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January 15, 2008 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster tagged as ,

by Rebecca Forster

When the clock struck twelve on New Year’s Eve I kissed:

a. An Italian woman
b. Five French men
c. My husband
d. My mother
e. All of the above

The answer is “e”, all of the above.

We went to Paris over Christmas, a long-planned trip to celebrate my son’s graduation from college and my mother’s 83 years. On the plane, I met two ladies from Baltimore who invited us to their rented apartment for New Year’s Eve. We didn’t exactly forget about them, but the ensuing week was filled with chasing down all the sites of Paris and, suddenly, it was time go home.

On New Year’s Eve, we dined in a tiny restaurant where we sat close enough to a family from Ohio to know that their son wasn’t a big fan of escargot and their daughter was angling for an unaffordable Parisian wedding gown. My family and I talked about all the nice things we’d seen, the lines we waited in. Ours had been a good trip but I wasn’t sure it was memorable.

Ambling back to the hotel, fully intending to pack and get a good night’s sleep, we advertently stumbled upon the Rue du Mond – the street where the Baltimore ladies were staying. To call it a street, though, was generous. This was an alley and it was shadowy, cold and foreboding. High rock walls lined each side, above us towered darkened apartments. Still, we ventured in, rang what we assumed was a bell in an ancient green gate. When no one came, high-tailed it out of there, convincing ourselves adventure was not on the agenda.

But it was.

A note was waiting at our hotel. Baltimore had tracked us down! We called the number they left and, a few minutes later, armed with a security code and a warning that we would have to hunt for lights in the old courtyard, we traipsed back to the alley. Behind the green gate were three flights of stairs that had been worn into waves of uneven stone over generations. They felt treacherous and we went slowly. Finally, we found ourselves in a 16th-century apartment in the company not only of the two women from Baltimore but their Italian friends.

My husband ducked under doorways meant for men who stood at least a foot shorter than he. One of the Italian ladies spoke German. She and my mother were off, chattering in a language I don’t understand. I exchanged stories with the ladies from the plane. We drank wine and champagne and, at ten minutes to midnight, in a flurry of winter coats, we dashed for the Pantheon where we would be able to see the lights on the Eiffel Tower as midnight struck.

We were too late. A great roar resounded throughout Paris as people greeted the New Year. One of the Italian ladies grabbed my husband for a kiss. The other was bussing my mother’s cheeks. We passed one another along – friends for that night – wishing each one well. Arm-in-arm we made it to the square just as a group of drunkenly joyous and extraordinarily handsome young men burst out of a bar. The kissing started all over again. My mother giggled and raised her cheeks, my husband slapped them on the back as if they were his sons. We babbled good wishes in poor English and even worse French.

And then it was done. The night was over. The champagne was gone. We were all headed home, but now it was with memories. They wouldn’t be of churches and museums, palaces and restaurants but of New Year’s Eve and the unexpected.

I spoke to two women on an airplane, called a number in a note, walked through a green gate in an ancient wall, drank champagne on a Paris street, returned an Italian woman’s kiss on the cheeks, held my husband’s hand while I watched the lights of the Eiffel Tower, saw my mother turn back into the girl she once was as a handsome young man took her in his arms and wished her a Happy New Year with a kiss.

In the dark Paris night, in the course of only a few hours, I was reminded that stories are memorable only when filled with the unexpected, with choices, with characters who are larger than life. Good stories do not set us aside as spectators but draw us into the action. A good author, weaves into their story all the elements of the moment: the feel of the air, the sounds of the night, the touch of another person. Those are the things that etch a story into memory, a heart, a mind.

I will think of Paris when I find myself at a loss for words. I will make my characters speak, allow them an adventure, let them open the green gate to see what lies behind it.

Rebecca Foster

Rebecca Foster

Rebecca Forster

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December 16, 2007 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster tagged as ,

by Rebecca Forster

I guess you’ve figured it out. The months of the year are my inspiration for this blog. You tune in and I give you my take on – well, something about the month. Sometimes it’s a stretch, sometimes not. But now it’s time for the big one.
December. Xmas. The holiday season.

So much to write about and so little time. Gifts. Holiday music. Horrid materialism which, if truth be told, would be relabeled miraculous generosity if I was the one opening a little blue box from Tiffany’s on Christmas morning. Be that as it may, I’m a writer and this time I’m not going to take the easy way out. I want to give you something to think about. I want my words to paint a picture that is eloquent in its simplicity, deep in meaning. In short, a blog that is unforgettable.
I want to tell you a cautionary Christmas tale. It is true. I saw it with my own eyes.

We lived in Los Angeles then. Our families were still in the South Bay. With parents getting on, brothers and sisters spread out all over the country, we felt obligated to spend the Christmas holidays driving: Long Beach, Redondo and back home to Los Angeles more times that I could count.

Back and forth; forth and back. Nothing spectacular – until two days after Christmas. The children were asleep in the back of the car. My husband was silent, tired of the freeways and cheer that had run its course. I sat beside him, my head resting on my upturned palm, thinking about nothing in particular. It was late afternoon and I would have nodded off too – but then I saw her.

I sat up straight and touched my husband’s arm. I raised my chin. He looked. His eyes narrowed. We didn’t wake the children. We didn’t want them to see the woman standing on the off-ramp but we couldn’t take our eyes off her. We passed her slowly. For a fleeting moment I wondered if we should stop. She looked so pitiful. I started to speak but my husband shook his head. He drove by. I swiveled in my seat hoping she saw that I, at least, sympathized. Perhaps she felt my interest. She turned to watch us. I saw the terror in her eyes. We could have helped. We didn’t. She held up her sign. The words were burned into my memory.

Spent too much at Xmas. Please help.

I turned my back just as the late afternoon California sun caught the diamond on her hand and shot a Christmas star of light into my eyes. She pulled her fur coat tight around her, shook back her streaked hair and turned to the next car. There, I thought, but for the grace of a credit limit, go I.

Merry Christmas to all those who give and those who receive.

Rebecca Forster

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November 16, 2007 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster tagged as ,

by Rebecca Forster

Like hopscotch, anyone who is anyone (think Hallmark, Macys, my children) leap off Halloween, land firmly on Christmas and roll their broke –and- tired- of- celebrating selves into a new year with only a quick touchdown in November for Thanksgiving day. All this makes the month of November seem irrelevant, a step child, a wallflower at the dance. A chapter that one can skip without missing anything important to the story.

Case in point. The grocery store, November 1. Milk is the mission. To get to the dairy case I had to dodge the sale bins of Halloween candy (brown corrugated cardboard) and slalom around the even bigger full-price bins of Christmas candy (red and green corrugated cardboard) . When I finally got to the milk it was surrounded by little soldiers encased in waxy yellow cardboard – the infamous eggnog..

To be fair, I did spy a display of cornstarch (bright yellow cardboard), Cornbread stuffing mix (brown cardboard) and pumpkin pie goop (hallelujia, a tin can). I suppose my brain should have registered Thanksgiving but the wreath display above the end-cap made me think Christmas dinner.

Which brings me to November and its one-day claim to fame – Thanksgiving. Other months are filled with days of celebration. October is spent sewing costumes, watching horror movies, getting ready for trick-or-treat. December’s days come with luncheons, holiday parties, gift exchanges and cookie baking. Thanksgiving’s frenetic cooking and eating is twenty-four hours long and the next day Christmas sales wipe November from our minds completely.

For me, though, ignoring November is like skipping over a chapter that really deserves attention. Sure there may be a hot love scene in chapter twelve, but chapter eleven gives you all the subtle little insights into why you’ll care what happens next. So here is my November; here is what I would miss if, every year, I leapt over this chapter in my life.

November is the month when I first feel the bite of a cold wind that reminds me even California has seasons and that, in reality, I’m still a Missouri girl. It is the month when long days become short and the early darkness makes me feel like nesting. Cuddled under a quilt of my own making I take the time to truly appreciate the feathers of that nest: chicks who come and go, a husband who still finds this bird the most lovable in the flock after 31 years, a warm place to hunker down if the rain comes.

November is a month in which we celebrate the birthdays of my sisters-in-law – a set of twins and one more. They have been my good friends for what seems like forever. It is the month I travel to see my own brothers and sisters half way across the country. I can’t wait because seeing their faces – even if it is only now and again – makes me feel as if I am still young, my father is still with us, my mother will still rule the roost and all is right with the world.

November isn’t the end, so I still have time to do things that will make me feel as if I am wrapping up the year well; it is not the beginning so there isn’t the uncertainty that what lies ahead might not be as good as what was left behind.

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September 16, 2007 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster tagged as ,

by Rebecca Forster

“We’d like you to blog,” Michelle Thorne said.

“What would I write about?” I asked.

“Anything you want,” she answered.

Okay. That was kind of like bobbing around in the middle of the Ocean of Whatever hoping to spy the Land of Interesting. The choices were endless. My day? My mother? The darn screen that keeps popping out of the upstairs window? Thankfully, choices can always be narrowed. For instance, when the phone rang I was in the middle of a choice: start a new book or stick my head in the oven. Both had valid reasons for being viable. Thinking about that led me to consider point of view.

Was I a half-empty kind of girl or half-full?

Would I really stick my head in the oven or was that simply an expression of boredom.

If I did stick my head in the oven, would I be overcome by the need to clean it before I was overcome by fumes?

Was I emotional, irrational, impulsive or a critical and creative thinker?

Was I too lazy to type?

Was I a tough guy or a quitter?

And all that got me thinking again! This time the word that popped into my head was angles – which point of view invariably becomes. Like in the old movies when someone asks “what’s your angle, buddy?” What they’re really asking is “whaddaya want? What’s in it for me?”

Okay, so what did I want? I wanted to do something concrete and didn’t feel like doing it. From my point of view, the day was a bust until Michelle presented me with another choice. Write a blog.

Cool. Different. Manageable.

If stuck my head in the oven the payoff was lousy. If I started a new project I might actually hit the jackpot and write a bestseller. Still, that was a tall order and it wasn’t a tall order kind of day. A blog, however. That I could do. It sparked my imagination. What would be my angle? Whatever it was, it had to be right. Write Angle (don’t you just love it when the road leads somewhere?)

Engineers and architects use angles to create solid foundations, strong walls, perfectly peaked roofs and expansive bridges. Artists use angles to form new shapes that please the eye and fire the imagination. Think of a dancer, body laid flat in space, feet planted firmly on the ground. Writers use angles to keep the story interesting.

We’re all angling for something. Mostly we’re angling to feel productive and happy and creative. We’ll have days where we’re bored stiff and others where we’re revved up. We’ll have ideas that go nowhere and others that we have waited for all our lives. Me, I’m just angling to keep things interesting. Sticking my head in the oven is out. Blogging is in. And that bestseller? That looks good from any angle.

Rebecca Forster

Rebecca Forster

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