Tricia Stewart Shiu


    The Day Sarah Marks Came Out

    Sarah Marks came out to me on a sunny Tuesday afternoon as I was driving back to the office after lunch.

    It had been a long and circuitous journey with Sarah and I thought I knew everything about her. To say I was surprised is putting it mildly. At first I didn’t believe her. She was making it up to get attention. Then I felt protective. I didn’t want people making fun or shunning her. As is the case in the complicated relationship between author and character, sometimes everything isn’t known up front and the mysteries lie in the subtleties. PLEASE HOLD was supposed to be a New Adult, Romance about the world of high-level, Hollywood studio executive assistants. A quirky tale about one women’s struggle to divine guidance.

    So, with turning signal blinking in the left-hand lane, waiting for the red arrow to turn green, I had some time to think.

    Why now? When Sarah and I started this journey together around nine years ago she was most certainly heterosexual. As a writer, I pride myself in knowing all there is to know about my characters, especially the protagonists. How could I have missed such an important detail?

    Our journey together started with a massive and jubilant download of 28 pages written in one session. From there the story flowed beautifully and for several years progressed nicely. Then I hit a wall and, try as I might, nothing seemed to help the movement of the characters or the story. Finally, I put the book down and I wrote and published an award-winning Young Adult, Science-Fiction series called the MOA books.

    It bugged me to have to put PLEASE HOLD down but, as the Moa Series began to gather steam with awards and publicity, I let go of finishing the book—at least for the time being.

    Five years later, I felt a calling to begin writing PLEASE HOLD again and, up until the coming out at the streetlight moment, I wasn’t sure why.

    Stopped at the intersection, red left turn arrow barring me from any forward movement, I retraced my mental steps over the previous nine years in writing PLEASE HOLD. There were very subtle hints and the more I explored and investigated, the more I realize the information had been there all along.

    The minute the light turned green, I ran back to my desk ready to begin the arduous task of heavy editing. However, as I pored over the story, I discovered something incredible. Very little was different about Sarah Marks. The relationship that I’d written was, if anything, more intimate and honest. Nothing about her trials or story or any of the other characters needed changing. Not one single bit. The more I read, the prouder I became of Sarah. It was as if her world opened up something beautiful about human nature that I’d been trying to express in PLEASE HOLD and now that message was clear. Human is human. Love is love.

    The next step came when I gave the manuscript to a gay male friend of mine to read. I wanted to make sure that I captured the world appropriately, kindly and as inoffensively as possible. Although the visceral descriptions were born from first-hand experience during my work at Fox Studio, I am a heterosexual and wanted to make sure I was writing in an authentic way.

    “You know, after reading this people are going to think you’re a lesbian, right?” He said as he patted the manuscript gently.

    In that moment, I realized something about myself and about Sarah. She had given me such a gift in allowing me to write a story that portrays a woman who hides nothing of herself and, at the same time, struggles with her turbulent past and challenges at work. Sarah showed me that nothing precludes you from being human.

    I nodded to my friend and said, “I don't care.”


    Letting Go

    Yesterday, as I was cleaning out my office, deciding whether or not to keep my worn copies of “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” I stumbled across a hardbound book with an equally long name—“How to Drive Your People Wild Without Driving Them Crazy.”

    Before I even opened up the hardcover to peek inside, I knew there was no question about keeping this one. This book and the author’s personal inscription are the reasons why I will never, ever give up pursuing my dreams.

    Sitting in my comfy office chair, I closed my eyes and remembered how this all came to pass. The new architectural high-rise in Kansas City was the perfect location for a new coaches retreat. Our group had been meeting on conference calls for several months and this was the first of two in-person meetings we were to have over the course of the year-long coaching certification. It was 2001.

    A few days before I left LA for Kansas City, I received a birthday gift, a silver bookmark, from Jennifer. I was certainly looking forward to thanking her in person for such a kind gesture.

    Upon arrival to the beautifully appointed conference room suite, we were each given a hand written welcome note from Jennifer. Mine said, “I can’t wait to get to know you.” Jennifer and I had spoken for over an hour in our introductory phone call, which revealed that our birthdays were very close to one another and that we both had a genuine passion for helping people.

    As we chose our seats and got comfortable, we were told that the author of the book and creator of the coaching certification course, Jennifer White, had cancelled her first meeting. The trainers suggested we get refreshments and settle in for a full day of learning as we had a lot of material to cover.

    Our trainers plowed through the material and, although I couldn’t put my finger on it, something about this group seemed off. Some of the participants complained during the lunch break about Jennifer’s absence and speculated that this all might be a scam. It did seem odd that she would go to so much trouble to write thank you notes and give gifts and then not show up for the first day of her own seminar.

    The second day of the seminar, I’d gotten my green tea and settled into my seat feeling the tension rise in the room. Jennifer was absent again.

    “We are so sorry to deliver this news, but Jennifer is gravely ill. She is in the hospital now and she’s in critical condition.” The newly appointed Vice President, Mark struggled with the next bit, “she went to Europe and on her return flight home said her head hurt. The headache turned into a migraine and she and her husband, Steve, went to the emergency room at their first stop, Chicago. They put her back on the plane with some Codeine and after an evening back in her own bed, she ended up in the hospital here in Kansas City where she fell into a coma.”

    Each of the participants had been hand chosen by Jennifer for this, her flagship program. “Drive Your People Wild Without Driving Them Crazy” was the follow up to her highly successful “Work Less, Make More.” She wanted to repeat this same scenario by creating a program to give us great tools and a network to coach leaders in the corporate world.

    I’d been hoping that this class would help me out of the career slump I’d fallen into the previous year. When I spoke with Jennifer before signing on for the program I felt hope. But Mark was making me regret those feelings. “We’re sorry, but we don’t know any more than that.” Mark sat down and we began our lesson.

    Absurd cannot begin to describe how this felt. Hey, the woman who inspired you to fly over 300 miles to get here is in a coma but let’s learn something! I sat beneath the buzzing florescent lights along with the others and got through the day and the next with little information about Jennifer’s condition.

    The class ended. I stayed in Kansas City with friends and did my best to shake off the pall by lunching with family and visiting old friends. It all felt so out of my control. I knew no one directly connected to Jennifer and so I had to rely on the other coaches who went through the training. A few days later I got a call from another coach, “Jennifer died yesterday.”

    The funeral was in a stony cold church in the suburbs of Kansas City and as I sat looking at the back of Jennifer’s husband’s head, I realized something. I had no idea what Jennifer looked like. Her warm, powerful voice was clear in my mind, as was her neatly ornate handwriting. Then I saw the memorial program. She had medium length reddish hair and a kind face. She missed her 33rd birthday by one day.

    The other women who took the course and I have an inexplicable inextricable bond. I stayed in touch with a couple of women and, as I do with my most challenging life issues, I wrote.

    Over the last seven years, I’ve tried desperately to connect the dots of my life. Jennifer’s line, in particular has eluded me. She had an indelible, profound effect on my life in a stunningly short period of time. My main question was: Why? Why would someone who was so powerfully vibrant have her life cut short? Why was I deprived of meeting her face-to-face? Why did we have enough of an interaction to really connect and nothing more?

    I also searched online to no avail. Then, a few years ago, I was selling my coaching tools at a booth at the International Coach Federation Conference in Long Beach, California. While drinking coffee before the doors opened, I noticed an open seat at a table and was drawn into a conversation with a few coaches. The woman directly next to me seemed faintly familiar.  The more she talked, the more I craned to see her name tag. I took a chance and asked if she knew Jennifer White. The look on her face told me everything. As we embraced warmly, I felt Jennifer’s presence.

    I continued my online searches for information about Jennifer reasoning that if I just knew more about what happened to her, I might get some closure. One day, I noticed a blog post by her husband, Steve, “On Organ Donation…” Jennifer’s picture from the memorial program was included and when I finished reading about the events that lead to her passing and her subsequent organ donation, it was as if a chapter had closed.

    Back in my office, I opened my eyes. Stacks of books were everywhere and Jennifer White’s book was cradled in my hands. I opened the cover to reveal Jennifer’s elegantly handwritten message in red ink: Tricia, Make your life matter! J

    Tricia Stewart Shiu is a 25 time award-winning author, speaker, and metaphysical intuitive. Author of the award-winning YA, SciFi,Mystical Adventure, MOA SERIES & the GATEKEEPER'S GUIDE SERIES featuring 3 minute meditation recordings.

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