What Do You Do?

One of the first women I met when my family moved to Cleveland was a real power-house, involved – and usually in charge – in all kinds of charitable and civic organizations. Respected and loved, she was the go-to person when a theater needed to be saved, an event needed to be held to raise desperately-needed funds for an arts organization, or organizational skills needed to be honed by Boards. We had an opportunity to have a real conversation at a cocktail party about a month after I had settled in, and one of her first questions was, “What do you do?” I answered back, citing my care for my children, dabbling with golf, involvement in a local school program, entertaining in my home, etc., etc. “Yes,” she said, “but what do you do? That was twenty-seven years ago, and I’ve thought about her question thousands of times since. “What Do I Do?” What, indeed, did I do?

Flash forward to eight years ago, another party, another city, another woman. Once again, at this event, I knew very few people and this time, for conversation, I wandered over to an older, majestic-looking woman who was also alone. After the usual pleasantries, I made the bold move to ask her what she did, afraid, after the words were out of my mouth, that I had been mean-spirited. Her answer stunned me. “Well,” she said, “I just buried my husband last year, I have six successful children, twelve outstanding grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.” Memories of my conversation nineteen years ago flashed through my mind. She surprised me by continuing, with a look of confidence and pride, “And I just finished my first book, which will be published within the year.” This woman was eight-seven years old. She had just lost her husband, was very comfortable financially, had close friends and family, and had every right to take things easy and relax. She had accomplished so many things. But she had never really accomplished her very own dream for herself: to write a novel. And there she was, working, learning, experiencing, at a late age, a totally different slice of life, filled with possibilities. I assumed that the book she had written was a memoir. She corrected me. “Oh, no,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s a mystery.”

That conversation with that woman filled me with inspiration and changed the way I had anticipated living my life. Two women in two different cities had prodded me to fulfill my own dream. There is no such thing as coincidence.

After that conversation with that elderly woman, I wrote my own novel, Bottled Butterfly, about a young, desperately poor woman who decided that she was going to change her destiny. What did she do? She read, she worked doubly hard, saved as much as she possibly could, struggled to change the way she spoke, and, in changing her own life, also brought change to the lives of her siblings. She became the “lady” she had envisioned herself to become one day.

In Skipping Stones, my latest novel, Jess, emotionally and physically abused by her lawyer husband, finally breaks her silence and learns to live the life she was meant to enjoy. A talented interior designer, she had to give up her dreams of bringing her brand of beauty into the homes of others because she was forbidden to go after success by the narcissistic patriarch of her household. Prodded by her nephew, Josh, and her brother-in-law, Sam, she clearly sees what she had become and, despite the danger, decides to change her life. throughout her catharsis, Sam writes her notes to encourage her to move on. One note included this quote: I stand. I yearn. I reach. I bellow. And finally I live. What do you do?”

Do something important to you. Never let go of your dreams. Believe. It is never to late to become the person you’ve wanted to be.

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