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My Writings

Song Sung True

Posted by Mari L. McCarthy

I don't recall my childhood much but I do remember loving music. I glued myself to my radio and played my red-speckled phonograph incessantly. My mom introduced me to "the standards" like Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra. She taught me their lyrics and we danced them in our kitchen. We had a long-running repartee about my musicality: "Oh, mom, I wish I could sing," I'd opine. Her response: "Oh, honey I wish you could too!"

I took piano lessons and competed in the Pittsburgh Pianorama several times. Don't know why I stopped though. My guess is that Sr. Miriam Joseph's raves about my much more talented younger brother Stephen strengthened my inferiority complex. But I'm sure St. Bernard School's Choral Music Director permanently sealed my singing fate when I tried out for The Choraleers. After only 5 or 6 bars, he told me that they didn't need me because I was tone deaf. What was tone deafness? A disease? Did I need a doctor? Of course, good little fifth-graders weren't supposed to ask for explanations or reasons why. And I didn't get any teacherly advice on how to prepare for another audition. (I mean teachers are supposed to help kids learn, right?) So my severely shy 10 year old only performed bedtime duets with her Jewel maroon transistor radio.

After college, Barry Manilow entered my life and reignited my musical passions. He had a song for all my seasons. But I was focused on my business career, my business career, and my business career. No time for the zillion lessons a tone deaf singer would surely require.

When I turned 50, I finally revisited my music. Maybe my menopausal hormones prompted me to set creative career goals. I wrote down that I'd take voice lessons. I felt that I was a hard worker and with the right teacher, I'd learn to sing. And so it goes in my life, when I set my goals, the universe provides avenues and options. One day in my local newspaper, an article about the Kingston School of Music appeared.

At my new school, I found some familiar faces. Their names were Inner Critics, equal opportunity creativity destroyers. Fortunately, having experienced their gyrations in my writing life, I had the skills to deal with them. Best plan of action--sing every day. Of course, that meant listening to my voice (Oh, Yuck). I taped all my classes and forced myself to pay attention. In time, I learned how to treat myself kindly and gently and discovered how relaxing, breathing and water drinking not only made me a better singer but a far less wrinkled one.

A year later, I debuted in my school recital performing Frank Sinatra's "All the Way" (thanks for the introduction, mom). When I sang on stage, I traveled to another world. I think it is called an "out-of-body experience." After, my teacher asked,"How did it go?" "Were you scared?" "No way," I answered, "When's the next recital?"

Now, after 3½ years of lessons and daily practice, I'm making my first CD. And my mother (who art in heaven) and I continue our musical dialogue. I tell her, "Mom, I know I can sing," and she tells me,"Oh, honey, I know you can too."

Since Forever

Posted by Mari L. McCarthy

describe the imageThe first time I met Barry Manilow
(October 2, 2004 ), I read him my poem, "Since Forever" and told him that the next time we met, I would perform the song "Since Forever". Here are the lyrics and the song is on my CD, "The Barry Thought of You".

On an iced-up springtime day,
You melted all my grief away
Arriving gratefully on cue
Ending silent sorrow blues.

Since forever day and night
Inside my heart you burn so bright
And you magically grant everyone delight
Since forever night and day,
You bring heaven here to stay
Since forever, till whenever, and for always.  

Readied chances, I soon got
Questions answered without thought
And I found my love within
With your passions as my wind
Since forever day and night
Inside my heart you burn so bright
And you magically grant everyone delight.


Since forever night and day,
You bring heaven here to stay
Since forever, till whenever and for all ways
Please now come into my arms,
The safest harbor for your heart,
And all the time we'll make our rhymes
Craft pathways to the stars.

Since forever day and night
Inside my heart you burn so bright
And you magically grant everyone delight.

Since forever night and day,
You bring heaven home to stay
Since forever till whenever and for all ways

Since forever, till whenever you inspire all my days

Since forever, till whenever and always.

Familiarity Brings Respect

Posted by Mari L. McCarthy

"It's all in your head," the doctor announced as he showed me my MRI that sticky July Friday afternoon. There were white spots.everywhere. Oh, no, my beloved brain was broken. How could this be happening to the most important part of me?

I took a deep breath, a big gulp and calmly asked, "Is it a brain tumor? "

He rambled through confusing medical terms explaining what wasn't wrong with my brain. Finally, he told me what it was.

"Whew," I sighed. It's only Multiple Sclerosis.

I knew Multiple Sclerosis. I had participated in many MS Walks. Not a life-threatening event but a chronic disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks insulation surrounding nerve cells that control all bodily functions. Finally, some scientifically substantiated answers for the wobbling and wall banging I had experienced the previous 5 months. And more good news: surgery was not an option.

"But, what can I do now?" I asked.

"There's no cause nor cure," the neurologist said, "the best I can give you is a prescription for prednisone to settle your physical symptoms and a recommendation that you reduce stress."

Since I didn't have a cross-country plane to catch until Sunday afternoon, I'd have some time to read everything I could about this physical phenomenon. I'd also schedule some time to make any modifications to how I ran my management consulting business with clients from Bristol, Tennessee to Trona, California.

Over the next few weeks, while the oral steroids solved some problems, new symptoms appeared. Like fatigue. It arrived and I thought it would never leave. I tried large doses of rest, relaxation, sleep, chocolate, caffeine, and mountain dew but nothing worked. My right side was becoming less functional and something, maybe fear (?), made me swap my standard transmission Integra for an automatic one. And I did something I hadn't done in 8 years: I told myself to take a vacation.

So I did nothing. For weeks and weeks and weeks.

Doing nothing didn't mean nothing doing. I accomplished much that sizzling, steamy summer. I learned to love laziness. And discovered how my fine-tuned left-brain skills could help me reexamine my priorities and revise my to do lists.

To maximize my sitting down time, I ordered pads and pens and restarted journaling. When my right hand lost its senses, my left hand pitched in and in time furnished some pretty neat material. I discovered I had a right brain that helped me reupholster some unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.

Some days my entries bored me. Sometimes my brilliance baffled me.
My words, phrases and sentences prompted me to ask myself, "Where did that comment come from?" "Who told me that?" "How did I ever think that?" Always curious, I asked my pages more questions and more questions and surprisingly, in time and patience, received answers. I discovered that MS was giving me an opportunity to change what I'd been doing for almost 40 years--emotionally and intellectually mistreating myself.

Now, I could choose what messages I gave myself and what tone of voice I used. I selected different words for my vocabulary. I eliminated perfection and made excellence my new goal. Rather than continually questioning everything with why, why, why, it felt healthier to use "hmmm, that's interesting what's that all about?" Hard work and sensitivity replaced pain and suffering. And I even found space for success.

Before that summer, I never thought much about my life. Home was someplace I passed by on the way to somewhere else. But now, I paid attention to myself. I started understanding and accepting my strengths; I began entertaining my possibilities.

Managing Mic

Posted by Mari L. McCarthy

When my bosses asked me (again!) to forego the job transfer I wanted and stay where "they really needed me", I quit. No job. No plan.

But what now? Why, time to clean house of course. In going through my childhood memorabilia box I refound my best friend Dear Diary (DD). She had always listened and helped me figure out things. We celebrated our reconnection by purchasing our favorite Staples golden tablets. Just like old times. Me grumbling, moaning and dumping questions: "What's to become of me? What am I to do with my life?" Instead of predictably sitting there taking my abuse, DD answered back.

"Well, you could always write," she said.

"How? Details, please," I begged. So I wrote and I wrote. And my writings pointed me to writing books, to writing courses. And I wrote and I wrote. Through my daily missives I rediscovered my school essays, weekly newspaper reporting clips, corporate training programs. That's it! My new career would be my old love.writing. So I set up my office and progressed from "just journaling" to "real writing."

And then the fun began.

My new job jitters were physically debilitating events. My throat tightened and my stomach twisted around on itself. What was this all about? What possessed me? With no prior frame of reference in this matter, I did what I always did with conflict, I ran away. I didn't enter my office for weeks and days.

But I had to solve this mystery and my morning Dear Diary sessions led me to my writing teacher's book, "The Art of Fiction Writing" where I met My Inner Critic (Mic). Now that I had identified the culprit, I just had to eliminate him.

My first act--lock Mic out of my office and refuse to succumb to his hypercriticality. That was a short-term fix. I needed long-term solutions.

More writing yielded more options. Of course! Draw on my business consulting experiences when I trained managers in redesigning their work life to achieve corporate profitability. Mic couldn't be any worse than my change-averse clients who excelled at maintaining the status quo. Could he?

I scheduled daily on-line meetings with him. He yelled things like, (expletives deleted) "Writing is so foolish.spending so much time on yourself. What, you a writer? You were successful in business; you can't have a creative writing career too! Ha. Ha. Ha."

I listened for a time and then I (gulps) confronted him: communicating my writing goals, outlining performance expectations and engaging him in rewriting his job description.

Today, when he attends daily writing appointments, he knows his behavior must be positive, his criticism timely and constructive. Oh, he still tries his tricks but I (no gulps) still confront him.

And, some days, we even clink a chardonnay over his progress. Mic's defensiveness is down, his self-confidence is up and he's learning that health and happiness just might be a reasonable alternative to tyranny and torture.

Reupholstering A Life

Posted by Mari L. McCarthy

Before 1991, I existed for everyone else.

But that summer, an uninvited house guest named Multiple Sclerosis moved in, helped with my interior decorating challenges and taught me how to create a place that's definitely ME.

Back then, I was a 40-year-old head dwelling career woman. A management consulting firm owner, I came home to change my garment bag contents and run for the next airplane. But my new roommate, pulling at my pants legs constantly, demanded my attention. "Okay, okay, okay, " I'd say. "You can have a little of my time but then I've got to get back to work."

Eventually, when driving a car was not an option and getting to the bathroom on time was quite a trip, I decided (reluctantly) to give myself--- a vacation at my beach front home. Changing from a weekend visitor to live-in landholder meant challenges, concerns, and questions. What was I going to do with my life? What could I do? What did I want to do? Where would I begin to clean up this mess?

Thank goodness, most of my brain still functioned. I figured with all my business experience I could find a way to resolve my dilemmas. I decided to employ my company. I couldn't be any uglier than some of my worst clients. Could I?

Early on, I knew I was in over my head. So I called an old friend out of retirement---Transcendental Meditation. We ventured into many areas. I heard the same-old complaints, "Weak. Wimp. Lazy. Loser. How selfish you are spending so much time on yourself." But soon, louder, stronger, wiser voices began attending my daily TM meeting and contributed encouragement: like my father's favorite phrases "Time and patience" and "You can be anything you choose." They gave me confidence to continue with my home improvement plan.

As I entered the next room and the next and the next, a lot of stuff came out of my woodwork. Over the years, I had accumulated all kinds of junk. I examined what was inside my closets, drawers, and cabinets and happily trashed what did not fit or even belong to me. "How did this get in here? Where did this come from?" "What in the world did I keep this for?" I wondered and laughed. A lot.

That summer, I performed many minor repairs. Those jobs I had always meant to get around to. I changed the messages on my internal answering machine. Excellence replaced perfection. I decided hard work didn't need suffering to achieve success. Rather than continually questioning "Why?" I asked, "What's this?" and "How could I better this?" By moving out of my head and into my body I discovered seldom-used tools: intuition, feelings, senses.

One morning, "What about writing?" came up during my meditation. Hmm. What about that? I explored old journals and a memory box Mother presented me after my Father's death. He saved everything. Amazing. I was a child once. A child who aced essay exams. A young woman who was a newspaper editor.

I revisited my newspaper-clipping portfolio. Wow. I wrote that? I recalled my delight in doing feature articles. Perhaps, now was my time to write. My internal critic AKA Mic blared to differ. "Your life isn't interesting. You have nothing to say that people would pay to read" and on and on. Horrendous headaches and stomach pains. A new household challenge. How to tackle this job?

I started journaling. Daily, with pen and Starbucks in hand, I wrote my "Morning Pages." Three pages of whatever. No thinking. No editing. Just writing. Some days my entries bored me. Sometimes my brilliance baffled me. I did need some help with this task as my right hand had lost its senses. So my left hand pitched in and in time furnished some pretty neat material.

Timing is important in everyone's career.

I am grateful that my "home health aide" brought me a process that makes my home livable. Cleaning house challenges and rewards my heart and head, my body and soul. It's great exercise--I confront clutter, I rearrange furniture and I discover articles I never knew I possessed.

Iowa Autumn

Posted by Mari L. McCarthy

I walked through the early morning Wuthering Heights weather searching for the campus theatre, when suddenly my knees bumped into the inground "Red Masquers Performance Center" marquee.

There I was, Carrie Cecelia Ryhun, now a slightly bruised 47 year old coed, going to college to become a playwright. Scared? No. Anxious? A bit. Excited? Definitely.

Answering my front door banging, an elderly janitor let me in never asking for identification. For the fun of it, I flashed him my student badge anyway.

As I entered the room marked "Lydon Little Theatre", the lemon pledged aroma assaulted my sinuses. I walked up onto the stage. While I tried to guess how many seats the theatre held, a voice boomed out from behind the curtains. "Hell-O? Who's there? What time is it?"

"It's just me," I answered.

Then a thirty-something, sandy haired male appeared. He looked like he had spent the night, or maybe several nights there. He attempted to untossle his hair and properly position his wire rimmed eyeglasses as he spoke again.

"Hey, I'm Kurt."

"Hey yourself. I'm Carrie. Didn't mean to wake you. I'm here to get a feel of exactly what I've gotten myself into. Do you live here?"

"Only part-time when I need some peace."

"Piece of what?" I asked.

He smirked as his now wide-open baby blues gave me the thrice over. "By piece I mean p-e-a-c-e, CarrieCarrie. You here for Professor Greenfield's playwriting workshop?"

"Yeah. You too?"

"Yep. Welcome. How did you get here?"

"By airplane and then I drove up I-16," I replied.

"Yeah, right. No, I mean how did you get into this seminar? It's an invitation only thing, you know."

"Oh, about a year ago, I met Norman at a Catskills Elderhostel that I attended with my mom. I was his "ingénue" for his acting class. We clicked. We kept in touch, professionally that is. He got the grant for this workshop, he accepted my essay, made me an offer and here I am."

"I can hardly wait to read your writing; you do have the tartest tongue. I think it will be fun getting into trouble with you. So where are you staying?"

"At the Clarinda Inn. Where else? I was just headed back there for breakfast. "Want to join me? You could use my room to get cleaned up. And I presume, no rather hope to God, you plan to get cleaned up for class?"

"Yes. Yes. Yes. I always carry a change of clothes just in case."

"Let's do it," I said.

"Wow, that's the best invitation a beautiful woman's ever given me," he said scurrying behind the curtains.

While he clunked and clamored getting his stuff together, I realized what I just had offered and why he had so readily taken me up on my offer. I sent a note to myself that in the future I'd do more thinking before speaking.

The walk to my home away from home was quiet and sunny. In the inn's foyer, I gave Kurt my room key and asked what he wanted for breakfast. To be sure he knew I was talking about food, I quickly added: "Anything you don't want in your omelet?"

"I'll take everything Mrs. F. has in her kitchen. I'm ravished," he called back over his shoulder as he bounded up the hardwood stairs. I just stood there noticing his cuteness.

"Well, you ladies from back East don't waste any time getting chummy with the locals do ya?" Mrs. F. whispered in my left ear. "Come into my kitchen while I rustle up some breakfast for you scarecrows and you can fill me in on your new friend."

"Okay," I said, "I'll give you the poop but first you have to finish your bio you started yesterday."

"Deal. About seven years ago, I needed to come back here to tend to my Uncle Carl and luckily, I got a teaching job at the university. Though born and raised here, I hadn't been back except for funerals and weddings for over thirty years. Your Norman was one of the first people I met. We dated. But he was stuck in his ways. He carries this torch for the mysterious Ruby, his dead wife. You resemble her so I'm sure that Norman's invitation was somewhat personally motivated."

"No thanks. I love Norman for his brains, not his body. Besides, you sound like there could be a chance for you if Ruby weren't in the way." I offered.

"No, one male partner for one life time is quite enough!"

Before I could come up with another question, Mrs. Fenton poured another round of coffee and spoke up with, "Your turn." And so I started until a pair of hands shook my shoulders.

"Ahem. Ahem. Hell-OOO," Kurt interrupted.

"Oh, how long have you been there?" I asked.

"A couple hours." Kurt said. "Thanks for the shower. I really enjoyed the aloe mint shampoo and the warm vanilla scrubbing salts. Now I want to eat everything in sight."

Handing us our home fried covered omelets, Mrs. F said she'd bring in a fresh pot of coffee soon.

We chose our eating utensils and headed down the hall to the dining room.

To Be Continued...

    53 Weekly Writing Retreats
    How to Use Your Journal
    to get Healthy Now

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