Thursday, August 30, 2012

I am Alive

Sometimes I say things because I don’t want to say the other things. That last essay I posted? That was nothing. I didn’t even want to write that. I didn’t care. I wanted to write this, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because when I write, I have to go to a place, in my head, in my heart, in my soul. If I go to THIS place, though, I realize that I may not even exist. I realize that my children, my writing, the effects of my teaching, may all not even exist. I realize that my marriage would not be my marriage. I realize that not only would I not know you, but that any impact I have had on your life would never have happened, that you would be you, without me. If I go to THIS place, I cry inside. I cry inside because I would have been me, without you. I cry inside because on birthday number six, my story would end.

I have just turned six and my family has taken the long trip from Tennessee to Michigan to pick cherries. My dad has heard that people can make money like that. I don’t like this place. It is cold. It is the coldest place I have ever been. I will never come here again. Ever. Also we sleep in a big room with lots of beds and people I don’t even know. They are not really beds. My mom calls them cots. And the floor is not a floor. It is a sidewalk. I don’t like this. It is cold, and I am sleeping with people I don’t know. It makes me nervous. I throw up I am so nervous. My mom says I have the flu, that it’s just the flu. I am sick in this cold place with the strange people. I want to go home.

Being home, though, turns out to be not much better. My tooth is loose, and it won’t come out. It is sort of out because it is not connected. It is only hanging. My dad says come here, and he will take a look at it. He is working on his car. I don’t want him to look at it. I am scared he will try to pull it. He says, no he won’t, but he says let me look at it. He looks with the pliers he is holding. He looks, and then he pulls. He pulls with the pliers. I run back inside. I am running, and I am crying, and I am throwing up Spanish rice all down the sidewalk. I will never eat Spanish rice again.

I am sick, and I am whiter than I have ever been. I get whiter, and I get whiter. I get sicker and sicker. I never go to the doctor even when I am sick. We don’t have money, and we don’t have insurance, and I know doctors need them, but I don’t know how to get them. When I am sick I just lie on the couch until my mom makes me better, but this time she can’t make me better. My Pop tells her that you’d better get that girl to the doctor, that something is wrong. My mom tells my dad that she doesn’t care if we have money or not. She tells him that she doesn’t care if we have insurance or not. She tells him to go get a job and get some insurance because she, by God, is taking me to the doctor.

But the doctor says it is just a five-day virus and that my mom doesn’t need to worry. It will go away.

But it doesn’t. It’s been three more days, and I am getting sicker and whiter. I can’t do anything. I can’t play. I can’t watch television. I can’t do anything. I can lie on the couch. I am so sick and so white. My mom says that doctor was a quack. She says some other things that I can’t tell you because I am not allowed to swear. She takes me to another doctor.

I don’t go home. I go to the hospital.

This doctor says it is not a virus and that it will not go away. He says it is something called peritonitis. He says it is an infection of something about my stomach. I don’t understand. I don’t understand, and I am too tired to try. He says that if my mom hadn’t brought me in today, well Mrs. Wadley, you may have lost your daughter. You are lucky you got her here when you did.

I am in this hospital bed for two weeks. The nurses always come in with shots. They say it is penicillin. They say it is medicine that will make me feel better. They give me shots in my butt when I am awake and when I am asleep. For two weeks I get shots in my butt over and over and over, every six hours I get these shots, all the time I am here. I cannot sleep because I have to get shots. My butt is sore, and I am tired, and I want to go home. But my mom stays with me all the time, so I am not scared. Also, I am feeling bad because I itch and my face is big and I am getting red all over my body. The doctor says I am allergic to the shots, but I have to get them so I won’t be dead.

And I am not dead. The doctor makes me better. And I am excited because school starts very soon, in just a couple weeks my mom says. I like school. This is my first time in school. I practice spelling my name over and over when my mom drives me on the first day. I am so nervous I will forget how to spell my name. And I get my school pictures. But I don’t like them because I look bad. My mom says it has only been three weeks since I got out of the hospital, so not to worry about my droopy eyes and runny nose. She says they are the most beautiful pictures she has ever seen.

There is a beauty pageant at school. My mom and dad think it would be great fun for me to participate since mostly I was in the hospital and in bed all the end of summer, since I didn’t get to play or do anything fun. I have never been in a beauty pageant before. I am excited. I think I will like it.

Mostly, though, I can tell that I am not pretty like the other girls. They are all pretty and happy and smiling. They did not have to go to the hospital. They did not have all those shots or that bad thing in their stomach. They are not white or sick or tired. But I don’t even care. I don’t care because I am on stage in my beautiful pink princess dress. I am on stage, and my mom says that I am special, and I am beautiful, and that that is what’s important. She says not to worry about not winning the pageant. She says I already am a winner. She says I am a winner, because I am alive.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lessons from the Lingerie Drawer

…..on burning my bra (from Barbies and Bra-Burnings)

Do I have to hate guys to be a feminist? Because I actually rather like them. I enjoy their company. Immensely. I enjoy turning a head, flirting a bit, and getting close enough to breathe in all of that manly scent.

And do I have to burn my bra?

I like my bras. I like them pretty with a scalloped edge and a bit of push-up. They will never go in the burning barrel. Bras are to me what shoes are to some women. The only statement I make by lighting that match is that Victoria’s Secret has debuted a new style, and I am no longer in need of this old thing.

………on revealing myself through my words (from Down to My Skivvies)

You know more about me sometimes than my best friends know. Here’s the dilemma. I write as I do so you want to read more. I write the dirt, the skinny. I strut around on page in my push-up and cheekies because that holds the interest. Honestly, as a reader myself I would much rather learn of the author’s addiction issues, diva tendencies, or illicit affairs (yes, with an “s”) than to hear how it was a good night because her child went to sleep the first time she tucked him in, her husband expected nothing of her, and there was a bit of chocolate left in the fridge. Please. I have so been there. Take me away. Show me something secret you wouldn’t share with even your closest confidant.

This is such insanely delicious fun when it is I who am the reader, but when I put my own thoughts to page and YOU see ME as I truly am? That, my friend, is just a bit unnerving.

It is unnerving because tomorrow you will sit in my class and raise your hand. You will ask for clarification on Harlow and Ainsworth and will wonder out loud why we care about attachment theory, why it matters. As I work you through the long-term benefits of a secure attachment style you will look at me, you will look at me in my cardigan with sleeves to elbows, glasses on top of my head, looking very teacher like and you will know. You will know that underneath that conservative cardigan is a bit of eyelet or lace or sparkle. You will know that most likely it is black and perhaps with a tiny bow adorned with even tinier crystals dangling from that bow. It is unnerving because I am opening to you while you are staying fully clothed.

……….on looks versus books (from Brains or Boobs?)

It’s an age old question: Brains or boobs? Brains or beauty? Looks or books? To the women: Would you rather be smart or pretty? To the guys, or gals, even, well: Which do you prefer? And, on my part, I’m wondering, why not both? Do I have to choose between being an intelligent crone or half-witted, but hot? I have to pick one? Hair tied back, glasses sliding down my nose, books spilling out my arms or, to go the other direction, cheeks peeking out my shorts and boobs spilling out my shirt, hardly able finish a coherent sentence? And why is it that those are the images we conjure up when we speak of each? Does smart always look like that? Does beauty necessarily involve button-popping blouses?

………….on self-esteem and self-image (from Ban the Granny Panties!)

There’s a way a woman feels, a way she carries herself, a way she has of looking at life, when she prances around in industrial-sized underwear. Wait. Let’s back up a second. First, let’s not use the word prance in conjunction with Granny panties. Ever. That’s just a nasty picture. Second, we all know we’re talking briefs here, which I always find ironic because there is definitely nothing brief about them. The point is that when a woman hikes on a pair of so-old-they’re-not-even-a-color-anymore tent-sized skivvies, she’s basically saying to the world and to herself I don’t count, I’m not pretty, don’t even bother looking at me like that because it ain’t gonna happen. And very likely, Dearie, with that attitude and those drawers, it won’t.

……….on never judging a book by its cover (from Sex Sells)

Hang out for a second in the trashy romance section of your local bookstore. Take note of the women who show up there. We’re all the same. We want to be that heroine on the cover. Throw one of those bare chested guys in front of any one of us with the top button of his jeans undone and slip them down his hips just a bit and, holy shit, we lose every intelligent thought in our pretty little head. Even better if he’s in a cowboy get-up or wields a sword.

……….on WHAT I write (from No Boxers!)

My favorite two-word sentence ever is “No boxers.” The author said SO much and left SUCH a visual with just those two words. She was setting up a steamy scene in a remote cabin with a hunk of an outdoorsy type—nice butt, flannel shirt, dark hair with a bit of scruff going on--one of those guys who leaves you asking Oh, baby! Where do I find me one of those?! and our it’s-been-a-long-time-sure-but-I-am-totally-ok-with-that independent needs-nobody-and-wants-for-nothing protagonist. The scene went something like this:

Description of the lovely drive up. Yada, yada. Some scenery adjectives. It’s all beautiful and woodsy and pine-y and stuff. You can almost smell it, she writes so well. It’s all very pleasant. You can hear the birds and the wildlife and the blah blah blah, whatever. Then, without another line, she gets right to business. You can feel from her words that the woman wants it, but she doesn’t want the guy to know. You can sense the tension, the sexual energy. No worries, though, our lovely lady is totally in control, completely in charge. But, without even a smidge of warning, the guy just takes over the scene in a totally unexpected and--might I say, “Props to the author!”--incredibly manly sort of way. Next two lines: “He drops his pants. No boxers.” Oh, my LORD!

But I could never write that. People read. People I know read. They would read THIS. And then what would they think? I’d be walking around acting my normal conservatively dressed, teacher-mom kind of self and people would be looking at me like she writes stuff I have to hide under my mattress!

So, I’ve come to this. Think of me what you will, but wherever the pen leads, I am going to have to follow, even if that means taking myself and my protagonist’s pent up sexual energies to some remote cabin in the woods with nothing but a bit of attitude and a good-God-Lord-JESUS-he-IS-GORgeous hunk of a stranger. I'm just going to have to go there.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sing at the Table, Dance on the Bed

I read that the writer should always give the reader something of value. Wow. The pressure. Looking back at my essays I have to question what exactly it is that I am giving you. I’d like to say that I’ve lightened your heart, made you smile, caused you to reflect, to consider, to think. But, honestly, I may have just made you scratch your head in confusion or spit your coffee through your teeth. I think I’m good with that.

I know that when I get in my now-I-know-why-writers-drink mode, I give you stories that leave my computer keys soaked with tears. You should know that I cannot even see the words well enough through my swollen eyes to know if those stories need an adjective here, an adverb there before I click to post. I am not certain you understand, though, the significance of writing these stories. I know that you understand what it means to read them, but do you know that when I finish one of these essays I feel as if someone has taken a very blunt stick to my chest and ripped until the insides lay exposed in their entirety at my feet? As painful as these stories are, though, I do enjoy sharing them with you. They are my therapy. They are my way of facing down my past, of owning up to who I am, and coming to terms with the fact that my experiences never leave me, that they only learn to sit quietly and behave until I tell them that they may come out and play. I know that when I write like this I cause you pause to think and consider and reflect. I hope that I also encourage you to be thankful for what you have in your life, to see others as they are without judgment, and to give, to give of your heart and of your time and of your soul.

Then there are the essays on my dreams. Do you really need to know about those? Why do I even share? My fear as I write is that you will think me weird. Perhaps, I think to myself, it doesn’t take one of these essays for you to think THAT. But, really, who tells everybody they know their most personal nighttime stories? Who DOES that? My fear, too, is that one of you has mad skills in interpreting these stories and will know the true me even better than I know the true me and will forget or neglect or just choose to never inform me of what that true me is and that it will be some incredibly personal, embarrassing thing that reveals a bit more than perhaps I should ever have revealed, but did so not even knowing and now it’s just far too late because everybody has read it and had their way with it. Then I question what dreams are exactly. Are they simply a rehashing of the day’s events, are they some deeply symbolic sort of wish fulfillment, or might they have some strange metaphysical predictive nature to them? Very possibly, at least to me, they represent a little of each. I might, I just decided, end this paragraph now. I feel I am not helping my case and am wondering what the “something of value” is that I am contributing with this one.

And, oh good Lord, the stories on panties and bras and cleavage and wild, raucous afternoon romps! I’d like to think these stories add value to your life by providing a breather from your daily doldrums, by bringing a conservative thrill, a fun and frilly dance on the slightly inappropriate side. But as one friend suggested, in a very snarky, sarcastic tongue, might I add, perhaps I am doing nothing more than “contributing to the well-being of society by flashing a bit of breast.” What?! That’s a BAD thing?!

Do I have to be serious ALL the time? Do I have to be reflective, moving, pensive, every minute I sit at the keyboard? Can’t I just sometimes let loose and verbally party on the frat house roof? Can’t I blow a few bubbles, sing at the table, dance on the bed? Can’t I get silly and playful with my words?

I am going back to school right now. You know this. I am forced to write once again in my serious voice. I am using verbs that mean business, verbs that think they are above the others, verbs that look down their noses at fling and sparkle and shimmy. I am using verbs like posit and concur and operationalize. I am not much a fan of writing in my all dressed up, suit and tie voice. I much more enjoy dancing across the screen in boas and pearls, flitting across the page blowing kisses and flinging seductive smiles. Can’t I just do that? Can’t I please? Tell me it makes you happy. Tell me it makes you laugh and smile and forget all that is wrong in your life. Tell me that I am adding value to your life. Tell that I am adding value to your day just by being the stinking sexy, happy, goofy girl that I am.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Up to My Elbows in Grasshoppers

(Joanne Cummings....Thank you so much for capturing with a photo the thoughts that were in my head.)

This is my statement of surrender, hands in the air, the white flag. Every good fight eventually comes to an end. I have worked all my life to make things happen, to plot a path, pave a trail, knock down walls. I have gone where no one thought I ever could. I am driven and determined, persevering and persistent. I have left not a thing to chance. I have crafted my life, created my story, and crowned myself queen of it. Well. I am done with that.

I was talking with a friend the other night. I told her that I am feeling wrong lately at the soul level. You would have to know me to know that I believe it is possible to be doing what looks to be everything right and still to feel wrong at the soul level. Some of the best moves in my life have been when I have been accomplishing wonderful things, but felt that I was going the wrong direction. When my children were little, I built a business selling lipstick and blush. I did so well that I began to teach other women to build businesses selling lipstick and blush. I was queen of customer service. I was queen of sales. My clients loved me. My team loved me. Other consultants cheered me on at weekly meetings. I earned pins and ribbons and dishes and totes. I nearly earned a car. My director began grooming me, training me for the day when I, too, would be a director. I was this close to going into qualification for car status and the right to wear the snazzy black blazer with the purple trim reserved only for those who have paid their dues in elbow grease, sweat, and cases of gentle cleansing formula, brow pencils, and holiday bronzers. I was this close, but a voice in my head pulled me back. This voice said, “You are doing a fabulous job, dear, but you are going the wrong direction.” This is when I applied for a master’s program in developmental psychology.

Well, I am getting that feeling again. I am getting the feeling that I am forcing things, that I am working to fit square pegs into round holes. I love what I do, yes. And, for fear of sounding arrogant, I feel that I am doing a fairly decent job. I am teaching. I am writing. I am back in school as student. I love it all, but is this where I am supposed to be? A full-time position came open last year in my department. My gut said, “No, do not apply. Do not. You don’t really want this. It is not for you.” My head said, “Yes, you fool. This is what part-timers do. They apply for full-time positions. Of course you want it.” But I didn’t. I didn’t want it. At least I don’t think I did. But if not that, then what? I am writing. I have a book, but I am not marketing that book. I say that I am, that I want to be an author, but mostly the words just sit on my computer looking at me like a puppy that wants to go out and play. I am going back to school, too, for my doctorate. I have always enjoyed learning. I have always known that I would get this degree. Except, with every discussion post I turn in, every paper I submit, I question why I am doing this. Do I enjoy the learning now? No. Am I feeling the thrill, the excitement, the passion that I have felt in the past? No. Then, why? I am feeling again, that I am working too hard to make things happen, things that perhaps are not supposed to happen. Am I doing a great job, but going the wrong direction?

I just got back from a walk in the woods. The meadow was thick with grasshoppers. They flung themselves at my arms. I tried very hard to focus on my meditative silence, to find that happy place in my mind, and to not look like a freaked out karate ninja master in this big empty field. Don’t get me wrong. I love nature. I just don’t love it on me. But as I walked, I began to see the answer to my life questions. I began to see the answer in the grasshoppers. I did not go searching for these critters and stick them to my arms. Neither did I contemplate whether they should be there. I simply walked. I turned my face to the sun, breathed in the sweet grasses, and took the meadow step by step. Well, life. I am doing the same with you. I am turning my face to the sun, breathing in the sweetness of the days, and taking you step by step. Fling at me what you will.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It's Not ABOUT Me

I am moving forward, but how do I know that forward isn’t taking me away from where I am supposed to go? How do I know that forward isn’t a tangent, a distraction, a she-devil in disguise? For my entire life I have known that I would go to school until I could add the letters PhD to the end of my name. For my entire life, that is, after I decided that indeed I would never be a great toe dancer and grace the stage with my incredible toe-dancing prowess. I even had the general direction, medicine or a similar field, set in my head. So, here I am, cracking the books at nearly fifty to pursue that piece of the person I first met as an acne-ridden teenager in Ms. Chapman’s biology class. I won’t call it a dream that I am pursuing. It was never a dream, a vision existing only in my head until that day I decided to act upon it enough to see it to reality. It was never a dream. It was always just a fact, like childbirth or wrinkles or menopause. Just as I was always left-handed, I also was always a doctor. Always.

Now that I am here, though, I can’t help wondering if this is really where I want to be? Is this really who I am? Was my fourteen-year-old self wise enough to know what she saw when she looked in that mirror? Was she confused, too hopeful? Was she simply acting out against a past she never wanted to meet up with again? Because, yes, becoming a doctor is my way of thumbing my nose to poverty, to hunger, to teachers who looked down their noses at a scrawny little cigarette-smelling mouse of a girl with too many questions, not enough compliance. Becoming a doctor is my way of getting as far the heck away from not having enough money for store-bought Valentine cards, field trips, or a hot tray lunch as I possibly can get. Becoming a doctor is my way of standing in front of all those people who made fun, who put down, who dismissed and saying, “Kiss my ass, world, for not believing in me. You had no idea the sass and gumption inside that little girl. No idea. And here I am. Here I am, where I am, so that I can serve YOU. Dismiss me NOW.”

The funny thing is, I no longer feel a need to prove. I no longer feel the need to show others that I am smart and capable and worthy. I know that I am smart and capable and worthy. That is enough. That is all that I need. I no longer feel the need to prove to myself that I will never again be in that place, that place of cold floors, dilapidated homes, that place of fear and humiliation. I no longer feel the need to prove to anyone that I am the same, that I, indeed, am the same as you.

So why, then, am I doing this? My time is limited, the work is hard, and I am no longer certain that I desire the end product.

Why am I doing it? I am doing it because of a teacher, a writer, and an entrepreneur.

It was that high school biology teacher who saw potential, who believed in me when others didn’t. She made sure that I was able to attend summer seminars offered at local universities. I was the nerd, yes, who studied genetics and contraception and tse tse flies when other kids were hanging around the community pool. I loved it. I loved every single second of it. Not only did this teacher make sure that I attended these seminars that my parents could never have paid for (and where the money came from, I have no idea), but she believed. She called me doctor. She put a thought into my head that a possibility existed, a possibility that, to this point, was beyond my grasp, beyond because as much as I desired to go to college, college was not an option for me. It was not an option because not only did my family have no money, but my father, through his dodging of paying his share of taxes, made applying for loans or grants impossible. This teacher, however, believed. And she let me know that she believed.

I am pursuing this goal, too, because of a quote, a simple line from a favorite author. Anne Lamott once said that “only one six-billionth of this is about you.” I am pursuing my degree because my life is not about me. My life is about what I have to offer others, what I was graced with, what I have a responsibility to give back. I have gifts and talents and skills that are not my own, that are not for me. I have a responsibility to use these, to use these for others. And I will.

I am doing this, too, because of the opportunity provided by a local entrepreneur. I am doing this because there was once a young girl who was smart and capable and worthy and who had a vision of herself as a doctor, a vision of herself helping others, putting herself out there to empower others to follow their callings, to better themselves, to become everything they were put here to be despite hardship, lack, or obstacle. I am doing this because a business owner had taken a liking to a man pouring sealant on his parking lot, a man who had a daughter of whom he was very proud. The man was proud because his daughter was smart and got good grades and wanted to go to college. She would be the first in the family to do this. He himself had quit school after tenth grade and wanted to give her this. He wanted to give her this, but he couldn’t. Still, he was proud. No, the man could not send his daughter to college. But the business owner could. And he did. He paid for the man’s daughter to attend her entire first year. He offered the opportunity, the foot in the door, for this child he had never met.

And, so, I will take that opportunity that I was given, and I will send it back into the world to provide the same for others, to move forward in love and compassion and giving. I will move forward, tangent or not, in order to say thank you to a man I will never meet.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

You Are Exactly Where You're Supposed to Be

What the heck does that even mean? I mean, I get it, but I’m not sure I totally buy it. I understand the concept. Life is one big cosmic plan, a melding of destiny, fate, free will, and tiny bits of synchronicity. As earthly travelers, we cross paths with those with whom we are meant to connect. We step into the right place at the right time to produce the right effect to send us down the right path. Along the way, we meet up with soul companions, those familiar faces from previous lifetimes. We touch base with these cosmic pals of ours to pass on pieces of learned wisdom, life experience, words of warning or love or guidance, or maybe just to say, “Hey! What’s up? How’s it going?” In the grand cosmic design, it is necessary for you to be HERE in order for you to later be THERE. But sometimes the HERE is not exactly my idea of a place anyone ever needs to be.

I am a little girl sitting on the neighbor’s front porch, listening to my mother and the other ladies chatting as they so often do. Up runs one of the neighbor boys, out of breath and flustered. He tells the ladies of a tragedy that has happened down at the river. The big boys were all playing in the water. It is a cool place on a blistering Southern day. They were laughing and splashing and getting wild like big boys do. One of the Arnold boys was on the shoulders of the other. I don’t understand the rest but I know that it’s bad because the ladies are all crying and have confused looks on their faces and are starting to run off to I don’t think they even know where. Something about “lost his footing,” “current,” “couldn’t get out in time.”

I know now, many years later, that a mother lost her child that day. I know now that, for this reason, my children have never been allowed to climb on the shoulders of anyone when they are in any source of water, ANY source. I know now that the boy who drowned that day never again sat at the dinner table with his family, never again caused teenage grief for his parents, never again picked fights with his brother as brothers are inclined to do. And what about that brother, the one who sat on his sibling’s shoulders as that boy fought to get his footing, struggled to come up out of that water, fought and struggled to no avail? What about that brother who sat that night alone with his parents at the dinner table? Was he exactly where he was supposed to be? Was he THERE so that now he could be HERE, wherever HERE is?

What about the woman I know who is mourning the loss of her grandson, a little guy who hadn’t even yet started school? What about the woman I know, the mother of three, whose husband cheated on her for years with a mutual friend? What about the childhood friend who sat in the backseat of the car while it was parked in front of the local bar and his parents sat screaming and yelling at each other up front, while they fought over the woman his father was there to meet, the woman his father had been sleeping with, cheating on his mother with, the woman, in fact, who was sitting in the car parked right next to theirs? What about the forty-year-old who lost her life to alcohol? What about her son and her daughter? What about all these people? Are THEY exactly where they are supposed to be?

I like to believe that everything happens for a reason and that, yes, we are all exactly where we need to be. I have to believe that. I have seen too much that would otherwise make my stomach lose its contents, make my head hurt from anger and confusion. I like to think that these dark experiences are gifts just as much as are the joyous events in our lives. Some of the most beautiful poetry I have ever read was written by a woman whose father had his way with her sexually from the time she was five until the day he killed himself upon her graduation from high school. I know, too, of a man who has a giving heart, who is gentle and kind and who lifts others up from the dregs of addiction. He has committed his career to helping those who aren’t always able to help themselves. He has committed his career to the lives of those consumed by drugs because he nearly lost his own to the same.

I like to believe that everything happens for a reason and that, yes, we are all exactly where we need to be. I like to believe that these dark experiences are gifts as much as are the joyous times in our lives. Sometimes, though, I am blind to the reason, I am blind to the gift.