Writer Pangs

My craving to create with words came the moment I learned to write cat, dog and all the other three-lettered words that were sprawled across the page in giant-sized kindergarten penmanship.  For the duration of my elementary school career I wrote stories – notebook paper bound with thick, fuzzy yarn stories, inspired by a mix of movies and imagination. I tucked each thin manuscript away in my bottom dresser drawer that also held my diary and other “for my eyes only” items. In fifth grade, nearing the end of the year, an assignment was given. Normally when the word project slithered its way out of a teacher’s mouth moans and groans spewed out of mine but this project had my mouth closed and interest peaked. “Write to your favorite author and construct a book of your own. “The best book will be displayed on the classroom bookshelf.”

I had yet to find that passion for a certain genre or author, nonetheless, I was anxious to get started so I randomly picked a book from the library shelf. In my hand was Bailey Goes Camping by Kevin Henkes. I wrote my letter that explained my dabbling in writing and questions about what it was like being an author; then started, with as much enthusiasm and haste, on my book. I conjured a plot from imagination minus the movie inspiration and set the pages in between pink laminated construction paper bound with plastic combs. Some weeks later the teacher walked in with an envelope in her hand, she held it up and motioned for me to approach her desk.

     “Your author was the only one in the entire fifth grade to write back,” she said and as she held out the envelop for me to take she delivered bigger news, “Your book was chosen to be displayed on the bookshelf.” Ignoring her and the envelope I turned and stared in awe of my pink masterpiece displayed for all to read. 

 That moment was the spoon that folded in the key ingredient that brought my DNA to full fruition. Adding to the tablespoon of eccentric, pinch of drama and dash of loner was a cup of writer that blended nicely to round out my personality. The recipe for my genetic code was complete and even then I knew that being a writer was more than what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was what I was made of.  

For the remainder of my juvenile academic career I excelled in English classes and fell short of mediocre in the subjects that couldn’t hold my attention. I charged toward high school graduation with confidence in my plans for the future. I would start with getting into the college of my choice, obtain a degree in journalism and then perhaps work my way toward editor of a Conde Nast magazine or write the next Great American Novel. However, like with any recipe those around me had their own spice to throw into the mix trying to modify the original version to suit their own taste.  After declaring my pursuit of a writing career, I began to receive what others thought of has “good” advice. “It is not steady enough; it is too hard to break into. Get into human resources or office management.”

     “A writer? Why not a nurse or doctor, now that’s where you make your money,” voiced another unwanted comment.

Eventually I was convinced that my perfect ingredient wasn’t the zest I needed to make my personality robust enough for success, so I replaced writer with one of the suggested spices, Physical Therapist. I headed down the path to sports medicine a cheesecake trying to be a potpie. Needless to say, it wasn’t working and halfway through college I fell flat. Bones, muscles and the movement of one’s body left a bitter taste on my tongue and the craving for something more filling. I withdrew from my classes and waited for the next semester, like dumping the bowl and starting over with fresh ingredients.

The next leg of my journey to perfect my genetic recipe began by stirring in yet another recommended flavor in the form of a psychology degree. Three semesters into mental disorders and a growing case of paranoia from the fear of having one or more of the afflictions, I became dry and was crumbling. I dumped the bowl and sat empty again.

After I convinced myself that those possible afflictions were just normal side effects to my unflavored personality, I attempted to sprinkle in a nursing career. I sat with an admissions counselor halfway confident about my decision; after all, nurses were in demand and it was a noble profession. The counselor reassured me that I was making the right move and with the paperwork signed I was ready for the required tour of the facility. She led me into the first classroom where everything went to horror film mode. In slow motion my eyes panned the room and zoomed in on things like needles, latex gloves and the way-too-human-like dummy stretched out on the cold metal table. I don’t remember much after that point, only that after I walked out of the building I never returned.

I decided to stay in the medical department but try something a little less hands-on which led me to medical assisting. Though I marinated a whole year in this one I still came out bland. I was bored with scheduling, blood pressure and weighing my classmates, so I switched to radiology the following semester. At the beginning of my second year we started a lesson on x-raying the deceased. Immediately upon learning that the dearly departed’s’ muscles jerk making their limbs move, I was out. At this point I had been to three colleges, attempted five different majors in the course of six years- I was left a shell filled with an unflavored concoction and was well past the point of done.

 I gave up on majors and let life happen. I got married, had three kids and continued to listen to the good advice others frequently dished out that was, due to my advancing age, geared toward finding a good paying job. All the while, my craving to write often surfaced in the form of daydreams about the kind of magazine I could work for and I often drooled over the writer lifestyle but out of habit I suppressed the craving so I could proceed to look for fulfillment.

 I ventured through the next four years as a preschool teacher, mental health coordinator and a receptionist as well as a fitness trainer and an assistant. I did what I thought I had to do as a mother providing for her kids and in the process I was becoming a role model of unhappiness. As a result, I had gone through as many potential careers as I had attempted degrees and was no closer to finding that perfect flavor. I wish I could say that an angel came down surrounded by a brilliant light and told me that writing was what I was meant to do with my life; so without hesitation I splattered my thoughts all over the page and sent it in for publication then voilὰ, perfection. But instead, it was an office job that made me want to bang my head against the desk and run a tin cup along the bars I felt trapped behind. From the moment I settled into my oversized desk chair everything I touched fell to pieces. Office equipment broke, reservations were lost, letters vanished during delivery and well, there wasn’t a day that I didn’t feel like I was on a hidden camera show.  I had no explanation for my misfortune which became somewhat of a corny joke that’s ending could be predicted but you laughed anyway. But after the charade stopped being funny and the possibility of me being on reality television passed, all that was left was reality – my life was burnt and inedible. It was time to start from scratch, this time adding what should have been mixed in originally-a writing career.

As with the writing assignment so many years ago, I was anxious to get my writing career underway but I had yet to find that passion for a certain genre, so I started by adding a little artistic flair to my resignation letter – mixing in a dash of drama and a pinch of eccentric musings into a creative, in all likelihood uncustomary, prose of farewells that made my taste buds yearn for more.  After my two weeks, I was released from behind the fictional bars and was free to begin searching for freelance opportunities. My search landed me among pounds of web content gigs that for the last two years have kept me full.  The cup of writer has been folded in slowly over the last two years but has already added spice to my life and flavor to my personality. Writing has always been my key ingredient, without it I would continuously be bitter, bland or crumble and suffer from writer pangs. Bon appétit.

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Dueling Personas

With all the kids tucked into their beds, I make one last round to ensure their slumber is real and not just a ploy to get me to let my guard down. With eyes closed on all three accounts, I head toward my bedroom to meet an old friend. A confidant that existed in a time when wearing tight jeans was by choice, shaved legs were a priority and life was fueled by a plethora of energy. I climb into bed with my laptop, engross myself in an episode of Sex and the City while plunking my eyebrows and other unwanted facial hair. This is when she makes her appearance – a single girl alter ego that brings a warm familiar feeling that only accompanies seeing an old friend. She can also be conjured while driving alone at night with music of her day blaring, summoning flashbacks of cruising with the car at capacity.

Teenaged Me

Despite the lengthy interludes between meetings, I know this girl. She is confident, knows what she wants and is optimistic that she will get it. But she is not fearless – one close encounter with a chicken or a child yelling mom in any language and she makes her exit. She is then replaced with the more dominant frumpy-sweatpants wearing-it’s just a chicken-super poop wiper persona. Super poop wiper exists in a time where wearing tight jeans isn’t a choice, shaved legs are a thought when considering a skirt-skip it wear the jeans and where energy comes in a can.

prom

The two personas are mortal enemies at best and, therefore, cannot coexist. Super poop wiper often makes attempts to demolish the single girl alter ego but, forever resilient, she continues to linger in the shadows waiting to emerge through a song or childless moment and make me feel human again.

For most of us SAHMs, our single girl persona was pushed out with our first child; however, she continues to dawdle in the depths of chaos and in order to maintain an identity outside of children, we have to let her back in. Twice a week channel this alter ego by doing something you used to do as a single girl (minus the dating). Take a drive, close yourself in your room for some extensive grooming or visit an old friend.

Glaring Through Pea-Green Colored Glasses

My six-year-old daughter came home from school, threw her backpack on the couch and blurted out, “We talked about what we wanted to be when we grow up.”

“Oh, yeah? What did you decide?” I asked going through a mental list of all the possible choices that would eventually lead to her unprecedented success.

“I want to be a mom like you.” My heart sank into my stomach. At a moment when I should have been beaming with pride, I felt a free-falling sensation that sent me spinning into a speech to try to feel grounded. “You know, you can be anything you want to be,” I told her. “There are so many wonderful things in this world to experience. A doctor, an artist or maybe a writer (wink, wink), you can be a mother and anything else. You don’t have to choose one or the other.” She looked at me as though I had just given her a lesson on the theory of relativity, smiled and walked away. I wanted to grab her and hold her down until she assured me that she had other ambitions in life.

We all want our children to succeed but we want our girls to conquer the world, to break through the glass ceiling. So why is it when they grow up to become successful career women and mothers we criticize them?

The debate between working moms and stay-at-home moms continues to smolder – any denunciation causes a spark that ignites an explosion of talk show specials. SAHM’s, the antagonists in this classic story of bitter rivals, are forcefully spewing justifications in the form of judgments in hopes of producing a legitimate argument that not only convinces others her decision is right but also convinces herself. Not that the protagonists don’t carry their load of doubts but they are usually planted thoughts brought on by snubbing at school functions or guilt upon deletion of “volunteers needed” emails.

During one of the times when the flame was high on this explosive discussion, Dr. Phil produced a show covering the topic where he introduced Andrea, who had been both a stay-at-home mom and a working mom. She stated that she sees both sides of the debate and wonders if the controversy is more a case of being envious of what the other mom is doing. The mother working outside the home wishes she had more time with her child; the stay-at-home mom desires to be recognized as a creative person in her own right. Though I agree with her statement, I do not believe that each envious party is equal in their covet.

To desire for more time with your children is a reasonable complaint but to yearn to be seen as an intelligent, capable woman behind the kids and piles of laundry is a life of demeaning isolation. 18 years of glaring through pea-green colored glasses at not only working moms but at other SAHM’s (a bit of a keeping up with the Jones’ between SAHM’s) can leave one with a distorted view of who they are; eventually losing sight of their identity. This makes for a bitter, judgmental, defensive mommy who buries herself in domestic activities.

What is the real reason we, SAHM’s, play the antagonists?  Are we fighting for our beliefs in child-rearing or fighting to just be heard? Why would we want to attack those who are successfully raising kids while fulfilling the craving to be recognized as more than a housekeeper – essentially widening the path that women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony fought years to clear? It is no wonder the U.S just now, according to an article by Marcia Reynolds on the Huffingtonpost.com, went from 31st to 19th place in a report that ranks gender equality in 139 countries. We can’t stop fighting amongst ourselves long enough to fight for each other.

It is important for us to find or continue an identity outside of children when we become SAHM’s. Not only for ourselves but for our daughters who mimic our every move – so, instead of playing the role as antagonists and watching as the classic story of bitter rivals throws manure on the path to equality, we should take off the pea-green colored glasses and view the world through a broken glass ceiling.

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Fall Break…Down

While we are blissing ignorantly under the rays of tropical sunlight during summer vacation, our fine educators are sinisterly collaborating to plot the allotted weeks that test the sanity of any parent. Yes, I am talking about those week long hiatuses from school the devious educators deceivingly dubbed “breaks”. Maybe it is short for breakdown since I, like most parents, lack the skills to survive a week with children who are perpetually bored and not easily amused.

The following is a true account of how I survived one of these sinisterly plotted weeks – Fall Break 2010 (aka Death Camp).

Day 1

 I woke to the sound of distant shrills and quickly realized I was unprepared and unarmed. I threw the blanket over my head hoping it would act as a suit of armor (or at the very least the old adage, if I can’t see them, they can see me, would come into play). They screamed their “I’m bored” battle cry as they charged down the hall. “What’s for breakfast?” They asked – the blanket didn’t work so I got up, faced the enemy and started the first day of Death Camp.

Day 2

I have to shower. I turn on the water, slip under the warm, relaxing droplets and hear a stampede. A rumble that shook the pictures – thumps against the wall – bodies hit the floor and cry uncle. The thumps become closer to my bathing sanctuary. I turn off the water and hear another stampede – a retreat. I prepare myself and open the bathroom door – I see nothing. All is quiet. Did I imagine it or are they that good?

Day 3

I wear my dark circles like war paint and my emotional scars like purple hearts as I went into day 3 confident I would wear down the enemy. We fought on home territory. We battled at the park. We fought the great battle at pumpkin patch. The enemy shows no sign of fatigue, so I hide in my trench – my dark circles darker, my emotional scars deeper and my confidence demolished.

Day 4

Too tired to write – must rest.

Day 5

I survived. I walk away with only a few bald spots and a twitch. Though I will need extensive therapy for the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I will not let it interrupt my training for when the enemy returns in the spring. I will be victorious, I will conquer the enemy’s insatiable hunger for entertainment and I…will find better hiding places.

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In The Spirit Of Halloween

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As the sun abandoned the world of the living, the line that separated the dead became unseen and the darkness interwove two worlds. The unnerved, masked in disguise, displayed carved gourds to deter the haunts; while others lit candles and placed treats near the road to assist loved ones back to the spirit world. It was a night that predictions about the future were clear, summer was laid to rest and the cruel winter began; October 31st marked the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.

The two-thousand year old tradition was initiated by the Celts that inhabited areas known today as, Ireland, United Kingdom and Northern France. Samhain was observed the night before the Celtic New Year – November 1st represented the end of the harvest and the commencement of winter, which was associated with death and struggle. This correlation is the assumed reason behind the belief of the blurred boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory but adopted some of the customs of Samhain and fused them with their own celebration, Feralia, for the passing of the dead. The mingled holiday continued until once again altered by the spreading of Christianity. Wanting to replace Samhain with a church-sanctioned holiday, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1st, All Saints Day – also called All Hallows or Hallowmas; a day to honor Saints and martyrs that had passed through to the heavens. As centuries past, the customs of the three holidays blended to form our American tradition of Halloween.

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Imagination, folklore and historical tragedies have all been influences on Halloween superstition. Salem brought us witches, carrion eating crows brought the omen of death and Irving Washington brought the Headless Horseman. In his short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hallow, Washington tells the fable of a Hessian missionary hired to suppress the American Revolutionary War. In Sleepy Hallow, New York, the Hessians head was severed by a stray cannonball; with his head in his hands he haunts the small town on horseback. A main character, Ichabod Crane, fell victim to the headless haunt when trying to pass through the woods one October night. The Headless Horseman makes his ghostly appearance in many forms of literature which makes visiting Sleepy Hallow a legendary Halloween tradition.

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 It’s debatable whether a headless horseman haunts the woods of Sleepy Hallow or folklore captured imagination but there are stories in history that are based on bone chilling truth.  Severe mistreatment, experiments gone wrong and questionable procedures make for an inevitable haunting. Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky was erected in 1926 and dedicated to the treatment of those affected by the tuberculosis epidemic of the 20th century. It is estimated that hundreds died behind the doors of the sanatorium at the height of the epidemic. The bodies were thrown down a shoot into a waiting train and hauled away so patients wouldn’t see how many were dying. The sufferers were left outside until they were snow covered and experiments such as exposing the diseased lungs to ultraviolet rays then inserting inflated balloons in them resulted in death.  Tales of nurses being pushed out of the fourth-story window where the mentally insane dwelled coupled with the agony of the patients and the constant noise from the abandoned building makes Waverly Hills one of the most haunted places in the nation.

Folklore and true haunting tales make the meaning of Halloween and the traditions of the holiday as we know them today. Still, after thousands of years when the sun abandons the world of the living, the unnerved mask in disguise and display their carvings to deter haunts while others try to connect with deceased loved ones. It is a night for storytelling and the settling of the winter chill; October 31st commemorates Americans ability to embrace all culture and continue traditions like Halloween. 

 

What’s In A Name?

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet – apparently not. A debate I thought had withered away has managed to produce the occasional bloom and recently its reek has been stinking up my world. Is there a difference between a housewife and a stay-at-home mom? Personally, I wish the term housewife would have drowned in the Second Wave Feminist Movement; however, despite its weight from hefty implications, it has managed to keep its ugly head above water.  To save myself from having to inhale the malodorous stench of this controversy, I thought I would try to clear the air.

Merriam Webster defines a housewife as, “a married woman who is in charge of her household.” This definition has a flaw. Isn’t any married woman, employed or unemployed, in charge?  Wikipedia (which is a web site that brings its own credibility controversy) describes a housewife as, “a married female who is not employed outside of the home.” A housewife was also a term used in the 18th century to refer to a sewing kit or bag where women kept their toiletries. This handy little sewing kit was also called a hussy. Now, maybe it is just southern slang but hussy isn’t a name that a woman wants to be called let alone have it attached to your chosen occupation.  Words like hussy that have derived from housewife to evolve into direct insults shows the amount of respect this title brings. However, by definition, are there any housewives left? Are there women out there who are married without kids trying to make an 8 to 5 out of cleaning and taking care of another able-bodied adult?

An article in the New York Times, “The Stigma of Being a Housewife” by Katrin Bennhold, stated that journalist Peter Letmark reported “housewives are nearly extinct species in Sweden. And the few who still do exist don’t really dare to go public with it.” I wonder if there are closet-housewives in America – cowering from fear of being shunned by society. Of course, it is hard for me to believe that any self-respecting woman would fool herself into thinking this is her role in life unless a woman oppressing religion has convinced her otherwise.

Sadly, as for the term stay-at-home mom, when I set out to find a scholarly definition I only discovered one that wasn’t full of hate and didn’t redirect me to the term housewife. Macmillandictionary.com defines a SAHM as, “a parent who stays at home to take care of their children instead of working outside the home. “Though I don’t like this description, it is better than one person’s account on urbandictionary.com which states: “a stay-at-home mom is a white, upper middle class woman who…thinks her job is the hardest in the world, using dumb arguments from Dr. Phil like ‘stay-at-home moms have an equivalent to 2 full-time jobs’…was born with the silver spoon: she lived off her daddy’s money and now lives off hubby’s money.”

On Yahoo! Answers, when asked to define a SAHM, one misinformed commenter explained, “I define a stay-at-home mom as a woman who doesn’t work both outside and inside the home.” I found numerous “definitions” like these that reeked of hate, slander and ignorant generalizations.

Though I set out to clear the air on the two terms, I discovered that world is in a thicker fog than I thought. Since a concise, intelligent definition of SAHM doesn’t exist and a housewife (by its official definition) is on the endangered species list, the only known difference between the two is who they stay at home to support. Both labels come with its share of ridicule keeping the line (if any) between them blurred. Perhaps if we declare housewifery extinct, taking the term out of existence, then we would have one less withered definition of a mom stinking up our world.

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