See What I’ve Been Up To
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Some Other Writing Samples
I have written (or ghost written) plays, adaptations, textbook articles, blog posts and podcast episodes, among other things. Here is a small sampling of a few of those.
Divorced Like You
Sample from the opening chapter of a novel I am writing loosely based on my family history. It is a story of how divorce happened in three generations for very different reasons, and how it changed the lives of all who followed.
The baby died first. Hot, wet and squalling, then blue and quiet. Finally cold.
When mama held her, she shook and cried. All those long months of carrying that big belly, only to hold her one last time before daddy asked the nurse to take her away.
They named the baby Elisabeth and carried her away wrapped in a white cloth. Daddy said she was going to her home in heaven with the angels. I don’t know where that is. I wish she had stayed here. Another sister to make five. Mary and Katherine are getting so old now and they don’t want to play with me and Jeanne. It would have been nice to have another little sister so I could be the big one. Mary says I’m one of the babies, but that’s not true. I bit her when she said it and I’m not sorry. Jeanne’s the baby.
She cries for mama, but we aren’t allowed in the room until mama gets better. When we peek in the doorway to say goodnight, we have to wear these scratchy masks over most of our face. Mama looks sad and tired. She can barely lift her head from the pillow. I want to run in and hug her. I tried but daddy held me back. I hit him, but then I was sorry that time. He looks very worried, and we hardly see him. After I hit him he held me tight and said everything was going to be fine. He even let me look at his big, beautiful book with all the paintings in it after I quieted down. It’s so big I can’t even lift it, but daddy laid it out on his desk, and I sat in his big chair. I feel calm there. My favorite is called Starry Night by someone named Vincent. All those swirls are exciting! I wonder if I could visit Vincent someday and ask him to teach me to paint like that. Daddy said he saw that painting in person when he and mama went to Paris before I was born. Someday I’m going to go to Paris.
“Mary?” The call came from the stairway. It was Katherine. In all likelihood she was just now coming downstairs from her bedroom. Mary would have to speak to her father about Katherine when he had settled back in at home. Katherine would be turning 18 in a month, and it was high time she stopped gallivanting around with her silly friends and found something useful to do.
“Mareee?” Her voice was heading towards to kitchen so Mary decided to call her back and get it over with, whatever it might be.
“I’m in here!”
“Of course,” Katherine said loudly as she approached the study door. “I might have known. Always so studious.”
Katherine entered, swathed in a pale blue dressing gown of silk with delicate slippers to match. This ensemble had delighted her when Father had presented her with the elegant box upon return from last year’s voyage to Paris. Katherine adored the latest fashions and spent hours in front of the mirror with her girlfriends trying on each other’s dresses and experimenting with makeup. While Father had been away this time, Katherine had gotten her hair cut short in the new bob style. Mary had gasped when she first saw it, and she knew their father would be dismayed at the loss of Katherine’s luxurious brown mane, but she had been fiercely insistent that she was done with that babyish look and ready to be a woman of the 20s. Mary couldn’t help admiring her sister’s glamorous saunter as she moved towards the sofa in the window and draped herself on the upholstery in a studied way that made the most of her outfit. Along with admiration came a hint of jealousy, however. Mary was not proud of this and her irritability returned.
“Better than always so lazy,” Mary snapped. “Are you just now getting up?”
“Why should you care? I can do as I like.”
“Most certainly not! You have to think of the rest of us.”
“Why? The rest of you don’t care what I do.”
“I care when your behavior makes the rest of us look bad. Mother would not have –”
“Well, you’re not my mother, so keep your judgement to yourself.”
“Were you with that Horace character again?”
“Among others. Lacie and June were there too, so you needn’t be so shocked.”
“Well they aren’t exactly responsible chaperones, now are they?” Mary could not understand why her younger sister didn’t seem concerned with her reputation. She herself was nearly 20, but she kept the boys at a cool distance. She had heard too many whispered tales of girls who went off to the countryside to “visit an aunt,” or some equally unlikely scenario, and then returned sadder and somehow broken. Or worse yet, never returned at all. Where did they go, and how did they live? Those stories haunted Mary, and she had resolved never to allow herself, or her sisters for that matter, to get pregnant out of wedlock.
“We were at the dance hall, with plenty of other people too,” Katherine laughed.
“The dance hall! Father won’t like it when he hears –”
“And I suppose you’ll make sure of that,” Katherine said, standing suddenly. The conversation was not going as she had imagined, and she was not in the mood to argue. She crossed the room towards the door. “You know, I never asked you to be my mother. You could never fill her shoes, so just stop trying.”
“You look so much like her, you know,” Mary changed tack unexpectedly. “I just wish you could be like her in other ways too.”
Katherine’s face darkened. “Impossible.” She spun on her heel and pulled the door wide open, silk hem billowing out as if to clear her path for a dramatic exit.
“Wait. I’m sorry.”
Katherine hesitated, waiting for more.
“I just think about what she would have wanted for each of us as we grow, and I’m trying to give you all whatever guidance I can.” Mary felt the inadequacy of her words.
Katherine’s shoulders slumped slightly.
“I miss her too,” Mary said simply. She came from behind the desk and put her hand on Katherine’s shoulder. She was surprised to feel her trembling, and she gently turned her sister to face her. Katherine’s lashes were wet with angry tears, but she didn’t raise her eyes to her sister’s face. “She left the best of herself behind in your beautiful face,” Mary continued quietly. “It just makes it hard for me to look at you sometimes.” She pulled Katherine into her embrace and felt her soften.
“Don’t you think that makes it hard for me too? I see the way you and Daddy look at me. I can’t help it, and I hate that.”
“It’s not your fault. What can you do about that but embrace it?”
“That’s why I cut my hair!”
Understanding flooded through Mary and she started to laugh.
“It’s not funny!” Katherine said sharply.
“I’m not laughing at you. It’s me. I was so upset about it and didn’t realize why. You’re right. You don’t look so much like her anymore.” Mary held her sister out at arm’s length and studied her face.
“What do you see?” Katherine asked tentatively.
“My beautiful sister. A young woman about to turn 18.” Mary smiled. “Now what are we doing about that birthday party?”
Her Brother’s Boots
Written for The Memory Palace, a podcast about historical characters.
The boots belonged to her brother. Set aside when his toes no longer fit, but still kept in the box by the door for someone else who might need them someday. One of the little ones who were still in school, with feet much too small and high girlish voices. Not yet old enough to be off to work at the Lake.
But not Jo…Josephine. It was the late fall of 1917 and she was 18 years old. No more school for her. Pop needed an extra paycheck to help with the household expenses, so off to the Lake she went. She knew they were signing up men to work on the ice in the winter just like they had done since the 1830s when Grandpa was young. Men were needed to cut the ice with huge saws, to hook the blocks of ice up to wagons to be hauled to the side of the Hudson River and sent down to New York City on barges. Folks in the fancy hotels and swank speakeasys needed ice for their cocktails. It was a big business and the Knickerbocker Ice Company owned the biggest piece of the industry. They far outpaced the smaller companies up and down the Hudson because they had monopolized the ice of beautiful, spring-fed Rockland Lake. By 1885 the company employed over 4000 men who stacked 100,000 pounds of ice every winter. 4000 men, but no women. Certainly no girls.
Josephine…Jo was not deterred. She lived in the tiny town of Rockland Lake, right down the road from the lake itself, so she could walk to work if she got a job with the ice company. That made the most sense. She had to get work nearby. She didn’t have a horse or one of them crazy automobiles, and why shouldn’t the locals have first dibs at jobs on the lake even though so many others came from far away? During a few short weeks in the middle of winter when the ice was ready for harvesting, the population of Rockland Lake swelled by thousands. Men came in from all over to do the work. Rockland Lake produced so much ice that folks called it New York City’s icehouse. It was good work for farmers who couldn’t work their land during the coldest weeks of winter, so they came to Rockland Lake and stayed a few weeks in the guesthouses and hotels. Jo’s family even took in boarders for extra cash.
Josephine…Jo was determined. She had heard it was hard work, but she was young and strong and ready to try anything. The trouble was, no girl had ever been hired to work the ice and they told her so flat out when she went down to the hiring office. They sent her on her way with a chuckle, maybe even catcalling behind her, “Women might have just won the right to vote in NY state, but it’ll be a cold day in…” Hell, maybe they weren’t that mean. Maybe they felt sorry they couldn’t help her. Maybe not.
But Josephine was not so easily discouraged. She just needed a new approach. Back at home she opened the door and nearly fell over the box of boots. Someone had pushed them aside to get to the bottom of the closet maybe… And then the idea came to her. She went rooting through her brother’s clothes and pulled on pants, shirt and coat and, finally, those boots. She needed to pull them off again to put on a few more pairs of socks to make them fit better. She pulled a hat over her hair and, for good measure, rubbed some coal dust on her face to roughen up her look. And back she went to the hiring office.
This time they hardly gave her a second look before telling her to sign her name – his name – in the book and report for work in a month. They estimated the ice would be good and solid by the end of December the way that cold winter was already going. So she signed her name as Jo. That name stuck with her for the rest of her life, even though her grandmother strongly disapproved.
Every day of that cold winter Jo rose before the sun when the whistle blew in town and pulled on all her brother’s warm clothes that he’d outgrown – layers and layers to keep her warm out on the ice. She was put in charge of guiding a team of horses that pulled a chain out onto the middle of the lake. Ice was cut starting from the middle of the lake and then outward to the shores until they had cut every big piece there was to get. Jo would wait with her horses, Spot and Sam, while the icemen wrapped the chain around the big block. That was the coldest part, the waiting. As long as she was moving she kept warm enough. Then she’d lead Spot and Sam to pull the ice block through canals of water until they reached the shore where the block was loaded onto a cart to be moved to a small railway that took it to the shore of the river. It wasn’t dangerous on the ice if you watched where you walked, but Jo saw a team of horses fall through the ice once when their guide wasn’t paying attention. That was scary. They had to be pulled out by a tractor. Those horses were never quite the same after that, and they were retired to only working summers for the rock company.
Jo worked every day for four weeks, including Sunday. Mr. Oler, the company president, said he paid them extra wages to come on Sundays so the work would keep going, but rumor had it that the smaller ice companies paid their workers more than Knickerbocker’s Sunday wages every other day of the week. Jo didn’t know how much that was since she never saw her paychecks, so it didn’t much matter. She just handed them over to her father. By the time she’d been working for a week or so, some of the men knew she was a girl. They didn’t like the idea of working with a girl, but she’d grown up right there in Rockland Lake with many of them, so they never said anything to the foremen. Her dad and her brother worked on the ice too and the other men in town knew how much the family needed the money.
That winter of 1917 was the only time Jo Hudson worked the ice, but she was the only girl ever to do so. By 1924 the Knickerbocker Ice Company had gone far downhill. The industry was becoming obsolete because the big hotels could make their own ice and keep it in a brand new invention called a refrigerator. There was no longer any need to store giant chunks of ice in warehouses with double walls full of sawdust to keep the ice insulated during the warmer months. The Ice Company closed its doors. Big machines came to demolish the icehouses and the sparks from the engines must have caught the sawdust on fire. A huge fire raged for days, burning down the icehouses and most of the village of Rockland Lake. The tightly packed sawdust smoldered for nearly two years after that.
Jo Hudson’s house still stands. The house where she lived until she married and had children of her own. A simple life near a crystal-clear lake that once made ice for big hotels in glittering New York City. Jo never went to those fancy places. When people talked about the good old days all she remembered was that she worked.
Here is a monologue and a scene fragment from a play I wrote about dating in the year 2000. If you would like the full script or would be interested in producing it, please email me for more information.
DIANA: Back at my house I check my computer and, holy shit, an answer! (reading) Handsome French Canadian. Travels to NY regularly and came across my profile and thought we could meet up. Wants to see a picture. Hmmmm…how?? In the early days of Match, if you didn’t have a fancy digital camera, you sent in printed pix to the site managers and they uploaded them for you. Well, we could cyber flirt in the meantime. That went on for nearly a week while those twats at Match took their sweet damned time. And when my eager little face finally appeared beside my name…nothing. Bonsoir? Mon amie Canadien? Tu et la? …Disparu! They have a word for that now, but it would be years before this was aptly labeled ‘ghosting.’ Harsh lesson number one. Photos mean everything.
Of course, photos can also open you up to a myriad of unlooked-for possibilities. The next guy who contacted me was actually someone from my 5th grade homeroom class. That could be fun. Wonder how he turned out? I met him at a local pub and he seemed sweet. We talked and caught up and drank. Maybe more than a couple. Which was why I could gloss over the moment when he toasted, “Here’s to our last first date.” (Cringe) But I was in too deep by then and, yes, I took him home.
Now I know there was no class on sexual techniques that we could take back in the late 70s. We were all just figuring it out as we went along. We didn’t have internet porn – OK, I do remember one weird, badly-drawn early anime-type girl who touched herself and moaned, but that was laughable. But when it comes to a man who has actually been married before and has also reached some stage of middle age, you’d think he would have had a few women tell him what feels good by then? But there he was going down on me when all of a sudden he grabbed hold with his mouth and growled and shook his whole head. Like what? A dog with a chew toy??!! DOWN boy! For God’s sake!! I got the leash out and walked that puppy right out the door. (to audience in accusation) What? I’m sorry, but I can’t be in the business of sex lessons just now. I need a pro!
Scene from near the end of the play:
DIANA: (direct address) So, the fall passes with more of the same and it’s Christmas. I find myself at a party enjoying beautiful cocktails with Isabelle and my buddy Harry. Harry is on a second career and working his way up the Wall Street ladder. He is usually exhausted, but tonight he’s in full form.
HARRY: Oh, come on! Tell us some of the juiciest bits! I have toddlers at home. I need to live vicariously.
ISABELLE: Ha! Not getting much these days?
HARRY: Not like you, miss thing. I’m too scared to ask about your exploits.
ISABELLE: (growls) Lioness…
DIANA: Yes, yes, well, I’m finding that life on the Serengeti can be a little rough, actually.
HARRY: Rough, you say? Never knew you liked it that way…
DIANA: I mean it’s been a bit of a bumpy ride… OK, I’ve had more than my share of losers… Sprinkled with a few fast and furious shags in coat closets of course!
ISABELLE: Love those! Elaborate please.
DIANA: OK, stop me if you’ve heard this one. I had emailed a few times with this one guy…we’ll call him Bertram… and it seemed like me and Bert were a nice match only he lived like an hour and a half away. So finally I bit the bullet and volunteered to travel up to his neighborhood for dinner.
ISABELLE: I guess it has to be dinner if you’re going to go that far?
DIANA: Exactly. So I get there and he’s got a full blown cold – red nose, tissues everywhere… He apologizes but says he didn’t want to cancel since we’d been looking forward to it for so long. Not presenting his best side, though. We ordered. He sneezed and coughed all over his own food. I went to the bathroom multiple times to wash my hands. Didn’t eat much. The meal is finally done and he says he’ll walk me out. At the car he asked to kiss me, but before I could protest he leans in and… licks. My. Entire. Face.
HARRY: (shocked) No!
DIANA: Chin to forehead! (demonstrating)
HARRY: What the fuck?? Who does that??
ISABELLE: Did you say he was married?
DIANA: He was. Twenty two years and she died last year.
ISABELLE: I mean, where does a guy learn that? This woman must have let him get away with that for years.
DIANA: Moving on. Let’s see… I had some lovely emails from a handsome youngun until I learned he was 25 years younger than me. When I told him I was old enough to be his mom, he said he loved cougars. I directed him to the zoo…
ISABELLE: Babe, cougars are…
DIANA: Yes, thanks, I know that now. Like I said… (pointing to herself) old.
HARRY: Stay with ‘cougar,’ babe. Sounds much sexier.
DIANA: Let’s see…then I was emailing with a nudist for a bit there.
HARRY: Ah, that sounds promising.
DIANA: Seems he lives on some kind of nudist commune? We never met though. I think I pissed him off with my frivolity. I only asked why they would have need of laundry services. I mean…it’s an honest question.