Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Arthritic Fingers and Natalie Wood

It’s been suggested that a writer should write three pages in longhand each morning, before the first cup of coffee, to let ideas flow. To write whatever comes in your mind and from there you’ll glean subjects for stories. You might see a character develop, or a scene, a theme, possibly an outline for a novel. Just get your thoughts on paper.

Well, just thinking about that makes my hand cramp. Three pages in long hand- ouch! At this age, arthritis has crept into my fingers and they would not be happy writing even one page in long hand.

I remember the years, as a child, when I had a pen pal in England and wrote pages and pages to her on the blue air mail stationary. At that time I didn’t even know how to spell arthritis. Sure, if it was on Friday’s spelling test, I would have learned it, but you get my drift.

Baby boomers, remember those years when you could write compositions without a thought to your hands?  My favorite was the one I wrote in elementary school, "Bundle of Joy." It was my autobiography. Maybe the title was a bit presumptuous; I took it from a movie with Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Not only was I enamored with Eddie and Debbie, Natalie Wood was another favorite of mine. I read every article in Photoplay and Modern Screen about her. I even knew her sister’s name, Lana Wood. And, I called her one day. Yes! I was a pistol. I picked up the phone and called information and a few years ago I put that experience into a short story. Below is the excerpt from that story titled, “Joni Mitchell Was Wrong.”

I never saw a kiss like that before. It’s such a long one. I didn’t think they’d be doing that right in the middle of the kitchen, but here they are my big cousin Phil and his new bride, Nancy. Boy, they really must be in love. I feel funny watching them.  I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t help it.  I just ran down the steps from my bedroom where I was playing with my dolls because I’m thirsty. I flew into the kitchen (that’s what mommy says I do) and slid to a dead stop. The refrigerator door is wide open, blocking my way, so I can’t squeeze past the little white Formica table in the corner. I’m stuck.  I guess I could go back upstairs but I want a drink, so I’ll just stand here and stare at Phil and Nancy. They’re standing inside the big, white refrigerator, or at least it looks like that. His arms are wrapped around her like a big huggy bear, his fingers sliding up and down her back and shoulders. I don’t think they know I’m here.  They’re kind of busy. I’ll look down at the floor so they can’t see me and study the yellow squiggly lines in the linoleum like they’re my spelling words and I have to learn them real hard for next Friday’s test. There are lots of yellows on the floor, lemon colored and buttery ones, and gold, and even little drops that look like someone sprinkled white paint on it. They’re still kissing.  It seems like forever.  Oh! Phil just looked up. He’s smiling. 
 “Hi Red.”
  He always calls me Red, like my dad. We have red hair. Phil still has a little on his head, but most of it looks like my pink Spalding.  
Nancy drops her tan arms - she loves the beach – and steps backwards out of the refrigerator. She’s looking up at Phil and her eyes open wide almost all the way to her forehead.  They’re giggling like they have a secret, kind of how my friend, Gail, and I do when we know something we don’t want to tell anyone else. Now Phil’s tapping Nancy’s nose, a gentle tap as if she’s a china doll.  He leans in real close to her, winks and whispers, “I love you.” 
Wow! I’ve never heard anybody say it so breathy. Daddy tells mommy he loves her but not like that. He says it real quick as he’s going out the door in the morning and some mornings he doesn’t say it at all. And he never winks.
I’ll bet that’s how Robert Wagner says it to Natalie Wood. They just got married and didn’t invite me. I really feel bad. I even called her the other day.  I dialed the operator and said, “Please can I have the number for Natalie Wood in Hollywood, California?”
 “Do you mean the actress?”
“Yes,” I answered feeling very grown up. It took awhile; I didn’t think she could find it. But, then she came back on the phone and gave it to me. I called Natalie Wood! Whoever answered said she’d have Natalie call me back later and asked for my phone number. Then while I was down the block playing with Gail and our other friend, Ellen, she called back.
 Mommy answered and had no idea what the lady on the phone was talking about.  See, Mommy told me all this when I got home. She asked me in that voice she uses when she’s acting like a detective, “Honey, did you make a call to California?” I said “yes,” burying my head like a turtle. I know she doesn’t want me making long distance phone calls. They’re expensive. On Sunday nights she looks at the teapot clock above our kitchen sink and announces when it’s eight o’clock.
 “I guess I can call Betty now,” she says. “The rates are down.”
Anyway, she told me a lady called from Natalie Wood’s office asking for me. The lady said Natalie was busy and couldn’t talk to me but was very happy I was a fan and would I like to join her fan club. My mother told her I was only eight years old so she didn’t think I’d be joining any clubs. Why did she have to tell her how old I was? I would have used my allowance…

Back to the challenge of writing three pages every morning before the first cup of coffee – tea in my case. I’m not so sure I can promise you or myself that I’ll do that, but I do pledge to write every day.  Stay tuned to read what comes from my fingers tapping the lap top’s keys – yes typing on a keyboard, not writing longhand.  And since I am the Literary Leotard, here is an exercises for your fingers, arthritic or not.

Hold your right hand palm up - Using the fingers on your left hand press each finger of your right hand down. Take your time. Make each finger, first the pinky, then the ring finger, next the middle and last the index touch the soft oval under the thumb. To finish, once all fingers are pressed down, wrap the thumb over all four. Hold the fist for about five seconds

Next comes the stretch: Try to keep each finger folded over until it’s his turn to move. Don’t let ring finger or pinky pop up – they might fight you at first, but you’ll win eventually.  Gently pull the thumb back. You’ll feel the muscle stretch all the way down the thumb to the wrist. Take your time. Don’t rush. Do the same with the index finger holding the stretch for 10 seconds, then the middle, ring and pinky.

Repeat the entire sequence for the left hand. If your fingers are very stiff, do the entire exercise again, as often as you feel the need.  Keep your fingers flexible. Whether you write long hand or not, your fingers should move freely to grasp a coffee cup or wine glass, to paint a picture or apply makeup and to dig in your garden or open a can of tunafish, and most important to clasp the little hand of a child.  

And, while you’re on the web, take a moment and go to and listen to the interview with Carol White – From Housewife to Author to Playwright. That’s where I read about this idea of three pages. But don’t stop there. Listen to all the interviews. You’ll meet incredible men and women, some who have overcome tragedies and challenges beyond anything we’d ever want to contemplate or experience. Mary Yuhas video tapes interviews with baby boomers because, as she states, “there are so many boomers out there with fabulous stories that deserve to be told.” Maybe you’re one of them. Or perhaps you know someone. Go to Mary’s blog (address above) and let her know. 


  1. Too, funny! I like writing hand notes sometimes, too. It's a lost art. But, so true, when you're younger, the fingers are more mobile and excited. Now, it takes effort to raise my hand and shoot a bird. I find that talking into an electronic advice may be lazy, but welcome to the wonderful world of technology ;) Love the post, RED.

  2. Well there is a reason that poets often write first drafts by hand. I'm convinced that different neurological processes come into play when write by hand. Certainly slows us down in our thinking, etc. But I'm not convinced enough to do three pages a day.