Saturday, July 31, 2010

Babes in Blogland

Readers... comments... even a FOLLOWER


Joining Magpie Tales was a great idea!

Friday, July 30, 2010

A writing challenge from Magpie Tales...

I found a blogger who has a great way of encouraging writers to exercize their brain.  She posts a prompt of some kind and invites people to write to her prompt.  Writers post their submission on their site, and then link back to Magpie Tales.  So, here's my first go at it.  (It's a freewrite... not a lot of planning or editing involved.)

Jackhammer... no, it's my heartbeat pounding out decibels of pain in my head, and my shoulder, and my hip.  A sliver of light in the dark... everything is fuzzy.  Blink blink.  OK, something's coming into focus.  A lock.  I can't move, it hurts too bad.  My eyes pan around and find... chaos.  Where the hell am I?!  I don't recognize the disheveled room or the antique table I'm laying on.  I need to try and sit up.  OUCH!!  Ok, I'm up.  I take a couple of deep breaths.  I hear voices beyond the lock and it all starts to come back to me.  I knew these people were wierd at dinner.  But Cici was with me and I figured we had each other's backs.  My pulse quickens... where is Cici?  How do I get out of here?  How did this happen?  Am I OK?  I have clothes on... yep, including underwear.  Nothing hurts except this hangover headache and the hip and shoulder I was sleeping on.  Something soft moves in the corner... panic... it's a guy.  As he sits up and shakes off sleep, he looks vaguely familiar.  "Are you OK?" he says.  I instantly feel safe.  His eyes are tender and kind.  I know he fits into my evening somewhere, but... "Do you remember anything?" he said.  "Who are you?" is all I can get out.  "I'm Dan Warner.  We met at this dinner party in Old Town.  It was all cool in the beginning, really elegant.  Then the hosts, Natalie and Van, started acting really strange.  They hauled out all of this freaky stuff and started to get everyone to play some stupid fantasy game.  I was pretty sure I saw Van slip something into your drink.  I tried to get you out of there, but you took a few drinks before I could convice you to leave.  I think you had a good bit to drink before that" a little grin slipped out of his handsome face.  "Where are we?"  "I grabbed a couple of other people and ... it was pretty crazy getting us here to my place.  The cab driver had to think we were some kind of partyers."  "My friend Cici... is she here?"  "The redhead?"  I nodded.  "She's in the other room."  A long pause.  "This could have turned out a lot worse."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A casual run-in, or the next exciting chapter?

One of those awkward days.  I'm in public in our small town, which inevitably means running in to someone I know.  I wish I'd done my hair. Time to put on the smile and come up with some small talk. 

It's easy with this fellow mother-of-small-children who is the sister of a friend and the wife of a colleague.  We joke about how this town has no use for six degrees of separation, we usually only need one or two to connect seemingly random individuals in this web of community, business and family relationships.  Also an educator, she says she's not ready to go back to work as the end of summer approaches.  Again, I can identify.  This opens me up to share a little about my summer and my kids, about how hard it is to be with them all day long, as much as you love them.  So far, it's been a safe, surface-level conversation.  Nine times out of ten, this is when we'll allow ourselves to be hauled away by our antsy kids and say have a great day.  But not today. 

She offers the most courageous statement, one I've been grappling with all summer.  "I'm a writer."  Immediately envious and feeling like a nerdy wannabe, I say "Me too..."  Our similarities topple from there like apples from an apple tree in a wind storm. 

The best part is admitting the trepidation that accompanies the sending out of any writing for others to read, and finding that she feels the same way.  The hardest part is answering the question, "What do you write?"  Oh, I desperately need a name for this.  I'm floundering.  Self-discovery?  That sounds so psycho-babble, but probably accurate.  Essay?  Narrative nonfiction? Memoir?  I think you have to be famous, a politician, or some type of royalty to call it a memoir.  For an ordinary mom like me, it's just a journal. 

When I've nearly convinced myself that my journaling is hardly worthy of this conversation with a fiction writer and dismissed the entire pipe dream, a very interesting proposition comes up.  A writer's group?  More apples tumble as we share ideas about a possible group of people who want to be pushed to grow as writers.  Excitement has ignited by the time I allow myself to be hauled away by my antsy kids.  The smile is real and my hair doesn't matter.

Friday, July 23, 2010

More self-awareness

One thing that seems to disrupt the habit of regular writing for me is house guests.  I've enjoyed having family in my home for the last week or so.  Even if it is the most comfortable and familiar family member, I still feel a little pressure to be "on".  My standards for housekeeping, cooking and parenting go up just a notch because others are looking.  Also, my writing station is right in the middle of our open floor plan.  So, the quiet and solitude required for my brain to begin oozing out  my fingertips onto my keyboard is hard to come by.

For most of the week, my company was two teenage nieces.  This was enjoyable in many ways.  They occupied my children... wait, that's an understatement.  My children were obsessed with their cousins.  Attached at the hip.  The cousins didn't mind this and never complained.  They ate what was put in front of them and never asked to be entertained.  Teens are happy laying on the sofa watching TV.  If any other guests were here, I'd feel obliged to plan fun and interesting things to do throughout the stay.  Not with these guys!  If ever boredom becomes a threat, there are myriad technological options to stave it off.  One bad note, my youngest is now hooked on the itouch, whatever that thing is.

Of particular interest to me is my relationship with the task or art of cooking.  For some reason, maybe being the baby of the family, I have been cast as the kitchen outcast.  For the first part of our marriage, my husband was the cook and everyone knew it.  Oh, the shame!  I vowed to expand my culinary skills upon purchase of this home with a kitchen I like.  I'm learning that a woman must settle in to her kitchen and have things just right.  A woman at the command post in her kitchen is like a captain at the wheel of his ship.  All operations hinge from this critical center.

So, here's what I've noticed recently.  For the younger crowd, I enjoyed cooking and watching them eat.  Serving meals that please is a perk that I've never embraced before, but I must admit it is quite rewarding.  Compliments to the chef make me beam inwardly.

The latter part of the week, some adult family members joined in to the melee here at my house.  (Namely my mother.)  I was paralyzed.  While doing the frantic extra cleaning of an already acceptable house, I realized that I would not be able to cook.  I don't like people watching me cook.  It gets me flustered.  Much less someone trying to help like mothers like to do.  I appreciate the support, don't get me wrong, but for me cooking is not a team sport.  When I'm alone, I'm doing things right.  And if I make a mistake, I can laugh and do my best to correct it.  With a watchful eye of a more experienced cook, I just can't perform.  So, we went out to dinner.  I just wish I got credit with the adults for all the great cooking I did with the kids here.

Well, that's my pithy thought for the day.  It was nice to open the tap again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Living vicariously

Most parents don't realize they're doing it.  I openly admit to living vicariously through my children.  Maybe my awareness will decrease the negative impact on my kids. 

I realized it during dance lessons last year, I was more into it than they were.  It's me who loves to dance.  But kids are expected to explore, expand and enjoy such revelry.  Adults seem to be trapped in a more reserved, settled-in persona.  We supposedly have found our true vocation and only find fun in reserved activities like golf or cornhole.

So, we are letting go of dance lessons for the coming year, at least for the kids.  My youngest wants to take karate and the older one wants girl scouts and guitar.  I'm pretty sure she wants girl scouts and guitar.  It's hard to tell how much I'm influencing those choices for such a compliant and pleasing child.  I'm fairly certain I had no bearing in the choice for karate.

This summer, my daughter opted for a week of Theater Camp.  Oh great, another unquenched passion of mine.  I have deep regrets for not getting involved in theater in high school.  I'm not sure why I didn't, but I guess it had to do with the unspoken rules of social boundaries that one is not allowed to cross.  But when did we get into our category?  I don't recall making that choice.

Yesterday, I'm dropping off at Theater Camp for the first time and my inner excitement is hard to contain.  Descending that aisle to the apron of the stage awakens my remorse for so many great times I could have had.

Since I'm aware of this, I think I need to do something about it.  I need to bust out of those boring adult expectations.  I will look into dance classes for adults.  I am vowing to myself to get involved in community theater when my kids are older and getting more independent and involved in activities. 

So many parents involve themselves so completely in the lives of their children, that they become mopey and sad once the kids spread their wings and have less attachment to parents.  I hope to enjoy the time to spread my own wings.  We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I think I'm growing up

Particular - adj.
of, relating to, or concerned with details
distinctive among other examples or cases of the same general category : notably unusual
concerned over or attentive to details : meticulous nice in taste, fastidious, hard to please, exacting

My family is full of particular people.  (No, I didn't say peculiar, although that also may be true.)  There is a great sense of a right and a wrong way to do things, and as a rule, choosing the right one.  Our women are particular about their homes, especially their kitchens and all things related to dining, their posture, their speech and elocution, their underwear drawer, their appearance.  We joke a lot about my grandmother's insistence that there is a right way to load a dishwasher... her way.  If you don't do it right, she will come along behind you and do it over.  Our men are particular about other things.  My grandfather kept a journal of the weather and a brief account of daily events for most of his life. 

As a youthful lifestyle of rebellion against this prevailing trend, I chose to be particular about very little. When we moved into our home, my dear friends and family helped me unpack and arrange my kitchen.  This could be a dicey task with some women.  But not me.  Myriad times I was asked where some type of accouterments should go, and my answer was "I don't care.  Wherever it ends up is fine." (I'm also generally indecisive.) I'm noticing, though, as I get older, I am picking up particularities.  The first major sign was when my children arrived.  I have been a very particular parent.  I held out longer on the household stuff. 

Speaking of kitchens, another funny moment was when grandmother and my husband were working together in my kitchen (note the already nontraditional turn of events here).  Grandmother asked DH where a certain thing was.  He showed her.  Then, she said "When you get older, you'll learn where things go." We were in our 30's at the time.

All this to say, I am noticing that I am getting more and more particular as I get older.  Not to the extent of the matriarchs, mind you, but increasing by small degrees.  I don't have a right way to load the dishwasher yet, but for the first time today, I wanted to.  I am not known for culinary prowess, but I am particular about how I cook.  I have to set the stage with indirect lighting, music, and a glass of wine before the production begins.  There also has to be a scented candle lit, which is in direct opposition to my aunt's insistence that only unscented candles should be used around food.  Remember, particular people are notably unusual.

Maybe soon I'll be old enough to know where things go in my own kitchen.

I am generally particular about settings and surroundings.  I cannot digest food in rooms that are bright yellow, orange or red.  This made McDonald's difficult for many years, until they began to remodel their stores.  I am so particular about colors that it's taken me two years to begin painting the walls in my home, the decisions just too daunting.

I think this means I'm growing up.

No summer is complete without family visits

What a helpless feeling when someone you love insists on being miserable.  Even worse, when their misery spreads to others you love.  This is my predicament when I visit family in my hometown. 

My dear sweet mother lives a life of service to others and lets no one forget it.  Thirty-three years after my parents' separation, it takes me two separate journeys in opposite directions to honor them both.  Sitting on the beach with my dad just a few weeks ago, I heard firsthand testimony that my mother has had this penchant for anhedonia since before I was born.  And the discord that I observe between my mother and her mother also goes way back.  Dad recounted stories of the two women getting crossed up and my grandmother expressing the hope that mother would not have the same contentious ways with her betrothed.  No such luck.  Marriages come and go, but the reciprocal bond between mother and daughter has undying stability. 

Stories are the most enjoyable part of family visits.  Today I went through old photos with my grandmother, labeling names on the back and relishing any narrative she offered about the ones pictured.  My grandmother was born 96 years ago, my mother 66 years ago and me 36 years ago.  I hope to gain some understanding of the dynamics between them and maybe I can avoid the generational ooze of mother-daughter tension.  I am careful not to intervene or intermediate between them, lest I wind up with the weight of their relationship on my shoulders. 

Taking the role of observer, I notice that my mother seems locked in a perpetual dance of displeasure with her mother.  I sympathize more with my grandmother and see that many tones and tenors of disrespect begin with my mother, but I remember the importance of staying neutral.  So, I just keep listening to the stories.  I observe in myself that I am much more comfortable in the room with each of them separately than with the two of them together.  Some deep loyalty to my grandmother makes me feel defensive of her.

Another thing that jumps out to an observer is the impeccable unreachable standards of hospitality and homekeeping.  Unreachable, that is, for everyone except my grandmother  She set the bar and we've all been trying to measure up ever since.  Now that age has slowed her down, she is less able to "show us how it's done" by role modeling.  So, a good bit of verbal instruction is given, which can be interpreted as nagging or complaining.  I can see why she would complain.  Her home has been her castle, kept in impeccable order, just the way she likes it, for 60 years.  Suddenly, others are moving and changing things, upsetting her personal order and peace.  I try to learn the arts of homekeeping from her and grow by small steps and let go of the weight of the ultimate standard.  This is a journey, not a destination.

Still today, my journal is my refuge of comfort, my friend who helps me make sense of things that don't make sense.  During my visit, I find myself wishing I could contribute more.  I'm a paralyzed child when harsh words and disrespect are flying about, wanting to blend into the background.  Yet I'm also an adult and feeling guilty that my geriatric care skills are eclipsed by anxiety. 

I've always avoided issues of aging and convalescence.  The most difficult tasks I've taken on in my life have been academic achievements and parenting.  Both challenging in their own ways, but nothing calls on deep inner resources to overcome "I don't want to" like taking up the tasks of bodily care for one who is losing the ability.  It seems harder emotionally for family members to do for a loved one, yet the loved one deserves dignity.  Many elderly, including my grandmother, find it humiliating to be cared for by a hired professional.  I wonder what I will prefer?  It's inevitable to fast-forward and accept that I will also age and decline with the passage of time.

How to stay connected to and honor my mother when I'd rather steer clear of her?  I decide to speak my peace when the opportunity arises, and I create a script in my head.  I say that I see her misery (supposedly due to her mother's harsh criticism, yet I'm aware that discontent is a choice for her and she would probably continue to choose it even if my grandmother weren't a factor.)  I offer that my peace comes from knowing who I am and letting go of any words that indicate anything different.  She digs in her heels, saying she has no identity, no life.  She perseverates that happiness and peace will elude her as long as she is burdened with the care of her mother.  I know this conversation is more about me saying what I need to say than about her response.  That part is up to her.  Yet, I find myself feeling sad and a little anxious.  It's time for a well-crafted summative I statement.  "I believe respect goes a long way and disrespect grows when two people contribute.  I am sad to see the both of you so unhappy because I care about you."  It is finished.  I have so much more to say, but they are anxious words for my own mental processing.

My conviction is that my grandmother deserves her mood phases as she watches her independence and usefulness ebb away.  I believe it is my mother's obligation to offer honor and respect even if she is not heralded with the attention she wants.  I don't say these things to her.  I know she is tuned out and they are for me anyway, mental notes for the way I want to live.

I step up to the helm at the homeplace with grandmother so that mom can go get some respite.  I feel myself breathe and relax as she pulls out of the driveway. 

This place needs some music.  I usually don't care for country, but today it works for me.  I bring out my old toys (my family never throws anything away) and offer them to my kids, who see them as new.  My sweet husband takes on his assigned handy man list.  I find a long-abandoned crocheting project and ask grandmother to show me how to do it.  I'm happy when she tunes in to the yarn and I slip away.  It feels good to see her creating something, re-gaining industry.  I imagine it feels good to her too, although she may never say it. 

Back in the kitchen, I light a candle, pour a glass of iced tea and start chopping fresh vegetables for some old-fashioned macaroni salad.