. In mustard.


I am supposed to be doing something else. Instead, I am following my heart. My heart gets me into trouble sometimes, but, trouble or not, I never regret the chase.

This is what it looks like, this following my heart.

For an hour or so, I traipse around a nearby open field. I make my way through grasshoppers and butterflies, milkweed and thistle. The leaves are turning, gold and crimson, deep brown, the few green remaining are unwilling to give up those sunlit, bare-shouldered days of summer. This is not a walk. This is a mind clearing, meditation, an exorcising of my demons. This is a soul cleansing of significant sort, a small series of tiny come to Jesus moments. I stare mindlessly into the fresh air, into the autumn breeze. I pray, both out loud and to myself. I converse with the inner Tammie, with God, with the Universe, with no one in particular and everyone all at the same time. Answers or not, I am content in the knowledge that the thoughts have left my head and landed where they may.

Despite the butterflies-and-brush spiritual awakening, I still cannot focus on the thing it is that I am supposed to do, so I run out to one of my favorite shops in search of a blouse to complete a look I have been trying to create. I find a beautiful silk in sweet potato. The blouse I wear is mustard. Are all clothing colors the names of food? And why is coordinating a look so easy for some, so complicated for me? I belong in the south where a girl can throw on a pair of jeans and a cute little tank and she’s good for the day. My body and my home are the same. I love them both to look great. I love colors and textures and a knockout visual, a place where people like to hang out, but for the life of me I cannot create that look. Could I get someone to dress me? Is that too much to ask? Still. My heart is happy here with the oranges and reds of the long-sleeved tees, the soft knits of the simple cardigans, the funky earrings, chocolate trouser socks, and sweet potato blouses.

Can I confess that I am now sitting in my local coffee shop? The thing I am avoiding that I am supposed to be doing is homework, but I am just not feeling it. It was in my head to write when I worked my way out of my sheets and comforter this morning, and so I will write. Essays are like that. Much like a cold, they sneak right up when I least expect. They catch me unaware when I have other, more important tasks to complete. And, like dealing with a cold, I am forced to succumb to the power of the words. I enjoy my window table and the energy that surrounds it. The delivery guy at the curb unloads cases of pop. I wonder why because I hear the barista tell the young couple ordering that the soda machines were done away with during the remodel. The young woman in the pink sweatshirt, furry boots, and bedazzled jeans picks up a blondie bar and an unsweetened tea. Another runs into a former teacher. Good to see you again. It's been too long. Can I mention the lady in the parking lot in the floor length magenta rain slicker and red galoshes? I think I can, because it is not raining. And, yet, she is so ready.

You should know that I could not focus on my work earlier because I wasn’t certain it was work that I am meant to be doing. This confuses me because this is a degree that I have known I would pursue since I first laid scalpel on that high school biology fetal pig. And now I question whether it is truly in my heart to accomplish what that fifteen year old girl set out to accomplish. I feel I will disappoint my former self if I quit my studies now. But the current me is not so sure she is excited, moved, or inspired by either the process or the goal.

Regardless the plans I laid out for myself today, a checklist my head was certain had to be met, I enjoyed a beautiful walk in the fall colors. I breathed in fresh autumn air until it encircled all of my insides. I fed my artsy funky side with gorgeous silk blouses in sweet potato and mustard, with dangly earrings and chunky necklaces. I caught up on the community happenings at my local café, something no self-respecting Gemini should ever deprive herself. And now I find myself talking with you. My heart is happy. My soul is fed. It has been a good day.