• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I Am Just A Dreamer But You Are Just a Dream

Dear Betsy,

I’m an aspiring writer and am at my wits end.  I’m trying to write a novel about life as a scientist (my former life) and I’m getting nowhere fast.

I’m wondering if you provide consulting advice to people such as myself.  I could pay you for your services.  Please let me know if this is possible.


Dear Mad Scientist:

That’s so funny. I tried to write about life as a bitch on wheels (my former life), but I couldn’t get the tone right. Then I tried to write about life as a Rockette  (former life) but  the sequins jammed my keyboard. I tried to write about life as a Julia Child impersonator (former life)  but I couldn’t truss a chicken. Then I tried to write about my life as a Rabbi (my former life) and I prayed with all my soul and all my might and I still couldn’t figure out why this night was different than all other nights or if I wanted or just thought I wanted Jonathan Safron Foer’s new American haggadah. I also tried to write a novel about life as a novelist (my former life) with an eight billion dollar brownstone in Brooklyn or a big audience in France or a nervous breakdown or a bad breath or faith.

You can pay someone to teach you how to write. pay someone to write your book for you, edit or consult. Or go back to a field that yields identifiable results and might possibly move the needle. Like science. WHoever you are, I love you. Turn back!

What is your former life?

70 Responses

  1. Former dog walker, cook, recovering celebrity personal assistant, theme restaurant waitress (hi, my name is Shanna and I’ll be your serving wench this evening), pr flack, telemarketer and failed drug dealer, all of which I feel comfortable saying publicly, because the statute of limitations has GOT to be up by now.

    There’s no going back. Also, that link makes me feel oogy.

  2. Former foster kid, field worker, nursing home aide, visual artist, photo researcher, trends analyst, librarian.

    • Zoo librarian, research for Yukies–young urban keepers. Newspaper librarian–research for the LA Times, Corporate librarian–and public librarian. I liked the zoo best of all.

  3. Bookstore clerk, retail clerk, fast-food, retail, aerobics instructor, bartender (nightclub, country club, neighborhood bar, in that order), drunken temp and now a corporate sell out.

  4. Former project officer in charitable organisations. What does that mean? It means I had a lot of time on my hands to write screenplays at work.

  5. Salad bar restocker, house cleaner, grocery checker, pecan shucker, motel desk clerk (11-7 shift), bologna slicer, dining hostess, corporate manager, marketing dork, presentation writer, too-frequent traveler, student, and student again. In that order.

  6. My former life (not to be confused with former job titles) included several hours of complete terror, marathon days of self-hatred, many months of living without my moral compass, some flashes of brilliance, a good number of spectacular bad choices and upon reflection, always, a quiet determination to be more, do better, learn.

    • Karen, there is much to admire in that quiet determination. Very much.

      • Thanks, Frank, for the comment – at the moment it’s still all I’ve got.

      • Karen, could your quiet determination, though it be all you have now, be likened unto the seed of the black mustard, which is the smallest of seeds but when it is planted, grows into a tree which can be a home for songbirds?

      • Tetman: I imagine myself a first-rate gardener, yet struggle with the possibility that certain projects will ever get past the dwarf shrub phase. Never-the-less, I have penned one manuscript that explores the tenacity of the bonsai as a symbol of my protagonist’s journey – perhaps I need to re-read that one…

    • Karen,
      Love this. Sometimes a small pen light is enough when it’s dark inside.

  7. Would that be a life that forms? If so I am still living it. In the third century, I was one of the first successful Celtic-alien hybrids. My mother always smiled at me.

  8. I used to be a good wife. Before that I was a good student. Between these I was an anorexic shoplifting au pair in Paris. For some of the good wife phase I was a secretary in Mogadishu, where I learnt a lot about development politics and psycho-bitch diplomats. Then followed many other past lives I pick through and distort and call it writing.

  9. Science. If only. Why does that make me feel so wistful? I used to sew flags for a living.

  10. Turn back, indeed. Or, as Dorothy Parker once said:
    “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

  11. Turn back makes me think of that old hymn

    “Turn back, o man, forswear thy foolish ways.”


  12. “Turn back! Turn back!”
    Nobody ever turns back. ha ha ha!

    Formerly I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Not by choice.)
    I was not popular in school and am still afraid of teenagers.
    I was a victim of a violent crime
    None of these are pleasant memories and in fact at my great age I’ve pretty much forgotten most of the details.

    This is why my trilogy is about hidden treasure(s) on an architecturally bizarre college campus populated largely by ghosts. They make me laugh all the time.

  13. A friend of mine is into numerology, and introduced me to the delight that are ‘karmic numbers’—debts one has to pay because of things done or left undone in a former life.

    According to the numbers, in my former life, I screwed up every relationship I ever had and was an idiot with money. I think she may have moved a decimal point somewhere, because that sounds a lot like my present life.

  14. 100 lbs heavier.

    The scary part…that the ‘former’ still lives inside of me always trying to restore itself. I have held the demon at bay for two years and will attempt, for my remaining days on earth, to squelch it’s power.

    Hey…anybody see my jelly donut?

    • No, but I have some oatmeal, banana and cinnamon cooking here. Congratulations on your achievement!

      • Thanks Deb.
        Never in my life did I believe I would achieve what I always considered the unachievable, going from a size 22 to an 8. Like AAA, not triple A the car people, but attempt, attempt and attempt again and you just might create the outcome you dream about by not giving up. Sort of speaks to what we do here.

      • I’m stumbling with a weight issue, so have an idea how hard you must work. Really, wonderful. You’ve inspired me.

      • Agreed. Congratulations.

      • You know it’s funny really, my daughter lost over a hundred too, she looks like the model I always wanted to look like when I was young. Anyway, each January when People Magazine does their ‘loosing weight’ issue I keep thinking we should be on that cover. And when we’re not I think…hey where’s our Oprah moment.
        Guess what, every damn day in the mirror is our People/Oprah moment.
        Believe me, if we could do it and keep it off, you can too.

  15. Being a soldier didn’t take much time, but left its mark; a cop for 22 years, adjunct college teacher for 10, (some overlap there) successful business owner for awhile. I don’t write about those places and times, but draw from them.

  16. I don’t know about any former lives but you’re posting is LOL funny.

  17. My past life reveals itself in a recurring dream where I’m in the forests of France or Austria as part of the Resistance, fleeing on trains or working as a sniper. In 21st century America, my former life used to involve surgical anesthesiology and science. Both these lives weave their way into my fiction, making for quite a lot of contradictory noise.

  18. I washed dishes in a large bank in Hartdale, NY. The Executives drove in from Scarsdale and the kitchen help rode the subway and bus from Harlem. The food was the same for everyone, but the execs ate from gold rimmed plates and I was told to use only Calgon when those plates went through the dishwasher. Rank and file workers had regular plates and generic detergent. I discovered Calgon, while perhaps not better, was certainly more caustic than the cheaper detergent and formulated a plan to sprinkle some on the executive toilet seats, not so much to take over the world, but mostly just be, um, a pain in the ass. Maturity was not part of the equation in my former life. I wrapped some Calgon crystals in aluminum foil and put the wad in the pocket of my special dishwashing pants, only to discover the intense heat put out by the chemical reaction between Calgon and aluminum. Burned the shit out of my inner thigh not far from my left nut.
    That’s it. Former life, failed revolutionary. Sort of. Once that hurricane passed, I figured there had to be a better way.

  19. Student, bookseller, poet, cube dweller, was about as revolutionary as Mike D (only with less physical damage to my person)

  20. Anyone at their wits’ end should probably not aspire to be a writer. It is probably more fruitful to engage in writing (or in aspiring) closer to one’s wits’ beginnings.


    “What is your former life?”

    I get to talk about myself again? O joy! I was this, that, and the other thing. I languished low and soared high. Details aside, I was pretty much a person among billions of persons. Still am. Still mining all my past lives (officer cadet, journalist, bartender, token straight at a gay disco, torch singer in a piano bar, insufferable lush, heartbroken sod, giver of good clerk, and so much more) for nuggets of ore to forge into eye-catching trinkets. Sweaty I labor, begrimed I hunger and thirst.

    • When you meowed, I thought perhaps you were going to go the same way I am on this. In a former life, I suspect I was a cat. That would explain many things – my love life, my mothering skills…..my fondness for raw meat. The purring. Especially the purring.

  21. Forget any former life. I’m still working at getting one. Can I buy one or hire someone to get one for me?

  22. I wrote out Mass cards for dead people, finger painted with kids on the Camillus Caboose, showed emotionally disturbed adolescent girls how to put condoms on bananas, ran a gay nightclub, taught bored, stoned college kids about Erikson’s hierarchy of needs, shmoosed rich people to give money to charity, and more.

    I can’t turn back, or pay for your services, but I surely would love to.

  23. My best gig was playing the Easter Bunny at the local mall. Everything went downhill from there.

  24. Peace Corps Volunteer, kibbutznik, hotel maid, Faberge expert.

    Au Pair in Paris, luxury hotel concierge in Manhattan, hedge fund receptionist, bookseller at B. Dalton.

    Bio-terrorism administrator for national trade organization, “deb” dress shop manager, animal shelter veterinarian assistant, diamond grader.

    I write memoir.

    I once had a guy tell me that he could write a book if only he didn’t have to actually write it. All he needed was someone who could take dictation. So would I, as a writer (literally), come and listen to him talk and just take down what he says and show the transcript to my agent? And, by the way, he couldn’t pay me until he made a million dollars from the resulting best seller. (Or words to that effect.)

  25. Ski instructor, pediatric HIV researcher, juvenile lawyer, political speechwriter for US Governor of the wrong political bent. I’m done with my vagabond ways, I think. From here on out, teacher and writer.

  26. You all amaze me.Thank you all, and thank you, Betsy, for throwing this party.

  27. Wrangler of cardiologists, oncologists, surgeons and paper clips. Photographer of small children and high-end food. Sold donuts and lawn mowers and supplementary insurance. Served coffee to the OWC. Not in that order.

  28. Assorted admin jobs, where every boss tried to fuck me and I learned there is nothing like a horny man scorned.

    Escaped rural metropolis and landed a position in finance. (Dressed in houndstooth and starched blouses buttoned to my chin.) Ascended floors and sat at the right hand of one of the executive gods.

    Graduate researcher for emerging markets and banking systems at a European university. Was the token American on a committee developing an exchange program with a Russian university.

    Quit my admin manager job to stay home with babies after the director set a company attorney on me when I raised the question of a flexible work schedule. Became a volunteer loud mouthed advocate (for a national non-profit) for mothers and families in the workplace. Assisted with the creation of a medical school case study about families of children with chronic illness and coping mechanisms. Redesigned, painted, tiled and landscaped each house we’ve lived in and sold it (along with a couple of summer cottages). Other than that, you’ll have to buy the book. If this comment doesn’t qualify as one.

  29. I used to be a writer. Now I’m a re-writer.

    Is that forward or back?

  30. In a bone-cold, field-stone basement I bound and bundled old copies of the local paper.

    I sold drugs and promises of beauty at CVS. I worked the double breakfast shift serving the elderly at an assisted living facility. There was a guy they called “Unk” who was such a curmudgeon that he wasn’t allowed to sit with anyone else, he took the edge off his morning coffee by floating a pat of butter in it. Then there was, Ed, a wisp of a man who drank the plastic creamers like they were shots, trying to gain weight.

    Reluctantly employed as an Audiologist in: Buffalo, then Bangor, then Boston (making home visits to Southie, Dorchester, Roxbury…), then Brattleboro. I broke the B-streak to test hearing, part-time in Springfield.

    I also work in a local farm stand – transplanting tiny green treasures in the greenhouse, selling annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, organic veggies and fruits – in season.

    • I should have listed all the professions I’ve invented for myself when people ask the boring introductory question: And what do you do for work? People’s gullibility makes for a delightful plaything.

      Anyone else make up careers just to keep the conversation interesting for a few minutes?

      • I admit it: while on a business trip to DC (where we were all very over served), our group instigated a conga line through a very posh restaurant. One woman attempted to snap our photo and I quietly assured her that I was in the Witness Protection Program and such photos could be dangerous for us – and her. Given the locale, she believed me, immediately stowed the camera and went eagerly back to her table.

        No doubt I’ll wind up in a lower level of hell just for that crazy night.

  31. Picking berries, delivering newspapers, flipping burgers, stocking shelves and 25 other peon tasks, then Marine Corps boot camp and pain and high-explosives and then freedom and college, graduating into recession, marriage and kids, love and fear, and shitjobs-until-the-NASA-gig followed by the purgatory of various IT veal pens and finally: Why not WRITE?

    Just your typical rags-to-rags story. Anyhow, we all know how wit ends.

  32. Hey I just remembered, my first life, I used to work in men’s underwear.

    No, really, that’s what the store called my department, Men’s Underwear. Tighty whities were my favorite, the packages were large, but easier to shelve.

  33. My life is not former. It rides my ass everyday.

  34. High school drama teacher. It was showtime every day. I miss the money. That’s how broke I am.

  35. E=MC2…maybe.

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