Total Pageviews

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Day In The Life

I am a “weird” magnet.  This kind of weird can only be attracted in New York, a vortex of concentrated human extremes.  Contemplate my odd assortment of vignettes as an ambling film sequence.

Scene One, Take One: Returning home from tap class, I stop into my local wine shop, which I recently recalled used to be the neighborhood bakery when I grew up here.  Still the treat corner since fourth grade!   

As I left, a very attractive man was standing in the sun against one of the buildings, about thirty feet away.  Someone I know, and have avoided since the passing of my beloved dog almost nine months ago.  He’s a silver fox from Brazil, gorgeous, gay, and a dog walker.  He used to be particularly attached to my dog, even though no one ever walked her but me.  He would see her and light up, as many people did since she was such a supremely loving creature.  “I love you!” he’d gush with his accent as he scooped her up in his arms, cuddling her to his face and rocking in bliss, eyes closed, while leashes and dogs radiated out from him like a maypole. 

He saw me as I walked up the street, and I smiled at him.  He mouthed and mimed as I approached, “Where is she?” Shaking my head soberly as I walked closer, his smile diminished as he awaited my explanation.  “She’s gone.” I said as I stood in front of him.  He was speechless. 

Now, I’ve had some pretty hideous reactions upon informing people of Mimi’s passing. “You’re killing me!” screeched a morbid neighbor, a dog-owning matron with black shellacked hair and huge black sunglasses who allegedly poisoned her husband (perhaps she was quoting him?).  She offered not one word of comfort to me.

One day a fellow doxie owner approached and I decided not to dodge her and her giant longhaired dachshund, whom my baby used to French kiss.  The two dogs were a love match, although it was clear Luigi was seeing other women.  Norma adored my baby, joyously exclaiming as vociferously as my girl, who squealed in delight and flopped on her back, tail wagging, upon seeing the tiny old lady and her big dog.  Mimi engaged in this super friendly behavior often.  My senior neighbor Shirley, who refused to touch her, but clearly delighted in her from afar, called her a slut.

Shirley screamed when I told her Mimi had died.  “But I never let her into my apartment!”  No, she hadn’t.  She missed out on having her home sniffed and searched by a very low, loopy dog who hopped and skipped due to her deformities. 

Back to Norma.  I thought Norma, who reveled in all things Mimi, would be devastated when I told her about Mimi’s passing.  I sobbed as I choked out the sad tale.  Norma was unmoved and said simply that I had to get another dog.

The next time I saw her was months later, and I was ready for her.  I was better, less frail.  She said, “Where’s the puppy?”  Norma’s old, and I thought she was losing it.  I sighed, patiently, “She passed, Norma.” “I know,” she retorted.  “Where’s the new puppy?”  Not senile.  Pushy. “I’m not getting a new puppy Norma,” I spoke quietly. “Why not?” she barked. “Because I’m not ready.” “Why not?” She barked again. “Because I don’t want another dog.  I’m not ready” I defended. “Why aren’t you ready?” She needled. “I’m just not. I want other change in my life, not another dog,” I tried to explain, but she persisted in pressing her dog dictate, “Well, you can have other things and a dog, too.  You’re just stubborn, that’s what you are!”  Suddenly, this heretofore cute little old lady I adored had become my prosecutor, while the Black Widow (who still has her dog) had acted as if my loss had been hers.  That’s why I don’t talk about it. 

But my Brazilian friend, the silver fox standing in the sun, just looked and listened earnestly as I spoke. “She became paralyzed, and I couldn’t put her through surgery with all her other health issues.  I know you loved her”.  As I teared up he reached into his pocket for a soft, neatly folded white paper towel, obviously a backup maintenance tool for his line of work.  I demurred, used to wiping my fairly frequent tears on a sleeve. But he insisted and put it in my hand.  I dabbed the folded rectangle to my eyes and continued, “I haven’t been able to talk about it.  She was only five and she was the world to me.  It’s just too sad.”

Sergio did the kindest thing a person can do when one is distraught.  He offered no comfort (beyond "the quicker picker upper") and no counsel. He just listened, beholding me while absorbing my story, a witness to my pain.  It was the purest expression of love. Hugging him, I offered. “She loved you”. He looked me in the eye and blurted, “Be careful,” his Brazilian attempt at saying “take care”, I suppose.  As I walked away he blurted, “I love you”, just like he used to say to my little baby.  “I love you, too.”  I said. 

Since I was now all weepy and in need of succor, I clutched the just purchased chilled sauvignon blanc and headed over to my old stomping ground, the Catholic Church across the street.  While not Catholic, I like the sanctuary to contemplate and regroup.  Before Mimi, I used to sit there and weep when my mother was dying. With Mimi, I’d sneak her in her bag and we’d bask in the chill air on blisteringly hot days, or thaw and re-heat on the freezing ones. It is a modern church and usually quite empty, which is just the way I like it.  A respite from the noisy world outside. 

On this day it wasn’t empty at all.  There was no mass in progress, but a dispersed and disparate “crowd” of six were praying in earnest.  I could discern the energy of their prayers, providing a very Wings of Desire air.  A white woman to the right in corduroy jeans kneeled in front of a statue.  A white woman to my left kneeled in front of St. Francis (a personal favorite of mine).  A black woman in a powder blue suit and hat sat in front of me.  A black man was to the left.  Human pieces spread out on an invisible Catholic chess board.

The black lady in the blue suit started waving her right hand before her face, silently “testifying”.  This went on for a while and I took in the spectacle, one I’d never seen at this church, concluding that she was conversing with Jesus.  She dropped her hand briefly but waved it again for a stretch. To my far left was a very old, tall white priest who always sits in the same chair.  He’s friendly but quiet and has a bum foot, his bones and bunions exploding out of his dirty, black, velcrow-trussed sneakers.  His eyes were fixed on the bible in his lap, the same book he’s read over and over for decades. Doesn’t that get dull after a while?

An attractive young Asian business woman was in church only to text, eyes glued to her glowing appliance in a back pew.  Her phone rang.  This was a first for me, and I was appalled that she’d add insult to injury by making noise on top of being so textfully disrespectful. She left the main area to turn it off, I supposed, but wouldn’t you just know it, she took the freaking call in the outer hall.  I departed, leaving the Six Characters In Search Of An Author behind.

Speaking of crass, I ventured boldly into an institution I’d spent my entire life near, but had never been in.  Central Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in New York City, established in1846, with the building dedicated in 1872.  While I venture freely into churches because they have open doors and people coming in and out, I had never done so in a synagogue.  But a young lady in business attire climbed the steps toward the entrance, which made me think it was open.  In all my life it had never seemed open or active.  It was a mysterious, impenetrable fortress.  I seized the opportunity.

On my way to physical therapy, I was wearing shorts, sneakers and a tee shirt.  Now, I know God doesn’t mind about that kind of stuff cause God Is Everything, however, the people who run the synagogue might mind.  That person that day was a big guy in a beige suit.  He looked a bit like a Jewish bouncer.  Given how he was dressed, I thought he might give me some tsuris for my getup.  The pretty Israeli girl (she had an accent) kept him busy with questions while I slipped in and sat.  I explored the right to left, back to front reading material in my Jewish pew and took in the décor.  It looked just like a church.  Throw in a Jesus here and a couple of crosses there, and you could house a whole other crowd.

Now, the physical therapy.  I have a new insurance plan.  I was very excited about this new insurance plan until I started using it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m very grateful for it.  My audio book work through my union entitled me to pay for the privilege of having this insurance.  I was thrilled to find out that they covered both chiropractic and acupuncture, both of which I rely on.  I’m an alternative therapies type and don’t count on M.D.s for my well-being.  I prefer preventative, holistic care and use M.D.s on an “as needed” basis only.   

In the midst of enjoying my chiropractic and acupuncture benefits, I discovered that I was entitled to only half the number of treatments I thought I was.  A real pity, for the healthier I am, the less actual medical treatment I need (the old "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" thing). Getting weekly acu and chiro was putting me in fine form and spirits.  But I was also entitled to four physical therapy treatments, so I decided to cash in on that benefit, since I have wrist pain from my audio recording and editing work, and knee pain from an old injury. 

I needed a referral for it, so I selected the G.P. closest to me, which wasn’t all that close.  But she was a girl, which I wanted, and had a cushy address just opposite Tavern On The Green in Central Park.  And they could take me immediately, so I could start my P.T. immediately, with only a month left to this insurance quarter to cash in on those four sessions. Strangely, they were open for walk-in appointments only.  I was advised there usually wasn’t a long wait, and appointments lasted only about 20 minutes.  

Her office was on the main floor of a classic Central Park West building.  The front door was on the sidewalk.  I crossed the threshold and was suddenly in The Wizard of Oz.  In reverse.  All the Technicolor drained from my day as I entered her desiccated den from another time period altogether — somewhere between the 1940s and the 1960s.  This joint was untouched by time, money, renovations or a cleaning crew.  Everything was brown.  The miniscule bathroom, which I needed to use, abutted the sidewalk.  The toilet was right by the thin window so I could hear footsteps inches away from me as I sat, pants down.  My need to relieve myself vanished.  I saddled up and went to the sink, which looked distinctly…unclean. I’ve seen cleaner bathrooms in fast food restaurants.  What kind of a doctor’s office was this? 

The shop was run by three old women.  A black woman so large it proved difficult for her to get out of her chair.  She remained seated against the wall in the anteroom for the duration of my visit.  A petite Latina woman was friendly, efficient and ran the desk and phone.  She’d been with the doctor for 30 years (she told me this on the phone when I’d asked if the doctor was nice). And then there was the old battle axe herself, a white gal who’d graduated from medical school in 1943.  Now, I knew that little tidbit going in, the insurance site listed her stats.  But I was not prepared for the full Grey Gardens effect created by her and her medical practice. 

A 90 year old former show-girl stood before me. The good doctor was rail thin, sporting bright red lipstick and long blonde hair coiffed to Barbie doll perfection. Her breasts were reminiscent of Carol Burnett’s Charro’s mother costume as they were thin, long, low, and, it seemed, irregular. Her colorful polyester shirt and pencil skirt were a throwback to the 1970’s, when they were undoubtedly purchased. She wore her purse around her neck in the front, like the sporrans that Highland Scotsmen sport over their kilt.  The rectangular shoulder bag hung from a long, thin gold chain and was as thin and two dimensional as she was.  The edges were totally frayed, and I could not tell whether it was made of decomposing black patent leather faux “alligator” or authentic cardboard and plastic.  In addition to assorted jewelry her final accessory was a vintage stethoscope.  My face registered the same shock exhibited in the countenances of the Broadway audience in Mel Brooks’ 1968 masterpiece, The Producers, upon realizing that they were watching a musical homage to Hitler. 

I was frozen in an episode of The Twilight Zone, a David Lynch film, or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Take your pick.  I was on set. 

I signed a few forms, my uneasy smile trying to mask my mortification. What would happen to me in this geriatric house of horrors?  There were piles of paper everywhere, on top of army green metal filing cabinets and card-holders from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Labels were hand scrawled “Medicaid” and “Medicare”. There was no computer to be seen, but a fax machine collected dust.  My eyes scanned the joint from top to bottom.  It was a museum exhibit.  A total time warp to the 1960s New York City of my childhood.

“The doctor will see you now.” The receptionist jarred me out of my reverie.  I entered the examining room. This equipment was from the 1930s and 1940s, including a vintage baby scale and examination table. Young Frankenstein’s lab now came to mind.  The antediluvian table had stirrups for gynecological use, and musty mechanical cranks beneath. Scalpels, tweezers and antiquated metal tools were scattered about, mixed in with rubber bands, vaccines, needles and pens.  More file cabinets were piled haphazardly on top of each other.

“What’s wrong with you?” blurted the old woman as she entered the room.  “Uh, nothing.  I need a referral to see a physical therapist.”  She sat down across from me on one of her mismatched chairs.  “I told you to sit on the other chair, it’s more comfortable,” she directed me.  She’d told me to “sit on the round chair” so I'd sat on the round wooden stool.  Apparently she’d said “sit on the brown chair”, which was 1970s padded pleather and chrome. My stool was white and the cleanest, newest thing in the room.  I stayed put. 

“Do you have any illnesses?” “No,” I replied.  “Family history.” I gave her a brief rundown of how everyone died, including my mother’s death from cancer.  She took laborious longhand notes on an oversized index card, then looked up at me abruptly, “Breast cancer?” “No,” I replied.  She didn’t bother to find out what kind of cancer my mother actually had.  She asked me my weight and height without bothering to verify my claims.  I grew a couple inches and lost a couple pounds.  If she was living in a dream world, then so could I. 

Dr. Norma Desmond instructed me to me hop up on the edge of the gruesome table.  If ever a piece of equipment was haunted, this was it. I could feel the fear from myriad patients emanating from the frayed pad and rusted metal.  She listened to my heart with her trusty stethoscope.  She felt my left breast then got distracted when I told her I had fibroids.  She briefly palpated my lower abdomen.  So much for my right breast. 

She looked in my ears with her ear thingie, then tried to get her flashlight to turn on so she could look down my throat.  She fiddled with it, but it didn’t work, so she banged it on the stirrup.  Bam.  It was on. 

That over, we discussed my wrist pain, the very reason I was there.  She placed my wrist on the stirrup.  I kid you not.  Maybe this contraption did double duty back in the day, but to me, now, it was a gynecological stirrup, and my wrist was on it. Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers leered from the side of the room. 

She asked if I wanted blood work, and had she been a real doctor, I would have accepted it.  But not trusting her to hit a forearm let alone a vein, I declined.  Perhaps this was where the large black woman came in.  It’s possible she was a nurse.  But drawing my blood would necessitate her getting up, and this seemed unlikely. 

Norma Desmond hand scrawled my referral for the physical therapy, said “anything else?” then suggested I take two more, one for a gynecologist and another for an orthopedist.   This then, was her specialty.  Penning referrals. 

Relieved to be done, I was shocked to find other people in the waiting room.  All women.  All older.  What were they doing here?  What did this doctor do all day?  Right.  She handed out referrals. It was clear neither she nor her staff were in any condition to treat anyone for anything. 

I approached the front desk with $20 for my $10 co-pay.   “Doctor,” her receptionist ventured, it seemed to me, with trepidation.  “Do you have $10 change for this lady’s co-pay?”  Here was the meaning of the shiny, dilapidated purse swinging from doc’s neck.  She was the bank.  She didn’t trust her employee of thirty years to hold the $10s?  Well, just add that to the pile of crazy. 

I walked to nearby Sheep’s Meadow on this glorious May day to regroup as I slowly adjusted to 2014.  An iced coffee from Tavern’s pleasant take-out window aided in my recovery, and a Garage Band workshop at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue completed my reentry into today’s time space coordinates. 

Cut to me, medium shot, walking the streets the next day wearing shorts, tee shirt and sneakers, clutching my hard-won P.T. referral as I exit Central Synagogue.  From there I went to my new physical therapy office in a very respectable office building, only to find that this operation had not been renovated since the early 1980s.  This is not encouraging in a medical establishment.  One wants the latest, the newest and the best. I was having medical disappointment déjà vu. 

I was hoping for some nurturing medical massage as part of the package, but all I saw were boring weights and machines.  Looked like I’d have to do all the work.  Sigh.

My therapist was a tall, no nonsense gal, and her very basic equipment also seemed, well, quite old.  She measured my wrist with a glorified tape measure from a plastic box of supplies that could once have housed a Lego set. The joint was uninspired. Even Norma Desmond had some freaky flair.  

I tried to crack a joke but my therapist was a tough customer.  She alternately boiled and froze my wrist with very hot and very cold things, then sono-waved it.  She showed me a few stretches and the proper way to sit at my computer. Snore.   

While she was taking my carpal deposition we were seated inches away from each other, face to face in a little cubicle. At one point she sighed and said, “You have to take better care of yourself.”

Tears started rolling down my face.  This threw her totally off her game when she finally looked up from my wrist.  She was offering physical therapy, not therapy therapy.  She tossed some paper towels at me so I could clean up my emotional mess.  Her turf was repairing tendons and muscles, not the tender buttons she was pressing.  I needed nurturing, not needling. 

That being said, she gave me some good advice about posture, and her seminal “you have to take better care of yourself” had struck a nerve. I thought I already was.  But there’s always farther to go.

My journey is about taking better care of myself, emotionally, financially, physically, spiritually and mentally, the whole shebang.  These realms are simply different facets of the same Me.

A day in my life includes smiling, celebrating, crying, napping, pontificating, dancing, cooking, eating well, biking, blading, solitude, more solitude, writing and recording.  Day by day, gently, and sometimes more forcefully, I edge toward beautiful new vistas.  Sunset.  Music swells. Fade to black. 

©Valerie Gilbert, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

My newest book, SWAMI SOUP, will be released December 6th!

MEMORIES, DREAMS & DEFLECTIONS: My Odyssey Through Emotional Indigestion is out in print, eBook, and audio (recorded by me!) 

RAVING VIOLET the book is available in print, e-book and audio (recorded by me!) both books from Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, KOBO, SmashWords, Sony Reader Store,  The Book Depository (international print), and Black Opal Books.  

Valerie's audiobooks are available at and iTunes.  

Author Interview  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Thousand and One Nights (And Days)

I am in the midst of an emotional maelstrom.  It’s “supposed” to be gone by now.  As my sister told me many years ago at Christmas, “It’s been over a year since Mom died.  Time to let it go.”  Well, I didn’t.  Grief has its own timetable.  It means different things to different people, and for different reasons.  No one knows what you’re going through, or what you need, but you.  You have to be your biggest advocate.

Most folk have a take on what I should do, or feel, in order “to move on”.  I don’t need fixing.  I need to feel what continues to course through me.  My dog died six months ago. My soul is howling.

One friend suggested that eventually I’d get “beyond it” but this didn’t sit well with me.  I don’t want to get “beyond” it, nor do I believe it possible to.  Pain is not a speed bump you roll over and then leave behind, like road kill.  It is a part of you.  Everything you experience in life becomes a part of you, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  When you lose someone, the loss is not a wound that simply scabs over, and when that scab drops off, the pain, too, is gone.  It’s there in your blood.  The love, the loss, the grief and despair all flow in your veins, and get cycled through your heart.  Over time, new experiences enter your life, and the pain can take a backseat to other, happier feelings.  But the grief genome can always be accessed, like a recessive gene. It’s there.  All you need is another inciting event to activate the virus and manifest an outbreak. 

Like a fever, grief must run its course.  It is purgative and purifying as it does so.  If you don’t stanch the flow. 

I explained to my friend that processing grief for me is like digestion.  One needs to sit with one’s emotions.  Chew them, mull them over, and yes, swallow.  Taste the bitter.  I cannot pretend there is not a gaping emotional crevasse at my core.  Despite the smiles, laughs and joys that I have harbored since my latest loss, the caldera remains freely accessible, the lava still hot.  Old Faithful simmers below the surface until she blows, once again. 

All around me there is massive change.  Friends are moving, having babies.  I remain within my still point, the world spinning around me.  Spinning within me.  I read an intriguing mantra, “The Universe is inside me. And I am inside the universe”.  My change is internal, not visible to the eye, like the massive glacier hidden beneath the surface of the visible one.  Mountains move, within. 

We all suffer losses in a lifetime, some more than others.  Some life stories are more heavily weighted toward levity, frivolity and pleasure, others toward brooding, either with or without dark experiences to support them.  I once dated a very depressed fellow, a songwriter, and after reading some of his lyrics and knowing a bit about his life a friend of mine commented, “I don’t get it.  What’s he got to be miserable about?”

You can be sour about anything, or happy about anything.  Even in the face of death and despair, it is possible to create peace, love, and joy.  To what extent, and when, is up to you.  My chiropractor and acupuncturist understand this, for emotions manifest in the energy body, as well as in the physical form.  They take their toll.  There’s no question that happiness enhances healing, and that laughter is the best medicine.  But their presence cannot be forced.  They must be approached and embraced in the right way, as with a wild animal.  If it’s done right, an ecstatic union can be formed.  For now, I still dance with occasional despair.  I remain a Dog Widow. 

But, student of Self that I am, I will wonder, am I digesting this experience, allowing the feelings in their many iterations to arise and bubble up to the surface, or, like a cow, am I chewing my cud?  Endlessly going over turf which has already been tread, like a broken record?

The fact is, I experienced a more than casual sampling of sickness and death in my youth, and those devastating losses have informed who I am.  And who I’ve chosen to be. I feel deeply.  You cannot feel the good without also allowing the bad.  We have a full spectrum of emotions.   And yes, we can learn how to play them like a symphony, hopefully gravitating to the happier emotions over time.  But you don't paint rainbows by throwing out black, gray and brown.  You must know those shadows.  And how to use them.  That is full spectrum living.  That is being a master artist.  

Rather than replace my amazing dog, and my lovely cat who died shortly before, I choose to suck it up and stick it out.  Animals have been my family, my comfort, for decades, ameliorating the loss of family.  Now I bask in my solitude.  Feel it, for good and for bad, for there is grandness in it too.  I’m not running away from the pain or denying the splendor.  I’ll not detract from my healing with rebound canine/feline relationships.  It would diminish the lesson, which for me is, “What is it to be, by yourself, alone?”

And yet, something has had to keep me busy, and to keep me from going insane.  The day my dog died a check arrived in the mail for my latest creative endeavor, one which has taken off in rather stunning fashion.  Recording audio books.  The check from the world’s biggest audio book company failed to cheer me in any measure, but only highlighted the contradictory and bittersweet nature of life, the yin with the yang, the good with the bad. 

But the arrival of the check at that time was symbolic.  It was my new wellspring.  And I was the source. 

I spin yarns.  I weave tales.  I bring characters, tales and realms unknown to life.  Like Rumpelstilskin, I spin prodigious quantities of straw into gold while villages sleep.  I am a storyteller.  I talk seven days up to 18 hours (on and off).  I do not talk on the phone.  I rarely leave my house.  Like Scheherazade in “A Thousand and One Nights” I am talking to save my life.  By losing myself in others’ tales, I am healing my own. 

There are technical aspects to this work that are very tricky.   A good microphone picks up all sorts of minute noises.  If you’re not sufficiently hydrated, a dry mouth creates strange sound effects.  So I drink.  Cups of water and cups of tea.  Consequently, frequent trips to the bathroom ensue.  As well, the stomach demands a fair bit of attention, always ready for its close-up.  It makes surprise appearances during a tale, piping up when it’s empty, when it’s full, or when it’s just in the mood to say “hi!”  It is a recurring character during recording sessions, one which must continuously be hauled off the stage, a shepherd’s crook around its neck as it squawks for attention. 

Then, there’s the “neighborhood” to take into account. I do not have a soundproof studio.  I live in an apartment building in New York City.  I have effectively, and assiduously crafted a “sound-reduced” work environment.  There are delicious stretches of silence interrupted by coughs, bangs, raps, doors slamming, cabinets squeaking, horns blaring, sirens wailing, children shrieking, vacuums roaring, garbage disposals grating, showers running, toilets flushing, loud parties in full swing, blaring TVs, vegetables chopping, beds creaking, piano lessons pounding, opera singers belting, a renovation down the hall, a renovation downstairs, high speed drilling, and even a wood saw hacking.  There’s the lady above who insists on wearing high heels and my next-door neighbors who maintain the aural acoustics of a bus station.  I am an expert of sorts at interpreting the array of sounds, which emanate from all six directions.  It’s a veritable audio soup.  I’ve yet to determine what creates the sound of a bowling ball rolling across a wooden floor, directly above my head.  Unless, of course, it’s just that. 

When there are patches of silence I bask in them.  Revel in them.  Bathe in them.  Record them and most important, record in them.  “Room tone” is an essential part of the recording process, as actual silence, a total void, before or after speech is an audio no-no. There are relative levels of silence.  I have become a connoisseur of them, and after a particularly good silent patch, I will play it back and sigh.  “Ah.  Now, that was good silence!”  I amass primo pieces of silence to replace noisy patches (between spoken phrases) where intruders from the above referenced list have rudely inserted themselves.  All audio bric-a-brac must be edited out. 

Sound and silence comprise my life. 

Occasionally, I will leave my home to take a tap class.  This is a nice, noisy way to get out my yah yahs and express with my feet instead of my face.   

For the record, I don’t read fiction.  Not since Tolkien and whatever books were required in high school, I’ve not gravitated toward the imagined.  As a metaphysician, I find the teachings of the subtler realms fantastical enough.

But here I am, reading romance novels.  Aloud.  It’s rather humorous.  And quite enjoyable.  I lose myself in the sugary fantasies like every other romance reader.  But it doesn’t stop there.  I do sci-fi and fantasy.  Dragon books.  Witch books.  Vampire books.  Outer space romance.  Non-fiction texts on ADHD, aphasia, getting pregnant, and having babies.  I was offered a contract to narrate a primer for women on masturbation.  Can you guess how I celebrated booking that gig? 

Historical romance on the Oregon Trail!  Family romance collections (watch the whole family get engaged, girl by girl!)  My characters perform magic in the woods, talk to animals, ride dragons, trek cross country, and survive sexual slavery during World War II.  It’s a big world out there.  There are a lot of stories to tell. 

Sometimes I’m not quite sure what I’m getting into.  When I audition, there’s just a short excerpt.  Then I get the whole book and go “uh oh”.  I’ve narrated some fairly steamy sexual scenes (I told my dog to cover her ears) but I’m not interested in erotica or violence.  You can keep the dark stuff.  Mystery, intrigue, magic, yes.  My witches are all White, my vampires fun loving and romantic (never murderous). 

I have always attracted the perfect content and authors, people I’ve never spoken to but know somewhat intimately from our email correspondence and reading their books. That’s the law of attraction in action.  I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve recorded.

Even as my external universe receded, my internal universe went and had itself a Big Bang. I explore new galaxies daily. 

Did you know that indigenous prostitutes during the Korean War were called “Juicy Girls”? Yes, they served “juice” to the GIs, but that’s not all they served up.  American girls and women currently wear “Juicy” garb to proclaim their luscious sexiness.  But more to the point…their asses read, “Whore”.  They may have no idea, but I don’t doubt the manufacturer did.

In this day and age of self-publishing, anyone can be an author.  Which means I will encounter poorly written and edited tomes.  I may start an audition but if I hit “his man parts hardened” you can hear me roll my eyes as I speak…then sputter to a stop.  I kill the recording.  If I’m not into what I’m saying, neither will the listener. 

Having done a fair number of romances by now, I’ve grown accustomed to some of the less inspired formulas, middle of the road, fairly unimaginative drivel. Everyone has perfect bodies in romance land.  That’s a given.  They all wear designer labels and very high heels.   Hair and makeup are always impeccable. 

I stopped recording once; plain lost my mind and ranted at length, foaming at the mouth (much to my dog’s consternation) after recording the end of yet another romantic dinner date.  It ended with tiramisu.  They all ended with tiramisu.  Didn’t matter the book or the author.  One could say I took issue because I strongly dislike tiramisu.  It is a mushy, useless baby food, a soggy finale to what should be a sophisticated meal.  One could assume I was irritated by the lack, yet again, of originality in stamping out these cookie cutter romances.  One could even argue it was possible that the person recording this romance, a woman who rarely left her lair, was jealous that she wasn’t on a romantic date with a man with firm thighs and a dimpled smile, hair rakishly falling into his sapphire blue eyes, as his hand grazed his strong, stubbled jawline.  

Nah, my literary and culinary standards were at stake.

I did a sci-fi romance where the male protagonist’s initial description referenced how tall and broad he was.  A Massive, Manly Alien.  I muttered,  “He’s probably got a huge, intergalactic dick.”  Why, yes he did.    

In one romance, the nude, aroused male was (always, ad infinitum) “magnificent” or so his partner iterated, each and every time they got nekkid.   Another romance described the guy’s enticing aroma entering the girl’s nostrils and going up her…brain? “  I had to stop recording to take stock of myself. 

One author used the same (made-up) word to describe both (one) clitoris and (two) nipples.  There’s probably a (made-up) word out there I don’t know about yet that references both elbow and ear.  I refrained from informing an author that women may have two breasts, but only one bosom (or rack, for that matter).  And that it’s not her “nape”, but “the nape of her neck”. 

My collection of auditions and recordings has inspired me to create what I call BAD ROMANCE MAD LIBS.  I will start to record something when my bad romance radar is alerted.  I’m not sure if it’s an order of tiramisu coming up or an intoxicating scent wafting up someone’s BRAIN, but here goes: 


I look at a book cover and judge. One cover was quite suggestive, and seemed to indicate gay porn.  I don’t do porn, but the author had invited me to audition, so I checked out the audition excerpt. I couldn’t determine if the protagonists were two girls, two boys, or one of each.  I had no idea “who’s zooming who” (or how).

Word by word, sentence by sentence, I sew patches from which quilts are crafted.  Chapter by chapter.  Day by day.  Line by line, I add books to my aural archives.  When I get bored with one genre I switch over to another, like switching channels on the TV. From sci-fi to romance to fantasy to campy vampire comedy to the fictionalized account of a real Korean “comfort woman” abducted and enslaved for continual rape by Japanese soldiers in China during World War II.  There’s nothing better to help recover from the heaviness of a story like that than recording some light romance.  Even with tiramisu.   

My life, seemingly barren in ways, is filled with 1001 tales of other people.  Other times.  Kingdoms where dragons fly and magic is outlawed. I lose myself in these stories but find myself too, headphones on, fingerless gloves warming me (sort of).   I bring heroes, heroines and villains to life.  I bring me to life as I play act, alone in my room, like an only child on a rainy day. 

I am Scheherazade.  When my 1001 nights are over, a new era will begin, where I will live the tales, instead of animating them.  No tattoos for me, thank you, and no vampires, but romance and adventure will be the order of the day.  In the meantime, telling tales enables me to park my grief for a while as I inhabit the emotions of others.  I live vicariously through dragons, warriors, and magicians.  I even lose myself in well dressed, newly engaged, in-shape, totally successful businesswomen with perfect hair. 

So, back to the dragons, swashbucklers, talking trees, tattoo parlors and dreamy brides to be.  Nutrition, masturbation and fertility guides.  It’s enough to keep me busy, distracted, productive and engaged while I heal and wait for the other life, the “outside” life I’ve long dreamed about to commence, complete with beautiful mate, beautiful home, exciting new location, cats, dogs, good wine, great food, laughs, star-gazing and happy sighs…Why, it sounds just like a romance novel, doesn’t it? 

©2014 Valerie Gilbert  All Rights Reserved

My newest book, SWAMI SOUP will be released December 6th!

MEMORIES, DREAMS & DEFLECTIONS: My Odyssey Through Emotional Indigestion is newly out in print, eBook, and audio (recorded by me!) 

RAVING VIOLET the book is available in print, e-book and audio (recorded by me!) both books from Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, KOBO, SmashWords, Sony Reader Store,  The Book Depository (international print), and Black Opal Books.

Valerie's audiobooks are available through and iTunes.

Author Interview