Monday, January 27, 2014

Where Have You Been all My Life?


What is it about a challenge that invigorates me? I am and always have been that girl who, when presented with a “Bet you can’t,” stares down the speaker and replies simply, “Just you watch me.” The thrill of proving myself is victory beyond any that can be imagined. The product of the challenge is irrelevant. It is the accomplishment of that challenge that I get off on.

I have met many a dare or battle in my life. I have gone up in hot air balloons, moved in with a boyfriend, positioned myself as a sales leader, and completed a college degree despite overwhelming odds. Challenges have helped me to win things---watches, luggage, bowls, promotions and, nearly once, a car. Challenges have helped me to move a team forward, to learn things, to serve as leader, counselor, teacher. Challenges have brought me face to face with many I may never have met. In my head I know that, if I am to do this, I am to do it all the way. There is no “can’t.” There is no “it’ll do.” There is only “do” and “do it well.”

Until now, this need to prove, to move forward against opposition, to be everything everyone believes I cannot has been the motivation I have needed to get to where I have in my life. I have accomplished much in my fifty years. Among other things, I have broken a cycle, a cycle of hunger and home insecurity. That is no small feat. I have worked my way up the educational ladder. I have worked hard. I have struggled to give myself everything in my adult life that I did not have as a child. I have a home now, a home that is warm and full of comfort. It is mine, and I never have to leave until I decide that I would like. No landlord will tell me to get out. No bank will tell me to leave. I have a pantry and a fridge. They are both full of beautiful food. I can eat it all whenever I want. I can eat it all, and there will still be more. I am never hungry. I have cars that run and vacations to places other than Grandmother’s house. I wake each morning without a care in my head about how I will support my children in their own young lives. This competitive spirit has served me well. It has given me all that I missed in my earlier years.

It has given me everything, that is, except for love.

I cannot say that I was not loved. That is not the case at all. I knew in my head that my parents loved me. I knew. In my head. The words were never there. There were no hugs or kisses or arm around the shoulder. We were to be tough, to get over it, to buck up and deal. We were to be big girls, to not cry, to not want or need. Negative emotion, in our home, was acceptable. Anger. That was the norm. Anything else was weak or weird. I never had a doubt that my mother had my back. I never had a doubt that my father was proud of me. But neither of these is what I mean here when I speak of love.

When I say that I never had love, I mean that I never had that feeling that I was acceptable just as I am, that no matter what I achieved or didn’t I was still okay just because I existed. I never had that sense of being free to be exactly who I was when I came into this world. I always had to please, to be a good girl, to acquiesce.

Even now, despite everything I have given myself, everything I was missing earlier in my life, I have not found a way to give myself love. Still, I feel the need to prove. I feel the need to please. I feel the need be a good girl, to acquiesce. I am working on this. I am working on speaking out, on being who I am. I am working on surrounding myself with those who accept me and appreciate me just as I stand before them. For many, their concern is conditional. They love me IF. They love me IF I am as they wish me to be. They love me IF I do as they would like. I am searching now. I am searching for that love, that love that is pure and unconditional and warm and nurturing, that love that embraces me in a welcoming hug, that love that grabs my heart, looks me in the eye and says, “Hello, there, beautiful. WHERE have you BEEN? I have waited. I have waited so very long.”

Friday, January 24, 2014

Come, Let's Play


I was living my life at that point all suit and tie, pressed white shirt, business card in hand. Please the client. Please the boss. When do I ever please myself?

I was focused on the daily, the to-do, the ever-growing inbox. Meet the deadline. Push out product. For Christ’s sake, just get the job done. In my busy-ness to look good in the eyes of others, however, I had failed to consider the eyes with which I was born.

My world at that point consisted of book bags and baseball cleats, lacrosse sticks and running shorts, gym bags, permission slips, and fundraiser after godforsaken fundraiser. Get them fed; get them dressed; get them out the door. Feed their bellies, feed their brains, feed their fragile self-esteem.

Never mind the spouse, the breadwinner, the partner to whom I had pledged my life. That is another set of business altogether.

Why did I do this? Why did I approach my world as if it were a business, a corporation in need of management and design? I rose to the top, moved up that ladder, clawed my way up every rung. I immersed myself, rolled up my shirtsleeves and got to the business at hand. I ran a tight ship. Left no stone unturned. Kicked some major ass. I took the challenge, and I ran with it. I ran until I could run no more. This was a picture I had worked to create, had wanted all my days. And here I was, smack in the middle of my design. My family, my work, my education, my home. All were my life, yes, but they were a business nonetheless.

Then one day I take a breath. I take a breath, and I look around. I love this life. I love it all. But something is not as it should be. I have not, as I find, turned every stone. I have not attended to all. I have left one hungry. I have left her unfed, unloved, crying in her room, waiting, waiting her turn at my heart.

I look to the side and there I see a little girl with mud on her face, rocks in her hands, creating pastries out of sticks and dirt. “Come play,” she says. I turn my head and pretend that I don’t see. I look again to check that she is gone. She stands now in her tutu and tights, flinging smiles, dancing for the crowd. “Come play,” she says. “Not today,” I tell her. “Not today.” It is always not today. It is never time for play. My life is business. My life is carpools and schedules and babies and chores. It is not finger paints on clean white walls, sandcastles in the sun. It is not hair loose and free, flying in the wind, spinning circles with arms stretched wide. It is not. And yet the little girl inside of me begs, begs to play, to dance, to laugh and create. She begs, and still I turn her away.

Have I forgotten? Have I forgotten how to let go and live? Have I forgotten the feel of green grass between bare toes, snowflakes on the tongue? Have I forgotten the simple joy of singing for no reason other than the song is in my heart? Do I have a song? Do I have a song inside my heart?

I am ready now for her to come out. I am ready now to play. I want her to show me again how to make jewels out of clover and angels in the snow. I want to roll down hills until I am so dizzy I can no longer stand. I want to sit with her and play clapping games with funny rhymes and talk about boys we have liked and notes that we have passed. I have missed her. I have missed this friend of mine. I have been too serious in my life. I have been too serious for much too long. I am ready now. I am ready now to play.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Life as a Journal


I have not journaled in forever. Seems I always feel the need to pretty up my words and parade them in front of people, dress them in their Sunday best and show them off to Grandma. I am always eager for that nod of approval that, yes, I am doing a wonderful job and have raised them well. Well, like the pimply teen at that first school dance, I am enticed now by the thought of stepping out onto the dance floor and giving it what I’ve got, moving, feeling, exploring with no expectation, with just the freedom of letting loose. So, patience please while I kick off these shoes, change into my favorite old tee and worn out jeans, and throw my hair up in a ponytail. Let’s give this journaling a shot.

I am at a good place right now. I say right now because two weeks ago I was not at a good place. Two weeks ago I was stressed and anxious and questioning my abilities and decisions. Two weeks ago I had stepped into the classroom as someone else. I am substituting for an instructor who is out for six weeks on medical leave. I have done this before. I was a substitute teacher during and after college for everything from kindergarten through senior year of high school. I have taught fractions, sung the Dreidel song, colored in maps of the world, and overseen band practice. Understand that math and I are not friends. Neither do I sing, play an instrument, or have any great knowledge of geography. But I did it. I have also substituted at the college level. An instructor was in the hospital unexpectedly. I picked up and covered for him without thought or great effort. This time, however, this time is different.

For six weeks I am to be someone who I am not. At least this is how I came into the job. I stepped into the classroom as someone else, trying to BE that someone else. This was not my class. This was not my material. And this was not me. I tried hard. I put on my best smile, threw up the PowerPoints, and took the stage. I felt the lie. I felt the lie every second I was in that room. I did the job, yes, but I did not like it. Understand I love what I do. For me to say to myself that I do not like my job is like hearing a foreign language I do not speak. I could not comprehend how it could be. I could not comprehend why it was not as it should be. I could not comprehend if I was doing everything that I do in my own classes how it could be that it did not feel the same.

Then I remembered something a student said to me once. He said, “You could teach the most wretched subject, and somehow you would find a way to put your Tammie twist on it.”

How many times do we take the stage as someone else? We put on our best smiles, throw the material up on the screen, and out comes the voice of another. How many times do we deny those around us the person we are because we feel it somehow unacceptable or inappropriate? How many times do we pretty ourselves up and parade our fakeness in front of our family, our friends, those with whom we work, just looking for that nod of approval? How many times do we not put our own unique twist on something because we are afraid of how it will be received?

I am coming through this challenge as myself. It has not been an easy transition. I thought that I was simply stepping in for another. What I was doing was signing up for a lesson in getting real. What I was doing was getting back to the live version of journaling, being who I am when no one else is watching. I am learning that I best serve others when I am me, the REAL me, not the prettied up me. The REAL me is bare feet and a sleeveless tee, snug fitting jeans, hair wild and free. The real me is an easy smile and a friendly word, a little soft music and a bottle of tea. The real me is fun and free and giving. The real me loves others and loves life. Why would I not BE that?

Two weeks ago I was stressed. I was stressed and anxious and miserable with my life. Today I am free. I am free because I am being who I was put here to be.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Once Upon a Time


If your life were a book, how would it read? Who are the villains? Who are the heroes? Who are those interesting, quirky characters that every good book has? What about plot? What are the obstacles you have had to overcome? The small joys you have encountered along the way? How about the title? How would that read? How would the chapters be arranged? If the book were made into a movie, at what point could we get up and go for popcorn without missing any exciting parts?

Would your story be a movie worth watching? Would YOU pay to see it?

What about editing? Are there any parts you would like to rewrite? Heavily? Do those work with the rest of the story? Do they build character? Or are they just sort of there? Did they never fully develop quite as you expected they would? Are you glad about that? Or not? Is there anything you would like to add to your story? Are there any sections you would like to flesh out?

Once upon a time. Where would I find your story if I wandered my local bookstore? If I pulled it from the shelf, would I sit with it a bit? Order a latte, perhaps? Would I plunk down some change and take it home? Or would I leave it for the clerks to clear along with the napkins and dirty dishes? If I did take it home, would I quickly lose interest in other stories I had started? Would I lose sleep reading late into the night? Would I pass the book onto a friend with rave review?

Have you taken an active role in penning your tale? Or are you making use of the ghostwriter technique? Do you actively plot your chapters or just wing it, hoping for the best? Do you show up at the computer day after day, butt in chair, fingers to keys, or do you wander idly, just waiting for your muse to show? Do you KNOW your muse? Are you on speaking terms?

When the credits roll at the end of the movie, are you sitting on the edge of your seat already awaiting the sequel? Or are you arguing with management demanding your money back? Was it an afternoon well spent? Or two hours down the drain? Would you see it again? How many times? How would rank it? One of your top picks? Or have you seen better?

What are the scenes you remember? Which pop to the front when you look back at your life? Which do you replay over and over? Do you replay them because they were great? Or because they totally sucked? Of all the scenes, which one is your favorite? Which characters do you like? Which do you not? If you could choose an alternate ending, would you? Why?

Does your story have everything a good story should have? Is there a conflict, a climax, a back-story that kicks absolute ass? Does the girl go after the guy? Does he break her heart? Do they finally get together in the end? Does our protagonist nearly lose out on all for which she has worked so hard? Is there a really cool chase scene? Does somebody not get something he wants and was sort of expecting, but somebody else gets something wonderful and completely unexpected? Do we cry? Do we laugh? Do we curse and spit and hold our breath in anticipation? Do we clutch our hearts and let out a sigh? Or do we yawn and check the time and wonder when the show will end?

Allow me, if you will, to lead you in an exercise. What if your story began right now? What if this were page one? What if this were the first paragraph of the first chapter of YOUR book? What then? How would it read? How would the plot of your life develop? How would the characters change and grow? How would you bring it all together in the end? How would you write the very beginning of the ending of your book? Do this. Grab your coffee, pick up a pen, and put down those first few lines of the rest of your life. Begin simply…Once upon a time.....

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

An End to the Darkness.


I thought once about ending my life. Once. You should know that I have never shared this. With anyone. It was a lonely time for me, a dark time. Life was hard. I was not certain that the effort was worth the exhaustion, worth the frustration, worth the tears. I was twenty-two. I had never done drugs or messed with alcohol in high school. I was not much into the boys. Everything that was wrong about my life stemmed from drugs, alcohol, boys. I was not interested in repeating the cycle of teen pregnancy, hunger, poverty, unemployment, and home insecurity in which I had grown. I wanted things. I wanted to live in a home for more than one year at a time. I wanted food, good food. Every night. I wanted a neighborhood and a profession and water that was never shut off. I wanted my future children to have parents that didn’t yell, didn’t throw fists, didn’t put holes in walls or take knives to car seats when they were angry at each other. I wanted to not spend the rest of my life chewing my nails to nubs, feeling sick to my stomach, or going to bed crying because of the anxiety, the stress of living in an environment that was unpredictable, explosive, and crushing to the soul. I wanted things. I was doing my best to make those things happen. But it was hard. I had one friend, one friend only, no other support, no model to follow, no path cleared. It was me. Just me. And one FUCKING obstacle after the other. It is easiest sometimes, when a thing gets difficult, to quit.

That is the point at which I found myself. I wanted to matter, to make a difference, to break that cycle. I wanted to live a life I could see in my head, a life I knew I was capable of building and, yet, for the life of me I could not make that happen. I could not see an end to the darkness. I came to believe that maybe I was not as worthy or deserving of that life as I had thought, not as capable as I had imagined. I was tired. I was tired of trying so hard, trying so hard just to live. And so I imagined what it might be like to end the darkness, to end my life.

I imagined how I might do it. I plotted the how, the why, the when. I got specific in my head. I pictured what the life I left behind would look like. Then from someplace I am uncertain there came a point when I realized that I was not living for myself, I was living for others, for the others I would impact along my journey. I was not going to school, earning that degree, breaking a cycle, struggling to keep my head above the proverbial water for myself, but for my future children, future students, friends, for the future me who would someday walk into my life. I was not living to accomplish, to achieve, but to impact, empower, to move others forward in THEIR lives. The struggle, the journey, was NOT for ME. How, then, could I consider ending a life that was not my own? How could I take MY life when it meant taking OTHERS?

I have been told I am too wrapped up in myself, too much about me. People are free to think what they do. What is it to me? I know that I am here for YOU. I know that I am here to lift you, to move you forward, to play the role that I am here to play in YOUR journey. If I flit about the stage in my boas and pearls, flinging hugs, blowing kisses, taking the occasional bow, if I make it SEEM that it is all about ME in order to make you smile, to make you laugh, to make you forget for one second about your troubles or pain, then so be it. I have done my job. I am not here for me. I am here for YOU. I am here to entertain, to inspire, to love. I know this. I know this because of that night at my kitchen table, sitting alone in the dark in that two-bedroom apartment, sitting alone contemplating ending my life. Others can think what they do. As for me, I know that I live because of what I am here to do for YOU.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Glitter and Butterflies


Despite what I said about being okay with who I am, with loving myself unconditionally, with going easy on this tired old soul, I am feeling the need for some turn-of-the-year resolutions. Typically, this list would include gym memberships, diet plans, and an ungodly number of bags set aside for Goodwill, the neighbor girl, the animal shelter down the road. This year, I won’t be doing any of that. I won’t be committing to that which is more for others than myself. I have never been a gym person. The thought of walking on a treadmill for an hour while staring at a wall, a window, a screen is enough to make me want to keel over on the spot. I prefer the woods, the birds, grasshoppers and turkey vultures. I prefer a nice breeze and the warm sun on my bare shoulders. Indeed, I won’t be committing to whittling inches from my waist. This year, my resolutions are for my soul.

A friend once asked, “What are the glitter and butterflies in your life?” I was having a down time. I had lost my happy. I had forgotten the joy that is usually me. It was a draining time full of obstacles and misfortune. The Universe had sat on me, twisted my arm, and was not letting me up until I called, “Uncle.” My friend asked simply, “What are the glitter and butterflies in your life? You need to do more of that.” Before I could answer, she had spoken for me, “They are laughter, romance, flowers, art, food, music and words.” She knew me well. She knows me still. This year, these are my resolutions. I am going to do my darnedest to bring more of these things into my life, to laugh, to write, to read and sing and play, to eat beautiful food in beautiful places, to fill my life with things are pretty to the eyes, pretty to the ears, and absolutely gorgeous to the soul.

Yoga.

I am going to add yoga. Unlike other exercise, yoga calms me, centers me, soothes my soul. I have never understood the frantic, fast-paced, feel-the-burn sort of workout that is so loved by some. I seem to be able to manage that sort of energy on my own. I have always been a nervous sort. I have always operated on high speed, jumping from here to there in the blink of an eye, doing eighty things at once, mind turning a thought, turning many thoughts, too many thoughts, over and over and over. I am like an Energizer Bunny who has no need of batteries to maintain her manic state. What I DO need is someONE or someTHING to come to me, look at me, take me by the shoulders, and tell me, “Tammie, you are becoming a freaking lunatic. Take a breath.” What I need is yoga.

My current course of study toward my doctoral degree is a computer course, a computer course in a psychology program. I am not happy about this. Computers are NOT my glitter OR my butterflies. Computers are NOT the way my brain works. My brain flits about the stage in its tutu and tights blowing kisses, smiling for the camera, and flinging feathers and pixie dust. My brain is not a fan of sitting its backend in a chair with a “Listen HERE, young lady. There is a time for work, and there is a time for play, and THIS is a time for work.” My brain is not the nerd in the taped up glasses. My brain is the seventh grade art teacher wearing the flowing skirt and the bangle earrings that she made herself out of beads and wire and clay. My brain will not be happy in pressed plaid shirt and pocket protector. My brain will need to breathe. My brain will need yoga.

Don’t get me wrong. I can do things that are serious. I can do things that I have to do in order to get to where I need to be. I can push forward, hurdle obstacles, and persevere in the face of a challenge, but why should this be my matter of course? Why should I subject myself to a life that is not my own, to a life that pleases others more than it pleases me? And yes, I DO love myself, I AM okay with who I am, but there ARE improvements I need to make. But, no longer will I push the needs of my soul to the back of the to-do pile in order to look, think, or act acceptable in the eyes of others, in order to measure up to some societal standard, in order to please, placate, pacify. No longer will I feel pressure to drag my booty and my gym bag to a sweat-stinking locker room when there is a field and a woods and a sky full of blue just sitting there waiting, just waiting for ME.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Lady in the Yellow Galoshes


You know how sometimes you take a photograph of yourself and a friend at the park and there is that one random person in the background sitting on a bench eating a hot dog and reading the last chapter of some trashy romance? Writing is sort of like that. One minute, I am just sitting at my computer relating a story about chatting up a former student in a coffee shop, then out darts some woman in a floor length yellow rain slicker, rushing her way through the parking lot.

What is HER story? There is no rain. The day is full sun. Is she dressed underneath that protection from the nonexistent elements? Is she preparing for something of which no one else is privy? Just like the steamy romance reader on that park bench, I will never know for certain the details of her life. But there she is, for that brief second, her story intersecting with mine.

Many characters that pop into my essays are nothing more than the movie equivalent of extras, nameless faces in a crowd. Like the guy in the purple pajamas. Was he late getting his kids to school? Did he run out of the house before he was fully ready? Does he don fleecy bottoms as a matter of course? How about the overzealous Taco Bell employee? Everything marked, everything in its place, dramatic cheesy smile and “Have a GREAT day, LADIES!” Why is he so happy about packing burritos? Did he just get promoted to day shift manager? Is he current winner of Employee of the Month? And what about the guy crossing my path on the sidewalk, the one who shoots me a look, a tip of the head, and a “’Sup baby, how YOU be?” I’m guessing that’s not a story I care to know.

While these people make only a tiny appearance here and there, however, many others play a major role. What of my supporting cast? What of the villains, the sidekicks, the family, the gang? These stories weave prominently through my own, and yet am I allowed to share?

Can I write so freely of sister, husband, antagonist, friend? Can I speak of the one who figuratively held my hand while I lost my shit, while I sat blubbering like a drunken fool over something which I cannot speak, something secret, something riding the line a bit too closely between not quite respectable and downright scandalous? Can I write of playing doctor in the backyard with the childhood friend who was more a brother than a friend, me as patient, he as five-year-old physician, peeking inside my day-of-the-week underpants to provide a thorough examination in order to prescribe the best “treatment?” What about that frat party and that guy in the sparring costume and that closet? Can I write about that? At what point does MY story become HIS story?

This is what I’ve come to. It is impossible for me to share my life with you without giving you peeks into paragraphs, chapters, or entire passages of the stories of others. My life does not exist independent of these characters. My life does not exist independent of you. In addition to the lights, the tall buildings, the snow, Times Square, I MUST include in my description of my very first visit to New York City the very good friends with whom we had driven up for the day, the short and pudgy Hispanic vendor who sold me the fuzzy white earmuffs, and the faceless stranger who lifted in one swoop a very pregnant me from the center of an intersection in which I had slipped on an ice patch and fallen on my ass. Likewise, I cannot relate to you what it feels like to lose a friend, I cannot talk to you about that soccer tournament, the accident, the phone call, without showing you the tears of a sorority sister, a sorority sister who thought she had met the one with whom she would spend her life. I cannot speak to you of death without telling you of this guy, the first person I had ever known from Canada, the guy who made me laugh with his funny ways, who taught me how to use a piece of paper until it couldn’t possibly be used any more, who smiled at me and chuckled to himself as I struggled to decipher the true meaning of the term ménage à trois, this guy, the one I would never see again. I can’t share my life with you without sharing the lives of others.

Which brings me to a question. In what stories have I played friend, family, villain, or guide? Was it an interesting read? Was I written out? In what stories have I popped in for just a bit to spice things up, to keep things lively, to play Lady in the Yellow Galoshes?

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cherry Picker


My dad got this idea in his head that he could make a dollar picking cherries in some place called Michigan. I had never heard of Michigan and had no idea what it was. For a five-year-old who had never much been out of Jackson, it was the farthest thing from Tennessee I could imagine. I had no reason to be excited about going. I had no reason to want to not. I knew either way I would be piled in the car along with my mom and sisters to go wherever it was my dad had decided to go. Our clothes in a trash bag, a loaf of bread, pack of bologna, and some mustard to get us by, and a Folger’s can in which to pee, my mom piled the three of us girls into the backseat of the rusted up Ford. This wasn’t the first of my dad’s money making schemes and it sure as heck wouldn’t be the last.

I was too young at this point to know to be embarrassed, but I would grow to understand what people thought of people like us.

I missed the bus once in third grade. My dad threw me into his of-the-moment company car. For longer than I care to remember we chased down the big yellow bus in a vehicle topped by a giant termite. He was an Orkin man. For a second. He was also a car salesman, a fry cook, a landscape guy, tree doctor. These were his regular jobs. His REAL jobs. I could add hustling pool to the resume. Begging a dollar. Truck driving. Long bouts of doing much of nothing. It was during those dry times that my mom picked cotton, did other people’s ironing, and gathered Coke bottles from the side of the road to buy us milk, potatoes, and a few bags of beans. One particular summer, my front yard was packed with children I had never seen before and would never see again, children whose parents paid my mother to watch them while they worked.

Self-employed. That’s what I listed on all those school forms when asked about my dad’s career, his position in that career. There really is no way to say “Cherry picker. For now. Parking lot asphalt sealer tomorrow. By the end of the year, selling pots and pans at in-home parties.” He couldn’t keep a job for the life of him. Nor did he have any desire to.

I know at this point I could play the pity card. I never knew the reality of the terms “steady income,” “security,” “stability,” or “weekly grocery shopping.” I knew “scrounging for a dollar,” “knocking doors,” and “can’t get ahead for tryin’.” I knew cold and hungry and moving without any notice. I recently reconnected with someone who knew me as a child. He was upset that we were such good friends and yet I had failed to let him know that I was changing schools. I had failed to let him know because I didn’t know myself. I stepped off the bus and was told to pack my things. This was my life. I could, if I chose, play the pity card.

But I won’t.

I began teaching not long ago in a community that consisted of a large population of migrant workers, migrant worker in this case being a prettied up term for uneducated berry picker. Many of my students’ parents had not completed high school. The families slept piled together with other families in quarters not fit for living, spending their days in the hot sun working hard to earn whatever they could. Barely getting by. Thankful to have a job. I stood before these students in my professional dress, warm and comfortable, financially secure. I stood before them as mentor, guide. I stood before them as professor, professor in this case being a prettied up term for educated berry picker.

I could play the pity card, yes, but I won’t. I was moved to help those students, those students that others had dismissed and looked down on. I was moved to help them because of the past that I had had. I was moved. I was moved because of the memory of those icy concrete floors, the cots, the faces I didn’t know, children and parents from strange places all there for the same reason, to make a dollar in order to eat, to make a dollar in order to survive. I was moved to help those students because of the memory of the embarrassment, the hunger, the moving from place to place. I was moved to help them because of that summer, that one summer spent picking cherries in Michigan.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ringing in the New Year


I’m ringing in the New Year in some hotel in the middle of Texas. My big New Year’s Eve celebration consisted of doing a week’s worth of road trip laundry for a family of six and playing board games from a sleeper sofa while enjoying my two complimentary drinks from the Manager’s Reception and polishing off the bottle of bubbly we picked up from the Target around the corner. We do this every year, my family and I. We have for about the past sixteen years. We lock ourselves together in the car with nothing more than a couple bags each, a loose idea of where we may be headed, and a stack of AAA road maps. I sit writing this with my laptop perched on a vanity counter, charger strung across the sink. My daughter’s toothbrush, my pretty pink gift with purchase cosmetic bag, and my big fat movie star make-up brush provide the backdrop for the essay developing in my head. My New Year’s resolution is to write, dammit, regardless the obstacles in my way. If this means pounding away at the keyboard while my family packs their bags and readies themselves for the next leg of the trip, then so be it.

I have committed to three hundred words a day.

This sounds like nothing, but believe me it is no small feat. I have participated in writing challenges in the past. The pattern is always the same. Start off strong. Finish miserably midway through. Curse myself. Vow to never make a commitment of any type ever again.

Excuses.

This is what always stops me. I don’t have the time. My schedule is full. An emergency came up. I have work to get in, work that pays, work that pays money. I don’t have the skill, the talent, the ability. I’m not as great as what I think. I don’t have the audience, the interest. I just don’t care, don’t feel like it, am not on speaking terms with my muse. I’d rather read, sit in the sun, have coffee with a friend, take a walk in the woods. I’d rather do homework, do laundry, do lunch. I’d rather do anything but sit my backend down, sit my backend down and write.

I could make excuses. I could make excuses now.

I have moved my essay from vanity to car. I sit crammed into my husband’s Yukon with him and my four kids. I say kids, but at this point in their lives they are adults, adults and one teenager. That seems wrong to me. I am beginning to understand the mothers who reminisce with, “Just yesterday she was standing on the chair at the kitchen sink in her tutu and cleats washing the mud from her soccer ball.” I am also beginning to understand the mothers who profess, “No matter how old you are, you will always be my baby.” I was chatting up a seventy-some year-old man once who was talking about visiting his mother. Good Lord, I thought. Will I someday be Mom to an elderly man?

I will not use these people as my scapegoats. I will not use them as the excuse for not doing what I am here to do.

If anything they provide me a rich source of material.

I could glamorize these family trips if I chose, but the truth is that the best of memories are those that have nothing to do with the destination of the journey. Yes, we have walked beaches, climbed mountains, enjoyed spectacular waterfalls, and photographed caves, countryside, and canyons. We’ve trekked major metropolitan sidewalks, poking through upscale urban boutiques as well as artsy funky small town shops. We’ve picked up postcards and visited little hole-in-the-wall bookstores at many of the major tourist areas in addition to a number of quaint little off-the-map spots as well. The best memories, however, have been those unexpected, day-to-day events that could have happened anywhere at any time.

“Remember when John threw up in front of the pink flamingo?” “Remember when I got sick in the van, and you had to clean me up in the men’s room?” “Remember the New Year’s Eve we couldn’t find a hotel and thought we were going to have to sleep in the car?” “Remember when Steven almost fell into the Grand Canyon?” “Remember the boys jumping over those trash cans in that park at Niagara Falls?” “Remember when that bird landed on your head at that winery in Napa?” “Remember when everybody saw a moose but Kate?” “Remember the Alamo and the wedding and how everybody was still really bored?” “Remember taking my picture on that giant bull?”

We’re exploring Waco now. Not that Waco needs exploring, but we’re here and what else do we have to do? And from my perspective out the passenger window, I couldn’t glam this up if I tried. But I have my family beside me, an essay before me, and sun all around. Writing challenge or not, I’d say it’s a pretty darned good way start off a brand new year.