Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Loretto Guild and Dad's Advice

Back in May 2011 when I began this on-line memoir, I posted willy-nilly whatever came to mind when I sat down at the computer. However, you, the readers, seem to like the varied series I did later. And the truth is that I enjoy writing an interlocking series.
         So last Thursday I began a new one: my entrance into the world beyond the convent and my beginning, unwittingly, an editing career. This week I’m refashioning a June 7, 2011, posting I did about where I lived and my dad’s advice for working in the big city of Dayton, Ohio.

         The office of Pflaum Publishers there occupied a brick building in a rundown section of town—lots of bars; vacate buildings; men down on their luck. Several blocks away, at 217 North Ludlow Street, stood the Loretto Guild, a residence run by the Dominican Sisters for single workingwomen. The building occupied an entire block in downtown Dayton. 
         Each tenant at the Guild rented a narrow room with a twin bed, a dresser with three drawers, a straight-backed chair, a nightstand with a lamp, a sink, and a closet. We used communal toilet and shower stalls and had both cafeteria and curfew. For about five months, I found myself right at home there—the convent with amenities.

           During my two interview days in Dayton in late December 1966, the managing editor had taken me on a tour of the city. He’d pointed out the Loretto and its nearness to the publishing company. If hired, I’d exit the brick building, turn left, walk to the corner, turn right, cross the street, walk down five blocks, wait for the light, cross the street, turn left, pass a café, and open the door to the publishing house. An easy daily route.
            Before I departed for Ohio to start my new job, Dad gave me some considered advice. “Dolores,” he said, “tell me approximately where the place you live will be in relation to where you’ll work.” My dad respected blueprints and maps, so I drew him one with both the living quarters and the workplace clearly labeled.

            “How are you getting to work?” Dad asked.          
            “I’ll walk.”
            “Tell me your route.”
            I walked it off on the map.
            “No. That’s not good. I want you to go a different way each day.”
            “What do you mean, Dad?”
             “One day, turn right instead of left. It’ll be longer but safer,” Dad said, using his index finger to show me the proposed route on the map. “The next day, turn right but walk beyond the corner, up a block or two. Then turn right and walk to the office. You'll be coming from a different direction.” His finger follows that route. “Some days I want you to walk down six or seven blocks and then come back up to the office. Change your route each day.”
            “Why would I do that?”
            “Honey, all sorts of men are lurking out there. They’ll know your route if you take the same one each day."
            “Yes . . .?”
            “They prey on women,” he said.
            “Dad, who’d want to prey on me?”
            “Believe me, Dolores, they’ll prey on anyone.”
            Despite my listlessness and lack of humor at the time, I almost said, "Thanks, Dad, for that vote of confidence!"                                  And also, despite his concern and care for me, I didn’t take his advice. No circuitous routes. Dad was right though. I did meet men. But no one “hit on” me. That’s the phrase I learned from a women I worked with: men “hit on” her.
            The truth is I’m not sure I’d recognize a “hit” if it happened. Some things just don’t occur to me. It’s often only later—hours, days, weeks, years—that the match sparks and I say, “Oh, that’s what that was all about.”  So if someone “hit” on me those long ago years, it went way over my head. 

All photographs from Wikipedia except for the Loretto Guild, which is from the Dayton Library Postcard Collection.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A New Era Begins in Dayton, Ohio

After leaving the convent on Saturday, December 24, 1966, at age 30, I collapsed in my parents’ living room in front of the television. There I sat—all day and through the night, unmoving, my mouth gaping. Staring. I later learned that my mother considered having me admitted to the mental ward at the Sanitarium Hospital in Independence because she was so concerned about my inability to communicate.
         On Tuesday, December 27, I got a call from Washington, D.C. Sister Mary Dennis, a convent friend teaching at Catholic University, had recently met the owner of Pflaum Publishing. He’d asked if she knew anyone with a background in teaching and theology who could also write and edit.
         She asked if I’d be interested. I had no idea what editing was. The term was new to me. But I was so lost in a sea of malaise that I mumbled, in a voice that hadn’t been used for three days, “I guess.” She then called Bill Pflaum and set up an interview for the following day in Dayton, Ohio.

         For the trip, my pregnant sister-in-law loaned me three winter skirts and sweaters. Mom and I visited Jones Store to purchase underwear and a coat, shoes, purse, and hat. Mom bought the last item because at that time all well-dressed women wore hats when they traveled. So, wearing my black, brimmed, felt hat, my green, nubby winter coat, and my high-heeled leather pumps, I flew on a TWA jet to Dayton on Wednesday, December 28.

         In 1966, passengers alighted the plane out on the tarmac and then walked across it to the terminal. On that day, the wind gusted so insistently across the barren airfield that the lower half of my coat and my skirt flapped up against my thighs. For eight years, my lower legs had been covered by a black serge habit and simply showing them made me self-conscious.
         Now, to have my thighs revealed almost shamed me and so I stumbled across the tarmac trying to hold onto a bulky purse while pressing one hand across my thighs to hold down the coat and skirt and the other hand on my head to keep the wayward hat on. I was bent over like a doddering, arthritic alien. And everything did seem foreign to me—the clothes, the makeup, the plane, the legs that looked liked debarked sticks below my knobby knees.
         Joe Kneeland, managing editor at Pflaum Publishing, met me in the terminal. As he approached, I let go of despair, lassitude, passivity and turned on the spotlight within so that I began to act. I knew what normal was. I also knew that I was nowhere near normal at that time. But I could act, and so for the next two days I did.
         I acted all through the interviews. I acted as I wrote the children’s stories they wanted. I acted as I met each new editor at the publishing house. I laughed at the appropriate times. The truth was I charmed them—or so they told me later.

The University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, USA.

         But then Joe drove me out to the University of Dayton to take the MMPI—the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. According to Wikipedia it is “the most widely used and researched standardized psychometric test of adult personality and psychopathology. Psychologists and other mental health professionals use various versions of the MMPI to develop treatment plans [and] assist with differential diagnosis . . . .”
         I couldn’t “charm” this inventory or “ace” it. I’m quite sure that the reason Pflaum took three weeks to decide to hire me is because I came across as mentally unhealthy—imbalanced—on the MMPI. And so I sat for over twenty days, gaping at the television. Then, in late January the publisher called and offered me a job as an editor on My Little Messenger for grades one and two. I would earn $6,500 a year.
         And so a new era in my life began. Peace.

Photographs from Wikipedia.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Week's Worth of Happenings

Hello All,
My company arrived last Friday, celebrated my birthday with me, and flew home yesterday. So today is devoted to doing the laundry and getting everything back to normal. You all know how that is.  
         Also, I’m responding—by phone and e-mail—to all the birthday greetings I received. Then there’s the catching up with six day’s worth of e-mails and the postal mail that came—junk, bills, catalogs—during that time. I’m sure you all know how that is also.
         Here’s another piece of news that many of you—maybe all of you—will appreciate and understand because you, too, have received good news at a doctor’s office. Last Thursday I saw the dermatologist who prescribed the light treatments for my CTCL and is monitoring their effectiveness. She carefully examined my arms, legs, and chest on which, six weeks ago, were displayed many large pink blotches.
         “Everything on your left leg is in remission,” she announced. Then she looked at my chest. “Same thing here.” Only a single blotch on my left arm, a swath on my right arm, and quite a bit of my right leg—from the knee to the ankle—remain stubborn. But all were changing color, which is a sign they are going into remission.
         She agreed that two days a week instead of three were sufficient and concluded, “Dee, if your skin continues to respond this way, I think you’ll be able to stop coming after the next six weeks.”
         Hurrah and Hallelujah!

         Another piece of news today concerns your comments for last week’s posting. I haven’t had time to respond to them, but I will return to responding with this posting and from here on out. I enjoy responding to your comments, which always make me consider new aspects about what I’ve written.

A panoramic view of the Delphi valley in mainland Greece.
         Also, I wanted you all to know that I’ve decided to work this year on a novel that takes place in Bronze Age Greece around 1300 BCE. Last year I wrote 62,000 words of a first draft that is not yet completed. I’m hoping that the first book of this proposed trilogy will be about 70,000 words after it goes through several more drafts and a final polishing. I hope to have the manuscript in good shape by the end of the year. But I will listen to my body. Go with the flow. Live day by day. So nothing here is written in stone.
         Finally, I’m wondering if you have any preferences for what part of my life you’d like to know more about. As I summarized last week,
1.    “Of the years between birth and entering the convent after college graduation, I’ve reconnoitered only my childhood up to sixth grade at St. Mary’s Grade School in Independence, Missouri.”
2.    “I’ve shared with you the convent novitiate years as well as my first two years on mission in Omaha, Nebraska, after making first vows. But there are other stories yet to tell about teaching in Seneca, Baileyville, Atchison, and Kansas City, Kansas.
3.    “Back in 2012, I spent several months posting about getting involved in social justice issues when I was in my thirties. That leaves four decades yet to explore of my life as a single woman who established a career after leaving the convent and then retired to write and enjoy friendship.”
I’d appreciate your commenting and letting me know any preference you might have among these three time periods.
I want to end by thanking all of you for your good wishes last week when I posted about the CTCL appointment. On my birthday I found myself deeply thankful for your continuing and continual support. Peace.

All photographs from Wikipedia.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Today's CTCL Appointment

This morning, I’ve sat in my red-upholstered chair here in front of the computer and thought and thought and thought some more about what aspect of my life to write about today. This on-line memoir offers three possibilities: growing-up, convent, and post-convent.                  
         Of the years between birth and entering the convent after college graduation, I’ve reconnoitered only my childhood up to sixth grade at St. Mary’s Grade School in Independence, Missouri.
         I’ve shared with you the convent novitiate years as well as my first two years on mission in Omaha, Nebraska, after making first vows. But there are other stories yet to tell about teaching in Seneca, Baileyville, Atchison, and Kansas City, Kansas.
         Back in 2012, I spent several months posting about getting involved in social justice issues when I was in my thirties. That leaves four decades yet to explore of my life as a single woman who established a career after leaving the convent and then retired to write and enjoy friendship.
         And yet, I find myself simply thoughtless today—lacking any stories to tell. So I will simply reflect on this day here in Independence where the sky is overcast and the day chilly. It’s gray, threatening drizzle.

         Back on Thursday March 6, I posted about the CTCL—cutaneous T-cell lymphoma—that has cropped up again. I have an appointment today with the dermatologist who diagnosed CTCL and who prescribed the light treatments I’ve been doing for the past five and a half weeks. Yesterday I went to the clinic for my sixteenth treatment. Today the dermatologist will assess how my skin is responding to treatment and where I am in the remission cycle.
         When the cancer goes into remission, the skin color changes. For me, it goes from pale pink to a blushing pink then to a dull gray and finally to a darker gray that is a sign of remission. I can already see that several of the blotches are beginning to change color. So that is an excellent sign.
         Because my skin has twice burnt with these recent treatments, I am up to only two and a half minutes a session. Back in 2011, when I went for treatment three times a week for nine months, I kept burning and so never got up to more than four minutes a session. So these sessions are never long. However, I find myself tired afterward. Recently I asked the nurse if other patients got tired, and she replied, “No one’s ever said so.”
         So perhaps this tiredness is of spirit. Or it’s because I do an errand or two after the treatment. Or it truly is that I’m aging and I just don’t have the resilience and energy I used to have. Whatever the cause, I’ve decided that going three times a week is too arduous for me.
         So I’m going to reduce the treatments to twice a week. I suspect the dermatologist will simply remind me that fewer sessions a week mean more weeks of treatment than in the past. But right now I’d prefer to enjoy each week, despite having to go for a longer period of time.
         Also today I’m going to cancel my appointments for tomorrow (Friday), next Monday, and next Wednesday because two friends are coming to visit for several days, starting tomorrow.
         I’m looking forward to taking time off and being with friends. Winter here refuses to admit Spring. I’m hoping that my friends and I will experience together the arrival of its balmy days. Peace. 


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review of "Chasing the Strawberry Moon: Hitchhiking (for girls)

Last July, an Arizona author—Judy A. Grout—contacted me to inquire if I’d work with her as she polished her young adult manuscript entitled Chasing the Strawberry Moon: Hitchhiking (for girls). Judy had gotten my name from a mutual friend in Minnesota.       
                                                                                                                                In our telephone conversation, she explained that a few months before she’d met an agent at a writer’s conference. After they’d discussed the novel’s plot and background, the agent asked to read the manuscript. A few weeks later, she sent Judy a full-page list of suggestions for how to improve the manuscript and make it more publishable. She expressed interest in seeing the manuscript again once Judy had worked on it.                                                                                                             Intrigued by the title of the novel and by Judy’s willingness to  continue polishing a manuscript on which she’d already spent so much time, I agreed to work with her. For a week, I read and made suggestions about plot development, sustaining suspense, creating tension, and showing character instead of just describing or telling about it—all of which were concerns of the agent.                                                                                                                    In September, Judy sent me a new manuscript in which she had incorporated her response to my suggestions. For two weeks we worked to polish that second manuscript, which had improved greatly. We both thought that she now had a manuscript that worked. She planned to do more with dialogue and format, but essentially she had written an entertaining and arresting young adult novel.                                                                                                                                    Judy Grout is a mature writer. By that I mean that she was faithful to her story and accepted only those suggestions of mine that worked for her and for the characters and plot she envisioned. Insecure writers slavishly accept all suggestions made by their critique readers; arrogant writers accept nothing. Judy’s attitude made working with her pleasurable.                                                                                                                          Now her young adult novel has been published. Here’s just a brief summary of its plot, which is sure to keep you reading to the end of this hitchhiking romp.  
                                                                                                                      Forced to flee Baywater, Minnesota, to avoid an arranged marriage to the local sheriff’s son, Patsy Schwartz hits the open road with her best friend, Virginia Burg. It’s 1939. Both the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl are affecting everyone’s life in the United States and war is sweeping across Europe.                                                                                                             Before she settles for marriage to someone who might be part of that war, Patsy wants some adventure . . . hopefully in Hollywood where she’s determined to become a star.     
                                                                                                                            The two girls trek across North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho, toward a café run by Virgie’s relatives in Washington. There they hope to rest from their adventures before heading south to California and the stardom that awaits them.                                                                                                            On their journey, Patsy and Virgie encounter a cast of characters whose foibles and antics will both delight and dismay you. As the two young women thumb their way across the country, they ride with truckers; work for ranchers; meet Communists, preachers, and artists for the WPA; encounter women motorcyclists; and get treated to a meal by the Civilian Conservation Corpsmen.         
                                                                                                                           And always, nipping at their heels, are the sheriff’s son and the Chicago hoods who have plans for Baywater, Minnesota, and that son.                                                                                                       While this novel will be of great interest to young women, I found it equally interesting as well as humorous  because the story helped me imagine my mom and her own dreams and adventures when she was young. The novel does, I think, accurately portray youth when we believe that all is possible.                                                                                                If you’d like to learn more about the plot and the background that led to Judy writing a fictionalized account of a true story, please go to the book’s page on Amazon. Or visit Judy’s writer's page, which features a short video of many of the scenes that Patsy and Virgie saw on their hitchhiking adventure.                                                                                                                     
P S: I apologize for the haphazard formatting of this posting. For some unknown reason, I just cannot get everything to line up as it normally does. Peace.