Category Archives: Pari Noskin Taichert

Almost

by Pari

My holiday present to the kids this year was a trip to Sitting Bull Falls in southern NM. We hopped into the car on Friday and drove more than 360 miles — through Socorro, San Antonio, Carrizozo, Roswell, Artesia — all the way to Carlsbad, but it was too late to try to get to the falls. We stayed in Artesia and headed to the falls nice and early on Saturday. And, guess what? They were closed. Yep. Even though the local guide book said they’d be open.

We would’ve had to wait for almost 2 hours and we just didn’t feel like we could afford the time. We also didn’t feel like we wanted to pay a $1500 fine if we got caught going in and there was a ranger nearby (which there probably would be).  However, the drive had been gorgeous.

We got to see what I assume to be was Sitting Bull rock.

A lot of other rocks.

And some pretty funky flora.

Yesterday, we drove from Artesia, through Mayhill, Cloudcroft, Alamogordo, Tularosa to Socorro. This morning we were going to head out and take the very long way home via Datil, Pie Town, Quemado and Grants . . . but I had a flat tire and though I got it repaired (and that was a really nice story, but I’ll save it for another time), I just didn’t want to be 200 miles from the nearest phone transmitter.

The reason for this travelogue is that in driving more than 800 miles during the last few days, we had a lot of potential disappointments. But they didn’t end up being bummers because we were having such fun on the trip.

A few years ago I would’ve been so upset at not getting into Sitting Bull Falls. I would’ve felt like it was my fault. In so many ways, that also sums up my writing career. I aimed for a particular direction and for years was devastated that I didn’t achieve that goal. But you know what? I’m in a much better place in life than I was a few years ago. I’m going to start writing again during this break and I don’t care if a million people read or buy my work. I want to write because in long run, it does bring me joy.

It’s all about the journey, baby.

May yours this holiday season and into the New Year be sweet, healthy and filled with unanticipated pleasure.

Holiday Traditions — Intentional, Habitual?

by Pari

Last Saturday eve I grated the potatoes and onions, added the egg, flour, salt and pepper, and plopped this year’s latkes in the waiting hot sunflower oil. The deep sizzle growl of frying food, the gloriously seasonal smell, brought a fundamental comfort and sense that all was right with the world. I started celebrating Hanukkah with my kids when they were tiny. I wanted them to have the language of latkes and lighting candles. I wanted that closeness to be part of their molecules.  Now my kids are in their teens and this tradition is a warm part of our family’s expression of enduring love.

Traditions are the scaffolding of identity, the bones of how we experience — and often judge — the world around us. Some, such as my latkes on the first night of Hanukkah, are deliberate. Others come into being by slovenly default, habits no longer imbued with meaning other than the necessity of doing them.

Always at this time of year (is this a tradition?), I reflect on the holiday-actions I do out of choice and those I feel compelled to perform merely because they’re what I’ve always done — or what I think is expected of me . . .

Gift giving
Card sending
Money donating
Champagne drinking
Party going
Overeating  . . .

Habits get taken for granted.

Intentional traditions have the potential to live in hearts for as long as memory allows. Some of the ones I share with my children are:

* Making the latkes
* Lighting the candles and singing the prayers together
* Buying the most oddly indulgent prepared foods for a blowout on New Year’s Eve
* Putting luminarias out on New Year’s Eve to welcome the New Year
(luminarias or farolitos are put out in NM on Christmas Eve to welcome the baby Jesus)
* Writing down our wishes for the New Year and burning them, in a pot outside, on New Year’s Eve

I also have a few nascent possibilities that may become personal traditions. Last year, I felt it important to be deliberate on my first Christmas alone in 18 years. I knew I’d miss my kids tremendously. I also knew I’d be spending most Christmases alone from there on out. So I watched foreign movies all day — mostly Bollywood — and topped the night off with Whale Rider. Yes, that might become a tradition; I’ll know this year, if it feels like the right thing to do.

I’m also considering other options . . .

How about you?

What are your happy intentional traditions?
Which defaults might you want to shed?
Are you thinking of any new actions that might transform into welcome traditions in the coming years?

 

Divorcing your characters

by Pari

Why do relationships end? Are there fundamental disasters sown in the first rites of spring? Do we crack the foundation with expectations before laying the first brick? And does any of the endless analysis and questioning result in better future relationships?

Hell if I know.

What I do know is that I’ve had a long-term relationship with Sasha Solomon*, my main character in my published mystery series, and it has been severely tested in the last five years. The most recent test came with the first volley in my husband’s proposed property settlement. He wants “One half of the community interest in the literary Copyrights of Pari Noskin Tachiert” (Yes, the typo was there; it added a little insult to the whole endeavor.)

When I read those words, I thought, “Okay, then, I’ll just never do anything with Sasha again.”

After that initial infantile reaction, I started looking deeper. That’s one of the dangers of being introspective and not particularly interested laying blame at other people’s feet. Though I could sense the intent behind the request, the stab at my self-identity, the stink of malice, in the end did it really matter?

Is my 17-year relationship with this character so shallow I’m willing to end it over someone else’s actions? And who would I be hurting if I did? The deeper I went, the more questions I had.

How much of our relationship — Sasha’s and mine — sits on shaky ground? How much has been in reaction to
*  The people who said I’d never get published?
*  The limits of being with a university press and trying to “break into the big time?”
*  My desire to be unique, interesting?
*  My insecurities and worries about self-worth?

I also wondered about how easily I could get thrown off track. Do I still love Sasha or have I just been using her for years? Have I been holding on to her because I was scared to let her go?

Deeper and deeper I’ve gone.  Why I haven’t written creatively in nearly 8 months? Is it really because I’m letting my wounded creativity heal quietly, to hibernate, until I can embrace it with the love of a true friend? Or is it because I’ve wanted to hoard it in, to hold it close, because I don’t want my husband try to possess any of it?

Wow. Is that weird or what? It feels so petty. And, frankly, a bit stupid. The only one getting hurt in this is me . . . and Sasha . . . and, maybe, readers who still want more of her stories.

Do other writers have these kinds of literary existential crises? I sure hope so.

So my main questions for today are these:

Readers & Writers:  Have you ever been faced with this introspective questioning?
What did you discover?

Writers: Did you ever divorce a long-term character you created?
Or were you able to get literary marriage counseling?

* the website referenced above was created by B.G. Ritts as a kindness years ago . . .

Writers’ Baggage

The scene:  A cool fall day. The wind blows yellow cottonwood leaves against an insanely blue sky. Inside a coffee house, the late afternoon sun shines gold through large windows and turns the floor’s Saltillo tiles a glossy Mexican chocolate. Fresh red chile ristras hang on hooks from the adobe brick walls. An espresso machine growls over murmured conversations and laughter. The air smells of cinnamon and vanilla and piñon smoke from a nearby fireplace.

A woman, her long gray hair braided loosely, joins two writers already deep into a holy discussion about their craft. She places her steaming cup of Amaretto-laced apple cider onto the wooden table before pulling out a chair.  

“ . . . I just don’t feel like I can ever write as well as he does,” says one of her multi-published friends. He is a tall man with sun-darkened skin and a bushy mustache that looks distinguished now it’s more salt than pepper.

“I know what you mean,” says the other writer. He is just as old, just as experienced, just as successful. “Some days, I feel like giving up.”

“Why?” the woman says, stirring her drink with a cinnamon stick. She notices that some of the clay she’d been working with earlier in the day is still under her short fingernails. The realization makes her self-conscious. She breaks off a small piece of the stick to dig at the dried dirt.

“Because it’s just so depressing.” The first writer leans back in his chair with a loud sigh.

“Yeah.  And then there’s the whole problem of marketability. I started something yesterday, spent hours on it, and realized that with this crappy market my agent would probably throw it right back at me,” says the other writer.  He glances out a window at the parking lot. “No one’s taking risks on anything new.”

“Who cares what your agent thinks?” says the woman. “Why not just write what you want to write?”

Both writers shake their heads.

The first says, “You just don’t understand.”

“Here’s what I understand.” The woman smiles at them. “The two of you are lugging around so much baggage you’re about to pull your bony shoulders out of their sockets.” She takes a deliberate sip of her cider, licks her unadorned lips and holds up her fingers to make her next point. “You say to yourself, ‘I’m not productive enough. I’m not good enough. I’m not original enough or successful enough’ . . . or whatever self-flagellation you’re into at the moment.”

“So what’s your point?” One of the writers says. “That we should be totally self-satisfied? That we shouldn’t ever strive to be better?”

“Oh, come on. You know me better than that.” She puts down her improvised nail cleaner. “I’m an artist too. I want to constantly learn and grow.” The woman reaches out to pat the first writer’s hand. “I just prefer to frame things a little differently. I mean, so what if you’re not as good as some other writer? Readers don’t all want the same thing.”

The second writer frowns, but he’s watching her intently.

“And, so what if that piece you wrote isn’t marketable in New York? You can publish it yourself, if you believe in it enough. Or save it until publishers do want to take risks again.” The woman shrugs. “I guess I’m just wondering if the baggage you’re carrying is helping, or hindering, you?”

 

That’s the question I’ve been pondering all week. Baggage is necessary for most travel. We all carry it, but sometimes I think some of those clothes or tubes of toothpaste just don’t serve us anymore.

Here are my questions for you, my Murderati friends:
Do you know your own baggage?
Is it helping you on your creative journey?
If not, do you have a way to shed a couple of the heavier pieces?

 

Traps

by Pari

You’d think I’d have learned by now.
You’d think it’d be second nature.
Pause. Wait. Think!

That’d be the wise thing to do. But it’s difficult to be wise when you’re the parent of teenagers.

Before I continue, a few disclaimers:
my kids are
wonderful
bright
intelligent
interesting and,
generally, really fun and enjoyable to be around.
So it’s easy to fall into traps I should know to avoid.

Today it was the seemingly innocuous request to edit an essay. Because I respect the process — and my children’s intellects — I approached it with the same diligence and attention to detail that I would for any other writer I also respect. When my teen came into the office to hear my comments, I began to critique the way I’ve learned from years of experience.

“You’re a wonderful writer. You’re working with major concepts and go into them in excellent –“
“Don’t give me all of that stuff.  Just tell me what you found,” said my teen.
“This is what I found. And I’d like to give you an overview of –“
“That’s not what I asked for. Just tell me what’s wrong.” Blue-green eyes tearing up now.
“Okay. Well . . . there’s this problem with tenses. You shift between present and past in sentences and it doesn’t always make –“
“I do that on purpose. ” A foot stomping the wooden floor for emphasis.
“Okay, well, it doesn’t always work. It confuses the reader and –“
I know what I mean. My teacher knows what I mean.”
By now, I had started to feel like an idiot. A well-meaning idiot suffering an external perception of malice. “But . . . but the reader –“
“It’s my paper. Don’t tell me how to write it!”

And we were off . . . hurt feelings all around. Anger. Misunderstanding. All this right before I had to take the kids back to their father for the week. My child stormed out of the office, a tsunami of unhappiness crashing through the door. I, being the mature woman we all know, slammed that door and locked it. Truth was, I felt incredibly offended that I’d been asked to help, spent time taking the task seriously, and got shut down so quickly. Wah!

There are so many of these instances in life, the traps that are achingly apparent but which we ignore. Why? I don’t know if it’s because we get lulled into the assumption that this time it might be different or if we simply forget all the times when it wasn’t.

Two questions today:
1. What traps do you fall into with distressing frequency?
2. What traps do you recognize now and manage to avoid?

What’chu laughing at?

by Pari

Years ago when I worked in health care marketing, our corporation considered opening an incontinence clinic. The job of writing the mock promo brochure fell to me. I dutifully delineated all the advantages a customer (patient) would find if he or she wanted to pay our organization for the privilege of looking into the wonders of urethras, kidneys etc etc. But then — I guess because writing the rest of the brochure bored me — I came up with this title: You’re in Control.

Great, huh?

They didn’t use it.

That’s when I found out that there are certain subjects a person just shouldn’t mess with. And when it comes to health care, believe me, most of it isn’t allowed to be funny.

Now I work in a university department of psychiatry and mental illness isn’t a joke either . . . or is it?

Enter David Granirer and Stand Up for Mental Health. Here’s a guy who suffers from Depression — notice the capital D? — who is also a counselor and comic. He has created a way for people with mental illness to do stand-up comedy around a subject that often is so taboo, so dripping with stigma, families  — and individuals — will do anything in their power to avoid even skirting the topic.

Last Tuesday night NAMI-ABQ brought in Granirer to perform. What’s special about this is that six locals with mental illnesses ranging from bipolar disorder to outright schizophrenia had gone through weeks of training too. They stood up one-by-one and gave us a show. Just as in an ordinary line up of comedians, some were great and some were closer to okay. But what astounded me was how incredibly interesting their material was. We in the audience got a glimpse into “madness” and it was fascinating. The comics joked about their delusions, OCD and mania and we went along for the ride. Our willingness to go on that journey may have started with curiosity, but we stayed because it was entertaining and fun.

For me it was a glimpse into a very different way of seeing the world. I feel richer for it, grateful for the opportunity. And since the show, I’ve thought a lot about how difficult subjects can be turned into good, funny and authentic material.

So today, my questions are:

Is there anything that should be off limits when it comes to comedy?
And does that change depending on who delivers the punch line?
Are there things we should joke about that no one is tackling?

(I’m home today, so I hope to be able to finally post some responses!)

Techno-tweeners in the age of self-disclosure

by Pari

Baby Boomers, as a group, are becoming the passing generation. We’re not quite ancient yet but, other than ED and osteoporosis ads (and all those cut-ten-years-off-of-your-face/neck commercials), marketers have turned much of their attention to the next population waves.

I feel obsolescence tapping my shoulder. For now, I’m giving it a swift backward kick in the groin . . . but its presence still shadows me.

The first few decades of my life, only humans filled the roles of Confessor, Therapist and Persuader. The means for standing on soapboxes and pushing political agendas  — for most of us — rested in letters to the editor, op-eds and the tiny number of talk radio programs that existed at the time. A single, regular guy’s reach back then — if he had PR in his toolkit — spanned at most a few thousand.

For better or worse, the ubiquitous nature of 24-7 television (plus cable, Youtube, etc), the internet and other easy-access electronic means of communication have changed all that. A message written in a private email can be resent endlessly. Tweets are retweeted, videos/blogs reposted. People of my era bemoan the demise of privacy even as we flush our own down the drain in a million small ways each day.

There just isn’t a useful instruction manual for us Techno-tweeners to help us navigate this new age of communication. The scary thing for me right now is: With the advent of no-taking-anything-back, caution must be top-of-mind even as someone experiences powerful life-changes.

So I sit wondering how much to share and how much to withhold . . . 

And here’s why I’ve been thinking about all of this:  It’s been just a few days since my husband got a lawyer. After more than a year, he is finally ready to move on. As a matter of fact, he’s hot to trot on ending this marriage once and for all. Me? I’m shaky. My discomfort, grief and fear, my hope for a happy end to a difficult process, all are bound to squirt out in the coming months as I move through this next phase. Do I disclose and risk an eternal artifact of this time in my life? Do I keep my blogs and other electronic communications purely professional and risk living a half-truth at best?

I haven’t figured any of this out yet . . . but I’m sure struggling with trying to be wise.

How about you?

Have you faced similar dilemmas?
Do you share important parts of your life with potential millions of unknown readers/viewers?
Do you feel compelled to keep much more “close to your chest?”
How the hell do you manage it?

Communication and misinterpretation

by Pari

Years ago when I lived in D.C., I felt so emotionally exhausted one day that I unplugged my telephone. This was in the Dark Ages, when cell phones — if they existed — were the size of dinner plates and had the reception reserved for those crappy mics at drive-through restaurants where what you get in that take-out bag may be leagues away from what you actually ordered.

Anyway . . .

I completely forgot that my phone was unplugged.

As the weeks went by with nary a ring, I sank into deeper and deeper despair. No one loved me. No one cared whether I lived or died. No one would discover my body until the end of the month when the rent came due.

Fast forward to today and the ever-expanding ways we can let someone else know we’re thinking of them: snail mail, cell phone messages, emails, tweets, FB comments and likes, pokes, IM-ing and so many more of which I’m not aware. But what happens when one or two or three of those fail?

I thought about this when my home email froze the other day. People were surely contacting me, but I couldn’t respond . . . I had no easy way of even knowing who had tried. Then I lost my mailbox key for a couple of days.  Was there something in that metal box that deserved more attention than the usual grumpiness I feel when faced with a handful of bills?

Communication isn’t what it used to be. At least back in those Dark Ages, a person wouldn’t assume you were ignoring him or her if you didn’t respond.

Today expectations have changed. I think we’re all a bit more irritable and more apt to assume slights where none are meant.  An era ago, a letter took weeks to arrive and weeks for a response. Phone calls went unanswered and, even more importantly, they often went unknown because there weren’t machines to capture the miss.

Now, I propose that the assumption is usually that an unanswered phone call, email or comment has a meaning when, in truth, it simply might not have been received.

All this comes up today because we’ve been having troubles with comments on Murderati.
It’s difficult to post them right now.
They disappear.
They get “moderated” for some odd reason.
The discussion behind the scenes is filled with concern: Are we losing our readers because they can’t interact with us? We don’t know.

I sure hope not.

And I hope that if you have a comment and can’t post here, you’d know to contact me — or my fellow ‘Rati — on our personal website emails  . . . or on Facebook.

For now, we’re trying to figure out how to work with Squarespace to resolve the issue. Please accept my — our — apologies . . . but don’t assume we’re ignoring you!

My questions for today:
1. Do you agree that the way we communicate has changed since the advent of, say, the pocket-size cell phone?
2. Have our expectations (and, perhaps our patience) changed?

Forever young?

by Pari

I’ve been thinking about aging lately. It might have to do with the fact that amid the ashes of my marriage’s implosion, I’m now finding small green shoots of hope. Whether it’s the dream of traveling or embracing a new relationship or exploring a creative passion, I’m allowing my imagination to dance again.

But usually at some point a panorama of negatives about aging comes into the picture. Age complete with a flimsy aluminum walker and ivory-topped wooden cane.
Age with its wrinkles
and smells
and bumps
and lumps . . .

Age with its loose skin
thinning bones
lousy eyesight
and compromised hearing.

Is there enough time to let those green shoots grow?
Am I too old to dance in the streets during Carnival in Rio
to have an extraordinary relationship
to become a visual artist?

My thoughts sway with the ferocity of winds in a confused hurricane, strong and strange and unpredictable. One moment I’m saddened at perceived limitations. The next moment I’m excited with expanding possibilities. Here I stand at this odd cusp in my life, marveling at the push-pull of existence: Youth/Old Age, forward-looking/past-focused. I’m a Great Aunt and the mother of teenagers, an orphan and a single woman contemplating dating again someday.

I’m betwixt and between.

In department stores, younger salesclerks ignore me in favor of 20-somethings.
Women in their 60s tell me I’m just a baby.
On television my contemporaries fight desperately to stay young.  
The people I’m meeting in their 60s and 70s are so much more content and purposeful than most of my peers.

Aging is a reality in the sense that
our bodies change
our past experiences inform what we do now and in the future
and we move through time no matter how much we might want to halt it. (And, my friends, halting it would be death.)

But is aging the end of fruitful living? Is it to be feared?
Or is aging an adventure? Does it deserve cultural — and personal — reframing?

What do you think? How do you relate to aging?

(BTW, I’m not at work today, so I can finally really carry on a conversation with anyone who cares to comment!)

How do you write?

by Pari

In addition to having wonderful writers at Murderati, we also have several who are superb writing teachers.

I am not one of them.
This isn’t false humility; it’s a simple fact. I have never spent much time analyzing my writing process. As a matter of fact, I have a really difficult time even trying to. I read our Murderati members’ —  and others’ — fabulous posts on building climaxes, structures, big concepts and, each time, I think I’m finally ready to jump in and learn how to write! Over the years, I’ve enthusiastically signed up for several classes and  . . . after about the second or third one, I’m back where I started: utterly befuddled.

I just don’t approach my writing in an analytical way though I admire the hell out of people who do.

But last week one of the psychiatrists at work approached me about collaborating on an article about creativity and storytelling from the therapist’s and the writer’s perspective.  And for some reason, I actually liked the possibility of looking at my own process.

Right now, I don’t have much of a framework upon which to hang any concepts. However, I do know:

  1. I start most of my stories with a broad theme (or a name) that intrigues me:
  • ·         The chile pepper industry in NM and the conflicts between big ag and small farmers
  • ·         A first-hand experience of divorce based on a book I read about “Rebuilding”
  • ·         An overweight Midwestern farmer’s wife who uses small magic without realizing it
  • ·         A woman named Guadalupe Nakamura

No questions. No conflicts to drive the story forward or give it much shape. Just interesting ideas to explore.

  1. Voice is the most important thing to me.  So I spend a lot of time getting to know my character(s). I go in as deeply as I can and write. I often talk aloud to hear the character’s cadence and close my eyes to see that person’s world, to smell it and taste it and hear it. I sit at the computer and feel the emotions that tighten my character’s stomach, the ones that make her heart beat faster or her skin tingle.  I let myself experience that full reality as much as possible.

If I’m true to this second step, the authenticity of the character shines through in my writing. However, if I think about audience at this point or whether my new creation will “sell,” both the character and I are in big trouble.

So those are the first two steps in my process . . . I think.  

How about you?
Do you know how you write? Have you thought about it?

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