A couple weeks back, I had been sending funny memes, as I had acquired them from others about the pandemic back and forth with my friend Madison who lives down the street. She has a boy who is a year older than my daughter and they have been going to the same schools since preschool. She texted me about how she was freaking out with all that was happening. How was I with all the homeschooling, etc? I told her that I was fine and that meds helped. She was very interested in what I was taking. I texted –Xanax. And Zoloft. To take the edge off.

Since, we had only a few text exchanges of articles pertaining to the virus or politics. I wanted to know how she was fairing. So instead of texting, on a whim, I FaceTimed her.

“You’re FaceTiming me!” she said, delighted with a glass of wine in her hand.

I said I would get a glass so we could have one together –all I had was some weeks old open Rose in the fridge, so I poured some and we caught up after we both apologized for our physical presentation, no makeup, dirty pjs, unshowered with gray roots.

Madison is a working actress who had been on various TV series through her life. She is beautiful, dramatic, an animal rights enthusiast and a vegan. Before the pandemic, we often had Friday dinners together with the family. She told me how she was on Zoloft now after talking to me and was feeling much better after she’d had a few literal meltdowns over the state of the world. “I’m just not that mom who loves to stay home and play with my kid all day,” she said.

I agreed with her and we had much needed girl talk before saying goodbye. I thought how this was the new normal, connecting as deconstructed versions of ourselves over the phone or Skype or Zoom after weeks of isolation with little to discuss other than fear and complaints and apologies and outrage over Trump.

The next day, I had to brave a trip to Costco. This time was different from my last visit. There was a giant grouping of carts, handed out and wiped down by an employee one at a time on the far side of the entrance. To get there you had to walk around the large barricades used to herd people in lines like at Disneyland. People wore various face masks, some homemade, some bandanas, some professional grade. Their eyes were a mix of anxiety and mission. Once a cart was retrieved, you then had to stand in the long line to enter, which moved every five or so minutes, again, like Disneyland, where the gate-keeper was instructed to let so many people into the store. I didn’t know how long this line took because I didn’t want to take my phone out to look at the time. Minimal touching of everything, I’d decided. I was listening to Conan O’Brien’s podcast and had my Costco and credit card in another pocket.

It was hot. There’s was an inexplicable heat wave in SoCal. Yes. After weeks of 60 degree weather with intermittent rain and drizzle, it was now 98 degrees at noon with strong dry winds like October. One more thing I didn’t want to deal with, Climate Change. Weren’t we experiencing the best air in Los Angeles since the beginning of time? I had no sunscreen and with each corner of the maze I squirreled through, I could feel my middle-aged arm shriveling into sun-poisoned freckled old lady crust, or at least that was where my brain took me. A woman and her tween daughter were behind me in line and getting too close, not standing on their “X” for social distancing, and more than once I gave the girl a scolding “get back” look. Finally, after the third offense, I became “Karen.” Do you know who Karen is? I recently learned about this term on the App Quora, the one where you can ask any question and various experts or lay-persons can give an answer. To anything. I had joined this as a contributor a couple years back when I was promoting my book. I still get a once a week email highlighting issues I’m an “expert” in or that are marked as of possible interest to me.

A Karen per the Slang dictionary is a “mocking term for an entitled, obnoxious, middle-aged white woman…” usually with a bob haircut who “wants to speak to the manager.” I recently read an op-ed by Jennifer Weiner who said that in this age of pandemic, we are all Karen. But I digress. Annoyed with the squeezing of my space, I turned to the woman and her daughter behind me and with dagger eyes and an angry frown beneath my mask and pointed with authority to the “X” on the ground. They both look surprised but the mother pulled on her daughter’s arm to stay behind their cart from then on.

After the four or so loops of the entrance obstacle, I finally made it into the store which felt like an end-of-days free for all. Some people were organized in their shopping while others stared confused or fingered products like folding chairs and sport socks. All I could think of was the germs they were transferring to each item that was left behind. I did, however, know what I was there for and went about my business at high speed to get the things I came for. To my surprise, in a new prominent place in front of the produce and refrigerated section the store, was a giant stack of Kirkland toilet paper. I took one. Though, I could have been a better person and left it for someone else as I had enough for the time being. But one never knows, right? The word is now there will be shortages of everything from fruit and veggies because there is no one to pick it as it all rots in the fields and no more meat because of a Covid outbreak at major food processing plants around the country. If I’ve gone off on a tangent, it’s only to describe the collective fear and energy that had me grab that T.P.

I picked up the assorted groceries. In normal times, I would never buy such large quantities. We have a small house and no room to store anything. But as a family of four, eating three meals a day at home plus snacks, I have never cooked or cleaned so much in my life. We are pounding down the chow. I have bags of onions, lemons and potatoes on the floor, a crammed freezer, bulging veggie bins and a pantry door that won’t close. I’ve taken to storing dry goods like giant bottles of Heinz ketchup from Smart-n-Final in the guest room closet. Just when I think I’ve gone off the deep end and we will never finish this stockpile, the fridge is empty again.

Anyway, again I deviate from the story, which I guess is the mania and the collective angst. There is an ongoing loudspeaker message about maintaining a 6-foot distance. It feels like 1984 or Brazil or Twelve Monkeys. Most people are cutting and dodging through the warehouse. There is bold print alarming signage with the rules –Only one per customer. Or arrows to enter an aisle in a certain direction, meant to keep people apart. Some ignore the policy in the dairy fridge. This does not bring out my Karen because at some point, all have the accidental slip of coming too close to another shopping cart. Most of the offenders are men, and often the older ones. They seem not to know where anything is or what they came for. There’s a lot of confused wandering. I get to the bread, where, again, an amount I would never buy under normal circumstances, get the minimum of two loaves. While I’m selecting what to put in my cart, a guy with his mask pulled down under his chin comes without a cart, reaches around me, grabs a loaf and takes a picture of it and the price.

My inner Karen says “Hey, six feet.”

“I was here first,” he says.

“You don’t even have a cart!”

“You get back.” He grunts at me with indiscernible accented English.

“Put your mask on.”

“You talk too much.” He yelled and then darted away.

A tree-tall black guy was down the aisle within earshot and looked at me like oh-no-he-didn’t.

Another time, I might have fought with this selfish chauvinist pig, but time in the Petri dish was of the essence. In and out was the mission. And I thought as I moved to the next item on my list that this is the reason it is too soon to “open up the economy” – people don’t follow the rules.

The next day, I took my usual walk around the neighborhood. These walks help to provide the minimal exercise I need for my sanity, an escape from the family and a chance to listen to a podcast or book on tape. I have been trying to get three to four miles in a day and I have been doing it in the morning to avoid the heat. I walk anywhere, zig-zagging through streets and I look at all the houses that I would normally not see while whizzing by in my car. I take pics of doors I like, or carports. Not many. Most homes fail to charm. Before the pandemic, we had planned an addition to the house, which is still in the works with the architect and engineer and I am forever looking for ideas.

I wear a mask now, even to walk the dogs. Though I live near a medical center and in a very populated part if the city, there is not much traffic or many people on the street. When they do appear, one walks across or into the middle of the road to go around the other person. I ran into Madison walking up from the L.A. river with her giant rescue dog. She was wearing earbuds and a mask like me. We smiled and waved at each other from across the street. Nice to see you, I shouted. She pointed to her ears and shouted back, I’m meditating, and we walked on. Almost an hour later as I was circling back, I passed her house, and she was in front with her other two little doggies. She had a mask on and I waved hello again.

“I like your mask. It’s so pretty,” she said as I walked by.

“Thanks,” I said, “A friend made it for me.”

I thought of the strangeness of this exchange. How hyper-aware we’ve become of boundaries and privacy while we are universally disheveled, in pajamas with headphones on. This is what we’ve come to, complimenting each other on our masks like we used to of each other’s purses, or hair, or shoes. Masks. Wow.

As I headed toward my house I had to dodge some gardeners who were returning to their truck. One of the men had pulled down his mask. He probably needed to drink some water and breathe after all the hard work in the hot sun. I bowed around him to create space. Right at the moment that I passed, he turned his head and coughed dry and hard in my direction, not into his elbow, but into the air. It wasn’t aggressive or dismissive like the guy in Costco, it was absent-minded. He probably wasn’t sick –or was he? No, surely he just needed to clear his throat after leaf-blowing for an hour.

But I was apoplectic. I marched home as fast as I could and sprayed my shoes with Lysol, took off all my clothes and mask and washed my hands before getting in to the shower. This was the new normal. The weirdness of friends “admiring” your pandemic gear, dread and judgment at the big box stores, running home to disinfect yourself after an innocuous cough on the street sends you into a reeling panic. As I scrubbed away, I thought again of all the reasons that we are in no way ready to return to business-as-usual.

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Devastation. Deforestastion. War.
Wildfires, floods, drought, famine. Mass shootings.
Concentration camps at the Mexican border.
The youngest of the young, dear brave Greta, setting out on a world tour to scream to any who would listen about the death of earth due to climate change.
But yet an even newer and fresher voice emerges.
Novel Coronavirus.
Covid-19.
Will be heard. Is heard. Must be listened to.
Like an alien spaceship that has landed to exterminate us.
But not alien at all.
The earth will expel us if we do not profoundly change.
The true miracle of this holy season is that for the first time in history, mankind, regardless of nationality, race, religion, sex, social status, can agree on one thing
–the survival of our species
depends on sharing information, cooperating with one another, relying on science.
Have faith because political rhetoric will soon fall on deaf ears.
Gas .99 a gallon, the greenhouse effect disappearing.
Saudi Arabia and Yemen have taken an official time-out from their five year conflict to attack the disease instead.
Revolution. Resolution. Evolution.
I am grateful to still be alive to witness it.

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Thank you to indieB.R.A.G. for honoring Robin’s Blue with your Medallion. I appreciate the recognition. It takes many years to write a novel and even more to publish it. It IS an art and people like you help to bring it notice.

Pam Alster, award winning author, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl

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I appreciate the quote “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” I’d like to credit the person who said it but alas, though I can find many people citing it, I don’t see it attributed to anyone other than “unknown.” It’s a good one, however, and I not only say it, I live by it.

Any of my colleagues will tell you that the act of writing is a solitary one. It can be evolutionary, reflective, demanding, passionate, heartbreaking. It takes years and mistakes and drafts and negative feedback and shamelessness to complete a manuscript. But that and even more –a determined commitment — to see it through publishing with the sad knowledge that no one may ever actually read your words. It demands backbone and resilience to weather the rejection, criticism and reviews, if you even get there.

Having experienced this journey, I can’t help but take this brief and tiny moment of joy in relaying that after more than a decade since beginning the process, Robin’s Blue was honored this week with two awards: “Finalist” in the category of Chick Lit in the 2014 National Indie Excellence Awards and as a “Finalist” in the 2014 International Book Awards in the category of “Fiction: Chick Lit/Women’s Lit.”

Though touting my wins may be annoying to some and sound as if I’m bragging about the achievement to others, I hope that serves as inspiration instead. It’s these rare acknowledgements that make an enduring commitment to creativity, art and the desire to say something feel like it hasn’t been a total waste. Love me, hate me — no one else is going to announce it for me.

Ellen Reid at the National Indie Excellence Awards said in her letter, “Your book truly embodies the excellence that this award was created to celebrate, we salute you and your fine work.” I will nestle her words close to my mountain of rejection letters.

So, thank you to the 2014 National Indie Excellence Awards, the 2014 International Book Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards and the Kindle Book Review Awards for your recognition for Robin’s Blue. Now I will return to my seclusion and continue to throw mud at my next attempt to say something.

 Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl

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The awards keep coming!

INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS ANNOUNCEMENT

Robin’s Blue by Pam Alster named 2014 Award-Winning Finalist in the “Fiction: Chick Lit/Women’s Lit” category of the 2014 International Book Awards.

A complete list of winners and finalists in each category can be found at:
http://www.internationalbookawards.com/2014awardannouncement.html

Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl

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Thank you National Indie Excellence Book Awards for honoring Robin’s Blue as a 2014 FINALIST in the Chick-Lit Category.*

“Your book truly embodies the excellence that this award was created to celebrate, and we salute you and your fine work.”

~Ellen Reid

President & CEO
National Indie Excellence Awards 
*See Robin’s Blue and full list of Winners at- www.indieexcellence.com
Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl
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2013 USA Best Book Awards!
Your book Robin’s Blue has been honored as a “Finalist” in the “Fiction: Chick Lit/Women’s Lit” category.
http://www.usabooknews.com/2013awardannouncement.html 

Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl

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Robin’s Blue  – Pam Alster  (2012)

This story follows the life of a self-destructive young woman, Robin Daniels, through the 1970s and 1980s.  The novel begins with Robin being a hard partying sixteen-year-old who becomes involved with drugs and married men.  We follow Robin as she continually makes dangerous choices through her life.  Her drug use escalates and she supports herself by drifting between men and eventually getting sucked into prostitution.  Throughout the novel, Robin has points where the reader hopes she sees her reality and will choose the right path, however, Robin just spirals continually downward.  Robin’s intelligence is obvious, yet frustrating to the reader.  This dark novel is depressing, yet incredibly well written. (AO)

http://chicklitclub.com/robinsblue.html

Twitter @chicklitclub

Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl

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I dropped my nine year old daughter off this week for her first year at sleep-away camp –or boarding camp, as we used to say. It wasn’t without a lot of dread mixed in with all the practical and emotional prep. I’d told her about this all-girl’s camp, which I went to with my sisters when I was young, pretty much since the day she was born. Instead of lullaby’s, I sang her camp songs. Kooky, right? Not so much. Apparently, I’m not alone with my fond memories of summer in the sticks away from home. Many of my friends and even relatives have sent their kids to the camps they went to. Generational or legacy camps such as mine, each unique in their location, activities, songs and lore, are not at all unusual. But whatever they feature, wherever they are, they universally share (along with the lanyards, hikes and bug bites) the valuable life skills of bonding and self-reliance.

Just the other night, my sister recounted what a colleague said who had daughter at the same camp. “What’s with all the tearful goodbyes and having to go back every year? It’s like a cult or something,” she said. Definitely someone who’d never been to summer sleep away camp.

Anyone with fond memories of camp will agree, that though it wasn’t as dramatic as a “cult,” it was some of the best times of their childhood. Here’s a list of the positive life changing things your child will gain by leaving home for those weeks that aren’t necessarily articulated in the the camp brochures:

1. Independence

For my child (and most kids) this is the first time away from home for any extended period. How they are helped through this difficult transition with the support of great counselors, camp staff and their own critical thinking will ingrain a sense of security as they approach future change.

2. Intense shared experiences

Sharing personal and physical space with up to 8 kids, all diverse in personalities and background heightens their experience. Climbing a rock face, swimming in ice-cold ponds, slipping on moss-covered creek stones, getting thrown from a horse are all things that will burn indelible images into their conscience. It’s these “firsts” that their buddies are witness to, which they support them through, that will engender confidence.

3. Life-long friendships

Even after the years pass and the world has its way with us all, inside, we’re still those pure-hearted kids, who made real “BF’s” with those, who by luck of the draw, ended up sharing our bunk-bed. Thanks to Facebook, we are all re-connected with those dear old friends. It’s as if no time has passed. What a gift to give your child.

4. Personal Responsibility

We do so much for our children that our parents didn’t. From driving them to school, to spending entire Saturday’s on the soccer field, to throwing themed birthday parties, to supervising their homework and Internet activity. Let’s face it, the habit is all-consuming. It’s a necessary learning step for kids to manage their own day-to-day minutiae. Simply brushing teeth, doing cabin chores and arriving at scheduled activities on time without being prompted or “nagged” instills individual competency.

The first time your child shirks a cabin duty, shows up for swim class late, or fails to get along amicably with another camper, it will be met with consequence and disapproval by their group, further imbuing social accountability. What better “prep” for college or that initial job?

5. Athletic Achievement

Photos of smiling faces on zip-lines, climbing rocks or serving a tennis ball, abound those glossy camp pamphlets but they don’t explore those epic underdog stories of valor and accomplishment that have originated for decades at summer camp. Each child is made to challenge their fears, to learn a new skill, to compete individually and on teams, and to support their friends to do the same.

6. The Cure for a “Picky” Eating

Each meal is served in the mess hall with maybe a few options. So what if the sandwiches don’t have the perfect amount of mayo or the exact bread from home? Go ahead, skip that intro lunch! Following a full afternoon of outdoor activities, come the dinner bell,  your kids will voraciously eat, without complaint, whatever is put in front of their faces.

7. Emotional Growth

Leaving home for the first time is exciting and scary and thrilling and sad. So much has to happen to get to “good-bye.” But what your child gains, though their parents are not physically present, is the sense that they can survive, that they will be supported throughout with letters and care packages from home, and they will be received with open arms to help them transition back to the “real” world at the end of their journey. A feet-first jump into self-reliance, with  life-long friendships and remember when stories to share.

With all my worrying, lists and efficient packing strategies to make sure that my daughter had just enough insect spray, stationary and underwear safely stowed in her trunk, after a quick “Bye, Mommy!” without a tear, she ran up the hill to play with her new “bestie” without looking back. Ironically, the next day, I received a call from camp that she’d fallen and broken her wrist that first night — they were taking her to the E.R. So much for those perfect waterproof nametags! Anyway, the good news is, she’s fine, a trooper. She’s got a 6 week cast and can’t ride horses or swim, but her letter says she’s having a blast — “This is the best camp ever!”

Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl.

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Thanks to Broadway World for their thoughtful review (below) and for “getting” Robin’s journey.
Pam Alster, former TV writer & suburban mom brings a decade of living on the dark side to light in her novel debut Robin’s Blue available now in Kindle and Paperback. www.pamalster.com Find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @plexigirl.
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