Saturday, June 17, 2017

Literary Throw Down

The following is a beginning. Every novel has to start somewhere.

A brief explanation

You should know that this is a story without an end. I have created an end because that is what writers are supposed to do. The story itself is based on truth. It is more truth than not. Maybe it is all truth. Maybe that is something I would be advised not to say. The characters, the plot, the suspense and drama are all present. It is as it happened. The end is the only part that I will subject to my creative brain.

I would like to offer a challenge. In classic throw down fashion, I will have my literary say. I will put pen to page and tell you my story as I remember the way it played out, from my side of the screen. At that point, I will cross my arms, tip my head, gather as much swagger as a fifty-four-year-old mom of four can gather, and point the pen in Romeo’s direction. Top that. Let’s see what you’ve got. Bring it, Mister. This is my Romeo. Let’s hear your Juliet. Yo.

I wasn’t going to tell this story. For years, it would have been embarrassing, humiliating, inappropriate, not to mention I would have been incapable as I had significantly lost my shit. It also was not a story that others knew, one of those secrets best kept that way. I wasn’t even certain there was a story. I am a writer, after all. Perhaps this was just a creation inside my head. But like most work in a writer’s brain, everything eventually hits the page. Once on page, it’s only a matter of time before it meets the eye.

If I could provide a slight disclaimer before we begin. I really am a very normal person who is never inclined to obsessive, stalker-like behavior. I love my family. I don’t cheat. I believe in living life as kindly and compassionately as possible. If you saw me in the produce aisle, you would go home and tell your partner that you think you may have made a new best friend. I am like that. Just so we’re clear. This is important. You will learn later why.

Enjoy the read. And thank you for understanding my need to tell you a story that has no end.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

What Happened When She Put Her Breast Self Forward

A woman just walked into the coffee shop wearing a gorgeous mess of hair and a cute little sundress. The dress was floor length, strappy, and not accompanied by a bra. I saw skin. I saw a lot of skin. It was the kind of skin that had been covered by a long Michigan winter and was happy to be free of sweaters and coats and too-tight turtlenecks. I was happy for the skin that it could dance in the sunshine. I thought how free and fresh this woman looked and how at ease with herself she seemed to feel. This, despite the fact that much of her breasts were completely exposed. Or maybe, perhaps, because of it?

How much breast is too much breast?

I recently put this question to a group of friends when I posted a photo to Facebook. In the picture, I sported an orange lightweight cardigan over a cream bralette. The bralette was cut significantly lower than I am typically comfortable wearing, but I liked the look especially when paired with my new white spring pants. With the top button of the cardigan and the bottom few left undone, I felt the look stylish, attractive, something I could easily carry off. But what to do about all that breast? Appropriate or not appropriate? I really didn’t know. A conservative cami would have easily solved the situation, but I liked the outfit as was. Still, I wasn’t sure it was completely socially a thing to do. I have always loved to look good but have the fashion sense of a two-year-old. Hence, putting the question to friends.

I wonder if age, weight, or position in society plays into this. I am an aging former professor who, in the case of famine, could easily live off her body fat for a comfortable amount of time. Would it matter if I were a young, thin blonde who had not yet established herself in any conservative position in society? Would it matter if I were heavier or older than I currently am or if I were a Bohemian artist instead of a stodgy college instructor?

“It’s a look that screams look at my boobs.” This was the comment by one friend. And yet, the woman I mentioned earlier was showing much more than I and was braless at that. Thanks to Victoria’s little secrets, the bra I’m wearing in the photo could take a bullet. And, yes, I am aware bralettes are meant to be worn alone but that is a thing that will never happen in my world. My look also, unlike that of Strappy Sundress Girl, is not going to change should the temps take a sudden drop. Maybe both looks are inappropriate. Maybe both are too suggestive. Why the big need to cover and disguise body parts anyway?

I mean. I have breasts. Everybody knows this. Why should I dress as if I don’t? As long as nothing important is showing. But, again, where exactly is that line?

Some friends suggested that my look would be appropriate on a date or a girl’s night out, maybe fun to wear when I’m feeling a little naughty. I tend to be a pretty conservative dresser. Date night, to me, is a time to cover up. I’m a slow mover in this area. And I’m not much one for girl’s nights out. I prefer instead my dog, a snack, and a really good romcom. As for feeling naughty, that’s a special occasion meant for one recipient and then I’ll be showing a lot more than cleavage and a cardigan. Unless that’s his thing and then a little role-play never hurt anybody. No, the look was for me. I felt pretty in it. I felt attractive and sexy. The colors were great, eyelet is my thing, and I’ve always been a fan of showing an unexpected bit of skin. Was it really for me, though? Can it ever truly be just for me?

There’s a fine line between dressing to look and feel good and dressing for others. I like to think I do both. But what’s the line between being called attractive and being called a ho? What’s the line between being called sexy and alluring and just being a slut? Is it, like my friend suggested, connected to the event? Celebrities on the red carpet are photographed and idolized in looks in which I would never be seen in public. They are written up for their beautiful gowns that expose more skin than I often am comfortable viewing. Beaches, Victoria’s Secret window ads, and backyard pools are filled with flesh about which nobody ever seems to complain. Yet, if any one of these bikinis or ball gowns were worn out of context, would they still be okay? Maybe my friend has a point.

I had plenty of friends who supported the look, plenty who told me as long as I liked it and felt good about it that that was all that mattered. I go back, though, to the difference between dressing for oneself and dressing for others. Even if I liked it, along with a few supportive friends, others felt it inappropriate, suggestive, asking for the wrong sort of attention. I am tempted to experiment, to explore, to prove a point. I feel the judgement has more to do with the person wearing the item and the person viewing the item than it does with situation or context. I wonder what would happen, what my friends might think, if I walked one sunny afternoon into a coffee shop in a strappy, floor-length dress, braless and fresh.

Monday, April 24, 2017

To Be So Fully Oneself and To Be Loved Just the Same

I have been challenged to write a letter to someone telling him or her how he or she has impacted my life. Well, now. Isn’t this a can of worms? It’s a beautiful idea, in theory, to think on how someone has touched my life. But I open that lid and all kinds of feelings jump out. Best to keep the can closed and not think on it too much, go about enjoying my iced tea on the sunny patio at my local Starbucks like feelings never happened. Nevertheless, a challenge is a challenge and growth is good. Besides, I challenged my friend to adopt a pet. She now has a cat named Smokey. I think it only fair I comply.

I have all the right parts and yet am wretchedly inept at functioning as a human being. I have eyes on my face, ears on my head, and a heart in my chest and still have been blind and deaf and have failed to pick up on words that should have fed me. It’s not my fault I’m like this. I was raised to believe feelings were the drunkard uncle we don’t talk about in public. I have a sense of self-worth the size of a peanut. When someone is saying something nice about me, I believe it to be obligatory small talk. Sort of like saying, “How is your day?” Good, thank you. And yours? Feelings of kindness and affection pretty much escape me.

Did you ever play scavenger hunt when you were a kid? There were all these clues scattered about leading up to one big final aha! moment. In the game, that aha! moment was usually some sort of prize or trophy or long lost friend who would jump out and envelop you in a giant hug while you both screamed screams of joy. In my case, I have been led by clues throughout my life to an aha! moment in which the prize is a feeling or, rather, the realization of a feeling.

What were these clues? I have gathered them for you to see:

• Never lets me down
• Listens, regardless how difficult it is to hear
• Pushes me in directions I am too afraid to push myself
• Says things that need to be said
• Cares unconditionally despite what a pigheaded, insensitive, unaware brat I can be
• Is present
• Makes me laugh
• Makes me think
• Steadies me, calms me, quiets me down
• Talks me off the cliff
• Talks me onto the cliff
• Is the cliff

Have you ever had the feeling that you could do no wrong, that you were a beam of light and that your every breath and every move was enough and perfect just as it was? Have you ever felt like this? I have. I have, but I could never see it. I could never see it because I talked too loudly and moved too fast. I never paid attention to the clues.

So, to my friend who left me these –

Despite my continued ignorance, my insistence on repeatedly saying things I should not have said, talking about things I should have left, and failing to intuit that which was so obviously there, you remained my friend. Thank you for that. Thank you for your shoulder onto which I cried, your ears into which I complained, and your heart into which I wove myself a safe and comfortable spot.

I see now that you had my back even when I did not know, that you protected, guided, supported when I was still yet unaware. I see you in the corners watching me as I grew, watching as I moved about my life doing what I had to do. Can I tell you the comfort I feel in that, how deeply I am moved? You told me once that that is just what friends will do. I have had friends. But believe me when I say, I have had none with whom I felt I could be so completely myself and yet so completely loved.

Accept my apologies for being such an ass. Accept my apologies for being full of myself, insensitive, unaware. Accept my apologies, my gratitude, my hand. Take it please and continue with me on this journey that is my life. Knowingly or not, ours is the measure of friendship on which every other is based.

To be so fully oneself and to be accepted just the same. What a gift you have given me. What a beautiful, glorious gift.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Untie This Thing; I'm Ready to Fly

Cap’n Crunch, Wonder Bread, a few cans each of Spam and those little cocktail wieners known as Vienna sausages, some Velveeta slices, a pack of bologna, and bags of white beans, russet potatoes, and Martha White self-rising flour. We were at the local Thrif-T Mart, and my mother’s cart was packed. She was chatting up the checkout clerk, making the kind of small talk that turns into the-beginnings-of-a-novel talk as only mothers can. I was seventeen and far too grown-up to be seen standing beside a parent. I wandered down to the 7-Up display at the end of the counter. The word “sweepstakes” caught my eye.

I’ve always had a thing for a contest. And I’m a pretty good winner. My strategy is to do something most people don’t do: Read all the directions. I’ve found many contestants are ruled out simply because they haven’t completed every required step. Take social media contests, for example. Have you liked the page? Have you shared the post? Have you tagged a friend? Have you left your name in the comments? It’s simple, really, but you have to do it. You have to do every step. Here’s a list of some of the things I have won in my life and how I’ve won them:

• a $5.00 gift certificate to a local shop – I guessed the number of marbles in a jar

• movie tickets from a local radio station –I didn’t mean to try to win these but called to request a song and happened to be the seventeenth caller

• a month’s supply of diaper delivery service – I wrote an article on creative uses for DyDee Baby cloth diapers (as if trying to pin a piece of cloth to a wriggling infant without drawing blood isn’t a creative project in itself)

• unlimited miniature golf for a year and a rockin’ birthday party filled with arcade games, balloons, cake, pop, and prizes for an ungodly number of neighborhood tweens – I put my name on a paper and put it in a fish bowl

• a selection of deli meats, cheeses, and a romantic basket for picnics that never really happened and, so, never got romantic – I acquiesced to one of my children who wanted me to enter

• a ride in the 7-Up balloon in the Indiana State Fair hot-air balloon race – I filled out four sweepstakes forms while my mom was paying for groceries

My mother was terrified. To the last minute, she asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this. I shared the gondola with the pilot and a marketing rep from 7-Up. It was the biggest movie star moment of my life. I wore my free 7-Up t-shirt and sported my glammest shades. The media interviewed me and snapped shots from all angles. I thought I was the absolute shit. I never had a doubt I was in exactly the place I was supposed to be. There was no fear, no uncertainty, no questioning whether I was to do this, just a clear knowing that this was a skip along the pebble throw of my life.

In that moment where the balloon was untethered and we began our ascent, I knew I was going on an adventure and that the adventure was mine. I was not there to prove anything to my mother. I was not there to support 7-Up. I was not there to give the paper a good story or to brag to my friends. I was there because when I stood at that display at the end of that grocery counter and saw the poster of that hot-air balloon, my heart said yes.

I’ve lost this in my life. For a long time now, I’ve been living for others. I’ve been living for the press. I’ve assumed the fear of those around me as my own. It won’t look right, won’t sound right, will be more difficult than you think. People will make fun. People will talk. You will be seen as an ass. You’re above that, better than that, not one who participates in that sort of thing. You’re not capable enough, not talented enough, not as smart as you sometimes think. You’ll embarrass yourself, embarrass the family, embarrass your colleagues or the staff.

Enough. Time to silence the voices in my head.

As of today, I am once again filling out the form. I am guessing the number of marbles in the jar. I am signing my name and placing it in the bowl. The universe can bring me what it may. The more creative or whacky or exciting the prize, the more happy and delighted my heart. As of today, I’m untying those lines, sporting my glammest shades, and flying this balloon called Life.

Oh, yeah, baby. Jump in or let go. I'm ready to ride!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Still Trying to Figure out What the F*ck I’m Going to be When I Grow Up

I’m fifty-three years old and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I thought I’d have this settled by now. There are just so many choices, so many interesting choices. I’ve heard the advice to just pick something. I don’t work that way. I could just pick something if the choices were between the brown shoes or the black. “Oh, yes. Let’s go with the black.” But with such a multitude of options, I find myself wanting to try a little of this, a little of that. Reiki Master, intuitive counselor, social media start up cofounder, wellness coach, freelance writer, author, speaker. The options have my head spinning and my thoughts drifting back to childhood.

“Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish. How many pieces do you wish?” You say this while your friends are circled up, each holding out one fist. As you say it, you go around the circle hitting your fist against their fists. When you finish, you wait patiently while the person whose fist you landed on decides how many pieces they would like. “Eight,” they say. Then you continue around the circle, pounding your fist against those of your friends, one at a time. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and you are not It.” You repeat this until there is one person left. That person is It. I need my career choices to circle up so we can play Bubblegum, Bubblegum. Maybe then I’d figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life.

I grew up understanding we become something. We become an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a nurse. Often, we become something through the institution of higher learning. We attend school for many years, take an ungodly amount of exams, chat up professors we think are cute, eat more pizza than any human should ever consume, and get wasted with our friends on a regular basis. At the end of this time, we receive a piece of paper that says now we are officially this thing, this thing being an attorney, an architect, or perhaps a super smart chick on history or financial affairs. We never feel that. We never feel we are really this thing. “How could that even be?” we ask ourselves. “I’m still just me.” We walk around thinking someone important is going to find us out. “I’m still sleeping on the twin bed I slept on in elementary school, for God’s sake.” But, no. You are officially now a grown up. And you are this Thing.

I wish someone had told me this process really doesn’t change as you age. I’m fifty-three. I guess I could call myself a professor. Technically, that’s what I am. If I am to confess, though, I still wonder how that happened when all I was doing was doing the things I love – reading, talking, going to school. And do I have to be a professor forever? Can I change my mind? Can I do something else instead? If I do choose to do something else, how do I choose what that something else is?

Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish.

I can’t say the younger generations have it any easier. As a mother of four Millennials, I see the struggle. Despite the fact that younger generations change jobs more often than did their parents, there is still the question, “What do I do?” Something has to be first. Something has to be now. If anything, I feel the younger generations are at least under no illusion that this choice will be a forever decision. They are prepared for the fact that they will be making this decision over and over again.

I have counseled so many students regarding majors or degrees. They stand in front of me seeking my professional advice. I’d like to become one of those students and stand in front of myself for some of that advice. What should I do with my life? I should know this. I studied for this exam.

Inevitably, during the process of choosing It, we would all get restless, eager to get back to the game. In the end, this was the reality. Nobody cared. Nobody cared who was It. We just wanted to play the game. If we decided we didn’t like the game or were tired of it and wanted to play a different game instead, Tag morphed into Cartoon Tag morphed into Swinging Statue morphed into Hide and Seek. The ultimate goal was to have fun, to laugh and smile and run and be so tired at the end of the day that you could barely make it through bath time before falling asleep.

And in that I may have my answer. Just pick something. And run and laugh and smile and be so tired at the end of the day that bed is a welcome relief. If, at any point, I decide I am tired of that game or am ready to have fun with something else, allow it space to morph into whatever it is that comes next.

Now. To choose that thing that comes first.

Bubblegum, bubblegum in a dish.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

One Year Since the Judgment and Just Now Feeling Divorced

One doesn’t just jump out of a thirty-year marriage, throw on her little black dress, a nice fat swath of red lipstick, and head out to party it up. At least that's not what this chick did. I don’t know. Others might. It was about a year ago that I was wandering through one of those little shops in a nearby beach town. Amid rocks painted with colorful swirls and words encouraging the holder to Inspire, Believe, and Hope, I found a group of wine glasses that held equally motivating messages. Trimmed in glitter and sporting sass and attitude, the glasses declared, among other things, that it’s tough to be the queen but someone has to do it and that, upon birth, the holder was dropped in a vat of awesome. Not being one for drinking around beads and paint blobs, I turned to check out the fridge magnets declaring that life is, indeed, better in flip-flops. It was then that I saw the glass on divorce. “Divorced and having the time of my life,” the glass read. I remember thinking at the time that one would have to be out of her mind to be feeling as if she were having the time of her life after ending a union in which she had spent most all of her living years.

I’ve dated my ex. I’ve dated other people a couple of times, as well. When I was with someone else, I felt like I was cheating despite the paper that assured me I was divorced. I wondered when this “having the time of my life” thing was supposed to kick in. Maybe that was for women whose husbands had been creeps. Maybe that was for women whose husbands had cheated or hit them or gambled away the family money. I was grieving a loss. I didn’t especially feel like beer and karaoke. I didn’t feel like random meetings with men I didn’t know. Dating sites are great for some but truly not my thing. I decided after listening to so many others tell me how I was supposed to be doing this single thing to listen, for a second, to myself. And my Self told me I needed time to heal.

And so I did.

I allowed myself room. I allowed myself room to feel. I allowed myself room to come to a place of understanding that what I had done really was the best thing for both my ex and myself. I had to get used to people I loved judging me. I had to get used to people I loved hating me for destroying something that had been good for them. I had to get used to people I loved cutting me completely out of their lives. For the first time, I made a decision that was good for me and for me alone. That was inconvenient for some. It was confusing for them. They wanted to go on with life as it had always been.

I did a hard thing. While I healed from doing that hard thing, I was attacked and badgered and thrown to the dogs.

I thought the paper would make me feel divorced. The paper, as it happens, is just ink on a page. Truly feeling divorced has come from months of tears, from quiet spaces at the end of the day, from the heartache of allowing my children space to do their own healing, from a cold bed on a winter’s night, from remembering how much I care for the man who was my husband and from saying yes to coffee when I should have said no. Truly feeling divorced was not a fifteen-minute session that ended thirty years with the sound of a gavel. Truly feeling divorced was a year-long journey spent on knees in prayer.

Looking back to that glass on that shelf in that shop, am I having yet the time of my life? No. But, neither do I feel the need to prove anything to anyone, including myself, on the degree of happiness in my life or the correctness of the choices that I made. I have never hated him. I never wished him ill. I still care deeply and want for him good things. This is a difficult concept for many to get. I am at a place, now, though, where I realize it is not my job to explain. It is not my job to prove or soothe or act a certain way. It is not my job to live up to the standards imposed on me by anyone I know. I am at a point where I realize I suddenly feel single and, for the first time in a year, can call myself divorced.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

For the First Time in My Life, I am Called to Fight

Whenever I would ask my grandmother whom she voted for she would tell me Dean Martin. My mother would back her by reminding me there are two things you never talk about, religion and politics. I’ve never been very good at keeping my religious beliefs to myself but, until now, I’ve not been much one to discuss political issues.

To me, though, they really are both the same. Love and kindness are my bottom line. Doing unto others. The Golden Rule. Putting myself in another’s shoes. I believe the entire world could operate a little better if we all just joined hands, offered each other a smile, and said, “I may not know what you’re going through, but I am here. I am here.”

My sisters and I had a childhood fraught with chaos. My parents yelled at each other, yelled at us, and frequently could put a hole through a wall with a fist. We moved constantly, had very little to eat, and more often than not went to bed with tears on our pillow.

But my parents were giving people. They did for others things that would never be found out, were first to mobilize when a family was in stress, lent a shoulder to kids from our school that weren’t even in our circle of friends, kids we didn’t know. I remember my mother at one of my sister’s softball games, arm around some girl’s shoulder. I had seen this girl in the halls. Her father had committed suicide. Sat in his car. Never opened the garage. My dad would leave food in the alley behind the house. Clothes. Shoes. Soap. The homeless guys knew these items were meant for them. They never let on, chatted up my dad like he was one of their friends. He was. He became that. That’s how it works. We are meant for each other. We are meant for love.

I’ve been called naive. Been told it doesn’t work like that. There is evil in this world. There are people who want to do mean things. Some of my friends have seen that evil. I may have seen it, as well. But just because that evil exists, just because it is there, does not mean that I cannot love. I will not fight anger with fists. I will not call names because that is what those around me do. I was taught better than that. I was taught to stand for my brother, to stand for the poor, to stand for those in need.

My mother used to tell me, “Never start a fight but never back away from one either.” I neither wanted to start fights nor remain in one. I would be the first to back away. At heart and in my dreams, I am the love child of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. For the first time in my life, however, I am called to fight. I am called to fight for my brother, to fight for the poor, to fight for those in need. I am called. I am called to fight, to fight for love.

Join me.