In the Suburbs / Getting to know two fellow writers
I met two fellow writers for a late breakfast last Saturday at the Athena Diner in Southport.
I had seen Tom not long ago at one of our museum programs, where he was a storyteller talking about his experiences in Alaska, and we agreed we had been overdue to see each other. We'd gotten together a few years ago with other columnists over breakfast.
I thought it would be fun to include Ron, whom I had recently met for the first time.
Tom is a really interesting guy who grew up in Alaska. His mom and a number of his many siblings -- there were eight kids, if I recall -- still live there, and Tom takes his two daughters there every other summer. As I understand it, there is a camp with three bare-bones cabins, and Lawlor siblings and their families converge on the place to rough it, drink in the Alaskan natural beauty and enjoy wonderful family time.
When Ron and I asked how he ended up in Alaska, Tom explained that his dad had moved out there from Iowa after the war, went to school on the GI bill and became a professor of arctic architecture -- still not sure what that term means. His mom was a nurse from Iowa.
When I shared my dream of taking an Alaskan cruise, Tom, who seems to be an avid outdoorsman, recommended the Alaska ferry that shuttles between all the coastal towns as an alternative to a cruise ship. "The accommodations are definitely not like a cruise ship," he pointed out. "There are just a few cabins, you have to buy your own food on board, but you get to see Alaska as you'd never expected to see it."
Both Ron and I thought the idea sounded intriguing, but we weren't sure our wives would relish that kind of cruise experience. Also, Tom explained that wherever you decided to get off the ferry, you might not necessarily find posh accommodations.
I met Ron, a retired pediatrician, in the early summer when he emailed me after a column I'd written on diners to say that we should meet over French toast. So we did.
I learned so much from him about Fairfield's many quiet, secluded trails and also that Ron was interested in doing some fiction writing. I suggested he join the writer's group I started about 18 years ago, so that simple breakfast became the start of a new friendship.
At our breakfast, Ron explained that he had pretty much wrapped up his open spaces series and was exploring some other ideas with our editor.
As soon as Ron explained what he meant by open spaces, Tom suggested a secluded place with a trail that was virtually in his backyard, not far from the Athena. He offered to show it to Ron, and once breakfast was over, the two outdoorsmen took off for the open spaces.
Ron grew up in the Bronx and went to medical school in New York. But he practiced in Arizona for a number of years before heading back east with his family and settling in Fairfield.
He's an active hiker and tennis player and is in great shape. I've seen him at the Museum and learned that he did considerable research for his open-spaces pieces.
Ron asked how we each got started contributing to the Citizen.
Tom -- whose column is called "A Father's Journal" -- explained that he's been writing for about six years, focusing a lot on his kids and family. He does a lot with his daughters and has captured a lot of teachable moments with them and shared them with his readers.
Ron spoke about how much he had enjoyed writing his Open Spaces series but was excited about new directions. Recently, he did an op-ed piece for the Citizen on how pre-teen girls are becoming the targets of aggressive product marketers. "I don't know whether that's a direction I'd want to follow," he said, "but it's certainly challenging."
I shared that I'd been writing my column for more than 22 years and still enjoy coming up with the ideas. I explained that my work with the Citizen had evolved from a little piece I'd written about a dinner with my daughters. My editor at the time, Pat Hines, she said she had liked the piece and asked if I were interested in doing a column. She asked me to write five more pieces before lunching the column.
We all agreed that we'd welcome more reader feedback and also appreciated that our editors have taken the time to read our work carefully and make constructive observations. Tom and I said we'd received the most email about pieces on very difficult topics -- suicide, domestic violence and tough love, among them.
While we didn't set another date for breakfast, I have a feeling that we'll get together again soon. For me, it was great to share ideas and learn some new things from fellow writers. And I'd like to hope the feeling was mutual.
I feel now like I know the people behind the words.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.