Friday, January 29, 2010

Life's Moments

I'll be heading down to the city tonight to give a talk to about eighty people that are affiliated with Multiple Sclerosis Association of America. The people in the room are all connected to the organization in one way or another, the event's primary focus to say thanks to the people from this area who so generously donate to them throughout the year.

I was asked to speak for two reasons. I'm a writer (and people tend to find that interesting). Kayla's Daddy--which debuted this month--gives a nod to their organization during the story (page 175, if you're curious). And I'm one of their clients. Which means there came a point in my life this past summer when I needed their assistance (to help with the co-pay of a very costly medical test I had to have related to my own MS).

I have to say, there's a part of me that's nervous about this talk. I write because I'm essentially an introvert. It's how I express myself best. But there's also a part of me that's excited to do this as it's a pay-it-forward kind of thing.

The topic I've decided to speak on? Life's Moments. And since I need a little practice right now, I figured I'd try it out the written format which I prefer. Let me know what you think, okay?

**If you look back on your life, there tends to be certain moments that stand out. Good ones, bad ones, and anything in between. Very often, they're the ones that shape who we are--giving us direction and validation along the way.

While I have many, I'd like to share a small handful with you tonight.

1) Awe. I remember, as a very little girl, skipping off to the park with my Grandpa. We'd find a bench by the water and sit there for hours, feeding pigeons while he shared stories of his life in Ireland and his journey to the United States. Before we left, he pointed across the water at the biggest rock I'd ever seen, a rock with a giant "C" painted on it in blue that seemed to rise up from the water. With a twinkle of pride in his eyes he said, "I painted that 'C' for Casey." I believed him for more years than I should, confident my grandpa could do anything--including hanging by a rope painting a letter on a rock. Even now, I still believe it stands for Casey rather than Columbia University.

I miss that mischievous sparkle. But I miss that man even more.

2)Pride. When I was a kindergartner we were given a basic art assignment that I took a bit further--with the help of cotton balls, pieces of fancy trim work, buttons, etc. The picture of a king that I created caught the eye of a visitor to our school who pulled it for a county-wide art show. To this day, I still remember that picture and the pride I felt in myself.

3)The Birth of a Dream. I was playing at my friend Lisa's house one rainy day. I was in fourth grade at the time. It was about halfway through our playdate and we were bored with our Barbies and board games. So, as a way to keep us sane, she pulled out a stack of paper and a carton of crayons and presented the task of writing a picture book story. Mine was about a brown polar bear (don't ask) and I named him Kidney. My dream to become a writer started with that bear.

4) A first step. After my freshmen year of college I had the opportunity to intern at a newspaper chain in Connecticut. The first assignment I was given was to write a story about a help line for troubled teenagers that was just getting off the ground. I wrote it, turned it in, and moved on. Three days later, while at the grocery store for my mom, I walked past a rack of papers. And there, for everyone who walked by to see, was my byline. That's the moment I first realized my dream could--and would--come true.

5)Complete responsibility and utter love. The first moment I held each of my daughters in my arms is something I will never forget. It's nice to look at pictures but none are as vivid as those moments in my mind. They changed me completely and forever.

6)Odd. It was the winter of 2005 and I was waiting to see the cover for my very first book. For years I'd held one single image in my head--a nighttime shot of the beach with an amusement ride pier in the background, a body laying face down in the foreground.

The day the cover was expected to arrive, there was no mail in my box. The next day, the same. About two hours later the mail carrier knocked on my door to tell me there'd been a fire on the truck the day before. The mail that was not burned was damaged by the water used to put the fire out. I think I laughed. And then cried. And then laughed some more (really, it was a Candid Camera moment if there ever was one). The next day she came back...with the water soaked & partially burned envelope that contained my cover. I pulled it out, anxious to see the cover I'd been imagining for years and...

It was pink. Bright pink. With a beach chair.

No, I'm not kidding. I wish I was.

7) Disbelief. About nine months after my pink book came out, my cell phone rang while I was on the way home from my eldest daughter's dance class. I didn't recognize the number but picked up anyway. It was a member of the Agatha Award Committee (like the Rita of the cozy mystery world). My pink book was a nominee for Best First Novel.

I think I repeated my name for her--just to be sure she knew who she was calling. She did. To this day, I have that number saved on the contact list of my phone under the heading "Agatha Call."

8) Rug Pulled Out. I remember sitting in a hospital room by myself 3 1/2 years ago, waiting for someone to release me after a bizarre series of symptoms that brought me to the E.R. the day before. The attending doctor walks in and says, "We got your MRI results back just now. We believe you have M.S."

Unlike so many who hear those words for the first time, I knew exactly what M.S. was. My mother-in-law at the time had it and I'd watched it take her down. Only I had two small kids and a dream to be a writer...

9) Crossroads. That moment was a turning point in so many ways, spawning new moments I'll never forget...

*It pushed me. Hearing I had M.S. made me want to reach higher, to get in with a big publisher, furthering my dream. And, in the past 21 months, I've been contracted for nine books.

*It propelled me to do something for the cause. I took part in a two year drug study. I donated blood for a genetic study out of Washington University. I wear a monitor around my waist twice a year for a week each time for the University of Illinois (they're studying movement & M.S.). I captained a walk and raised over $2,600 thanks, largely, to the mystery writing community. And, one day in the future, I'd like to do an online auction utilizing my writing connections to benefit MSAA.

*It moved me. Last year, on my birthday, my then ten-year-0ld gave me a homemade birthday card. Inside was $13 (all the money from her piggy bank) and a note that she wanted it to go to M.S.

*It taught me that it's okay to seek help sometimes. Last summer I was faced with the need to undergo a costly medical test. The expense was daunting for someone like me who was a single mom working five part-time jobs and paying a very hefty monthly insurance premium. My doctor suggested I contact MSAA for help. At first I was embarrassed. I don't like to ask for help. But, this time, I knew I had to. And sure enough they swooped in, taking the burden of that particular co-pay from my too-heavy shoulders.

10) Which brings me to this moment of Gratitude.
(And then I thank everyone in the room for making things a little easier for people like me.)

I apologize for the lengthy post. I guess I'm a little keyed up right now, worried I'm not saying the right things.

So how about you? Care to share a special moment or two from your life?

P.S. If I made any spelling errors, please forgive me this time. I was speaking it while I was writing it in an effort to get the flow right.


Lisa Ruff said...

How could you not say the right things when you were speaking from your heart. Lovely post. Thank you.

Leigh Duncan said...

Laura, be prepared to hand out tissues. I wish I could be in the audience when you give this speech tonight. As it is, I feel honored that you chose to share some of your "Life Moments" with us.

Lynn said...

Nice post. Good luck with the speech tonight. You're fantastic!

My special moment? I won Employee of the Year (several years ago) when I thought my contributions were going unnoticed -- but I was wrong. (grin) I was totally shocked and humbled and grateful.

Linda Warren said...

What a lovely, emotional speech. Having RA I sould identify with a lot of those moments.

Don't worry. You'll do great tonight.


Estella said...

Great post! You'll do great tonight.

EllenToo said...

This is off the subject of your speech but I would like to say that I loved "Kayla's Daddy".
As to your speech I am in agreement with will need to be handing out tissues.

Laura said...

It went great!!!!!!!!!!!!

And the whole thing was yet another "moment." The event was held at a famous wax museum in midtown (NY). The podium where I stood had my back to a floor to ceiling glass the background????? The Times Square ball and all the lights, etc. Very surreal. But cool.

thanks, everyone!!!

And EllenToo, thanks for the kind words on Kayla's Daddy!!!!

Linda Henderson said...

I have severe RA and like the above Linda I can certainly emphathize. When I got my diagnoses it was a relief that they could tell me what was wrong with me. Then reality hits and you have to deal with it. It's been rough for me and my family but we are working through it.