Charlene Lewis and Patty Lowell

Recorded October 19, 2019 Archived October 19, 2019 39:25 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019288


Friends Charlene "Charlie" Lewis (63) and Patty Lowell (56) remember how they met, reflect on continuing their education while their daughters were in school, and discuss their writing.

Subject Log / Time Code

PL remembers meeting CL shortly after her daughter was born and while CL was pregnant.
PL remembers reuniting with CL when their daughters attended the same high school.
CL and PL remember going back to school while their daughters were in school.
CL and PL discuss being writers.
PL talks about finding inspiration to write. CL remembers writing her father's obituary
CL and PL discuss their writing processes.
CL and PL talk about what they like to write about.
PL remembers being a fashion editor earlier in her career.
PL and CL discuss talking to strangers.
PL and CL express their goals for their writing.


  • Charlene Lewis
  • Patty Lowell

Recording Location

Dallas Public Library: North Oak Cliff Branch


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00:07 Hi, my name is Patty Lowell. I'm 56 years old today is Saturday October 19th, 2019. We are in Dallas Texas. My interview partner is Charlie Lewis and Charlie and I have been friends for about 25 years and I am Charlie Lewis. I am 63 years old believe it or not. I can't believe it some days today is Saturday October 19th of 2019. We are in Oak Cliff in Dallas area and

00:42 I am without cannot read that sorry. I'm with Patty Lowell who again we have been friends for decades 25 years. I hear could be longer than that somewhere in that vicinity. Well, I always patag the beginning of our friendship to when we met at the gym and I had a brand new baby and you are about to have a baby and we were in the mommy and me workout class. And so that means that was 26 years ago cuz my my daughter's 26 she was 2 years old one or two weeks old when we met because we just moved to Dallas and you're one of those people that I met right away when I moved here and like you instantly thought you were lots of fun and

01:30 Even pregnant I had friendship to offer difficult time. Was 37 about to have her first child had been was more comfortable in a business environment that I was changing diapers had no idea what I was doing. I think you felt the same way. We probably recognize that in one another but I just move to Dallas again. I moved here when Bridget was two weeks old, so I probably was she was probably 4 weeks old when we met so I didn't know anybody in Dallas other than my husband who turned out to no longer be my husband shortly.

02:12 So I was kind of like like Elder you didn't know what to do with like a baby. I didn't know what to do with two babies in a new city. So yeah, I was but you were so warm and welcoming and wonderful and fun. And and so I just felt like a kind of a kinship with you. Yeah. I think that White Rock hats Athletic Club was a pretty unique experience right? There was a connection all of us in that prenatal postpartum class. We all had some sort of connection in people in the neighborhood met there and we had parties there and we had events there and Katie would tell me she went to the nursery there for years and she would tell me if we missed a few days you need to go work out because she missed her friends, right? She needed that connection. So it started with exercise riding at we all became really close friends and that Jem just recently closed its really

03:12 Sad sad to walk by and think about all the friendships that we formed a well and friends are so important at that time in your life. When you you know, when you're making some kind of a shift from a professional career to largely staying at home or trying to blend having a baby and having a career I mean

03:34 You really need to be good friends. I think to help you had to help me navigate that and if you're really lucky you stay close with some of those people for a long time and I think we lost track of one another for a. Of time because maybe because you stopped coming to the club to workout. Yeah. I was getting a divorce in your right to be a free woman. I think I was just like so overwhelmed and stove broke and I'm not broken but just like, you know who knew if I was going to be able to keep a roof over our heads and so I didn't work out for a while. But but I wondered about you off, you know, I wonder what happened to Patty wonder what that he's doing but yet that was before cell phones, right? I don't even know if I had your phone number because I would have relied on seeing you and it's one of those things to you that like because we didn't live in this exact.

04:34 Neighborhood and our kids didn't go to the same preschool or school after that. We really didn't cross paths until later when both of our Gulf of our kids your daughter my two daughters were in high school together. I remember that day we can do fun. I was unloading snacks cuz I was the volleyball snack mom that day and I was parked illegally in the handicap spot in trying to unload the snacks and not interrupt the carpool line and you pulled up next to me and you just put down the passenger side window and a kiss Katy was learning to drive. So she was driving the car and you just turned around and looked at me and said Patty Lowell Charlotte Lewis.

05:21 I knew I knew you were there. I knew the girls were there and I kept looking for the opportunity to run into you and that's so funny that I just didn't go find you right and so that day when I saw you guys like their she is I knew this day would come and then we reconnected immediately after that. It was so funny. You are you been changed a bit. I mean it was just so funny and I remember cuz I remember you saying something like I thought you were around here cuz I thought those had to be your kid home Isaiah. Both are gorgeous tall redhead girls. If you had to be around here somewhere that was really funny, but that we started weight. I mean we got back together and she started exercising going for long walks on Sunday morning White Rock Lake. So beautiful though and tell her body's kind of

06:17 Stop that's a little bit but think of what we did during that period of time we had so many similarities. I I started back to college when Katie was 7 and did Dallas County Community College undergraduate at SMU and then started my MFA and Bennington College and you started your ml. I started going out. Yeah, I went and got an MLs at SMU when Bridget hurt middle of her senior year at 8, you just really interesting that both of us felt this pull to go back to school and also to do it when

07:04 Incredibly broke and I just was thinking I had to explain this to my boss at one point. I remember thinking that as I was sending them off to college I was so incredibly excited for them because I knew how much I loved college and they I was excited that they were going to have this new adventure and and they were going to learn new things and new see new people and and I was jealous of their adventure and I wanted I sort of thought is it too late for me to have an adventure? I asked myself that question and the answer came up with no, it's not and just like every other part of my life. It was well, we'll figure it out, you know, so it was one semester at a time and just being in college with

08:01 When your kid is in college is kind of an odd thing and there you had that experience to absolutely an infant. Katie saw me. I was always in school from the time. She was 7 I was always taking classes at one time or another but I wanted her to see me go after a degree because it was something that I wanted and I knew I can do and I knew I could work really hard for it and like you I did the Community College route 202 because of the cost we both had our kids in private schools at the time. And so that any extra money for our own education. We had to find a way to make that work. I did it to Community College then smu's scholarship program. I got a full scholarship there. I don't know that had I not gotten that it would have been really difficult for me to just buy the cost or I might not have Justified the cost as if you have to justify the cost but you know, it's a huge cost and then I realized when I got my undergraduate degree that

09:01 I was only beginning that was the beginning of something that that came of that debris was not the end. Right I needed to do more and I would go back now and get my Ph.D. May even do that. It's something that I I'm a lifelong learner. I want to learn from other people and it doesn't have to be in a formal setting but but having that formal setting makes you makes the commitment real it does and is also something really cool about the puppy had my daughter will get her a cat in a year. How did you feel about being in college when and me being in college when when your kid up was in college to I mean cuz I can remember, you know, my daughter complaining to me. I've got paper doing me to have a full-time job.

09:54 Mother because I had gone for so long by that point in time. I think for me it was hard being an undergraduate when Katie was young right because of the the work that it took at that particular time. I don't think I could do it now, right because I was so dedicated to keeping a high GPA so I wouldn't lose that scholarship so that I can keep going but what was really interesting I was at SMU among it really privileged students very privileged the who drove vehicle is much nicer than anyone I owned and they were so warm and welcoming and inviting in the professor's loved having me in class. Then they would say when you're here that it makes the students as if their mothers in the classroom write inmate the students rise to the occasion. Absolutely right that same experience to where I was in class. I mean, I was working on my graduate degree, but I was in class with much younger.

10:54 Students and they they looks to me like I and end because I'd had a career in the field. I might have a career in Communications and I was studying creative writing. So they looked at me like I could edit their work or I could provide this feedback and it was kind of an interesting twist for me because I was feeling somewhat diss someone disadvantage that we host. I felt a little bit of a disadvantage. I felt like a fish out of water because I was the old lady in the class, but from their perspective, I had something to bring they hittin for my perspective. Of course, they had something to bring it was a really great sort of spanning of the generations and learning from each other. That was my favorite thing was was workshopping are stories in those classes in

11:42 And just hearing from each other's perspective and it's such a story. There's such a great equalizer. Right? Cuz we all have them and we all had something to share and it was just such a it was such a great reminder to never stop learning right and so I think both of us have shown our kids.

12:07 It doesn't stop ride and the girls are doing you know, why we have these three really strong women going out into the job Force Workforce right now and Katie still working on her doctorate and your girls are out there working now, but I think they are they they saw us work for something. We really wanted they understand and what they have to do to attain what it is that they want. You know, they

12:38 They they are more privileged than a lot of students in some ways right because of the education that we were able to give them and but they also they all work really hard and three of them are hard work. I saw us have to work for it and they had to work for it to you know, we've just like I said to the many times like my job is to write the check. Everything else is up to you write the check for the education and everything else is up to you and they did see us work hard and our jobs and work hard in our education. So I think they they really value it and they're doing great things. I'm really proud of all of them. I'm excited for Katie's white coat ceremony coming up and I'm excited for all the fun things that my kids are doing it in there be kind of moving forward in their careers and taking the next step. So it's interesting you talk about writing that the only writing you've talked about so far as writing the check or dancing around that topic of Rite Aid

13:38 Go back to school for writing in and here we are. What we do is we write checks to do list and we communicate for other people and it's been a long time since I've called myself a writer me to it doesn't feel like it fits anymore in evening Communications. It doesn't feel like any of us if you call yourself a writer. It sounds kind of like not really cuz you're telling the story something else. And so, you know, we were looking at a website just a few minutes ago of things going on in Dallas and things to get involved in it's really hard to give myself permission to do those things. But yet those that writing was so important and is so important to me but I've let it go a little bit we had the writing Workshop there for a while, right? But everybody showed up to critique one another's work and nobody had done the right except.

14:38 Selling other people's stories for so long you're through journalism and then, you know switching to the dark side and going into Communications, but and I that again that's why I loved about being in grad school cuz they were just it was all about your stories. Everyone else's stories, but it was almost like when I graduated I felt like the well dried up and they're just I know that there are things I want to say, but I just don't know what exactly what it is. And so I think that's

15:06 I'm afraid of sitting down and having my fingers rest on the keyboard and have nothing nothing came out. So I think that maybe I I keep waiting for the Muse but you know for me it's almost it's more or less giving myself permission to sit and ride when I start writing. That's all I want to do. I don't I don't want to go to work. Right? I don't want to do any laundry. I don't want to do anything that I'm obligated to do. I only want to ride and I think the next time I start that process I'm thinking everything else is going to go away. I want to be able to walk away from the job. That's not realistic. Right? We have to find a way to to do the writing and to do the communicating that we want to do if we're all we're all struggling with that every writer. I know struggles with that.

16:06 If doing it at all, it's always about and what I say ass in chair. It's always about finding the time to space to energy the will to sit down and do it. But it's one of those things for you. No willpower is not it doesn't isn't just visited upon you it's created. It's the act of doing creates the will to do so it's a matter of sitting down and and doing but I know from for my perspective I often felt like, you know, there would be a place a time and place in my life when I could do it sort of very freely have the energy in the time and it was okay when the kid when I'm out of grad school when the kids are out of school when I finish with this job when when when when you know, when my pear I no longer taking care of my elderly parents, but those times are kind of landed on me and I haven't stepped forward and done what I said I would do so and I know you've been

17:04 Super busy sadly the best thing I've written lately was my father's obituary and and just what two weeks ago. I guess that was and I had it was a great opportunity to to talk about his life used. My mother had sat down and written a story. She's sat him down in a room and had him tell her the story of his life. She documented then I use that story to write his obituary and it was a it was as though I was telling his story for him and it felt so good to write right and I thought you know, I think I've been waiting we've been caring for him for two years. It's been a very long difficult two years and in some way I needed I needed. I mean, it's almost this is this is spark something for me again. I sat down and I wrote something and I told a good story. I have told it important story and

18:04 Do I need to go back and start telling other stories, you know again, it's about I know you when you what you want to ride and you want to write about your family and your family stories and I've ever the last couple of years as I've watched you take such beautiful care of your dad and and and helping your mom through all of this that really this was just such a gathering of ideas and stories for you to today in process and come out with later. I mean, I have always felt like you were going to turn this into such a great story. So the time is now for you it is and I actually was having a conversation with my mom recently that it's time for the two of us to sit down and tell her stories because she has I think her life has been more fascinating than mine in a lot of ways I got because it's not my story.

19:03 What is it because maybe because I observed her life. I was her child, but I watched her for years and I was always fascinated she would sit for hours and hours and hours at night and write letters to people so she was writing these stories and I always wanted to know what was in those stories what she was telling people and recently she said I found all of these letters and I started reading them and I'm throwing them away and it was horrified. I said do not throw a staying away. That's part of the reason. I'm going back this weekend. It's only been two weeks since we saw one another but I'm I'm determined to get those stories and not let her throw those letters away right now, but I think I don't know what takes it takes something to Spur us on to writing back when we did it before we use the excuse of over getting us degree. So we have two in my case read 100 books and write a story.

20:03 That was a requirement of the program you had requirements of your program. So you that was your reason for doing what you did and now we don't have those requirements imposed on us. And so I'd I do because my mother there is a finite amount of time. She's going to live right? We're all going to live a finite amount of time. So it's kind of silly but you know what? I mean? Let me ask you this. How do you like the task of sitting down and writing do like at 2 like pulling the chair up to the computer or grabbing the you know the pad and the pan MD do you like the actual feeling of of writing? I love riding at night after dark getting a cup of coffee sitting in my shed and a pile of that experience.

20:54 Getting the right words on the page can be torture. But I love going back and reading something into NGS. That was exactly what I wanted to say a year later. I mugello gosh, that's terrible. Why did he think that was any good? But but that is very rewarding. It's it's difficult. As you know, it's difficult finding the finding the right words and saying them in the right order and and knowing that somebody's going to read it and not understand what you're trying to say trying to you know, it's important to convey a certain message to me. For some reason. I I have this motivation to know my family were very my my father was a musician. We were on the road people didn't understand us how we could move so much kind of this Gypsy lifestyle and I'm so motivated for people to understand my family and what motivated Us and how my parents were good people Nathan didn't understand.

21:54 Teenagers on the road with these kids and you know, I think it's kind of fascinating but I'm really compelled to make other people have more compassion for people who aren't exactly right, but for me, it's a Matt. It's always been about putting trying to capture the character in the character emotion on the page, which is interesting because it's a reader would I really like a plot and character development but as a as a writer what I really liked, what I want to do is is to look at the page and say yeah, I got them. I got I got that person. Like I got who they are on the page and it's not it's not so much about the storyline when I'm writing. It's about that. It's about the personality in the emotion of the character was the character in motion. I like that tell me some more about that.

22:48 Well, just so you know kind of like it's really a lot about motivation. I mean with one of the things that I enjoyed about being in grad school with taking some like organizational Dynamics classes and some abnormal psychology classes and like why people do what they do and that's what I like about a character like how they you know why they're doing what they're doing how they're moving from this to that to something else, you know, because you look at the consequences are you and you look at the situation of someone's life don't know what would have gone into that. But I love the why of Hannah why are you in the situation that you are and why are you having the problems that you're having? I find that all really fascinating to sort of like forensically coming back and creating a character that has something really interesting to move forward by now. That's interesting because you write fiction.

23:40 So I write non-fiction, but what you're talking about is the reason I like nonfiction is that I like what you said about forensic late going back and kind of dissecting the things that letter I can't even I can't do that with a fiction character. I don't have that level of creativity or something. Do you use real people as your Baseline and then I went to hell use real people but there are things that I that I see something I will see you in a person whether it's with someone I know very well or if it's someone I just come a come across, you know, you see someone at the train station, you know kind of having a having a moment and you and I just started thinking about like, why did that happen? And what kind What scenario can I put you in and what do you know? What if you come up to some what would be the opposite side of the character? If you two came up against each other in this moment? What kind of in a word that becomes basketball? I mean what's in a what kind of things would happen there? So that's what I like and I'd like I do like being a

24:40 How to draw an entirely from my imagination I've never as we've talked many times. I've never wanted to write about my family. I have no interest in it down here. So you got tired of telling the straight story to straight narrative. So just reporting the facts. Did you always have these people living in your house while I was jealous? I was feature writer. So I would you know, I just kind of fell it was able to follow my curiosity and

25:12 It wasn't of course. I had to I had to be factual in my reporting but there were definitely later pieces and they were it was more people profiles and things that you know, what makes this person interesting know. Why would you want to read about this at editor told me a long time ago said you people just really want to read about themselves not literally but they want to read about something that they can connect with and that really resonated with me because that's how I feel and I'm the person who walks into a party and then when I don't know anyone that I'm immediately searching for like, you know, who are you where you from? Where do kids go to school? Did it. You know, I mean, give me give me three questions and I can usually find a connection point with somebody and if I can't I'll make one up, you know, it's interesting you say that about the stories you did you ever write any of the remember the high-profile section of the Dallas Morning News. It doesn't exist any longer. There's there's very little in the paper these days but

26:12 Actually how I ended up at SMU in the creative writing program in the high-profile section. They've done a profile of Marshall Terry who was a professor at SMU and I cut out that clipping and saved it and thought one day I'm going to be in that program and found it years later. I still have it in a file and that's how I ended up with a creative writing program it is it new. Wow. Did you write any of those? I didn't do high-profile. I wrote for their fashion section a trip for their home and garden section and just straight features for them. So I remember there was a time when I open up like a magazine or and I'll either be doing while I know there was always a Patty Lowell days in there the only country I had a lot of great. I really don't like I knew when I was about 12 13 14 years old. I want to be a fashion editor. So I went to college study that did that did that for several newspapers enjoyed it tremendously and then when the kid

27:12 There was just no way I could follow that circuit because I couldn't go to Europe for three months at a time. And so and I kind of want to cover fashion of the 80s was the best but then when I was here and I had to go kids, you know, it was really just kind of about riding in a finding something interesting said something that people were curious about that. I was curious about right here in my neighborhood are my local and then taking it out to the larger World either through a newspaper or through a magazine.

27:45 You know, that's funny. I used to do that for my neighborhood newsletter. I do if there was a house. I really wanted to see the inside. I would write the story little girl Gladys Kravitz and doors. Don't let her in now. You have to reach out via email for beforehand. And I know you said your appointment but it does make for I mean as much as like media has changed and Communications has changed its the others the same content is King and it's in and while that may mean that its content is King in terms of how you can push it out.

28:45 Aaron how many likes and how many clicks are as you can get and you know, whether it's organic and all that kind of but the fact is a great story is a great story. And when you are at a party, are you here at somewhere and you walk in you don't know anybody and you just start telling the story people will quiet down and they will listen to you because we are hardwired to listen to each other tell stories. We are I mean that from you know the end of those trying to figure out how to light a fire and sitting around that fire and talking about each other or grunting about each other whatever. I mean, we're just hardwired to care about each other stories. It's interesting you say that typically what I do at a party I'm a listener and I found I can go up to somebody ask one question and they'll pretty much talked all night long are people want to talk about themselves.

29:45 Any parties with you before and you talk I promise. I'm not self-aware on the way to the glass of wine. But you know, I mean it's like don't you feel that? I just feel no nervousness now about talking to strangers. I kind of drive my kids crazy with this because I mean I just I guess I kind of feel like maybe I'm sort of the quintessential older woman at this point, but I just like to talk to people and I I mean I it brightens my day. Hopefully it brightens your day, but it makes my kids crazy cuz we'll be somewhere and I'll be like, hey don't you know that guy we do not know everything like they might have gone to see somebody's mom who was the mother of one of their friends from second grade.

30:45 What's your name in there? Like I don't know.

30:49 I am so Furious about we just woke me up and say go to school together or I used to see you here. They are everywhere. I mean, I just I don't know. I just like I'm not nervous about anyone. I really care what people think about me. When I do that. Sometimes they sort of sleep a lot as I said before when I was little and I would come home at the end of the day and I would tell my mom about the neighbors and what her husband did and what they were having for dinner and how many kids they had and she would say you what are you doing? And I knocked on the door and they let me out for a while now and then they will know they won't let me out here to get all the details of your life and tell her about the neighbors. So I mean

31:49 Got it started reading about you were the 1980 version of TMZ or something. I can't I would be in the neighborhood. Don't let her in your house. I mean, it's just I wonder if this sort of I wonder myself sometimes like but that because I work in the fields of communications, and I have lots of friends that I love to hang out with then. We have a really good conversations, and we meet every Sunday morning and have our great coffee and conversation if that doesn't keep me from sitting down and writing because I sort of feel this need I have for that engagement. Maybe maybe I need to not see you anymore.

32:35 Are we breaking up?

32:44 Maybe if I didn't do that so much maybe I would actually sit down and write more but I do now, I don't think I don't think I'd be happy and I think you have to be so maybe that's it. Maybe you need to be to press to be a writer. I think you're collecting people. Yeah, you know, I think you get to a certain point where you give you collected all those people you told all of those stories you're looking for fresh stories to tell you don't need to abandon your old friends, but you just need to I need to collect some new people stories Kate DiCamillo was talking at the dma this week or last Saturday. I guess it was and she was talking about how writers observe right heading and she said, yeah, like I have the I reserve the right to stare at you bottom head start recording make notes about what you're doing. And I think that's what we do right away. When we observe. We take the notes. We just aren't giving ourselves permission to do what we want to be doing right now.

33:44 You just reminded me that link for the last 20 some years. We've been talking about books. Yes, and that's a cool thing to just share like a love of books with somebody because so many people are just like not doing the TV thing. You know, I've done my fair share of that too, but you're always recommending great books for me and and I've been in this wonderful book club for 26 years. And so I love I mean I just love being able to put my feet up on a Saturday afternoon for a couple of hours and just lose myself in a book and it's like there's a part of me that wants to be part of that Community, but I don't know maybe there's a part of me doesn't want to be an outsider and do the reading not be part of it interesting. You want to be outside her you're very much on the inside though a lot of your friend and you keep your friends around for a very long time. I don't reject him know you don't reject them other people's opinion.

34:52 As we were talking earlier, I

34:59 I was looking at what is it national members national write a novel in a month as I can remember what it stands for the abbreviation for it. But while I'm not committing to Dad I do like the idea. I like how you backed away from them. But I do like the idea of committing to writing every day in the month of November. And I mean I write everyday in the morning but writing working on something and maybe what that means for me is really finally sitting down and pushing through the doubt of what the story is. It's kind of in my mind would be and putting it on paper and being a sort of

35:42 Loosely outlining it out but just maybe devoting a month to creating the outline or creating a plot line of the story, so maybe that's what's next for me. What about you?

35:58 Well, you know, I was looking the other day. I have all these journals sitting around where I've written on the first page and the set them aside and then we get another book and I read on the first page. I think maybe in some sense. I need to organize What I've Done previously and go back and kind of start a new book start a new page and start some new ideas.

36:24 Do you think when you look at some of those pages of you that you'll be like, oh my gosh, that was good or that such a good idea. Let's get up and move it forward. Yeah. I have a lot of those and I have a lot of things that were just completely nonsensical when I try to tell myself you have to write something everyday I end up with a lot of crap, but that's okay that that's normal but then I end up just giving up and going on to something else instead picking up the guitar and playing a lot of crap for a while and then going on to something else and there's such a position in the community that you have to write everyday and I don't

37:05 I just can't do that. I don't want to do that. That's not how my life works and I really think I tend to think of things like that has an obligation and I don't want it and something I don't want it. I want you know, where the timer I want to enjoy what I'm doing. And if that means I spend you know, 30 days writing nothing but character sketches and try to figure out who characters are then so be it if I enjoy that but I don't want to put the pressure on myself to have to write every single day and write a certain word count, but that seems really will have the people who keep saying that though are those people who are on their book tours. So maybe maybe we should do you have a desire to be on a book to her?

37:57 Oh sure. Absolutely. That be fun to be one of those people who would want to publish a book in just like throw it out there and then and go away and never act like you can know I don't want to do you kidding. Everybody's going to have to listen to me. Yeah. That's okay. I love to go hear Arthur's truck up there, but I just don't want to do it myself. Maybe I'm intimidated by it. But you know cuz I know my process involves, you know, largely, dr. Pepper and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

38:42 Cake bake coffee all of that

38:52 I don't know. Well, this is been a lot of fun. It has been this is what we didn't do is trash or relative until next time don't let go until the next adventure.