Monday, December 10, 2018

The Long Distance Road Race of Making My American Dream Come True

Recent Races in Manhattan and Brooklyn Illustrate My Quest

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft


I look at anybody who runs with awe. 

I made a New York City marathon runner laugh after the race this year by saying, "A marathon is 26.2 miles, and you ran all of those miles. I can run about .2 miles. And by the end of that I want to die."

In another way, though, I've been a very long distance runner. 

This post is for anyone who has been working toward making their dream come true for a very long time. In my case, it's been a three-decade road race, and I still don't consider my dream to be realized.

Of course, I have a tendency to move the finish line. Or the finish line moves itself.

I've defined success as achieving critical and popular acclaim for my writing. 

I could not have made my road race any more difficult. I could not have set the bar any higher. Sheesh! 

And the second part is to get at least six books I've written onto my shelf before I die. That's how many novels Jane Austen finished, plus some miscellaneous writings, before she died in so untimely a way at the age of 41.

So many writers these days have dozens of books to their credit. I'm insanely jealous. They were blessed by early success that freed them to write fulltime. I craved that freedom too, from the very beginning of my novel-writing efforts three decades ago.

That didn't seem to be God's plan for me. I had two small children to raise on my own and to support, and I had to juggle a corporate communications job, a daily commute to NYC (1.5 hours each way), my desire to write, and the need to pour myself into loving my children to make up for the fact that their father and I were divorced. 

By the way, the list in the previous paragraph is not in order of my priority. The children were my first priority.

The juggling was tough. It's still tough. The only time I didn't have to juggle was July 2014 to July 2015. I had a small windfall and used it to give myself a creative writing sabbatical in Paris. How that came about is described in my blog here, in the July posts of my blog.

I'm beginning to receive the critical acclaim that makes up the first part of my dream. Writers Digest, a big magazine for writers, recently said The Paris Writers Circle (written during that sabbatical in Paris) was "Delightful!" and "Captivating!" They rated the story "Outstanding in plot, story appeal, character appeal, and character development."

This is very exciting to me. I can feel, even for a small while, before I resume the race, that I've been on the right course, that I've passed this test of endurance, at least so far.

I will have to wait to see if popular acclaim follows. The long, long road race is not over, not until the fat lady sings, I suppose.

There was no fat ladies in sight at the NYC marathon in early November, nor in Brooklyn on December 1, during a 5K race. Here are pics from those events:


traveling writer in search of the american dream
Triumphant finisher, wrapped up.

traveling writer in search of the american dream
Lots of finishers.

traveling writer in search of the american dream
some people preferred these lighter wraps.

traveling writer in search of the american dream
They didn't even look tired, these runners. They looked jolly good, like they can do another 26.2 miles.



traveling writer in search of the american dream
segue to Brooklyn's Prospect Park and a 5K road race there.

traveling writer in search of the american dream
Christmas was the theme.

traveling writer in search of the american dream
Elfin green tutus.

traveling writer in search of the american dream
Mr. and Mr.s Claus.

traveling writer in search of the american dream
Lots of Santas.

traveling writer in search of the american dream
I like her reindeer sunglasses. Most people also had bells on that jingled as they ran. How about you? Done a 5K lately? Comment below!







Saturday, November 24, 2018

Prospect Park in Four Seasons

In Search of the American Dream--Peace, Nature, Sanity

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

Prospect Park is the only way I can stay sane in overly-peopled Brooklyn. I’m in the park almost every day, in every season. Instead of catching the subway at the nearest station, I usually walk half a mile to the park, and then half a mile within the park, to catch the subway after a 20-minute walk.
During rush hour, the park isn’t too busy. I can take my eyes off the path, stop watching for oncoming foot traffic, and take time to look up into the canopy of leaves. I try to catch a beautiful image of nature, to imprint it on my mind before I head into the concrete, brick, steel, and glass of New York City. I look up at the leaves, the branches. They don’t expect anything of me. They ease my mind before I step out of the park and into the river of strangers, all bustling past me and wishing I would get out of their way. And vice versa.
Today I’m sharing some photographs from every season in the park. 

traveling writer in search of the American Dream


The birds I see and hear in the park are my only exposure to the huge range of creatures that share this planet with us. A heron, an ibis, swans raising their family, ducks, geese, the song of redwing blackbirds in summer. 

And turtles.That’s the extent of my exposure to wildlife in Brooklyn.
I have a friend who lives in the Great Swamp in New Jersey. She sees fox, bears, deer, groundhogs, rabbits, chipmunks, moles, voles…and turtles. I miss the biodiversity of my sub-rural home in New Jersey.
During the November 15th snowstorm, I walked at 4 p.m., in the dusk, in Prospect Park on my way home from the library, where I’d been working. As soon as I entered the park, I saw that I was just about the only person, and just about the only woman alone. I felt fearful – I do not want to undergo the anguish of a rape or other attack. I takes decades to begin to forgive. That's not how I want to spend my life.
But I also felt rebellious – why should I give up the beauty of the park just because there might be a criminal lurking? Women are trained from childhood to be afraid of this. Couldn’t I be free of the fear?
The park was beautiful in the snow. The problem with Prospect Park – with any park, for a woman – is that there’s always people around, so annoying, and then finally when you have it to yourself, you’re terrified of being attacked.
I decided to risk walking alone in the snow.
I said the same prayer that I said whenever I was scared on my bus journey around America:
I asked for two angels before, two on each side, and two behind me.
I couldn’t shake the fear, and I ran in order to shorten the amount of time I was alone in the park, and therefore reduce the risk.
And I left the park at the first opportunity. I would have liked to continue for another 20 minutes, to get closer to home. But it felt too risky.
So I left the beautiful, serene, empty park, where the snow was falling so quietly, so gently, and instead walked home outside the park, along a street clogged with traffic, with cars honking at each other and throwing up slush.

Two weeks later, in the morning before sunrise, a woman jogging on the edge of the park was repeatedly raped. 

WINTER


traveling writer in search of the American Dream
The park is beautiful and nearly empty in snowstorms. Blissful. But is that friend or foe approaching?

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

SPRING



traveling writer in search of the American Dream


traveling writer in search of the American Dream





traveling writer in search of the American Dream


traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream



traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream



SUMMER

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream

traveling writer in search of the American Dream


FALL















Wednesday, November 21, 2018

In Search of the American Dream: Acknowledging Our Past

The Traveling Writer Takes You Back

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft



For Thanksgiving, I'd like to take you back to my bus journey circumnavigating the continental U.S.  I ended that seven-week trip on Thanksgiving Day, with a visit to Plymouth Rock.


Statue of Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoags, the tribe that enabled the Pilgrims survive their first winter, on Cole's Hill, overlooking Plymouth Harbor.
More pics at the links underlined below.



Every year, Native Americans gather at the Rock to protest the theft and murder by which the Europeans turned this country into America. It's sponsored by United American Indians of New England (UAINE). I met Native Americans at the protest who came all the way from Montana to attend.

You can see pics from the event here

While I was at Plymouth Rock, I visited a replica of the Mayflower. It's a very small ship. When it landed in 1620, it wasn't the first time Europeans set foot on North America, but the colony founded at Plymouth turned out to be the only one that lasted -- and grew. See pics of the ersatz Mayflower here.

Making a New American Dream


Now that we're here in North America, with the damage done to the native peoples, let's each help a disadvantaged person this Thanksgiving weekend. Or how about just helping with the dishes? You'll be helping someone's American Dream come true -- of a chance to relax and stop working on Thanksgiving!

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Writer at a Monastery Slips Up


The Traveling Writer Slips Up In Search of the American Dream

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

Ha! I know what you were thinking: she crept into forbidden territory, the monk’s residence wing…
Ha!
The story is that I went for a walk on the Saturday morning, after breakfast and before the writing workshop. Not content to stay on the asphalt switch-back driveway, which was not enough walking in my opinion, I sought to lengthen my time outdoors by following a few paths. 


Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
This monastery overlooks the Hudson River. More pics below.


The paths were just mown grass. The grass was wet and the ground soggy. I was so determined to get exercise and fresh air, however, so I stuck with it. My sneakers got damp, then soaked. But a good walk would set me up for the day, I reasoned. I had another pair of shoes with me. All would be well.
But the path didn’t lead all that far before a sign appeared: "Private: Monastic Enclosure". I was hungry for exercise. I decided I’d try to go down to the riverfront. It had been to soggy the previous day. I felt thwarted from my river fix.
I left the mown path and walked back to the driveway and down its slope to the monastery. My feet were cold and wet, and so were the bottoms of my pants, but if there’s anything I do well in life, it’s persevere.

I stepped onto the mown path that led down the slope toward the river. So far so good.
I came to a tree. The mown path looked pretty muddy, not too good. Down the hill from the tree, however, a woman was walking up the slope from the river. If she had made it, so could I.
I started down the muddy slope next to the tree, using tufts of grass to gain traction. So far so good.
And all of a sudden, things weren’t so good. My feet started slipping – I guess those tufts were muddy and slick themselves. There was so little traction. My arms started windmilling. I tried to hold the hand with my cell phone up high. Maybe I could make it. 

Then my legs started windmilling.
Splat! Flat on my back, watery mud soaking the back of me from head to heels.
I sat up. I noticed the woman walking up the slope on the opposite side of the tree. She hadn't seen me make a fool of myself apparently.
Feeling foolish, in sight of anybody looking out the monastery's windows at the beautiful river view, I clambered carefully to my feet and made it onto safer ground.
My cold, wet clothes clung to me. Black mud had spattered even the front of my white linen blouse.
But by golly, I was this much closer to the river. There was no point in going back to the monastery before I’d seen the water’s edge.
I have a little ritual I do at the edges of bodies of water. It’s a mini-baptism I give myself. I’ve done it in the Pacific, Caribbean, Atlantic (from the French side), and Mediterranean, at Barcelona and Positano. I would do it at the Hudson River too.
I walked through the monastery's woods. The path switched back and forth, down to a little beach covered with stones.
Usually when I do my mini-baptism, I take at least one shoe off and get at least a few toes of one foot into the water. This time I couldn’t stand the thought of bending over, cold wet clothes touching new places, to untie a shoe. Both shoes were squishing-wet anyway. I just stuck the toe of one shoe into the river and committed, again, to excellent writing and to following Jesus. Then I trudged up the hill praying I’d get help in the monastery.

Getting Help While In Search of the American Dream 

Well, thank God, the receptionist was at her desk, even on a Saturday morning.
“I heard someone slipped in the mud,” she said when she saw me. The woman walking up the hill maybe told her – though she hadn’t asked me if I was okay. Or someone looking out the window shared the embarrassing news.
“What can I do to help you?” she asked.
“Would you run the clothes through the washing machine – twice?”
She said yes.
Upstairs in the communal bathroom, I got the mud out of my hair and off my body. I dressed in the only other outfit I had brought with me. I made a bundle – including my sneakers -- and took it back to the receptionist. I told her I’d carry the bundle to the machine for her, but she said she would do it.
“Is there anything you don’t want to go in the dryer?” she asked.
“The white blouse,” I said. It looked horrible – black mud all over the back, black splatters on the front, dirt ground into the elbows. It was a great blouse. I hoped my perseverance hadn’t ruined it.
Then I went to the kitchen and asked for a bag of rice. My poor phone was smeared with mud too, and plenty of it had seeped inside the case and maybe inside the phone.
Ten minutes later my phone was snugged into a generous nest of rice and I was sitting amongst fellow writers in dry clothes.
Later, the walking clothes appeared on my bed. The blouse was wet, the rest of the clothes almost completely dry.
At home I soaked the blouse for hours in stain-removing solutions.
Today, only I can tell what that blouse went through.





Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
The chapel. 

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
A labyrinth.

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
The path beckons, but the sign says "go no further."

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
The chapel's bell tower.

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
The garden shed.

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
The guesthouse. The monk's residence is beyond the bell tower.

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
I made it to the riverfront for my mini-baptism!

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
A small shrine near the river.

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
The scene of the crime.

Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
An ancient oak outside the chapel.


Traveling writer in search of the American Dream
Close-up of moss-covered branches. How about you? Got a funny mud story? Comment below!