A Selected (and mostly true) Work History

  • 1962. Write first story, The Wonderful Dove. A picaresque work in which the aged hero runs fifty-five miles an hour and encounters Thalidomide babies.
  • 1962. Submit first contest essay, to the Mattel Toy Corporation: What I Want to Be When I Grow Up. “I want to be a writer because it’s the kind of job that lets you stay home with your husband and babies.”
  • 1962. Receive first writing rejection, from the Mattel Toy Corporation.
  • 1962 to the present, write: in diaries, journals, ledgers, notepads, whatever is at hand. Eventually settle upon a favorite journal vessel – eighty-sheet college-ruled black-and-white comp books – and a favorite pen – black Uniball Micros.
  • 1964. Cub reporter. Start The B-2 Bomb, a news publication of Mrs. Groth’s 5th grade classroom, with best friends John Reimnitz and Tom Bothwell. The smell of mimeograph ink gives you a headache. You will not grow up to be a journalist.
  • 1970. Candy-striper; St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. The smell of medicines and hospital food is horrible. You will not grow up to be a nurse.
  • 1971. Dental office lackey. Work for Dad cleaning and prepping ops and making impressions. The smell of plaster is nauseating. You will not grow up to be a dental hygienist.
  • 1971. Retail clerk; Men’s Accessories Department, J.C. Penney. Silk ties and sealed packages of underwear and socks are blissfully odor free.
  • 1972. Rock band singer; Reuben’s restaurant at Gateway Mall. Wear nine-inch cork platform shoes and retro 1940’s dresses. Most popular request: “Stairway to Heaven.”
  • 1973. College student, majoring in pre-law, then music, then French, then art, then art history, then theatre. In Freshman English, your teacher, a grad student named Frances Malpezzi, introduces you to the poetry of Anne Sexton, James Dickey, Sylvia Plath, and Dylan Thomas. Fall into a deep depression.
  • 1973. Jesus Freak and Young Life Counselor. Sign up for college electives that involve bible study and comparative philosophy. Discover The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. (Years later, after your parents die, discover A Grief Observed and take comfort in the fact that even Mr. Lewis had his doubts.)
  • 1974. Win an open mic singing contest at The Cornhusker Hotel with a dirge-like, four-and-a-half minute rendition of “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” thereby establishing a reputation as a lounge singer with a depression-inducing style and repertoire. The contest prize is a gig.
  • 1974. First paid singing gig; The Cornhusker Hotel. The mic is on a short stand that has to be situated between your legs. Wearing dresses is awkward; nevertheless, dresses are what you wear. The customers are drunken businessmen, downtown lawyers, and state senators who sometimes sit next to you, unexpectedly grab the mic, and break into song, frequently “O Danny Boy.” Purchase a fake gold ring from the hotel gift shop and wear it on your left finger hoping the customers will think you’re married. They do. It doesn’t matter.
  • 1974 – 76. Lounge singer. Gig venues include:
    1. Godfather’s Pizza, where you sing through the same public address system that’s used to announce orders, leading to lyrics like “God Bless the Child Who Can Stand Up and Say Number Sixty-eight Your Canadian Bacon is Ready.” You suspect that the manager who hired you has substance abuse issues. He adores you, chastely, from afar – or at least as far as the nearest unoccupied table. When you sing, he sits and listens with rapt attention, ignoring his managerial duties and frequently falling asleep.
    2. The Hilton Hotel, where you have an enormous crush on the bartender, a twenty-seven-year-old law student named Patrick. Every night, Patrick puts a dollar bill in a brandy snifter and places it on the piano. His favorite song is “Since You Asked” by Judy Collins. You choose the quietest moment each night to sing this song and direct it Patrick’s way; he still doesn’t leave his girlfriend. A short, balding, rotund customer – one of the ones with an obvious drinking problem – persistently requests a song called “Harbor Lights;” you’ve never heard of it. One evening he arrives and hands over the sheet music; from then on he expects to hear “Harbor Lights” upon his entrance. Another popular request is “I Honestly Love You;” none of the Hilton Hotel bar clients seem to care how many times you sing that one. One night, a man with a beard comes in and sits at the bar, drinking alone. He doesn’t make any requests. He looks like a rabbi. He asks you out. He becomes your boyfriend and over the course of your relationship introduces you to Nikki Giovanni, Frances Moore Lappé, homemade yogurt and almond butter, and fusion jazz. He radicalizes your approach to salads. In less than a year you will break his heart.
    3. The Open Latch, owned by Cliff of Cliff’s Notes. It’s a tiny, dark pub which is renowned for serving beer-cheese soup topped with popcorn. This is what passes for exotic in Lincoln, Nebraska. You are wedged into a corner, perched on a cylindrical ash tray and playing a small electric keyboard. Your mic, thankfully, is on a boom. Your father – a big fan of beer-cheese soup – comes in now and then, when he has business downtown, and drinks a dry martini with a pearl onion; his favorite song is “My Funny Valentine,” surely because of that lyric about Greeks.
    4. Jek Kelley’s, where you get everyone in the bar to sing “Your Sweet and Shiny Eyes” into a pay phone when your friend Linda calls from San Francisco. By now you know five upbeat tunes in addition to all the sad suicidal ones. Four of those tunes are by Laura Niro; one of them, “Wedding Bell Blues,” has lyrics about a guy named Bill. Always close your last set with “Home to Myself” by Melissa Manchester.
  • 1975. Legislative page. Get paid $4.50 an hour to bring coffee to state senators. Marvel at the fact that, in the hallowed halls of the Nebraska State Capitol, no one listens to anyone who is making noise into a microphone. Who knew that legislators had so much in common with lounge singers?
  • 1976. Accompanist. Play piano for an original musical which tours Nebraska. Watch rehearsals. Learn that actors have to practice, just like musicians. This is a revelation.
  • 1976. Community Theatre Actor. Get cast in a production of “Godspell.” Make your own costume – a skirt with suspenders. It’s constructed out of all the silk ties you pilfered during your tenure as a J.C. Penney’s employee.
  • 1977. First paid acting gig, with the Nebraska Summer Repertory Theatre.
  • 1977-1982. Undergraduate and Graduate Acting Student: the University of Nebraska, The Julliard School, the University of Nebraska, the University of Washington. Occasional professional.
  • 1982-1994. Professional actress. Teacher. Voice, speech, and dialect coach. Resumé provided upon request. No, scratch that. Memorable (if not always favorable) experiences include roles in Tales from Hollywood, Uncle Vanya, The Corn is Green, On the Verge, Children of a Lesser God, The Miracle Worker, The Philadelphia Story, Waiting for Lefty, My Children! My Africa! Crimes of the Heart, Warrior and – above all – Anything Shakespearean, including playing Perdita in a blonde wig in ninety-eight degree heat; Lady M in a red wig in one-hundred-and-two degree heat; and Sylvia in a brunette wig, in 110 degree heat, on horseback.
  • 1986-present. Short story writer. Write sometimes out of despair; write sometimes out of exhilaration. Write always because (it appears) you have to.
  • 1992. Screenwriter. Read a book called Many Things Have Happened Since He Died; for some mysterious reason you feel compelled to adapt this book into a screenplay. Buy books on screenwriting. Write the screenplay. Try to acquire the option rights from the author. She does not respond. Spend a week making calls to producers and casting agents in Los Angeles – quickly learning that you can talk to anyone if you refer to them by their first name. Become paranoid that Someone Else at this exact same moment in time is trying to get the option on this book. What comes of this experience is not a film, but a new ability to embrace the way writing is in many ways a cinematic experience – and along with this the knowledge that nothing is really wasted. In short, through this process of being an unremunerated screenwriter, you’ve become a much better fiction writer, albeit a still unremunerated one.
  • 1994. Mother of Noah. Juiciest role to date. Even better than Shakespeare. Leave acting. Keep teaching.
  • 1996. Write a play. It might be nice to transition into another job in the theatre since you’ve spent twenty years hanging around the stage. Invite a playwright friend – who happens to work for the Seattle Children’s Theatre – to the reading.
  • 1996. Thanks to your playwright friend, receive your first (and only) paid commission as a playwright: adapting Pinocchio for the stage. Husband gets cast. Director is a genius. Designer is brilliant. Show is wonderful, at least in your opinion. Seattle blizzard requires cancellation of several performances during the holidays. You suspect that the theatre blames you for the weather and – by extension – the lost revenues. You are never contacted by the theatre to write plays again. Apparently, you will not grow up to be a playwright.
  • 1996-2009. Member of The Commoners, a writers group. Encouraged and upheld by these generous and kind and exacting fellow writers, keep writing and revising stories; write and revise a novel; start submitting to contests; acquire many rejections; keep submitting; acquire some acceptances. It is this group that teaches you the most important aspect of being a writer: that only one person can tell you if what is in your head is getting onto the page, if the story you want to tell is the story being told, and it isn’t you: it’s the reader.
  • 1997. Mother of Sam. Being a mom takes all your teaching energy; thus, stop teaching grownup children, i.e. actors.
  • 1998. Decide it’s time to acquire a real skill. What if you husband dies? How will you support your children? Not by writing, clearly…Enroll in the Medical Transcription Program at the local community college. Discover that you still have a brain. Become enthralled with medical language. Hope your one and four-year-old children are taking note of your good study habits.
  • 1999-2001. Medical transcriptionist, Group Health, Radiology Department. Best for-pay job ever. Editor Brain derives terrific satisfaction from correcting the English of non-native speakers and tidying up the rambling dictations of doctors – thus leaving Writer Brain alone to write fiction.
  • 2001-2003. Published short story writer. Unpublished novelist.
  • 2004-present. Published novelist.
  • Present-? Writer. Body of work includes at least ten novels, five short story collections, and two works of non-fiction – one about Greek-American immigrants, and one about writing. As it turns out, you did grow up to be a writer. Work from home. See your husband and babies every day.