Behind My Back
My hairdresser has been talking behind my back for years. I don’t mind it at all. In fact, I welcome it.
It all started more than a decade ago when I was new to town and visited a salon looking for someone to do my hair. Simone—as I’ll call her—had an opening in her schedule and agreed to give me a “wash and set.” Pretty soon I became one of her regulars.
Not much is said between us until after she’s shampooed my hair. Simone swings me around in the styling chair so that I’m facing away from her. Then she combs the tangles out of my hair and reaches for her tray of rollers. That’s when Simone starts some of her best conversations with me. Behind my back.
It was behind my back that Simone saved me from spending money on a mechanic. The day after a snowstorm, I was sitting in her styling chair and told her that I planned to take my car into the shop. The vehicle bounced up and down as I drove. The faster I drove, the more herky-jerky it got, like a mechanical bucking bull. I was afraid that the shocks were worn out or the suspension needed an adjustment. But Simone informed me that her car was doing the same thing. She said that the problem was caused by frozen snow wedged between the ridges of my tires and that once the snow melted the car would return to normal. And it did.
Another time, I came into the salon excited about an estate I had visited as a possible site for my upcoming wedding. I was seriously considering signing the contract. The venue was elegant, with lush grounds and a colonial revival mansion. In my bride-to-be euphoria I’d fallen in love with the place in spite of the fact that it had no air conditioning, and not enough room for all of my guests unless I spent $1,000 to rent a tent for an outdoor ceremony. As Simone tightly wound my wet hair around red plastic rollers, she cautioned me not to commit to it, stating that there were plenty of mansions across the state to choose from.
I reluctantly heeded her advice and made appointments to see several other venues. The estate I chose–which I fell more in love with than the first one–was closer to home, had air conditioning, and plenty of indoor seating for all of my guests.
Months later, Simone was excited for me when I told her that my husband and I had adopted a kitten. She chuckled when I held my cell phone over my shoulder to show her photos of Samantha clawing at the cord to my laptop, and scaling a window screen on our condo balcony. I heard her hum with concern as I later shared stories of the cat’s increasingly aggressive behavior—how Samantha periodically dug her incisors into our food on the dinner table when we weren’t vigilantly watching our plates, and slammed herself against the shut bedroom door when she’d hear my husband and me on the other side. After the cat began attacking us, sometimes drawing blood and leaving welts, Simone reassured me that we were making the right decision, surrendering her to a local animal shelter.
Some people need to be face-to-face to know that the other person is really listening. They need eye contact, a nod of the head, a smile, a mirroring of facial expressions or posture to know that the conversation is engaging. I’ve never needed those assurances from Simone. Much like the experience of hearing serialized stories on a podcast, listening becomes richer without distraction from the other senses.
I know from Simone’s words, her tone of voice, her laugh, her exclamations that she’s invested in what I have to say and I’m sure that I give her enough audible cues for her to know that she’s being listened to.
Simone is welcome to talk behind my back anytime she wants. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The lilting melodies of South African jazz eased my grogginess as we rode along a highway into wine country. I had flown 18 hours the day before from the United States, arriving at Cape Town International Airport late in the evening with work colleagues: a registered nurse from a Chapel Hill, North Carolina, burn center and a battalion chief from the Los Angeles City Fire Department. I was a public educator with a nonprofit fire safety organization based in the Boston, Massachusetts, area and relatively new to my job.
I became more alert as our driver, Jocelin, a captain with the Johannesburg Emergency Management Services, began to narrate our tour. I listened closely and took in every image that rolled past my car window. I’d never been to South Africa before; had never been to the African continent, for that matter—the land of my ancestors many generations ago—and didn’t want to miss anything. Proud of his sound system, Jocelin cranked the volume as he drove us toward a spectacular view—majestic mountains on one side of the highway and a lush, verdant valley on the other, filled with seemingly never-ending fields of grapevines. The land was so vibrantly green I was sure it rivaled the magical colors of the Irish countryside.
Jocelin told us that people from all over the world come to tour the vineyards, paying thousands of dollars for private wine tastings, high-priced three-course meals, and helicopter rides for a view from the sky.
But that was not the Cape Town we had come to see. The ride through wine country was to introduce us to the stark contrasts found in South Africa–the differences between the ultra-wealthy and the indigent, the privileged and the shut out. The work we had been sent there to do–work that I felt fortunate to be a part of–was to create a fire safety education program for South Africa schoolchildren, and train educators and members of the fire service on how to implement it. At the time, in 2005, the idea of something as simple as a smoke alarm–which more than 95 percent of U.S. households have–was never heard of in many instances. There was little to no fire and life safety education being taught in areas at high-risk of fire. Even in areas where education existed, it was sparse and concentrated in traditional, affluent regions.
A year before the trip, my boss told me she’d been approached by a Johannesburg paramedic seeking help with the residential fire problem. She got approval from her boss to head the project. But she asked me to go in her place. I was stunned. I’d only been working with her a few months and had taken on nothing close to that degree of importance. The work I did was cathartic-- organizing and conducting meetings, writing technical articles, and producing fire safety literature for consumers. It was a comfortable place to be after losing confidence in myself because of the struggles I’d faced in my previous career as a television news broadcaster.
It had been my dream to become a television news reporter and anchor in a major market, like New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles. In pursuing of my dream, I toiled in small markets–a farming community in the middle if Illinois, a dying coal mining community in Northeastern Pennsylvania, a cable TV news station in southern Connecticut. After close to a decade, I realized that my on-air performance and journalism skills would never be exceptional enough for me to climb out of small market television.
So when my boss told me that she believed in my ability to head the South Africa project–which involved working with officials in Johannesburg and Cape Town–and saw my journalism experience as an asset, I was incredulous.
Now, Jocelin steered the car out of wine country to the location of our site visit, which would allow us to spend a little time with the people we sought to help. Our destination was a short distance, but a world away from the vineyards: the community of Khayelitsha, about 20 miles from the center of Cape Town. There were no green valleys, no gourmet tastings, and certainly no tourists. Khayelitsha was a shanty town, also known as a shack town–the largest in Africa–which rose up during apartheid, the policy of segregation or discrimination based on race that former South African President Nelson Mandela spent much of his life fighting against. Shanty towns are not generally recognized or regulated by the government.
I shaded my eyes as we walked past makeshift homes about the size of American backyard tool sheds built on patches of dirt, concrete, or dead grass. Cape Town was only a few hundred miles from the equator. The Africa sunshine was much brighter than what I was used to in the United States. Shacks were made from scraps of cardboard, wood, and tin. Roofs were held down by old sneakers, crumbling bricks and tree branches.
Some roofs were so low, that at my 5’7” height, I could easily see over the tops of the shacks. Families crowded inside. Jocelin pointed out that many of the shacks had no windows, electricity, or plumbing. If they did have electricity it was often rigged illegally and a fire hazard. I looked up at electrical wires dangling precariously from one shack to the next.
Jocelin knocked on the outer wall of a shack. I stood a distance away with my American colleagues, uncomfortable at being an unannounced visitor. But Nozuko Tyose came to her doorway and welcomed us warmly. She led us into her three-room home.
My eyes had to adjust again, this time to darkness. Nozuko had no electricity. Light came in through the doorway. Surviving on very little money, Nozuko had porridge cooking in a small sauce pan. A young widow, she was preparing food for her two-year-old son on a cheap, crudely constructed, highly flammable paraffin stove.
“I know it’s dangerous so I keep my son away when I cook,” she told me. Nozuko was like millions of other South Africans cooking on the unsafe devices. And like others, she had her stove on a low table where it could easily be bumped by a child or where an adult’s clothing could easily brush against it.
Stoves are often placed too close to walls, curtains and other things that can catch fire. If left unattended to heat a home, a stove will sometimes explode. Tens of thousands of South Africans experience fire each year. Nozuko’s shack, like thousands of others, was built only a few feet from the next shack. If a fire broke out in one shack, it could easily spread out of control to hundreds of others, turning entire communities to rubble and leaving thousands homeless. Repeat fires were fairly common with families losing everything and having to reconstruct their shacks over and over again.
Down the road from Nozuko we visited the three-room shack of Mxolisi Dyantyi and his wife and toddler. He also used an unsafe paraffin stove for cooking and paraffin lamp to light their home at night. He showed us the tapir candle he sometimes uses after dark. It rested at an angle in a candle holder much too large to hold the candle steady. Like Nozuko, he was also very concerned about a fire breaking out in his home and looked forward to receiving lessons from the fire safety education program that we would develop.
When I look back on my South Africa adventure, working with a South Africa curriculum developer to create the teacher’s guide, fire safety stories, lessons, and songs, writing an article about the program for our technical magazine, which was read by thousands of members of the fire service, and making a follow-up trip to South Africa a few years later to train educators and the fire service to use the program, I realize that success doesn’t always come in the form you think it will.
It may not come from an accomplishment that gets the public’s attention, involve you walking across a stage to get an award as your friends, family and admirers’ applaud. It may not mean getting a promotion at work or having a fat bank account. It may involve simply doing your best at what you feel passionate about and in a small way making a difference for someone.
I thought my success would come from being a star reporter and news anchor in a major metropolitan area, from winning journalism awards, and delivering newscasts that got high ratings. I thought the end of my journalism career meant the end of accomplishments I could be proud of.
But saying “yes” to an opportunity even though my confidence had been shaken marked a new beginning for me. Having a good relationship with a boss who saw my strengths and believed in my abilities not only paved the way for me to play a lead role in creating a program to keep children a continent away safe, but also allowed me to begin a new chapter in my life with confidence and optimism.
As my sister and I made plans to visit our elderly parents for the Christmas holiday, we agreed to narrow our list of concerns down to two matters we would discuss with them: why our father should stop driving, and how much more secure they would be if they completed forms for a living will and health care and financial proxy. But that talk had to be postponed. Our first priority when we got to the house was searching for a loaded handgun.
We didn’t know what type of gun it was—a revolver or a semi-automatic—but we knew it was somewhere in the backyard shed unsecured. Anyone who could gain access to the shed could conceivably pick up the gun and use it. I knew nothing of the gun until my mother slipped it into a phone conversation I had with her after we’d visited our parents for Thanksgiving. My sister and I, who live several hours away in different states, agreed that we would call home more often.
My 85-year-old father is frail, suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and possibly dementia. He’s lost most of his hearing. He has fallen out in public, wrecked the car, opened up a small retail business at the age of 84 that my sister and I begged him not to--then refused to run it--is being sued by an attorney and owes back taxes on a multi-family house in the tens of thousands of dollars, but claims he doesn’t owe that much and won’t make payments. All the while interest is accruing.
My mother is 81 and frail, but not as frail as my father, and spends much of her time using her social security savings to put out the financial fires my father has set. Theirs is an old-fashioned, highly paternalistic marriage. She caters to him and defers to him for most major decisions.
“Your father left here so mad,” my mother said during our post-Thanksgiving phone conversation. “He slammed the door so hard that the house shook,” she said, adding embellishment as she gave details of an argument over money.
“You don’t think that he would get violent, do you?” she asked.
I laughed to myself. My father had been irritable lately and had made some mind-numbingly bad decisions, but he was one of the gentlest people I knew. I tried to reassure her that she had nothing to worry about.
“Because he has a gun.”
I stopped laughing. “What’s he doing with a gun?”
She explained that he had her come to the shed one day and showed her the firearm. He said that if anybody bothered her, all she had to do was point and shoot. The more questions I asked the more my mother retreated. She couldn’t remember where the gun was in the shed. She wasn’t sure if it was in a box, a drawer, in a case. And I shouldn’t worry about it. The gun was probably so old it wouldn’t fire anyway.
I could hear the tightness in my sister’s voice when I called her later that day. She said that my 13-year-old niece had been in the shed during Thanksgiving weekend collecting dolls from the dollhouse she used to play with. If my sister had known about the gun she would have never let her daughter go in there.
For the next several weeks my husband, sister, brother-in-law and I were on a mission to figure out how to safely get rid of the gun. We checked police department websites for information on surrendering firearms, called up cops, thought of and then dismissed the ideas of tossing the gun into a pond or the woods; we feared the gun would be recovered and then used against someone. We also feared that the gun—which was likely unregistered--could be traced back to my father.
My sister got a detail from a cop that was unsettling. He said that even a person who has dementia has the right to bear arms.
Finally, a co-worker suggested a secure metal box with a combination lock designed for valuables. I ordered one online and took it with me back to my parents’ house for Christmas.
During the past 10 years as I’ve watched my parents age, I’ve read articles and books on how to downsize your parents’ house, the critical steps to a caregiving plan, avoiding the financial pitfalls of caring for aging parents, and estate planning. I’ve also attended seminars and workshops and talked to co-workers who have elderly parents. But nothing could prepare me for the unique challenges I face with my parents. Everyone’s case is a little bit different.
Under a gunmetal grey sky, my sister, brother-in-law, and I crunched through the frozen snow in my parents’ backyard to search for the gun in the shed. With frostbitten fingers we tore open boxes of 1962 edition encyclopedia volumes, sifted through stacks of yellowed newspapers with headlines screaming about the John F. Kennedy assassination, stepped around mannequins, and waded through bags of broken doorknobs.
On the second day of our search we found it. A revolver. It was lying in a file cabinet drawer under photographic slides. My brother-in-law joked that it looked like a prop from an old Clint Eastwood western.
My sister and I worked together like a couple of wannabe secret agents. I put the gun in the security box and set the combination. My sister helped me slip the box into a plastic grocery bag, which we knotted. We were able to shove the bag into the bottom of an overstuffed trash can on wheels that was behind the shed. Instantly, we began to decompress. My father would roll the can to the front of the house on trash day as he did every week, unwittingly disposing of the gun. The gun would be carted away and dumped into a landfill.
A week or so later I called my mother. All was fine and my father hadn’t done anything new that outlandish. Then I asked: “Did Dad put the trash can on the street?”
My mother laughed. “That can behind the shed?” Oh, that can is so full of stuff. It’s too heavy for your father. He hasn’t moved that in months.”
A Lot of Ground to Cover
I arrived at the bookfair exhibit hall of a writers’ conference hopeful that I’d be able to complete my mission: to convince the editors at a small press that they should publish my novel. After a six-hour train ride that took me several states away from home and some downtime in my sister’s spare bedroom, I said a silent prayer and slipped into the comfortable shoes I had packed. I had a lot of ground to cover.
In terms of size, the bookfair seemed about the length of a football field. More than 700 exhibitors filled the space. It was the largest marketplace for independent presses in the country. My plan was to approach the several hundred editors representing small presses that published novels.
I’d known since I was a child that I wanted to write a book. When I was old enough to read on my own, I’d curl up with a Nancy Drew mystery or a book in the Bobbsey Twins series and imagine what it would be like to fill readers with the range of emotions I felt. I had no idea how hard it would be to pursue my dream.
After college, I launched a career in journalism, figuring I could learn to write and earn a living at the same time. At the newspaper, I developed the discipline to write under tight deadlines, learned the merit of having an editor’s input, and acquired the skill of quickly generating story ideas. When I switched from print to television news, I honed my public speaking skills and learned the art of storytelling using visuals. But in both disciplines, the odd working hours and the seemingly never-ending array of high-adrenaline inducing breaking news stories left me with little energy to write creatively.
After leaving journalism I was able to craft some short stories and personal essays. In spite of overwhelming rejection, a few were published. At the age of 47, I entered a master’s degree program in creative writing. Two years later, I had a completed manuscript.
Elated, I sent query letters to literary agents, hoping to get representation. Instead, I got rejection. It often came in the form of a generic email but sometimes the agents sent me a personal note.
Do you really want to start the first chapter with that car ride?
I’m sorry to say your work is rather pedestrian. We will take a pass on this one.
The responses stung, triggering me to question my writing ability. But I didn’t stay discouraged long. A literary agent I’d gotten to know personally agreed to work with me. I spent months revising the manuscript section-by-section under her guidance, optimistic she’d decide to represent me. I even spent a weekend on a silent retreat hosted by an order of priests at a former monastery to allow me the quiet I thought I needed to polish my work. I waited months for the agent’s final response, figuring we’d chat over the phone as we had in the past. Instead I got an email.
I re-read your story twice and I’m sorry to say that I’m not making a connection with your narrative.
I burst into tears, my husband rocking me like a child until my sobs subsided. The agent was my last hope. I felt ready to give up, to put away my dream, which now seemed like a naïve child’s fantasy. I began to rationalize that maybe I had accomplished enough. Maybe I should have been satisfied with some of my shorter works being published in literary journals and anthologies.
But I couldn’t get the manuscript out of my mind. I believed in it, but was at a loss on how else to improve it. My husband, also a former journalist, sensed my frustration and urged me to not give up.
“Why don’t you take a look at it,” I said one day, dropping all 364 pages in his lap. I thought with his fresh eye he could give me some direction––either to continue my pursuit or quit trying.
Several days passed. Then early one morning he shook me awake. He’d been reading throughout the night. “You can get this published,” he said. “It needs work, but you’ve got something here. There’s humor, mystery, tragedy.”
His encouragement helped pushed away my doubts. I spent months revising the manuscript again. But instead of sending it to literary agents, I selected small presses, which typically don’t require that an agent represent an author’s work and are more open to publishing works that might not achieve the sales of a commercial work of fiction.
Rejection emails arrived in my inbox. Some editors never responded at all. Others said I’d made the second round of reviews. I held onto those responses as a sign of hope.
I searched online and found out that nearly all of the presses I’d contacted would be represented at the writers’ conference bookfair. I decided I would speak to each one of those editors and chat with the others there as well.
That day at the convention center, I felt overwhelmed as I took in the vastness of the bookfair. I wondered how I would get it all done. I took a deep breath and got to work. Several editors said, “I remember your manuscript. We’ll take another look at it.” Some gave me an in-person rejection. Undaunted, I spoke to them all, even one whose small press was based in a different country. It took me two days to get to everyone.
I left the conference satisfied that I had done all that I could on behalf of my manuscript.
Months later, my husband and I decided to go on vacation. Traveling to Montreal, Quebec, for the international jazz festival was one of our favorite ways to unwind. While there we kept our cell phones off so we wouldn’t be billed for international charges. On our way home, once my husband drove us back across the border into the United States, I turned on my cell phone. I scrolled through my messages. One that caught my attention from a few days earlier had the name of my manuscript in the subject line. I rolled my eyes, figuring that it was yet another rejection. I opened it anyway out of curiosity. I had to read it several times before I could absorb what it said.
I thought your manuscript was fabulous! I went to our board of directors and they approved of us publishing it. Let me know if you are still interested. We’ll send you a contract and a marketing questionnaire.
The editor of a small press headquartered in Canada—one of the last people I approached on the second day of the bookfair, had accepted my novel for publication. Needless to say, my husband and I had a joyous ride home.
I had accomplished my mission. My childhood dream would become a reality. Months later, I spent a lovely summer day at a park posing for a publicity shot for the back cover of my book. I thought back to my childhood self and wondered what she would do if she could see this moment. She’d probably smile broadly and say to herself: I’m glad she kept trying.
My undiscovered musical passion
I stood with my husband near the front of the sanctuary of the church we’d recently begun attending, tapping my foot as the musicians played the introduction to one of my favorite Christian Contemporary songs. On cue, we and the rest of the congregation raised our voices to accompany the band, singing the lyrics projected on two large screens flanking the altar.
I’d gotten to know the musicians personally. The violinist coordinated the weekly men’s breakfast and operated the sound system during church service. The drummer was the facilitator of the Bible study I attended. The trumpeter was the husband of the pastor and the bookkeeper.
I imagined myself with them at the front of the church, hitting every note, inspiring the congregation through the ministry of song.
I shared that thought with my husband in the car on our way home from service that afternoon.
“Why couldn’t you be a musician?” he said. “You could do what they’re doing.”
But I knew I couldn’t. I was a dilettante, a dabbler, in love with the idea of being able to play an instrument but lacking the passion to put in the work. I viewed this as a shortcoming. Every time I thought about it, I felt disappointed in myself.
“All the money I’m spending on lessons, it doesn’t even make any sense,” my mother would say when I was a teenager on the day of my weekly piano lesson. She had good reason. I’d get off the school bus, come home, and head straight for the TV room with fistfuls of Chips Ahoy cookies to eat while watching my favorite game shows. Minutes before the piano teacher pulled in front of the house, I’d open up the lesson book, thrash my way through measures and slam down on keys with no emotion. Needless to say, my playing never improved.
Years later, after I was out of college and living on my own, I thought I was mature enough to have the discipline to practice regularly. I invested in a 61-key portable keyboard with built-in speakers and plug-in foot pedal. I hired an instructor. For about six months I practiced regularly. Then I reverted back to my old ways, practicing once a week, just before my lesson was to begin.
“You’re wasting your money,” the instructor snapped at me one day. We were in a tiny, windowless music room at a nearby community college. As she spoke, her voice became increasingly emotional, as if she had been holding back her thoughts for weeks. “You have to have a passion for playing music,” she continued, punching the word ‘passion.’ “You have to want to do this. Otherwise, you’ll never get anywhere with it.”
She told me to think about whether or not I wanted to get serious about taking piano lessons and then get back in contact with her. I felt ashamed and embarrassed that I’d wasted her time and never called her again. I eventually sold the keyboard and did my best to tamp down any thoughts about playing an instrument.
Now in the car after church with my husband, I reminded him of my past failures. “But that was the piano,” he retorted. “What about the ukulele? You should do something with that.”
I’d forgotten about the little four-string instrument in its carrying case leaning against the wall in the corner of our bedroom. It was the gift I’d chosen from the catalog my employer presents to workers when they reach a milestone of employment. My 10th anniversary coincided with my engagement to be married. Everything in the catalog was on my registry except for an oversized electric massage chair that wouldn’t fit in the condo and a concert quality ukulele. I chose the ukulele, figuring I could continue my fantasy of becoming a musician. And that’s what I did for years.
“But what if the same thing happens?” I said to my husband. “What if I slack off practicing? What if I don’t like it? What if I don’t have the discipline?”
“You have nothing to lose,” he said. “Give it a try.”
“But when would I find the time?” I persisted. “With my busy schedule, I’ll never get around to practicing.”
My husband began to smile as he steered the car up the drive to our condo. “You’ll find the time. You’ve found the time for everything else.”
I knew he was right. In addition to my full-time job, and the Bible study, I took boxing and cycling classes at the gym, participated in a book club, and volunteered with a women’s club. And at least three mornings a week I squeezed in a 30-minute walk at the mall on my way to work.
I thought back on the members of the church band. They all had careers or active retirement lives along with various volunteer roles at the church and were able to find time to practice on their instruments.
I held onto these thoughts as I walked into the music store to sign up for lessons. But my self-assuredness began to dissipate as I entered the studio. The classroom waiting area was filled with 7 and 8 year olds accompanied by their young parents. I was in my 50s. I was sure the staff would mistake me for a grandma picking up a grandchild. When I got to the counter, I told the program coordinator that the odds were high that I would lose interest after a few lessons. She told me I could pay for lessons a month at a time and quit whenever I wanted.
I was teamed up with John, a guitarist and college student. I breezed through my first few weeks of drills and simple folk tunes, ironically because of my years of piano lessons. I got into a routine of practicing three times a week and stuck with it. John seemed thrilled with this and noted my progress each week. But playing the ukulele became more challenging once John introduced me to chords, a combination of three or more notes played together. I felt like a contortionist trying to squeeze my fingers into the right position on the strings. One of my problems was my long fingernails, which kept me from pressing down on the strings properly. John encouraged me to cut my nails. But I loved my long nails and loved to get manicures. However, after more weeks of struggle on the instrument, I pulled out the nail clippers. My playing improved. I increased my practice from three times a week to five times. My struggles to play chords continued, but my performance got a little better each week.
One day while playing “Amazing Grace” from my lesson book, John and I got into a conversation about how the simplified sheet music didn’t do the hymn justice. We spiced it up with additional notes we’d both heard during church service. During this conversation I discovered that he’s a musician in his church band and performs many of the Christian contemporary songs that I like. He says in the future, he’ll teach me some of them.
Now when I’m at church singing along to the band’s accompaniment, I can clearly see myself among them someday, working in harmony to spread God’s word. Maybe I wasn’t a dabbler after all, lacking the discipline for music. Maybe I just needed to find the right instrument.
Lisa Braxton: "I am an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. My debut novel, The Talking Drum, is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in spring 2020. I am a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and a book reviewer for 2040 Review. My stories and essays have appeared in Vermont Literary Review, Black Lives Have Always Mattered, Chicken Soup for the Soul and The Book of Hope. I received Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest magazine’s 84th and 86th annual writing contests in the inspirational essay category. I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in Mass Media from Hampton University, my Master of Science degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University. I am a former newspaper and television journalist. My website: www.LisaBraxton.com."