Have you ever contemplated plastic surgery? I have. I’ve reached the “wisdom” stage in life, and this sage knows the “e” has fallen off, leaving behind a shriveled sag. The condition is evidenced by a drooping neck that appears to have been tugged repeatedly by an impatient toddler. I’m not talking a mere double-chin, I’m talking a flap that functions as a bib.
Hoping to erase decades, I did what other wise-women have done––I called a surgeon.
The Day of my Facelift Appointment:
On the day of my appointment, I entered an opulent office hidden within a strip-mall. A chandelier shimmered, expensive artwork adorned the walls, and a fountain bubbled. Everything dripped money. My hand shook as I signed in. I waited and listened. No tortured screams drifted from the rear, so I relaxed some. (Watching Botched the previous night hadn’t been prudent.)
A door opened, and a taut-necked older woman ushered me into a tastefully decorated room. A white-coated doctor introduced himself and sat me on a stool in front of an oversized silver-framed mirror. He stood behind me and said, “Now for my assessment.” He placed his practiced hands on either side of my neck, and pulled the skin back as if reining in a frightened horse. He shook his head and clicked his tongue. “This won’t do it. The neck won’t be enough. You need a full facelift.”
I knew it was bad, but not this bad. The doctor proceeded to stretch my cheeks towards my ears. A mole, once centered on my cheek, now rested on my earlobe. With one tense squeeze, the doctor had fashioned a new stud earring. I admired the look, but then he let go. My mole, like a bug, crawled back into place.
The surgeon said, as he spread them like wings, “If you want to lose the jowls, then a facelift is mandatory.”
I stared at my jowls and wondered how I’d transitioned into a portly English gentleman. Was gout next?
But the doctor wasn’t finished. He positioned fingers to my forehead and lifted toward my hairline. “A brow lift is also recommended.” My expression shot past deer caught in the headlights to parent caught having sex by a curious kid.
The surgeon released my forehead and my brows sank into my sockets. “See my assistant for a price sheet,” he said. The exam was, like the movie: Gone In 60 Seconds.
Once I got in the car, I opened the estimate. My brows lifted in horror. (One less procedure.) This sag/e pondered cheaper facelift options, and it didn’t take a prophet to see––it was turtlenecks and duct tape for me.
“This card appears in readings when it’s necessary to view life in a more grounded fashion. Logic, linear thinking, and reasoning should take center stage, especially if career or business are uppermost in your mind. Come from a place of authority, and concentrate on facts only.”
“There are several cards in the deck that vibrate with different meanings, the Mother card is one such card. Your own intuition, or other cards in the spread, will guide you to the most appropriate meaning for this card.
It’s time for you to become your own loving parent. Are you taking care of yourself? Love and compassion are qualities that need to be brought front and center. Be kind and nurturing to not only yourself, but to those around you, and to Mother Earth.”
I’m relatively new to writing and its challenges. I snuck in through a back entrance, propelled by a sudden urge to tell my own stories. So without knowledge of structure, and without guidance from “How To” books, I paced, chewed pencils, and cursed my way through enough chapters to produce a memoir called That’s Why You’re Here – A Journey From Grief To Metaphysical Awareness. It not only took duct tape and prayers to assemble, it took a village; namely a critique writing group and a great editor. When finished, I was full of pride, and I marked the occasion with an off-key rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
After I published, and sent my story into the universe, I stopped visiting my office. Daily clicks of the keyboard and frustrated groans ceased to be heard. Dead air flooded the once-active room. From the burdensome stillness a question formed. What’s next––if anything? One doesn’t write multiple memoirs unless you’re Elizabeth Taylor or Jane Fonda, and I was neither. So what next?
Since several friends wrote fiction, and murder mysteries in particular, I thought I might try my hand. Excitement rose, as a few storylines bounced around my brain. But before I could begin, I felt diligent research of the genre was needed. So once more, I was happy to be at my computer. I ordered a cargo-bay of books that were delivered by a fleet of white Fed Ex trucks. A neighbor, who witnessed the unloading, peered over the wall of Amazon boxes and asked, “Did I miss Christmas?”
Once unpacked, I selected a book from a stack that partially blocked my front window, and my fact-finding had begun. My head pounded as each new selection cried the importance of beats, flawed characters, plot, conflict, structure, themes, A and B stories, and amazing finales. I was lightheaded from the influx of new information. Somehow I’d climbed onto a Merry-Go-Round that was out of control. Brightly painted horses lapped one another in dizzying fashion and I held the reins while the world spun. I had no inkling creating fiction was governed by so many rules.
With absolute certainty, the paperbacks promised the tools necessary to write a blockbuster right out of the cemetery gates. I had visions that somewhere Stephen King was either quaking, or butchering, or burying something, in fear of me conjuring a bestseller.
I won’t lull you into a stupor by listing the titles that caused my eyeballs to shrivel. I’ll just say that if you’re new to writing, and on social media (which is a must so sayeth the Lord), then your shelves are populated with similar “liked” and suggested covers. The name of this piece was a subtle nod to one, as subtle as the jab of a hypodermic needle piercing a beating heart.
Many authors went to great lengths to provide assistance to novice writers, such as myself. Their efforts were appreciated, and I’ve known many people who’ve found “How To” books helpful. I wish I could say, “Me too.”
When the last instructive manual tumbled from my hand, it was as though an evil entity had encased me in a cinder block crypt. Buried under drab gray blocks, each cement chunk represented the dos and don’ts of writing. Into the wee hours, I’d studied my way into darkness, unable to create, and had become blind to what or why I wanted to write in the first place. Filled with fear, and riddled with “not good enough” feelings, a madness swept through my veins. The delirium crept into my quivering hands, and to my horror, I found I wanted to choke the cat! Me . . . a sworn animal lover.
The overindulgence in writing research had me flummoxed. For weeks, I stared at a television that wasn’t turned on, and I avoided my computer. It was as if all inspiration had been blow-torched, and I was sifting through cinders.
I had to do something to escape my writer’s-slump prison. With pen in hand, I chipped away at the mortar between the blocks. With each new word my amnesia lessened, and I recalled what had brought me to writing in the first place. It was the simple joy of telling a story––to create something from nothing. The trick was staying cocooned in that pure state. Even though I might never string a word-necklace together like the storytellers I’ve admired, or write a breakout novel, I’ve learned there is something I must do. And that is to honor my own curious calling, and to bead my own creations.
And rest assured, animal lovers everywhere . . . I promise to never choke the cat. The new plans are to stroke it, and nurture it, until it thrums with a pleased purr.
“You have all the tools necessary to accomplish anything you set out to do. Courage, self-discipline, love, and wisdom all lie within you. Learn to access them, and use them in a positive manner. When you permit your Higher Power, Source, or the Universe, to work with you, anything is possible.”
That’s Why You’re Here Oracle Deck – 0 New Adventure: “It’s time for you to take that first step, that leap of faith, into a new adventure. Your journey could be an outward one, like embarking on a search for a better job; it could be an inward journey, a desire to improve your character in some fashion, like gaining more patience. Whatever direction is calling, this card is confirming that change is coming.”
Erin G. Burrell (EGB): I want to share the delightful chat I had with my new friend, and the narrator of my book, Petrea Burchard (PB). We took turns interviewing each other. It was interesting to learn more about Petrea, and the audiobook profession. I hope you feel the same.
Audiobook Recording Jobs
EGB: How did you get into narrating audiobooks?
PB: I’ve been an actor all my life, and I’ve worked in voiceover for many years. I had looked into audiobooks years ago, but at the time I was focused on writing a novel and didn’t pursue narration. A couple of years ago, when a major voiceover client decided to “try a different sound,” (a male!) I wasn’t sure what to do next. A good friend who is also in voiceover said, “You should be narrating audiobooks!” and my brain lit up. So I started to study the craft.
Audible Book Qualities
EGB: What qualities do you look for in a book to narrate?
PB: I look for good writing that I can relate to. I’m a writer, too, and good writing really speaks to me. As an actor I’ve learned to relate to different people and characters, so the range can be broad. But there are some things that don’t fit my voice, or my style. I wish I could do everything, but I can’t. I love fiction, memoir, history, biography…basically anything that’s well written. It’s no secret that good writing is easy to speak. That’s why actors like performing Shakespeare.
Audible Recording Preparations
EGB: What preparations do you do, prior to recording any chapter of a book?
PB: I read the whole book before I start recording anything. I might have questions about pronunciation, concepts, etc. If I’m in contact with the author, I can ask them. I also have the internet, the phone, the library. I want to know what I’m talking about before I start talking. I’ve come across interesting historical or geographical references, and I like to read up on those. It helps me to have an image of what I’m talking about.
I also prepare physically. Sitting in a small booth for hours is challenging, believe it or not. So I stay in shape, drink lots of water, watch what I eat, and do vocal exercises daily.
Becoming An Actor
EGB: Your acting background enhances your narrations. What was your favorite acting experience and why?
PB: Oh boy. I’ve had some wonderful ones. My favorite has to be the British/American Drama Academy (BADA) summer program at Oxford. I had a whole month to immerse myself in the study of voice, movement, Shakespeare, and even Samuel Beckett, in the beautiful setting of Oxford and the surrounding countryside. We had wonderful teachers from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I fell in love with England and I always want to go back. It was bliss.
Audible Book Review
EGB: What made you decide to narrate That’s Why You’re Here?
PB: Your experience and the way you wrote about it spoke to me. Your background and mine are not the same, but it’s as though they criss-cross, and I understood your experiences because of experiences I’ve had. It’s like when you meet a client in the book and discover the connection you have with them. That’s why I’m here!
Becoming An Author
PB: In “That’s Why You’re Here,” you tell the story of how you got started reading the Tarot. How did you get started writing about it?
EGB: While I was reliving the wonderful experiences I’d had at the Healing Arts Festival, it came to me how frequently I’d been asked, “How did you get involved with the Tarot?” It also came to me how often my clients told me they’d enjoyed and benefited from my personal stories. That was a surprise. Not long after, a voice “dropped in” and said, “Start writing your stories.” I ignored this voice for a time because I wasn’t a writer and thought it was a crazy notion, but the voice persisted. I finally honored that message and began to write . . . nothing was ever the same after that.
Tarot Reading Start
PB: Do you read the Tarot for yourself? Is it a regular practice?
EGB: Each morning, I pull cards for myself and I’ve been doing it for years now. I like to see what my day may hold and what I need to focus on. In doing this, I also stay connected to the cards, the meanings, and their images. Working with the cards each day is soothing and grounding to me.
PB: I’d like to know about readings and fairs. It seems like it could be either exhausting or energizing. What is it like to read the Tarot for strangers all day?
EGB: It’s exciting and exhilarating. I’m energized throughout the day and tired when the day is over. I was beyond wiped-out after my first festival, but my energy level has improved since then. I, too, have to stay hydrated since I’m using my voice all day. We have that in common.
As far as reading strangers, we may start out that way, but by the end of the reading there is a closeness, especially if tears were shared. Tarot readings can be very intimate. I’m convinced that there is a divine purpose behind each person who chooses to get a reading from me. We were meant to spend time together. At most fairs and festivals, I am one of seventeen readers, so there is quite a selection. I have been told many times a person was “drawn to me.” I love that. One woman told me that coming into my booth felt good, like she was coming home. That touched me.
PB: What was the most exciting reading you ever did? Has there ever been one that was uncomfortable, or scary?
EGB: My most exciting reading is in my book. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet, but I will say it involved a necklace and doing psychometry, the holding of an object.
I’m happy to say I’ve never had a scary reading, but I will confess that a few readings were uncomfortable at the start. (I’ve included an example of an uncomfortable read in my memoir.) The two I’m thinking of happened with men who said they wanted a reading, but their body language told a different story. They were shut down in the beginning, but ended up in a better place by the close of the reading. It’s gratifying when that happens.
PB: Do you plan to write more books? What’s in the works?
EGB: I continue to write and post pieces to my website. I write about topics that inspire me, and I’ve even done a couple stories about my favorite TV show/book, “Outlander.” I am currently trying my hand at fiction, which is a challenge. I wish words came easy like reading the Tarot. I love to write, and I enjoy the community of writers I’m involved with. You never know, there could be another book in my future.
The persistent drone of a gnat brings me to consciousness. I swat the air; the annoyance continues. After several tries, my eyelids unstick and I see my cellphone, lit and trembling on the nightstand. I stab for it, pull it close, and squint at the numbers. Thank God, it’s no one I know. The device goes dead in my hand. It’s 3:00.
Despite not knowing the caller, my heart smashes against my chest. The pounding gets interrupted when the phone shudders and brightens in my palm. The cell dives into the bedcovers, requiring me to fish it out. Like a worm on a hook, a quivering finger swipes the screen to take the call.
“Hello.” I listen––and I learn . . . my life will never be the same.
My body shivers as if I’m outdoors, coatless, my breath clouding a frigid night. The air-conditioning is fast to remind me it’s summer, and sends a cool breeze my way. The draft only adds to the chills trickling down my spine.
The warm phone is plastered to the side of my head, but I no longer hear the caller. My mom, long passed, takes over the conversation. “I told you,” she whispers, “nothing good happens after midnight.”
After having recently moved, my daughter discovered she had way too much stuff and asked if I would store a few boxes for her. I peeked into one container and glimpsed a blowdryer. The sight of that contraption got me thinking about the arsenal of beauty tools and products I’d tortured myself with through the years. They had all promised astounding transformations, but most didn’t deliver. But there was one apparatus I wished I’d had as a teenager, it could have changed the course of history, or at least mine.
First, I must tell you what it was like for me. When I grew up, girls complained about their rod-straight hair. They told of the daily horror of living with limp locks, and resorting to stinky permanents and body-waves to acquire the loveliness they sought. While they complained about straight, lifeless hair, it was something I prayed for. I dreamt of stick-straight strands flowing past my shoulders; a mane worthy of a shampoo commercial, or maybe a horse’s tail.
Unfortunately, my hair had a mind of its own which bordered on lunacy. Some people tried to be kind when they spoke of my curls, but, in fact, the curls were beyond my control. I was no Curly Sue or a Shirley Temple. (Does anyone remember Shirley Temple, or must she be Googled?) No, my hair displayed a strange clump of springy tendrils attached to the right side of my head. That clump was often mistaken for a hairpiece in search of an escape route.
The rest of my head was an unsightly crop of straight tresses lost among unruly waves. I suspected my hair follicle genes had been shaken, not stirred, while I was in the womb, resulting in my miss-matched do. Mutation was the only possible explanation.
The best way to describe the hairstyle of my youth was that it resembled a Picasso painting during his Cubism period, and it received similar reactions. People stared at it perplexed, and wondered what to make of it.
If my hairdo, or lack thereof, wasn’t bad enough, it could worsen with the addition of one element . . . moisture.
My first encounter with this demon occurred when I was a young girl of twelve, while visiting my Uncle Jimmy in San Francisco. One evening, we walked through a thick mist to reach his favorite Italian restaurant. I’d never been in an establishment such as this. Perched on our red-checkered tablecloth was an empty, twine covered wine bottle that held a candle. Wax dripped artfully down the sides of the bottle and begged to be picked and played with, and I obliged.
During our dinner it was necessary to use the restroom. While washing my hands I looked into the mirror and couldn’t believe the vision. The fog had frizzed my hair into a large circular mass. I had the world’s largest Afro, and I might have carried it off, if only I’d been born black. As it was, I looked ridiculous. In desperation, I slapped water onto my ‘fro, hoping I could reduce its volume. Why had the Hair Gods punished me so? I soon learned showering in the bathroom sink only made my situation worse. I left the restroom, head down, and hoped my Uncle would remember that silence was golden.
Over the years, what sprouted from my scalp was a constant cross to bear, and did nothing for my self-esteem. I gradually acquired some techniques to manage my mop of madness. After a shower, I would rubber band my hair at the crown of my head and split the ponytail into three sections. Each section was then wrapped around a gigantic pink curler. This absurd look gave the impression I was either trying to pick up signals from outer space or attract alien life forms. Since looking beautiful for boys was my goal, attracting alien life forms wasn’t a stretch.
The endless hours devoted to taming my tresses could have been avoided, if only I’d owned a Flat Iron in high school. This one device could have been my salvation. It had the power to flatten and smooth the most obstinate ringlets, and could even defeat a frightening frizz. (Back in the day, some girls achieved straight hair from using a clothes iron, but I couldn’t bring myself to it, especially after seeing burns and scabs on the foreheads of my friends. It was too barbaric, even for me.)
The Flat Iron would have been the magic wand that made me feel attractive. With a flick-of-the-wrist, I would have gone from being “the nice girl with a good personality” to the “cute girl.” Just imagine what paths my life might have taken with a head full of gorgeous hair. But I’ll never know. My sweet takeaway is the friends who loved me in high school embraced the true me; it was never about outward beauty.
These days, I use my Flat Iron regularly. It’s been a godsend. A shallow thought maybe, but I don’t think I’m alone in appreciating something that makes me feel better about myself. Now . . . if only there were a Flat Iron for wrinkles.