Thursday, April 21, 2016

Living the dream

by Helen DePrima


I’ve heard people make a big deal of decade birthdays, especially the thirtieth, the fortieth, the fiftieth. After fifty, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. With luck, you’re pretty well set on your course, happy with your life or at least content with your lot.

Mostly I can’t even recall what I did to mark most birthdays, but I did experience an epiphany of sorts at fifty. Still plenty of time to realize dreams, but time suddenly became finite, no longer limitless.

Growing up five hundred miles from salt water, I had somehow become fascinated with sailing. As a kid I read voraciously about historic voyages, about every manner of vessel under sail, from single-handed dinghies to majestic windjammers racing around Cape Horn. As an adult, my love of the sea only grew stronger living just an hour from the New Hampshire coast. I dreamed of tilting decks and the taste of spray from waves coming over the bow; the exquisite curve of white sails against a blue sky brought tears to me eyes.

Helen at the helm of the Brilliant.
So at fifty I learned to sail, both in my own little Nova Scotia-built lapstrake dinghy and crewing on other people’s larger boats. There were times when I was miserably seasick, when I was cold and wet, when I was afraid in a sudden gale off the Maine coast and crossing Long Island Sound in fog so thick that phantom images of trees and cliffs loomed where I knew none existed.

And still sailing was as wonderful as I’d always imagined. Steering the schooner Brilliant under sail beneath the I-95 bridge over the Connecticut River was the high point of my love affair with the sea, and the best sound in the world is the quiet of running with no power but fair wind singing in the rigging. 


I no longer sail; a mild vertigo makes me an unsafe sailor, but for ten years I lived my dream.

by Liz Flaherty

I love Helen's dream, don't you? Mine is more prosaic than hers. At my most exciting, I'm just...well, not. 

But I remember the first writers' conference I ever went to. It was in Indianapolis in the 1980s. I took my manuscript (the only one I'd ever completed) with me and went down and spent the night by myself in the conference motel. The next day I wore white pants and my favorite mint green jacket and sat at a round table with five other women. We listened to speakers all day long, had mystery meat for lunch, and left the hotel on sensory overload.

I thought the women at the table with me would be BFFs forever, but I never saw them again. I thought I'd never forget any of the speakers' names, but I did. I thought that first manuscript would be my ticket into Harlequin-stardom. Ahem. It wasn't. But I knew, listening to those women who worked in their pajamas and bare feet and got paid to write, what my dream was.

In the 90s, my friend Jenni Licata sent out letters to all RWA members in the area and created a new chapter, Northeast Indiana Romance Authors. I finished another manuscript. And another. And then I stopped counting.

It happened bit by bit. I sold my first book in 1998 and there have been 11 since then. I still don't work in pajamas, but I am barefoot and have the office-workroom I always wanted. Some of my best friends in the world are other writers. I get paid. And now I live the dream.

And all this time after that first conference, when I talk to high-school English students and hand them coilbound notebooks and cheap pens and tell them those and a strong dose of grammar, spelling, story, and heart is what they need to get started, that's when I know I always have.


 


44 comments:

  1. Two very different stories, but they both made me smile. Good for both of you for pursuing and achieving your dreams!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kate -- Of course my life-long dream has been to write for readers' pleasure, blessedly a pleasure not limited by age.

      Delete
    2. I am so grateful it's not limited by age, too--but I think the sailing sounds wonderful!

      Delete
  2. Ladies, you are both wonderful. Helen, you are so brave. I always wanted to learn to sail. My dad had a fishing boat so I've been out on the ocean plenty, but sailing looks so graceful and dignified. Now that I'm older I'm much more prone to seasickness though and not sure I would want to try it. But I love it that you did!
    Liz, Loved reading your path to published story. Perseverance and practice pay off! You really should try writing in your pj's for a day. About living my own writing dream - I enjoy being able to tell the kids in my life that dreams really do come true.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carol Don't know why I always obsessed about sailing except it seemed so visually appealing. My husband gets seasick still sitting at the dock, so I always went off on my own. Wonderful and frightening experiences.

      Delete
    2. I think it sounds brave, too. I'm not sure I'd get seasick, but I am afraid of water, which is a big stopper. :-) I have worked in PJs, my robe, every which way, but it does seem that whenever I'm still in the PJs (and braless) at noon, someone comes to the door.

      Delete
  3. I love this...sailing AND writing (not that I know nearly enough about either). I spent years trying to figure out what I "should" be doing with my life. I finally realized it's the default setting...the answer I HOPE to get when I take a career quiz...the impractical thing that I want to do anyway, even when it doesn't make any sense. But learning more about sailing is also on my list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Heidi -- go for it! Nothing so magical as harnessing the wind.

      Delete
    2. I don't think we ever "know enough," which is a lot of the fun of doing things--we get to keep learning.

      Delete
  4. Love both of these stories. Age is irrelevant!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, age is irrelevant to an extent, but turning fifty made me hustle.

      Delete
    2. With me, it was 60 and retiring from the day job that gave me that hustle. I didn't do anything as brave as sailing, but I did para-sail once and would love to do it again. I was scared, but also enthralled.

      Delete
  5. Morning, All! Those are both powerful stories, and proof that living your dream takes courage. Helen, I love that you learned to sail at 50! Your description of a sailor's heart is beautiful and touching. I'd never have the nerve to pit myself against all that power. And, Liz. We all know what it takes to pack up that manuscript (or just mail it off, in those days) and set yourself up for all the rejection in store until you make that magic connection with the right editor who understands and relates to your vision. I, too, am living the writer's dream, but it's always been secondary to just enjoying every day. In this beautiful place, among the best people, and in my quiet circumstances, I get to do just that. Proud to have both of you as HH sisters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good morning, Muriel -- Believe me, I had no notion when I first began to sail how puny humans are against the sea. Luckily I generally crewed in boats with able captains, although the incident off the Maine coast was a praying experience: "Get us to port, God, and I'll be a good girl the rest of my life."

      Delete
    2. Lol. Love those bargains we make! Hi, Muriel. I think the reason the writing was dream-like for me was that I waited to really work at it until other things (raising kids) were mostly done. I'd never really done anything just for me, and after all that time, writing still feels that way.

      Delete
  6. I too loved sailing and my family and I spent several summers sailing on a small boat in a bay on Long Island. My first conference was at Minneapolis, also in the 80’s. So I can relate to both of you with similar experiences. Each one brings back wonderful memories. Lovely post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Marion -- One of my last outings was helping a friend take her 40-ft. sloop from Orient Point to Mystic CT, where we hit the fog bank and almost got T-boned by the Cross Sound Ferry. Creepy stuff, fog.

      Delete
    2. Hi, Marion! Does fog change the sound of things, Helen? It always looks so romantic in movies, although I know it's dangerous.

      Delete
  7. Helen and Liz, I loved your stories that are all about empowering yourselves. Helen, I'm impressed you launched into your dream after 50. It's your kind of adventures that have allowed younger women to dream big and grab life with both hands at much younger ages than those of us oldies ever thought we could.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Roz -- Learning to sail at fifty was definitely check mark on the bucket list. Another was returning at seventy to the cattle ranch where I spent wonderful summers as a teen, still able to ride the range.

      Delete
  8. Wow! I love that your dreams are so different. I think my dream life changes from time to time. I tend to think I'm living the dream - doing the things I love to do and having the ability to do things with my kids and watch them grow. But there are times I think I would like to wake up, stay in my PJs, and write all day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Amy -- I'm still living my ultimate dream: having my work published for readers' pleasure.

      Delete
    2. It's fun to do, Amy, but the kids leave such quiet, empty spaces when they leave the nest that sometimes the tradeoff is painful.

      Delete
  9. Helen is rather brave (after the first bout of seasickness, I might have bailed). That said, Liz is brave, too. Being a writer involves sticking your neck out, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got seasick my first time out in Brilliant -- plenty of witnesses, right over the lee rail. But the rest of the cruise was so wonderful I kept coming back for more. And yes, writing and being open to criticism and rejection takes nerve and a thick skin -- I've been put down by experts!

      Delete
    2. It does, Mel, and I was never long on brave!

      Delete
  10. You're both an inspiration. I'm like Helen's husband, seasick at the dock, but I do admire the grace of sails. I've always consumed books like M&Ms, but around ten years ago decided to try my hand and the production side of the equation. I'm hoping to follow in Liz's footsteps.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck, Beth! Like Muriel told me all those many years ago, "Never give up. Never, never give up."

      Delete
  11. Hi Beth -- best of luck with your quest. I wrote several books still under the bed before I finally landed a contract with Heartwarming. Everything you've written up to this point has been training to make you a better writer. When I go back to these earlier books, I can see the growth in my work. Writing is never a waste of time even if you're the only one who reads what you've written.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's true. Practice, practice, practice. It's great to hear stories from the people who made it. BTW, I loved Into the Storm, and Every Time We Say Goodbye. Great stories, ladies.

      Delete
    2. That's true. Practice, practice, practice. It's great to hear stories from the people who made it. BTW, I loved Into the Storm, and Every Time We Say Goodbye. Great stories, ladies.

      Delete
  12. Love your post, Helen! I once got to sail for the first time on an Americas Cup boat at sunset, and when the crew put up those sails and the boat took off, just flying over the water, It felt magical. And so quiet. Liz, you brought back memories of that first manuscript I sent out, so full of correction tape that it filled two ream boxes! Aren't we glad we persisted? Writing is just the best job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is, isn't it, Leigh. I love the sailing stories. I wish I could imagine the sound of the sails.

      Delete
    2. The perfect word: magical. Something almost supernatural about bending the wind to do your bidding. I sailed my little dinghy on a lake with very fluky winds, rarely staying on one tack for more than a few minutes before having to trim my sails, but the sound of the water laughing under my keel is one I'll never forget. An early memorable sunset sail: crossing the Nile in an Arab dhow, that big lateen sail drawing in the wind off the Sahara.

      Delete
    3. The perfect word: magical. Something almost supernatural about bending the wind to do your bidding. I sailed my little dinghy on a lake with very fluky winds, rarely staying on one tack for more than a few minutes before having to trim my sails, but the sound of the water laughing under my keel is one I'll never forget. An early memorable sunset sail: crossing the Nile in an Arab dhow, that big lateen sail drawing in the wind off the Sahara.

      Delete
  13. I admire you both, not only for making dreams come true, but for sharing your stories to remind us that WE are the only thing standing between us and our dreams because...where there's a will there's a way! Thanks so much for this post. I'm invigorated because of you two!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wonderful, Loree! Kudos to Helen--she came up with the theme and it has been a fun one.

      Delete
    2. To quote Churchill: Never, never, never give up.

      Delete
  14. I love both of your dreams, but identify more with Liz's--I think I would get reallllllly sick on rough seas. :-) And I think Heartwarming authors and readers make the best BFF's forever!

    ReplyDelete