Behind the Scenes of an Indie Author's World

I love meeting readers and telling the stories of my books but as an Indie Author, there is so much more that goes in to scheduling, promoting and executing those presentations and signings.

There are hours spent writing website blogs and social media posts, editing images to capture the essence of my author/reader experiences, answering emails from readers and for book orders, packaging books and mailing them, keeping track of my four-book inventory and ordering more as I need them.

Then there's creating support promotional items such as bookmarks and flyers, researching bookstores and book groups that might be interested in scheduling one of my presentations/signings, figuring out unique ways to engage those stores and groups, keeping my roller suitcase filled with copies of all four books, a cash box of money to make change, credit card swipers and lots of pens for signing and.... ultimately.....tracking all of my presentations/signings and making sure I don't miss even one (thank goodness that hasn't happened---YET!)

Oh, and did I mention, carving out the time to write a book or two?!

The latest of my Indie author tasks is something I have wanted to do for years, but never felt that it was a wise investment. However, after receiving an invitation from The South Dakota Humanities Council Book Festival to present and exhibit my work, I finally took the leap. I ordered a promotional author banner to include in my display at book festivals and fairs.

Thank you Adrienne Carr Sparks and Holly L. Soderstrom Lorincz for your feedback and advice on my banner layout and design. And special thanks to Kayleigh Schaefer at On The Mark Signs for your time and talents in creating this banner that looks great and doesn't make me feel too uncomfortable being pictured at the top of a 7-foot display!

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A Play A Memory and a Whole New World

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I had the good fortune to graduate from Mt. St. Mary Academy where, to this day, arts as well as sciences are equally valued as integral parts of a high school education. That fact is underscored not only in the classroom, but in extracurricular activities, one of the most prominent being my alma mater’s annual senior play.

The play that my class of ‘69 staged was the wonderfully romantic, Lerner and Loewe's, "Brigadoon." It was a memorable experience on a number of levels, which has kept the musical close in my heart ever since.

Recently, I was reminded of my youthful thespian experience as my granddaughter and I celebrated her 13th birthday.  For years we have maintained a tradition of going to dinner and the theater in honor of her special day. When Brigadoon came up on my Shaw Festival Google, my only decisions were which date and what time to choose.

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Over our pre-theater dinner, the new-teen and I discussed the play’s characters, the music, Lerner and Loewe and my senior class experience as the onstage leader of one of Brigadoon’s Scottish Clans, The MacLarens. I also tried to explain the storyline to my sweet grandchild, which I must admit sounded a bit dated even to me, some 70 years after the musical’s Broadway debut.

That being said, I had faith that no matter the passage of time, once we were settled in our seats, the fantasy love story would engage us both.

 It was on our post-dinner stroll to the theater that our Brigadoon chat took an unexpected turn. It started when I had a flashback to my senior play experience. Since the Mount is a young-woman-only academy, the male roles in their plays are filled by actors from area all-male and co-ed schools. As it turned out, in Brigadoon, the lead role of Tommy Albright was filled by a senior from nearby Canisius High School.

Bruce was the young man’s name and, as memory recalls, he was as kind and sweet as he was talented and handsome. He was also African American, a reality that made no difference to anyone in our cast, class or school. It was simply a matter of fact.

Throughout weeks into months of rehearsals, Bruce and I became friends. We chatted, joked and enjoyed each other’s company. And, as teenage girls will do, I became smitten.

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I was not the only Mountie to feel this way about Bruce. He was popular with all my classmates and the hot topic of many senior class conversations. What ramped up those conversations was the fact that as our Brigadoon performances drew near, so too did the Canisius High School date dance.

Which lucky girl was Bruce going to ask?

Speculation ran rampant with daily updates spreading like wildfire. This seems like an appropriate moment to mention that while I was a popular girl among my peers, I never qualified as the ultimate dream date for most guys. I was tall, talkative, and politically and socially opinionated. I was also surrounded by fellow Mounties who were model gorgeous and sophisticated. All of which meant I was not on anyone’s top ten list of date dance options for our “Brigadoon” leading man…including my own.

One day at rehearsal, Bruce found me in the hallway outside the backstage door. As always, we talked and laughed with ease. Then, out of nowhere, he asked if I’d like to go the date dance with him.

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I was so shocked that, to this day, I’m not exactly sure how I replied, other than I know I said yes…followed no doubt by Snoopy happy dancing once he walked away.

Of course, word quickly circulated throughout rehearsal that I was Bruce’s date of choice. Suddenly I was seen differently….pretty, appealing, someone a boy like Bruce could like.

To be honest, I’m not sure if that perception was within my class, or myself. Perhaps both. All I knew was that unexpectedly and out of nowhere, I’d become THAT girl, the pretty and popular variety of my classmates that I’d been admiring all through those turbulent teen years.

Later that night, I patiently waited through my parent’s dinner conversation about work and the world before broaching the subject of my date dance invite. My father and mother were both professionals in their fields. Work was their primary focus. I was an only child that they loved by allotting me enough time outside of their jobs to get me raised and on my way.

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As far as their rules about my social life, there were few activities they approved outside of scouts and school groups. Dating and boys bordered on taboo. As we finished our meal, I offered a silent prayer and delicately began my ask to attend the date dance with Bruce.

I can’t tell you exactly how that night unfolded, but somewhere along the way I told my parents of Bruce’s heritage. That’s when our conversation completely shut down. My mother and father were not interested in knowing anything else. I would never be allowed to go out with, “a black boy”.

 I was devastated. It never occurred to me that Bruce’s skin color or genes could outweigh the value of his heart and soul. He was kind, funny, sweet and he liked me enough above all other girls in my class to ask me to the dance. That was all that mattered to me.

Later that night when Bruce called to make plans for our date, I answered the phone with my parents standing around me like a human prison wall. Through tears, I told Bruce I was sorry, but I wouldn’t be able to go to the dance with him. I didn’t say anything more. I didn’t have to. We both knew why.

The next day at rehearsal life went on, but it was different. Bruce and I didn’t share our backstage chats and jokes and once word got out that I was no longer his date, my classmates veered slightly from my path.

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No one knew what to say or how to handle the racism that had clearly invaded our magical Brigadoon world. Worse, for months afterwards, I was heartbroken over the friendship that was destroyed and filled with shame that my parent’s prejudice had been the destructive weapon.

 As I shared those memories of the story with my granddaughter, she asked only one question. “Why Nana? Why did your parents do that?”  It was in that moment that gratitude replaced my resurrected feelings of shame as I realized my family had moved on from a world of selective racism into a world of diversity, a world of colors and choices. And the idea of eliminating good people from our lives due to heritage, skin color or gender has become unimaginable to all of us.

That’s exactly what I told my granddaughter as the curtain to Brigadoon began to rise. And as the play unfolded I realized that despite its antiquated, romantic, storyline, on this particular night, Mr. Lerner and Mr. Lowe’s music and words were offering a much greater meaning.

A Writers Festival, Facebook and a Forty-Three-Year Dream

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I have been a storyteller all of my life, a journalist/professional writer for 43 years and an author since my first book, Chicken Wing Wisdom, published in 2005. That's a lot of words and a long time to work towards my dream of becoming a nationally recognized author/speaker.

Yesterday I realized that I am achieving my dream thanks to the South Dakota Humanities Council Festival of Books.

For those unfamiliar, the festival was started in 2002 and has become the state's premier annual literary event, drawing around 4,000 attendees and showcasing more than 50 distinguished authors, scholars, and publishers.

Everytime I read that description, I pinch myself, realizing that those last nine words include me.

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To help promote the event, festival organizers ask participating authors to donate one of their books to give away to interested readers. A random drawing on the festival's Facebook page is the process, with people winning by commenting on a book's post that they would like to read it.

Yesterday was the giveaway for Beauty & Grace.

To be honest, I was a bit nervous. What if no one wanted to read a book they'd never heard of, by an author from a state thousands of miles away?

One hundred and seventy three comments and 82 shares later, I learned that my fears were needless. Yet it was one comment by a woman from Sioux Falls, South Dakota that truly made my day.

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"Heard it's a great book."

Beverly Alexander, I don't know how or where you heard that Beauty & Grace is, "...a great book," but I am thrilled---not only for that acknowlegement of my work, but for the validation that state by state, reader by reader, book by book, 43-years of writing words and telling stories is turning my dream into my life's reality.

From the depths of my writer’s heart and soul, thank you.

One Book Club at a Time

Building audience is tough for an independent author.

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Every day you have to figure out a new way to engage and encourage readers to choose your books over a million other published authors, many of whom are more famous and also have publishers/agents promoting them.

What that means is hours of brainstorming creative ideas to engage readers and executing them in ways you hope the world will find as clever as you imagined them in your mind!

At the same time, you can't rest on your laurels as the fans you have worked so hard to earn are ready and excited to read your next book. And while writing is definitely my passion, it takes discipline to carve out time each day to sit and write a novel--- to imagine unknown people, places and events and craft them into a story you hope readers will relate to and enjoy---but may not.

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Then comes the day when you decide to raise the stakes and extend your author's reach from local to regional and national audiences.

While such a bold idea is attainable thanks to the Internet and the worldwide reach of social media, there is no doubt that unless Oprah Winfrey or Reese Witherspoon or Shondra Rhimes waves their magic book club wand your way, it's a daunting task.

That being said, there is no greater reward for facing such challenges than receiving an email from someone in one of the many states where you've journeyed, with your suitcase of books and bookmarks, who has attended your presentation, read your book and loved it and would like to invite you to return to their community and do it all over again for a new group of readers.

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Thank you Mary Mills for your support of my work and your passion for my storytelling. You are fulfilling my author's dream as I imagined it four years ago--- connecting with book clubs across America and, through them, expanding my readership, one book club at a time.

With cherished memories of meeting you at Margi’s book club (pictured here from my 2018 Indy Presentation) I look forward to returning to Indianapolis in 2020 and sharing the Beauty & Grace Journey with you and your book club members.

A Place Where I Belong

Growing up as an only child of working parents, I spent countless hours on my own---reading books, listening to music and watching movies. Somewhere in the midst of all that multimedia stimulation, I found a place where I belonged.

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I fully envisioned and formed friendships with characters from Nancy Drew to Scarlett O’Hara. I harmonized lyrics with Julie Andrews and Joan Baez. I dressed up in my mother’s satin wedding gown and made dramatic entrances down the stairs channeling Vivien Leigh and Bette Davis. And all of it was made real within my imaginings.

While my imagination helped filled a void in my latch-key life, it also helped me develop a storytelling skill that made me stand out---in the hallway at school, in time-out at home---where ever adults would banish me to try and help me understand that, unlike fictional performance arts, not every story in real life needs to be told!

The thing is, telling the story of my life is second nature to me. While I have learned that there are boundaries, people who read my newspaper columns, blogs and books have clearly let me know that sharing my story details, both joyous and painful, are why they connect to my writing. Why my words have meaning.

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I’ve been thinking about the evolution of my storytelling skills as I am preparing to do something which, before now, only happened amid the privacy of my adolescent bedroom in the recesses of my mind. One week from tonight I will step on stage at The Cell Theatre, located in the mecca of all performance arts, New York City.

No, I’m not taking a behind the scenes tour or interviewing the theater’s manager.  In fact, I have been invited by theater producer, Charles R. Hale to perform in his Artists Without Walls Showcase on this Manhattan theater stage. I will be reading from the pages of my newest book, Beauty & Grace.

Needless to say, I am practicing and editing my reading and praying novenas to Mary Mother of God that I don’t screw up this momentous opportunity. I’m also putting together different outfits every night to try and figure out if I’m going glam or classic author.

Most importantly, I am doing my best to fully embrace and celebrate this moment in my life, understanding that storytelling is part of my DNA. And, as I learned at a very young age, it is a place where I truly do belong.

The Beauty & Grace Quilt

Today as I started to write a post in search of book lovers in Philadelphia and San Diego who are interested in gathering for a Beauty & Grace Presentation, it struck me how lucky I have been with this book.

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Since launching Beauty & Grace, I have enjoyed the support and hospitality of people throughout Western New York as well as in Indianpolis, the Greater Porlland Oregon area, Winter Garden, Oakland and St. Augustine Florida, Denver, Colorado and, come this October, Deadwood, South Dakota.

Some of these people I have known, while others have been complete strangers willing to take a chance on me and my book.

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These photographs represent those who have been an integral part of the Beauty & Grace journey to date. Their support has been humbling. It's also been thrilling and inspires me to keep reaching out and adding to this amazing quilt of women and men.

To those pictured and those yet to come, thank you. from the depth of my heart and soul.

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Storytelling Validation From Down Under

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This morning as I fired up my laptop and checked emails, I discovered a correspondence sent by a gentleman named, Gavin, from Sydney Australia. He identified himself as a professional in the field of spinal implants.

One of the most famous physicians and a pioneer in the spinal implant/surgery field is an American named, Arthur Steffee. During my year-long, 64 and More Interview Project, I traveled to Foxburg, PA to interview Dr. Steffee.

At the time he was unknown to me. We only connected through a third-person introduction by a woman I met while walking down the streets of the neighboring town of Oil City, Pa. And that was the adventure of 64 and More!

Anyway, Gavin also traveled to Foxburg to try and interview Dr. Steffee, to no avail. He did however enjoy the opportunity to chat with the accomplished physician and greatly valued that experience. It also inspired him to continue to learn more about the American physician when he returned home.

Recently while googling Dr. Steffee, Gavin came across my 64 and More interview series with the renown surgeon. That led him to scan through the 52 weeks of my interview series posted on my Youtube Channel which, in turn, compelled him to reach out to me.

It's been three years since I blindly purchased a video camera and, with no technical experience or know how, set off to interview people across America whose life experiences could provide us all with valuable life wisdoms.

It was a life-changing project that taught me as much about myself as others. Yet I will admit, there are days when I wonder if my work ever really made a difference to anyone else.

Thanks to my new friend from halfway around the world, I now know that answer. Thanks, Gavin. You just helped validate the work that was my storyteller's life dream.

"I really just want to acknowldege you and your incredible work - absolutley amazing!! A HUGE well done, an extraordinary effort, and inspiring work for us all to enjoy."

The Synchronicity of My Writer's Life

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Some mornings I rise with inspired realization of life’s synchronicity. Today is one of those days.

For twenty years I lived in a farmhouse, built in the 1840's. It’s set on a property of 13 acres dotted with outbuildings and a two-story barn, all of which compliment the sprawling white house set atop a hill in the rural town of Eden, NY.

I was drawn to this home from the moment I entered its welcoming country kitchen and moved through its three floors, ultimately exiting onto a magical wrap-around porch.

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I was also intrigued by the home's owners, Clem and Mary Crowe. Together they were parents to ten children. Individually, each was accomplished ---Clem as a Notre Dame football star under renown coach, Knute Rockne and later as a professional coach for The Buffalo Bills and The Baltimore Colts----Mary as a graduate from Purdue University and a respected community activist that earned her the honor of NYS Mother of the Year.

Seventeen years after the Crowe’s guided me on my first tour of their farmhouse, I was finally able to purchase it and make it my own. Despite all the naysayers who warned me of the workload of an oversized house and acres of land, I had no doubts that I was living my dream.

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As I settled in to my new surroundings people who knew the house better than I began sharing its story through anonymous letters, late night phone calls and neighborly chats. The written and oral histories fueled my curiosity and led me to independent research about my home and those who had lived there before me. And that is how "Crown Hill A Novel of Love, Life and The Afterlife came to life.

Five years later, I wrote my second book of historical fiction, Beauty & Grace. While it took two years of research to complete this novel, it took more than time to craft the book's fifteen characters that readers meet along the dank Wood Haven Asylum hallways.

Not only was I crafting personalities, I was making choices of illnesses (physical and mental), nationalities, family histories, physical characteristics and….the most intriguing element of each character…..their names.

My creative process was always the same. First I would decide why the character had been committed. Then I determined their nationality, imagined their families and detailed their appearance.

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When all defining details were in place, I would google names based on the character’s gender, nationality and era in which they were born. It was like giving birth to each one of them and, like every mother, there were days when I agonized over christening a character with just the right name.

However, there was one name that transferred from mind to manuscript, as if pre-programmed from my writer’s treasure trove of imaginings.

Maeve Dempsey.

Maeve is such a classic Irish name and the character I’d created was just that. Mother to a brood of four, Maeve’s life was defined by her devotion to family, faith and home. It was also that devotion that caused the kind women to be institutionalized with a diagnosis of depression and grief.

As I crafted Maeve’s story and we got to know each other I felt a growing attachment to this sweet woman. She was special and as I wrote of her circumstances--- locked away and never again to see her children---- I could feel my heart breaking.

At the same time, I wanted better for Maeve….she deserved better. So, as the storyline evolved, I gave Maeve strength and courage, not only to help herself, but to help others locked away with her.

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And as she evolved, so did her need for a different name. Something to more fully reflect this invigorated depth of her being. And again, as if pre-programmed, the name Maeve Mulherin Dempsey came to my mind.

As I repeated it over and over, I could feel the power of centuries of Irish women who faced unbearable hardships, yet still carried on in the name of family and faith. I could hear Maeve proudly speaking her name---the name of her mam’s family as well as her da’s. And I knew it was right.

Last month I traveled to Denver on my Beauty & Grace Journey. While there I enjoyed the honor of speaking to three generations of Mary and Clem Crowe’s descendants----child, grandchildren and great grandchild.

The presentation lasted five hours, yet seemed like minutes as we shared stories of “our” Eden farmhouse on the hill as well as in-depth conversation about the state of mental health care and immigration during the era of Beauty & Grace and today.

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It was during our Beauty & Grace discussion that one of the Crowe grandchildren asked me about the character of Maeve. As I launched into an explanation of how I created her, the grandchild politely interrupted with the question, “No, I meant about her name. Why did you use Mulherin as her middle name?”

When I replied that it came from inspiration, the granddaughter smiled and nodded as she explained, “My grandmother, Mary Crowe, that was her maiden name.”

So today, I share these images of Mary Mulherin Crowe...in acknowledgment of the inspiring synchronicity of my life and the blessings of being connected to so many remarkable people in this world.
And perhaps even beyond.

An Author's Inspiration

Writing Beauty & Grace was often a struggle in my heart and in my mind, as I tried to imagine and craft the lives of the women and men locked away in Wood Haven.Asylum.

Truthfully, there was a time mid-book when I wanted to quit. When each day, in order to write, I had to enter the dark and dank Wood Haven hallways and immerse myself into the unimaginable world of institutionalization.

Then came the day when everything changed. When instead of struggling, my heart and mind became deeply inspired and dedicated to telling this story.

Deeply and Properly Kissed

Novelist, John Cheever

Novelist, John Cheever

During my Beaty & Grace Presentations , I am often asked about writing——how to go beyond dreaming of authoring a book and actually getting it done.

While I have a short list of writing tips that I gladly share, I always finish by explaining that writing and publishing are only half of an author’s journey.

When the inevitable question of “why” is asked, I state the following:

“As novelist, John Cheever once said, ‘Authors can’t write without a reader. It’s precisely like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.’ ”

Whether an independent or contracted author, I believe attracting readers is one of the toughest parts of the publishing industry. It’s also an area in which I am blessed with success, as a result of hard work and an innate ability.

My dedication to writing has resulted in a collection of four books that creates a level of interest among readers. It’s as if if my expanded body of work equates to an accomplished ability. Practically, it allows readers a varied selection, which can encourage them to purchase one or more books to detemine if I’m “their type” of author.

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Additionally, I am a passionate storyteller with an Irish gift of gab. It’s a combination that makes speaking to groups and engaging with individuals second nature to me.

As much as I become deeoply immersed in creating my books, I live for speaking to a room filled with readers and sharing the story-behind-the-story of what I’ve have written. It’s a process that feeds my author's soul and inspires me to begin again on new literary journeys.

Recently, after a particularly meaningful Beauty & Grace Presentation, a friend asked how I manage to keep audiences attentive for hours on end, without notes or knowledge of what people are going to share or ask of me.

It was a question I’d never before considered. Yet an answer immediately came to mind as I replied, “ I have no idea.”

Since then, I have given more thought to my friend’s question and ultimately decided, I don’t want to know the answer.

It’s enough that each time I join with an audience of book lovers, it’s as if we enter into a sacred space where our imaginations become engaged and our souls connected through characters and words created from the very fibre of my being.

And that, experience, as I believe Mr. Cheever would agree, comes pretty darn close to being deeply and properly kissed.

 “It was so lovely to be with you Christina. Beauty & Grace is such a compassionate and compelling story. And your story behind the story—-wow!”---Mary Jo

“What a magical night and our amazing discussion!! You are an outstanding storyteller!”---Eileen

“It was a great afternoon and your presentation about how you came to write and research this wonderful book just added to my love of Teagan and Grace's stories!”—-Janelle


The Beauty & Grace Colorado Journey

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My March Beauty & Grace Presentations in Denver are turning in to remarkable reunion with people from many parts of my past.

My first presentation is with a Denver book club of a woman that I met once, in 1976. She was the girlfriend of a college buddy of my then-husband. We spent a weekend together playing, cards, listening to music and sharing meals around the table. It was special and memorable, but we never again spoke--- until this week when we reconnected via email, through a wonderfully serendipitous series of events.

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My next Denver presentation is with a group organized by a woman I have never met in person. We have only corresponded through Facebook. We connected somewhere around 2011 through her fun and funny FB coverage of The Grand National and World Championship Morgan Horse Show, an event at which I had exhibited between 1986 and 1994. Over the years we expanded our conversations outside the world of Morgan Horses and shows, gradually evolving into a virtual friendship. Now, at last, we are going to meet.

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My third presentation is one that touches my heart whenever I imagine it. It is with members of the Crowe Family, who once owned the Crown Hill Farm that so strongly defined my life and inspired my writing career. A Crowe granddaughter is hosting this presentation and I look forward to reconnecting with this special group with whom I gladly shared, "our home."

Interesting how this book is leading me on a journey more than 1,500 miles from the place I call home, yet connecting me with people who have long been a part of the fabric of my life.

#beautyandgrace
#beautyandgracecolorado
https://www.christinaabt.com/beauty-grace/

Love Notes

Of all the Heart & Soul newspaper columns and radio commentaries I penned on the subject of love during my 15-year career, the one you are about to read is my absolute favorite.

It’s about a story told to me by my friend, Barbara Polasik, a very special lady I met upon moving to the Town of Eden, NY in 1995, as I was starting over in my post-divorce life.

Barbara first shared her story as part of our conversation about, of all things, junk drawers. However, by the time she was done telling her tale, I was teary-eyed and she was glowing with an aura of love.

A few years later, I wrote about Barbara’s story in my Heart & Soul newspaper column and it became so popular with readers that it was eventually included in a Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul Anthology. I’m sharing it today, on Valentine’s Day, in memory of my friend, Barbara, who passed in 2017, and in honor of the special marriage she shared with her husband, Dick.

Thank you, my friend, for teaching me that true love does exist, and providing hope that it can happen.

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There’s a moment in the Disney classic, “Cinderella” when the ragamuffin heroine lays claim to her wayward glass slipper and Prince Charming adoringly sweeps her into his arms and waltzes her away. It’s a scene that draws longing sighs from every woman who watches it. 

 Why?

 Romance. That’s what it’s all about.

I’ve often wondered how that intangible “true love” ideal makes the leap from celluloid to reality. I know it can happen. I’ve been around couples who have been married for decades and still glow as they sit side-by-side, hands lovingly intertwined. 

However, as a child of divorce and a divorcee myself, I also know that the course of true love never runs smooth.  In fact, “rocky road” might better entitle the majority of marriages I’ve known throughout my life.

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Yet last week a friend of mine shared a little secret—a tale of love that brought tears to my eyes and, I must admit, a little envy to my heart. 

Her story wasn’t about the latest piece of jewelry that her adoring spouse had purchased or the gorgeous flowers he’d recently sent.

For you see this lady’s husband passed away two years ago, just short of their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Now at the age of seventy, this special woman is alone, but thanks to her lifelong sweetheart, never lonely. Here’s why.

Tucked away in drawers and cabinets throughout my friend’s home are love notes, scripted by her husband. Each carries with it endearments that he crafted for her and then hid away as romantic surprises during the course of their marriage. 

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Over the years, she saved her husband’s sweet inscriptions, often leaving them in their original hiding places—his loving sentiments playing anew with each re-discovery. 

Now that he is gone, my friend’s life is a daily challenge of loving memories and sad yearning for this romantic man with whom she shared almost half a century of life. 

 Yet in her indomitable way, she is continuing on with determination and enthusiasm. She is healthy and strong and lives each day with an interest in the world around her. She is also surrounded by family and friends who support her and a community where she is acknowledged and respected.

Most of all, my friend endures with the inner sense that she is loved, truly and totally. And anytime she thinks otherwise, all she has to do is open a kitchen drawer or look in her bedroom nightstand and find a love note to remind her. 

But you know, somehow, I’m pretty sure she already knows.

Her Him Me

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Recently I watched the movie, Her.

If you are unfamiliar with the film, it explores the possibilities of futuristic, interpersonal relationships between humans and computers.

Sounds weird, I know, but hang with me.

 While I am not an official movie critic, Her has rocketed to the top of my must-see-again list, as a week after my initial viewing, snippets of dialogue and clips of vignettes continue to weave through my thoughts.

The most compelling elements of this movie are the steps the main character (Theodore) and his computer operating system (Samantha) take toward a “real” relationship. Initially it all seems implausible—then it becomes potentially believable. 

The plausibility of the storyline comes from a combination of the sweetly gentle performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, blended with the evolving computer technology of the real world.

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 Samantha is a voice—an incredibly sensuous and appealing voice—available to Theodore 7/24. As a computer operating system (OS), she is highly intelligent on   all   topics, making   her   an   excellent   personal   assistant   and   a   stimulating   conversationalist. 

 As    interaction    between    the   two advances, Samantha’s OS interfacing capabilities begin to compute Theodore’s human responses and mimic them at just the right moments.  She even “shares” in his life experiences by her ability to become part of his job, his home life and his world through an app on his cell phone. 

 Then   comes   the   moment   when   Samantha   becomes   completely   real   to Theodore as he summons her in the middle of the night for pillow talk that leads to virtual sex.  It is a most compelling “blank screen” scene in this oddly touching and romantic movie

As   a   single   woman   still   entertaining   the   idea   of   a   relationship   in my life, Her has enticed me with its suggestion of love via artificial intelligence. It has also made me realize how much such a relationship mirrors online dating.

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For seven years I have stealthily navigated my way through the world of Internet dating sites.  It has been an education in the human condition and our never-ending need/search for love. 

What I have also learned along the way is that it’s much easier to maintain a special relationship with someone through carefully phrased and edited emails and faceless chitchat, none of which deals with overflowing laundry baskets, moldy refrigerator bins or post-holiday bills for purchases that seemed wise in December. 

 In short, online dating sites provide a fantasy situation in which the other person can become whoever your imagination desires, readily available at the click of an email or text, much as portrayed in Her.

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The more I think about it, the more I am intrigued by the Her relationship model of someone in my life. An individual readily available to talk to me, comfort me and share in my experiences and also accepting of being set aside in deference to my already-ordered life, without anger or offense. It all seems neat and tidy and very manageable.

Then again, maybe messy and wildly unpredictable is what makes love so fun and exciting—and in the end---so worthwhile.

 

Some Enchanted Evening

In the last few years, my life has evolved into a new category: single and dating.

It’s an interesting world that has introduced me to a wide range of people all dealing with the same life circumstances—finding someone to love.

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Based on conversations with other singles on this topic, the general consensus is that in trying to meet someone, bars aren’t really a viable option. Church has faded as a reasonable meet-and-greet.  Family doesn’t have a clue and friend-arranged blind dates generally end up as disasters.  As a result, many of my single friends have turned to the only remaining resource for one-to-one connecting—online dating.

For those who have never come close to Match.com or eHarmony, let me set the stage. 

 You begin by going to the specific dating site where you register your “screen name”.  That generally takes the better part of a night as you dream up endless pseudo-identities in the hopes that no one will actually recognize you.

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 Next comes the profile information.  This part is rather like going to the doctor and filling out those endless “life history” forms.  Only in this case, people tend to embellish their stories with descriptive phrases like, “young in spirit,” “ready to try new things” and “a few extra pounds”—most of which really mean “old enough to collect social security,” “basically a couch potato” and “could qualify to appear on The Biggest Loser.”

Once   your   profile   of   intimate   personal   information   is   complete, the momentous decision looms—to photograph, or not to photograph?  This is where I would like to pause and address the men who choose to post pictures with their dating profiles.

Gentlemen: Are you serious? I mean, really, do you think women are going to be attracted to some of the images you are posting online? 

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Let’s start with those of you who go incognito and wear sunglasses in your photos. Every time I see one of these pictures I wonder why?  Do you think you’re projecting a cool dude image?  An intriguing mystique?

 Here’s a news flash for you:  women want to see a man’s eyes.  So if your photo hides your eyes behind a pair of dark lenses—no matter how cool they may be—there are only a few conclusions a woman can reach. 

One: you’re beady eyed and shiftless. 

Two: you’re trying to hide aging wrinkles. 

Three: it’s the only picture you can find--- in
which case, ask a friend to snap a picture of you,
sans shades.

Which brings me to my next gripe about dating site photos—mirror selfies.

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 While I understand not everyone has a picture suitable for posting, standing in front of a mirror and taking a flash photo of yourself is not the answer. The freaky images that result make most of you appear like ghoulish stalkers. 

 Again, find a friend and have them take a photo on your phone. And for heaven’s sake, if it looks bad on your phone screen, putting it on the World Wide Web won’t make it better.

 And can we talk about those of you who think that posing shirtless will make a woman swoon into your manly arms?  NOTE TO ALL NUDIES:  Unless you have a ripped body, please remain fully clothed.

 Finally, it’s amazing how many men between 50 and 60 only want to meet woman ages 35-to-40 who are thin and blond—especially when these men tend to tip the scales at 20 or more pounds over their ideal weight and sport balding hairstyles. Men, be reasonable about the women who take the time to correspond with you. I realize we are all entitled to the date of our dreams, but take a long hard look in the mirror and acknowledge the reflected reality before dismissing we women who are reaching out in earnest.

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Like I said, the Internet has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for those of us in the single-and-dating crowd. Yet for my nickel, I’m still hoping that some enchanted evening I may see a stranger across a crowded room—not wearing sunglasses, fully clothed and interested in getting to know a real, live, middle-aged woman.

Ten Years Later Love Still Knows No Boundaries

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Ten years. 
A decade of time passed, yet still seared with images immediate and razor-sharp.

Fifty one people were lost in that night of fuselage and flames, but from the ashes came unity.

Unity among the families of those who died. Men, women and children connected through unimaginable sorrow, bonding them forever as warriors, determined to never again allow government and corporations to value dollars over human lives.

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Unity among a community of government officials, business owners, religious leaders, first responders, school administrators, not for profits, media outlets, families and individuals that gave of their time and talents, and most essentially their hearts, over endless days that led to weeks and months....and for some, years.

Unity throughout the Town of Clarence, who through the recovery process healed the wounds of a destroyed property in the heart of their village by creating a refuge of tranquility and natural beauty— a place to remember and reflect for all to share.

Unity among a group of singers, songwriters, musicians, business owners, graphic designers and a videographer, all of whom who came together in the spirit of love….love that knew no boundaries when it came to their collective desire to do something to somehow help and heal a community hemorrhaging in shared pain and loss.

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Ten years. 
Life has gone on and changed---for the Flight 3407 families, for our community, for the Town of Clarence and for the group who came together to create the music and words of Love Knows No Boundaries. We are united in our memories, sharing the burden of that cold and icy February night. Remembering, honoring, finding ways to continue.

"Our hearts bound together. We will never forget."

To watch the Love Knows No Boundaries Video click on the link. https://youtu.be/LYrZelG4-rc

Family and an Extraordinary Storytelling Journey

There are two things that form the framework of my life. Family and story telling.

Yesterday, both came together in an experience that has become deeply etched in my heart and soul. It all began a few years ago with a series of events unrelated to me or anyone I know, and an extraordinary storytelling journey.

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A celebrated screenwriter/playwright by the name of Aaron Sorkin decided the time had come to breathe new life into a book that had long been his favorite—-his and most every American’s——To Kill A Mockingbird.

The award-winning writer further decreed that this update should take the form of a play, to be performed in the mecca of live theater, New York City.

To that he added a production crew and cast of both talent and renown, including lead actor, Jeff Daniels, a man whose career has been strongly defined by his performance partnership with Sorkin.

The play officially opened at The Schubert Theater on December 13, 2018 to reviews and acclaim accorded only the most legendary of performances. This is where the family part of my story comes in.

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Among her many skills, my daughter is an educator with a master’s degree in, and love of, English. From her high school reading-list-days through to her adult book club experiences, my child has treasured Harper Lee and her acclaimed Mockingbird novel.

She has also worshiped at the altar of Aaron Sorkin’s fast-paced and intricately woven television productions of Sports Night, The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Newsroom.

That pretty much explains why when stories began to surface about a Mockingbird/Sorkin union, my daughter was on a mission to get both of us to Manhattan to experience the resulting play. A few shared emails among family and friends and my book /theater-loving goddaughter and her sister decided to join our Mockingbird journey as well.

As plans for our girls day in New York evolved, we sandwiched a full menu of Big Apple experiences around our Schubert Theater main course, causing the focal point of our trip to shift from solely theater to experiencing Manhattan together.

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As the appointed day arrived, the four of us jumped fully into the energetic vibe of Manhattan. Conversation, laughter, great food and drink became the order of our morning until finally it was time to claim our matinee, mezzanine seats.

It was at this point that we lost any semblance of control over our day, as Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels and the remarkable Mockingbird cast transported us into early 1930’s Maycomb, Alabama.

For two-and-a-half hours, we sat mesmerized by the fast-paced dialogue that generated surprising laughter, outspoken reactions and uncontrollable tears on our part, as well as among the almost 1,500 audience members around us.

Jeff Daniels perfectly performed his role with the strength of character and softer nuances required of the story’s “white knight,” Atticus Finch. The cast surrounding him were equally perfect in every way. It was as if Sorkin had magically summoned each one of them from the very words he gave them to speak.

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While individual praise is unfair to a cast of this accomplished level, no doubt Celia Keenan-Bolger (Finch’s daughter, Scout,) Gbenga Akinnagbe (accused murdered Tom Robinson), Dakin Matthews (Judge Taylor) and Richardson Jackson (Finch housekeeper, Calpurnia) drew strong audience reactions whenever they were onstage. As well, the atmosphere of Maycomb’s places and times were made real by the amazingly interchangable sets imagined by scenic designer, Miriam Buether.

The thing is, we four women shared a reaction at the end of the play that was unlike any we had ever experienced. It came slowly, almost without warning, as the humor and entertaining dialogue Sorkin used to define the first act slowed and blended into the Harper Lee’s darker and more dramatic book moments, setting a second act that tore apart a community, scarred its families and devastated the Schubert Theater audience.

Without fully realizing it, we were slowly plummeted into a black void of human cruelty, discrimination, hatred and violence until, at the final curtain, our minds were frozen in disbelief, our hearts bleeding in agony.

When the stage was emptied and the seats around us vacant, the four of us remained... tears streaming, speechless, unable to move.

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Eventually we made our way to the main floor of the Schubert Theater and walked down one of the aisles to the stage. Again, the four of us stood, silently, reverentially, as if drawing closer to where the actors wove their magic might somehow help us understand the inhumanity of the 1930's American nation and its people….our nation, our people.

Finally, we were slightly unceremoniously ushered out of the theater but not before stopping to purchase some Mockingbird souvenirs, including a poster that my goddaughter kindly bought for me as a gift.

Later that evening at dinner, the four of delved into both Harper Lee’s book and Arron Sorkin’s play. We chatted about the similarities and the differences. We celebrated witnessing a play that will undoubtedly define Broadway History. Mostly we talked about the hatred that defined America in the 1930’s and concluded that many of the same social justice issues continue to tear apart our people and the fabric of our nation. Again, tears were shed

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Before we took leave of the restaurant, we cleared away the dishes on our dining table and replaced them with my Mockingbird poster. At the top, I inscribed the day’s date. Then we passed the poster around so that each one of us could sign our names. I’m not sure why, but it was important that we marked the day in someway that would be lasting.

A day when family and an extraordinary storytelling journey forever changed each one of us.

Our Family Ring of Wisdom and Character

I come from a middle class family. My mother was a farm girl who immigrated to the big city and made good in the world of banking. My father was a city kid who started out laboring in the dregs of a steel mill and ended up as a top-selling realtor.

The thing about my parents is that there were no trust funds, priceless antiques or real estate holdings accumulated during their lives. Rather our family wealth is valued by two treasured photo albums—-one of my father’s military service during the Korean War and the other a photo documentary of my parent’s courtship through to my grade school years—-along with a few pieces of not-quite-antique furniture, some cut glass vases and fine china tea cups and perhaps the favorite of all my heirlooms, a small collection of costume jewelry and several gold and diamond rings.

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For most families, such estate rings tend to be engagement and/or wedding bands bequeathed by the matriarchs of a family. While that holds true in my case, I also treasure a gold and diamond family ring unrelated to any promisory proposal or bonding ceremony. It is an oval-shaped signet style accented with a diamond at the top curve and bearing the flourished monogram, “JWB”—-initials belonging to my father.

I can’t quite recall when or where my father purchased this ring. What I do remember is his getting “dressed up” routine of shaving and splashing on some Old Spice, donning a carefully coordinated outfit of his best clothes, adding an attractive tie and tie tack along with a matching pocket square. Then, as finishing touches, he would slip on one of his favorite watches and his signet ring. It was a process that never varied, with an end result that could cause my teenage girlfriends to swoon over my handsome father and which, undoubtedly, influenced my own fashionista tendencies.

Ultimately, when my father passed, I sorted through his jewelry collection of tie tacks, cuff links, watches and his singular ring. Fingering each one I experienced fleeting memories of the man who help create me, yet whom I really didn’t know. He was a quiet person who could be the life of the party when so inclined, but in the privacy of our home he isolated himself from my me and my mother in his thoughts and activities. It was a sad realization but one that encouraged me to save every piece of his jewelry and store it away in velvet pouches in my jewelry drawer.

All except for the ring.

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My father treated that ring as a coming of age symbol. Something his father could never have afforded but he attained through backbreaking work in a gritty foundry that led him up and out to a better life. With a new-found understanding of his struggles and pride in his accomplishments, I began slipping my father’s ring on each one of my fingers until it rested upon one that fit. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the gold signet on my hand as it became somewhat of a coming of age symbol for me…..one helping re-connect a lifelong disconnect between a father and his daughter.

That’s how the ring became part of my “getting dressed up” routine, just as it had for my father. More significantly, it continually reminded me of who I am and from where I come, life lessons that have provided me with a core wisdom and strength of character.

Two years ago. after returning from a family trip, I was unable to find my father’s ring. Despite searching high and low and offering every known novena to St. Anthony, the end result was the same—-no ring. Eventually, I determined that I must have carelessly lost it somewhere on the trip. Slowly I came to grips with that reality and stopped reproaching my humanness, instead choosing to hope that who ever found the ring would enjoy it, as my father and I had. Yet still, when ever I chose an outfit for a special occasion, I wished for my wear dad’s ring to wear one more time.

Last week as I begrudgingly took down my Christmas tree, I began sorting through the cupboards where Santa and his elves always hide away my home’s year-round decorations. In the process, I decided to thoroughly clean out each section and vacuum and polish the wood surfaces. As I began tackling the first empty cupboard, a glisten caught my eye. Reaching in, I felt an object that I grasped and retrieved.

Even now in writing this story I feel a sense of wonder, as I recall opening the palm of my hand and discovering my father’s gold signet ring magically returned—-once again to be worn and passed along through generations of our family, providing wisdom and strength in knowing who they are and where they come from.

A Skirt and a Safety Pin

The other day I was meeting a friend for lunch and decided it was time to start weaning myself out of my post-holiday uniform of stretchy leggings and oversized tops. Something about becoming a poster child for bad bathing suit photos this summer.

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Looking through my closet, I decided to pull out a gray wool tweed skirt and matching gray sweater trimmed in Irish lace that have always made me feel special when I’ve worn them.

I will admit to a certain trepidation in choosing this outfit, realizing that my Thanksgiving to New Year’s Celebration had crossed the boundaries of any healthy, calorie-counting, balanced-diet eating. Ok, perhaps “crossed the boundary” should read, “lept off the fat-laden, mega-calorie cliff,” but I digress.

I slipped on the sweater first and immediately felt beautiful as the lace collar fell perfectly into place and the ruffled matching cuffs softly caressed my hands. Next, I held the skirt up to my lower body and looked in the mirror.

Christmas cookies and egg nog be damned! I can still wriggle my way into this fitted a-line style.

With a sense of confidence, I stepped into the skirt and pulled it up to my waist—-whereupon I quickly realized that determination does not always jive with reality. Translation: the skirt’s zipper was seeming to be an unwilling participant in my clothing my body.

After some pleading, sucking in and struggling, the zipper and I finally came to terms as it raised almost all the way to the waistband. It was there my battle of the bulge turned to the almighty button that held my destiny in it’s tiny, round shape.

To shorten this angst, I will simply say that despite all pushing, pulling and breath-holding, the button and its partner button hole acted like the worst divorcing couple, refusing to reunite despite my best waistband mediation efforts. Finally i decided that I had two choices. 1) to wriggle my way out of the skirt and let my holiday eating binge claim victory or, 2) I could use my Irish tenacity and figure out how to beat this recalcitrant button and its button hole cohort.

Use the precepts of physics (of which, truthfully, I know nothing, but I do know how to jerry rig stuff) I pulled the skirt up a bit higher, above my waist, to a slimmer area of my body. There I was able to leverage the material on either side of the button and button hole to a reasonably close distance and bind them with a safety pin. Taking a few deep breaths and practice-sitting on a chair to ensure I would not suffer death by impalement on the sharp tip of a popping safety pin, I pulled the sweater down over my newly- formed waistband.

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Voila! The skirt and sweater combo looked perfect to the world. I would be the only one aware of the fashion disaster going on around my waist.

Truth be told, despite the fact that the outfit still looked good, I was disappointed I could not zip and button the skirt in its intended fashion. As I was berating myself for my slothful holiday eating habits, a voice —-whom I choose to deign as some version of my fairy godmother—- whispered softly in my ear.Good lord, woman, how long have you been wearing this outfit?

Pondering the question I began to do the math. In review, I could remember wearing it when I worked as a media consultant for the Erie County Legislature. That was around 2002. At was at this point that my fairy godmother started gabbing again in my ear, although not quite so kindly or softly this time.

So it’s more than 17 years since you first donned this lovely outfit and because it doesn’t still fit perfectly, you’re upset??? For heavens sakes woman, get over yourself!

So I did. I went to lunch with my friend and ordered a salad and some unsweetened iced tea, with the determination I would again be able to zip and fasten my skirt as it was intended.

And when my friend remarked how lovely and slim I looked, I simply smiled and said thank you—-and prayed that my safety pin was stronger than my healthy eating habits had been over the holidays.

Reflections on Beauty & Grace Book Launch and Signing

It's now 36 hours since the Beauty & Grace Book Launch and Signing.

Like any birth process, the pain and challenges of writing this book and organizing the launch have now become overshadowed by the afterglow of what was a very special evening.

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From my family who lovingly saw to the many details of the launch, to friends who always faithfully support my work and readers who came because they enjoy my writing, Monday night at Rosary Hall we all bonded in a moment defined solely by Beauty & Grace. After two years of writing this book, it was a most humbling and rewarding experience.

Yet as any parent knows, giving birth to Beauty & Grace does not mean my author's journey is done. Far from it, in fact.

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Now comes the process of bragging about my newborn with endless social media posts and pics, bookstore proposals, media interview pitches and book club queries, all in the hopes that readers will want to buy and read this book.

With any luck what will follow will be cross country book presentations and signings and a growing audience for my work.

While I admit the prospects are exciting, I know the task of parenting a book is demanding and, at times, daunting.

What softens that intimidation is knowing no matter where this Beauty & Grace journey leads, I will travel in the company of 12 women and 3 men who were born from my imaginings and my constant companions for the last two years as I crafted the story of their lives....and as they changed mine.

 

A Story to Inspire — Not Shame

Harvey Weinstein.

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Once upon a time, that name evoked thoughts of a powerful Hollywood film producer with a midas touch. Now that name evokes thoughts of a degenerate individual with a tainted touch—one that intimidated women’s psyches and abused their bodies.

This isn’t the first time a powerful man has leveraged sexual encounters for the promise of professional advancement or a richer life. Among many are legendary tales of Hollywood casting couches and Oval Office trysts. What is different is that women are now becoming empowered to tell the nasty tales rather than hide in the shadows of shame that imprint their lives once they are abused.

When I was younger, I indignantly railed against women who were members of the secret society of sexually abused and intimated. Why would you allow the story of a man illicitly invading your body to go untold, not only protecting the degenerate, but leaving future women vulnerable to such attacks.

Then it happened to me.

I was on assignment in California for a national magazine. My subject was a wealthy, powerful businessman, internationally known for his strategic vision. It was a plum assignment made sweeter by the invitation from the man and his wife to stay in their guest quarters on their estate. I felt as if I’d hit the big time in my journalistic career.

Upon my arrival, my hosts decreed that business could wait as they had made plans for us to go to dinner at first class hotel on the ocean. It was further decreed that the wife and I would drive to dinner together while the husband would travel in his own car, having business to attend to beforehand.

Ultimately, the night unfolded like a scene from a Hollywood movie. We were seated on a private terrace with the sight and sounds of the ocean as our backdrop. We were personally served fine wine and gourmet food by the renown hotel chef. As an evening chill arrived, towers of sleek propane heaters magically wrapped warmth around us. All the while we engaged in dinner conversation dripping with references to the rich and famous. My reporter’s mind was whirling with details and interview questions.

When our oceanside gourmet experience came to an end, my interviewee asked that I ride back to their estate with him. He suggested we chat a bit about the article to come and schedule our times to meet. Like a lamb to the slaughter, I eagerly agreed and slid into the passenger side of his sleek and gleaming Porsche.

The memory of what happened next is indelibly etched into my body but murkily stored within my mind. I know that I buckled my seat belt. I remember looking over and smiling at this man of power and wealth. Then it began. He reached across the console of the car and started fondling my breasts. I was stunned. While I knew what my body was feeling, my mind was grappling. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? What about his wife?

Within seconds that felt like hours, I pushed away his hands and told him to stop.  He simply laughed and continued and continued, even as he drove, prodding my body as if I were a piece of meat.

When at last we arrived at his estate, I bolted from the car and ran off to my room. Once inside, I locked the door and sank to the floor in a stupor. My mind was racing trying to understand what had just happened and what I was going to do about it. I was on the interview assignment of a lifetime for a national magazine. My subject was a man revered and admired on a world scale. His wife seemed like a lovely woman and they spoke of a close circle of family and friends. None of it made sense.

Ultimately, I called a girlfriend back in Buffalo. With the three hour time difference, it was well after midnight when her phone rang. However my stalwart friend quickly awoke when she heard my tearful story. As we talked, we reviewed the night’s happenings and my possible options. Finally we agreed I would do everything within my power to not be alone with the man, to get the interview done and leave as soon as possible. It was a flawed plan, but seemed like the best of a lot of lousy options.

The next morning I walked to the main house with my heart in my throat. What would the man say or do in the presence of his wife? How would he act? How would I manage my edgy emotions in front of both of them?

Unbelievably, the man went about the morning as if nothing unusual had transpired between us. He was loving to his wife and cordial to me. Later that day we began our interview and he was the model of decorum. I seriously began to wonder if I was losing my mind and had somehow misunderstood or imagined the previous night’s experience.

That evening, my hosts took me to dinner with a large group of their friends.This time we traveled together, giving me some sense that I would be safe from any sexual assaults. At the restaurant, my interviewee hailed me as an honored guest and insisted I sit next to him. Again, like a lamb to the slaughter, I took my place within this man’s reach.

What transpired throughout that dinner is still hard for me to fathom. As the evening evolved my host continually caressed my thigh and reached up under my dress. The shock of his actions rendered me incapable of anything but rote actions. I ordered and ate food. I believe I engaged in some sort of reasonable dinner conversation. All the while I kept pushing away this perverted man’s hands and wondering how no one at the table could see or realize what was going on in their very presence.

The next morning as this man and and his wife and I shared breakfast, he again acted as if nothing had happened. He and I completed our interview that afternoon. I left their estate that evening.

Other than my girlfriend I never told anyone. I was ashamed. I was scared. I wanted to forget.

Most of all, I wasn’t sure if anyone would believe me. And if they did, I was certain this powerful man would retaliate and ultimately ruin my journalist’s reputation.

Today, 15 years later, I realize that all of those reasons are nothing but excuses, none of which are good enough to keep me from speaking out —for myself and for other women whom this man may have abused in the same or worse ways, since my experiences.

The Harvey Weinstein controversy reminds me of the many reasons why women don’t step forward. It also reminds me why I should….and why now, I am.