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Friday, December 18, 2015

My December Wish

It's been a hectic month polishing the latest (and last!) pre-copyediting draft of my upcoming verse novel, and I am woefully behind in my Merry Christmas preparations...with cookies yet to bake and presents yet to wrap, the last thing I should be doing is posting a blog.

And yet, I don't want the year to close without a December post. It's been a difficult year for many of us. There are too many empty seats around our holiday tables, and following the news could easily convince us that there is little to celebrate. Hopes for peace on earth falter daily and it might seem that light from the Christmas star has faded.

So I stop in my already belated  preparations to write a short December message. Cookies and presents will wait while I take a moment to tell you about the one year boy who has learned to say Hi! —  and who, with the inexhaustible enthusiasm only a toddler can muster, said Hi! to every single shopper and every single salesperson in yesterday's crowded mall

EVERY SINGLE SHOPPER. EVERY SINGLE SALESPERSON. Not one got away. 

All December messages seem to have a miracle and here's mine — not a big miracle perhaps, but in this jaded, cynical society, a miracle none-the-less.

Every single weary shopper bogged down with bags (both in their hands and beneath their eyes) stopped to greet this blessed little boy — and every single harried salesperson paused their transaction to peer over the counter, smile and gush their merriest holiday greeting.  

EVERY SINGLE SHOPPER. EVERY SINGLE SALESPERSON.

Which tells me, of course, that despite our so many empty chairs, something of the spirit always remains. Despite the worrisome news and our faltering hopes for peace on earth, light from the Christmas Star has not faded.

A one year old boy. A sweet smile. A simple but joyous Hi! That was all it took to bring a sparkle of joy to a tired, crowded, mall-ful of people.

In this season of miracles, no matter what holiday you celebrate, I wish you sparkle and joy!







Monday, November 16, 2015

More About the Process...



I've just this morning sent out an updated draft of my verse novel which is due for publication next Fall.  During the early drafts, I work at my own pace and though I typically write for long morning  and/or afternoon stretches, I'm also free to stop and meet a friend for lunch or to shop, read, clean house or do laundry..

not so with the later drafts. Once a manuscript is accepted and I'm on the schedule, revision begins in earnest. I've already written about the joys of working with my Scholastic editor - and again, in this go-round she has opened paths and encouraged closer inspection of characters and scenes which have already lead to a stronger read. What I didn't mention is what hard work writing sometimes is - how many wrong paths I sometimes follow - how much time is spent searching for the right word only to end up cutting out an entire sequence...and how, meanwhile, the dust thickens and the laundry piles...

I think I could work on the same piece forever and never quite be done - it seems there is always  more research that would enrich the story and so many better ways to express what I've already written. But dates and deadlines keep me moving; they often stretch my writing time through morning, afternoon and night.

Then the dawn comes when I've sent out my new draft and the characters with whom I have been living for so long leave me to breakfast alone.  This time they're not going far. They may even come back to spend more time with me before being dressed in fancy paper and sent out to live lives of their own.

Meanwhile, I miss them. Seems as soon as I hit the send button, I recall one more thing I wanted to tell them - one more thought they might have said. I'm sure I'll have another chance - but for now, I've  thickening dust and piles of laundry to keep me company.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ode to a Kitchen Table

I've a desk in my library and one in my bedroom, but most of my writing is done at the kitchen table. Putting away my manuscript earlier today, I was shocked to realize that it was the end of October and already the chickadees are back scratching for food. I used to think the birds were the only reason I wrote at the kitchen table - but since they are just now returning it occurred to me that there may be another reason I find the kitchen table my favorite place to write. Hence this hastily written but heartfelt ode to my kitchen table.


I sing your praises worn wood of old,
long-stripped mahogany,
now honey-gold,
once youthful as the man and bride
who brought you home
to be their pride -

a place where family gathered 'round,
to share a meal
midst happy sounds
of clattering dishes 
'n baby coos,
'n the man 'n bride
whispering
I love you.

Long gone.
The man. 
The woman.
The babies grown,
all with families of their own.

But the one who sits 
with pad and pen -
hears their music yet again;
'n though scratched and peeling,
the table rejoices
at the echo of familiar voices -

a man, a woman, a child too -
their gentle, lingering 
I love you -
all written into books and songs
at the kitchen table
where she belongs.


my beloved kitchen table (all dressed up for a birthday party)! 









Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Remembering Scott Meyer, Bookseller & Human Being Extraordinaire

I first met Scott at a reading conference nearly a decade ago. I had been invited to the conference to sign my newest release, Rebekkah's Journey, an historical fiction picture book about a World War II refugee camp in Oswego, New York.  Scott was the bookseller who sponsored the conference and arranged the selling of authors' books. 

My humble stack of published works was piled on a table that I shared with the author of some heavy, wide-spined, historical novels.

Across the sales square, Da Chen was signing copies of his latest book; the line of customers eager to meet him spilled out of the author's signing square and into the hotel walkway. There was a line by my table too, but that was only because Scott and his traveling register were to the left of me. Customers had to pass me in order to pay for their Da Chen treasures, books which they balanced on arms sacredly outstretched so as not to smear the ink from Da Chen's hallowed mark. 

To my right, the historical novelist hawked his own literary treasures. No thank you, customer after customer replied, I don't really like historical stuff. Quickly, I averted my eyes, intensely interested in another author's book that I had taken for just that purpose. Book signings can be very uncomfortable for unassertive authors wanting to evade pitying looks from disinterested shoppers. I had learned to prepare.

What do you like to read, the author to my right continued, unwilling to let a possible sale go by without a more appropriate sales pitch. Adventure? Romance? My books are full of adventure! Full of romance!  Apparently these glorious historical novels could fulfill whatever need a reader communicated. Before noon, the right side of our heavily laden table was cleared and the shameless historical novelist departed shortly after Da Chen. 

I spread out my wares and passed the remainder of the afternoon chatting with Scott. Scott was a storyteller. I learned about his children, his friends, the community of Millbrook (which he loved), and Alison, his wife, (whom he loved even more). Scott listened to stories about my family as well and by the time the conference closed, Scott and I were friends. 

Though I had sold a few books, far more needed to be packed up and returned to his store. Most of the authors had left by then and looking around at their stacks of unsold books, I offered to help Scott and Alison rebox them. Such a simple gesture. Certainly nothing which required that much time, any extreme effort or even the slightest gallantry - the usual paths to long-lasting friendships. But somehow, for whatever reason, this simple gesture was enough to tether Scott to me forever. From that moment, Scott hand sold my books as fervently as my neighboring historical novelist had pedaled his whatever-you-want-it-to-be-it-is novels. 

From my perspective, the seeds of our friendship blossomed because of Scott's oversized generosity, his appreciation of any act of kindness - however small - and his magnanimous interest in a quiet, little known author who preferred hiding under the table rather than hawking books from behind it.

Scott brought me to conferences, set me up in seminars and even asked me to accompany him to a local NPR interview. I don't think I said much at that interview but I did continue to help box and move books whenever I could. It was the very least I could do for a bookseller whose every word to me was of kindness, encouragement and support. Scott loved books, but he loved people even more.  

This past summer, Scott died after a valiant struggle with cancer. For years he had faced his illness with courage, humor and stories - always there were stories. At the memorial service people from every walk of life stood up and shared personal memories of Scott's kindness, his value to the community, his love for family and friends.  I wanted to stand up as well, but speaking before a packed congregation is even more daunting than speaking from behind an author's table. 

After the service I looked for Alison, hoping that in a less public moment I would find the appropriate words of comfort and support. I waited my turn, but again words failed me. Finally face-to-face, Alison and I hugged. All I could stutter was, I loved him, Alison. I loved him. 

Scott used to say that once somebody shared a story with him, they were stitched into the fabric of his soul. Tell them the story about the veteran in Washington Square, he'd say to me. Don't forget the click-click on the cobblestone streets. Like a child hearing a familiar bedtime story, Scott always insisted that I include every detail from my original telling. You didn't mention the patches. Tell them about the patches. 

It occurred to me during one of my retellings and again more recently when I visited him in the hospital, that Scott was that rare individual who actually listened heart and soul when someone spoke to him. In Scott's world everyone mattered and he gave the same attention to students and senior citizens, to little known writers and best-selling authors. I think this is why I loved him. I loved the stories Scott shared about his favorite authors, his favorite books, the poems in his pocket. I loved his warmth, his openness, his firm belief in the power of goodness and kindness; but most of all I loved Scott's faith, not his religious ideology, but his genuine, unshakeable faith in people

Scott was a superb bookseller because he knew people. He hand sold books not because that allowed him the opportunity to change the focus of a book to meet the need of a reader, but because he knew the people with whom he came in contact. He listened to their stories and heard their requests. He knew what books might speak to them - and always had a story or two to accompany his suggestions. When Scott placed a book in a customer's hands, he was offering them a piece of himself, a reflection of his knowledge and expertise, but even more than that, a literary manifestation of the fabric of his soul.
    
Local papers posted a long and impressive obituary for Scott. He was a teacher and a coach. He was on a number of boards and countless committees. He hosted a radio program and founded a literary festival. These are grand accomplishments and testimony to a life lived to the fullest. But Scott's greatest gifts remain hidden, tucked in personal libraries, on school bookshelves and permanently stitched into the hearts of those - like me - who loved him.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Blue Streams, Dappled Skies and Hidden Trails



Yesterday I finally received the long-awaited, marked-up manuscript which will guide me through the next draft of my upcoming verse novel. Some of my editor's notes were simple blue scribbles that meandered around words and phrases like a gentle whispering stream; some pages were left untouched or  marked with a single, encouraging word or symbol. But on many pages, editorial comments filled the empty space like blocks of a summer sky - mostly blue but dappled with airy white clouds.

Do you have to do everything your editor says? my son asked. It's a question I'm often asked by students when I visit their schools. The answer is simple.  I don't need to follow every suggestion but I long ago discovered that my editor's comments challenge me to dig deeper and always enrich my story.

I might have written this before, but working with a good editor is like hiking through the forest with an inquisitive friend. By myself, I sometimes hurry ahead, carelessly climbing over rocks, not noticing wildflowers, eager to get to the end of the trail. But a good editor - a good friend - encourages me to slow down - did you peek under that rock? did you see that forgotten path? let's linger awhile...

Sometimes we turn over a rock and find nothing but a dusty imprint; other times we discover an entire squiggling, wiggling world. Sometimes a path leads nowhere; more often it leads to new discoveries and more hidden trails.

Rewriting has become one of my favorite steps in the writing process... I've blue streams to follow, large blocks of dappled sky to explore, and more than one overlooked path to wander.






Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Broken, Bowed & Beautiful





Earlier today, I sat down to write my blog post. Elbow on table, chin in hand, I wondered what this month's topic should be. Having just returned from a lovely family vacation on Long Beach Island, I thought I might explore the restorative power of sun, sand, and spending time with my extended family. I thought I might write about traditions like gourmet sandwiches on the beach, playing Crack the Case, or the joy of finding an exquisite fragment of sea glass and a small piece of weathered driftwood. 

While I was thinking, while I was remembering (and while I  was wishing I had one of my sister-in-law's tuna, provolone and tapanade sandwiches), my eyes fell on the ceramic, apple-topped, covered candy dish which belonged to my mom. Growing up the dish was always in the center of our living room coffee table. I don't recall if my mom ever kept kept anything in the dish, but for me the dish is somewhat of a catch-all ~ it holds an eclectic (and revolving) assortment of contents, including sea glass and a small piece of driftwood.

What caught my eye this morninge was the outside of the covered dish ~  the chips, cracks and broken pieces painstakingly glued back together. After my mom died, I found the dish on the desk in my brother Michael's old room; the only thing inside the dish were splinters of green paint and shards of ceramic. With its chipped paint and broken pieces, it certainly seemed useless as a centerpiece, and most people would probably have thrown the dish away . But my mom didn't throw it out and neither could I.

I took the candy dish home and my husband glued the broken pieces back together as best he could. In fact, we do use it as a centerpiece ~ chips, cracks and all. Somehow I find beauty in its imperfection. Maybe it's because it belonged to my mother. Maybe it's because I identify with things that are broken, fragile or flawed. 

In the garden my drooping sweet peas need to be lifted, staked and tied after every storm. Still, I prefer the the sweet pea's delicate flowers and fragile stems to all the haughty, straight-backed tulips in my neighbor's yard.

It isn't the brokenness that's so beautiful. Nor is it the bowing down. What strikes me as most beautiful is the putting-back-together again, the stretching toward the sun despite soul-battering storms.

Though time has washed away the cracks and splinters of sea glass and driftwood, my beach treasures also speak of brokenness, loss ~ and a guileless beauty that defies perfection. 

It's no wonder I brought them home to put in my apple-topped candy dish.









Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Tree and The Butterfly ~ A Father's Day Tribute



     I've mentioned my mom a few times on this blog, but since June celebrates fathers, I thought I'd dedicate this month's post to my beloved dad. A commercial artist by trade, he was born in Greenwich Village and worked all of his life in New York City's Mad Men world. Many of my dad's retouched photographs appeared in prestigious magazines, and long before the internet gave us pictures of stars without make-up, my dad showed me that the prettiest, most perfect models often had blemishes and bad hair days. More importantly, he helped me to understand that what showed on the outside was never as important as what blossomed on the inside. More than anything else, my dad taught me that kindness mattered. I wrote this piece awhile ago, but think that Father's Day is a good time to share it.

     Outside the big white house that I loved, the one with the rolling lawn and the wide, gray, armchair stoop, the one with the broken step-on-the-crack, step-on-your-mother's-back cement sidewalk, was a tree. A big, beautiful sycamore tree with large, round, prickly seed-balls that often grew three to a stem. When I was a child, I scraped them bald while sitting on the curb waiting for the Good-Humor man to ride by on his bicycle with the freezer in front.
  I was happy there in our big three family house. I didn't understand what it meant that the house wasn't ours. It certainly felt like it was ours. I didn't understand what it meant when my mother said she wanted a place with our own backyard and no one saying her children shouldn't step on the grass. I stepped on the grass all the time. I want a place of our own, she said, with no mouse in the kitchen.
  We moved in February. February 23, 1960-something. Before we left I stretched my skinny arms as far as they could go around my sycamore. I made it more than halfway around but not all the way. It was a cold, misty morning. I was crying. I rubbed my face against the tree's pale grey bark, felt its roughness in the wetness of my skin. My mother called my name then, told me to get into Tommy's car. My brother Michael was screaming. Wailing. My cousin Tommy and my Aunt Jo needed me to help quiet him. He was only a year old, but he knew something was going on. I hugged the tree and kissed it twice. I promised it that I'd come back, and then I left. The only way to leave was to promise to come back. 
  In New Jersey, my father found a lifeless butterfly perfectly preserved. He took her inside to show me. She was beautiful. Black velvet wings dappled with pink and blue. A light spray of green on the edge of her wings. I wanted to keep her. My father said he would take the butterfly to his office in New York. He would mount her and put her in a frame for me. Then I could keep her forever. Where's my butterfly, Daddy, I'd ask. She's somewhere, he'd say. I promise you, I'll get her mounted.
  I grew up. My father grew older. He moved from his large office on 49th street, in the shadow of St. Patrick's Cathedral ~ the office I loved, the office we all loved ~ to a smaller, neater office overlooking Times Square. I wondered if he took the butterfly with him, but didn't ask. I was in my twenties then.  I knew better. Maybe the butterfly was already dust. Nothing lasts forever.
  Still, not every broken promise leaves a crack, a breach, a gaping hole. Sometimes a broken promise is barely discernible. Sometimes it becomes something even greater than a promise fulfilled and forgotten My father wanted to give me something beautiful, something that I could keep forever. And he did. His broken promise was buried by a thousand other small acts of kindness, untold, immeasurable acts of love that folded over it like a pearl at the bottom of some primeval sea. 
  I never went back to Brooklyn to live, but I do return to that spot where I waited for the Good Humor man to come by on his bicyle with the freezer in front. I often think about my tree and can still feel its cool, jagged bark on my face. I've learned that there is more than one way to go back, more than one way to never leave.
     I cannot recall that my father ever let me down in any way that really mattered. I half expect that when I die, he'll meet me at some celestial city corner in the shadow of a heavenly cathedral. He'll open his arms to greet me, and I'll finally receive my butterfly, velvet-winged and gloriously unmounted.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My (Short-Lived) Career In Journalism

When I was younger, I hoped to parlay my interest in writing into an honorable career. My first major in college (there were a few of them) was journalism. Unfortunately my penchant for strong black coffee (which I believed marked the serious reporter) and  moonlight ramblings in my journal (which were occasionally carved into poetry), did not easily translate into the tough domain of journalism. My dreams of making a difference in the world by becoming an investigative reporter, were dashed within the first week of Journalism 101.

After a brief introduction to the field we were entering, the professor gave us a choice of two assignments which he believed would prove our mettle. Assignment One required that we walk into town, press our nose against the full length window of a neighborhood cafe, and record patron reactions to our intrusion.  I got as far as walking to the cafe and standing before the glass wall. Nose a safe distance from the transparent panel, I nonchalantly peeked inside. The first face that noticed me ~ that of a young boy in a striped shirt ~ spooked me.

Onto Choice Number Two. Schedule an interview with one of the many prominent community members willing to partake in a freshman writing exercise. Names, professional qualifications, phone numbers, and initial  questions were provided. All we had to do was make the call and conduct the interview. I rehearsed my introduction and lifted the phone receiver. My hand shook. My heart pounded. Gently putting the receiver down, I walked to the registrar's office, dropped the class and changed my major.

I used to think that I failed before I even began. For years I wondered how my life and career would have evolved if my  journalism professor had been different, if instead of being the sink-or-swim type, he had been the type who would nurture the aspirations of a timid, self-conscious student.  I still think that those assignments were a ludicrous introduction to the field, but anyone who reads the news knows that journalism is not for the weak of heart. Perhaps my professor did me a favor.

Besides, I didn't really fail. I simply followed a different path. It recently occurred to me that the stories I tell, the characters which haunt me into existence, originate from the same curiosity and commitment to the world that motivated my desire to be an investigative reporter.

Not everyone can press their nose against the glass. Not everyone is cut out for the front lines. But each of us has a calling. Time has taught me that there is more than one path to get to where it is we want to go.





Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Bugs, Shadows and a Bucketful of Stars


This month's news that my most recent manuscript had been accepted by Scholastic coincided with a lovely royalty statement tucked between two lawncare fliers.  For an obscure writer as myself, such fortuituous nods from the publishing community are like having a bucketful of stars arrive on my front porch the very same morning I win the lottery. 

I write because the world and most everything in it (barring snakes, bats and shelter-seeking bugs) interest me. I write because the words and thoughts that bumble and bump in my mind sometimes shift into characters, diaphanous shadows that linger until, attention aroused, I notice them and discover a story worth telling. There are so many stories to tell - so many lives to discover -  including (I suppose) the lives of snakes, bats and shelter-seeking bugs.

For me being a writer is more than having a book published. Writers are like detectives, I tell school groups. They notice things. They wonder and ask questions. I was a writer long before my first books were published... Those who see the world and wonder, who notice the slant of sunlight between green leaves or the shadows that cross a stranger's face... Those of you who keep journals or write songs and poems - you are writers same as me.

And yet, being published is a gift whose splendor is beyond imagining. Having an editor work with me, challenge me, suggest new pathways to follow or explore, having a reader be touched by my words, having strangers open their hearts to share personal memories and stories that my characters have awakened ~ this is a rare and exquisite treasure that I will never take for granted.

The wheels of publishing move slowly. But every once in awhile the pushcart arrives at its destination and a bucketful of stars arrive on some lucky writer's front porch.  

I am heartily grateful!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Watching Out for Leprechauns

  I started out my post-college career as a kindergarten teacher and despite the intervening years, I sometimes still think like someone who's been hanging around five year olds all day.
       It's March. Time to watch out for leprechauns, I've always said. One March I was out walking with a certain pint-sized curly-top who found a glittering gold button ~ what we were sure belonged to a leprechaun. We knew a lot about leprechauns. You never see one, but they like to play tricks. Sometimes, they're careless. They drop things. We agreed that the button must have belonged to a leprechaun.
  In my classroom, leprechauns hid the chalk and turned the books on our shelf upside down. What else did they do, I'd ask, shaking my head.  At recess my five year old charges would scurry around the room looking for anything out of place. Invariably someone would discover they left us a box of cookies and a book we hadn't read yet. We'd eat our cookies, read our book, then march around the room singing our leprechaun song:

There's a little bit of leprechaun 
in all of us,
A magic little spot in all our hearts.
There's a rainbow and a pot of gold 
for all of us -
so let's thank our lucky stars!

       I left teaching a long time ago. I wonder if leprechauns still visit kindergartens or if they've been scared away by learning standards that leave little time for imaginative games.
At least at home the leprechauns know they are always welcome. My kids are grown but the leprechauns still visit. They leave small surprises and always turn the milk green. 
       It's been a long winter. This year I'm afraid any glittering gold buttons dropped by careless leprechauns will be lost in the snow. Still, it's March. I'm watching for leprechauns, faithfully looking for my rainbow, and searching for my pot of gold. 


 leprechaun  treasure from years gone by...





Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Rose for my Grandmother

I wanted to post this Poem and Pondering yesterday, but never seemed to have a spare moment.  I'm posting anyway because it's never too late for a reflection on love.

My grandmother died on February 14th  so it's only natural that I think of her in a special way every Valentine's Day. Childhood memories of my grandmother are enhanced by the many stories my mother shared about her mother. Most of these stories centered on my grandmother's faith. Your grandmother loved God, my mother would say. She would die for her faith. 

On Valentine's Day, our  focus on romantic love is misleading.  The following poem written by my mother for her own beloved mother reminds us that romantic love is but one petal in this fragrant and mysterious flower.  

A Poem for Rose Martorano
written with love
   by her daughter
Helen Grace

My mother's hands
were lovely and strong
and never idle for very long.

My mother's hands
would cook, clean and sew,
pray Our Lady's beads
or knead the dough.

My mother's hands
toiled extra hard
ceaselessly giving
glory to God.

My mother's hands
grew wrinkled with age,
and painfully fluttered
when she turned the last page.

My mother's hands
now fold in repose
And heaven embraces
God's newest Rose.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Dolphins Cycling Challenge ~ We Did It!


Team Barb, Post Ride, in all our Pink-for-Barb Pride
Those of you who read my blog regularly have already met my sister-in-law Barb Burg who died this past April (Remembering Barb Burg). You  also know that in her honor, my husband Marc and I planned to ride 25 miles in the Dolphins Cycling Challenge to help raise money for cancer research (The Dolphins Cycling Challenge ~ Riding for Barb). This past weekend Team Barb raised more than 125K ~ 100% of which will donated to cancer research.

Though it was stressed that the DDC is a ride, not a race, some of the people with whom I cycled were well-trained athletes who sped by me in sleek biking outfits (rider on the left, rider on the left).  Most riders were not athletes, but even these riders (in outfits not quite as sleek) pedaled by me. When I wasn't huffing, puffing, pulling to the right, or wondering if a change in gear might be helpful, I thought about Barb.

I kept returning to one brief conversation that we had long before needles, catheters and ports entered our vocabulary, when we talked of movies, books and my own literary endeavors. We were sitting on her soft nubbly couch surrounded by books. One doesn't need to write a bestseller. Barb reminded me. Do you know how many people tell me that they want to write a book but never do? Every book written is an accomplishment.

One doesn't need to write a bestseller, I told myself as I pedaled and pushed, pedaled and puffed, as I switched from fourth to fifth and back down to third and avoided looking too far into the endless road ahead.  Every ride completed is an accomplishment. 

I believe I was the last of the pink Team Barbs to finish the ride. I wasn't the sleekest or the fastest on the team, but I was on the team and I crossed the finish line.  

I rode in memory of my amazing sister-in-law Barb and for all of us who love and miss her.  I rode for people I don't know who every day face cancer with profound courage and quiet dignity. I rode with the hope that we will one day eradicate this devastating disease.

Thanks to all of you who supported Team Barb with words, thoughts, donations and prayers. Each of you made a difference. Thanks to my husband Marc who slowed his own pace to keep me company ~ and to all those teammates who wouldn't cross the finish line without me. Most of all, thanks to Barb Burg whose courageous voice continues to motivate and encourage all of us to keep pedaling even when the road gets bumpy and steep.


Happy riders: Marc, me, Paula and David


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Girl, the Pen and the Resolution ~ A New Year's Story

  Decades ago I accompanied my father to a narrow, dimly-lit shop in New York City. My father was a commercial artist and he was buying a peel-away crayon pencil ~ the kind used to mark-up photographs. I don't remember how old I was, but I already knew that I wanted to be a writer and was amazed to find an entire shop devoted to writing utensils. I was even more amazed to discover (in the way, way back of the wooden-floored store) a glass case holding pens that were worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Hundreds of dollars for a pen?
     Under the watchful eye of the of the shopkeeper, I held my first Mont Blanc, the luxury pen with the star-shaped, snow-white cap. I marveled at the pen's heaviness, the silky smooth flow of ink on paper. Certainly this pen could capture the deepest, purest, most noble sentiments. 
I loved the Mont Blanc, but my choice of writing utensils has always been limited by economics and, not surprisingly, my usual writing implement is the humble pencil. The sound of scratch marks on paper is a reassuring sound, a bold declaration that I've successfully lassoed at least some of my elusive thoughts. I've also grown comfortable with the clicking of the keyboard as it chips away the white space of a blank page. 
  But that was before.
     On Christmas Day, I received my own Mont Blanc. In a detailed flashback, the pen transported me to the rear of a narrow, dimly lit, wooden-floored shop in New York City, to the almost-beginning of a story about a young girl who dreamed of being a writer. There have been some unforeseen plot twists (and more than one unexpected villain) since that early exposition. But holding the Mont Blanc now, holding my own Mont Blanc ~ with the silence barely broken by the whisper of gliding ink ~ has, as stories often do, brought me full circle. 
     The  young girl grew up, but holding the Mont Blanc in her hand now, so many years later, she still marveled at the weight of her words as they slipped through the pen's dark barrel and rose gold band. Her heart was full of noble thoughts like love, hope and gratitude, and the now-grown-up girl felt certain this pen could capture them.  She gripped the Mont Blanc and resolved to one day write something worthy of the pen's white-starred splendor.