I have a hard time with all the “inspirational” stories on social media these days. Today I found stories about: a little girl learning to walk with an artificial leg, a teen with Down’s Syndrome who is rounding the interwebz as this week’s most beautiful person, Alicia Keys’ #nomakeup movement, women breastfeeding in public, an ex-Army Ranger who is slowly rehabbing after severe injuries from an IED… I could go on.
Do I sound like a heartless bitch yet? I know. I feel like an awful human being because I’m sure that for every one of these stories there are real human beings who are only trying to be the best version of themselves. That is a good thing. But inspirational? On a deep and meaningful level?
Overcoming great odds inspires me. But a little girl with an artificial leg? I can’t quite stretch to inspirational for that one. Of course a girl who loses a leg is going to wear an artificial leg and learn to walk on it. Do you look at a lizard or starfish and call it an inspiration when it grows a new tail or leg after losing one? Nope. It’s just what happens. Living beings adapt to their circumstances. If they don’t, they are forever hampered. Maybe the little girl will learn to run SUPER fast. Or dance with her fancy, shiny leg; perhaps even gracefully. Or maybe she’ll learn to jump rope or play hopscotch. Those are all amazing for her, personally. I’m sure her parents are relieved that she won’t be permanently and wholey limited by her physical other-ness. And I’m glad for them that they have that sense of relief. But are they somehow super-humanly strong or tenacious because they – by accident, fate, or some other circumstance – had to face something they never thought they would? That none of us would rather.
I don’t think they are. I’m happy for them, but they don’t inspire me.
Why? Life is one long challenge, for every single one of us. If I hold one challenge (Down’s Syndrome) up as more admirable to overcome than another (Club foot) what am I saying to the kid growing up with trouble walking “normally?” Sorry, kid. Your disability isn’t “cool” enough. (P.S. Your parents should have had the money to spring for medical treatment so you wouldn’t walk so weird.)
Everyone has their own challenges. Some of them are invisible and private, others are impossible to hide. Instead of ranking them in ways that just end up as judgey, what if we encouraged everyone we meet to be their best? Actually, no. How about if we EXPECT the best out of everyone, instead?
That would be so nice…….
And just in case you’ve gotten all the way down here to the end and still think I’m a heartless bitch. Well, that’s your perogative. But in my defense, I am the consummate cheerleader. This means in every challenging situation, my nearest and dearest always count on me to be on their sideline cheering them on loudly and in probably an inappropriately boisterous manner. So I’ve got that going for me 🙂
Dear family of mine,
As I prepare to journey back to the East Coast for my stint as a full-time Grammy, I realized there are a few things you should know.
First of all, Rachel: I love you dearly. I loved the idea of you before you were a you. The days since have shown me that the love of a mother before her child is born is nothing compared to the loving that swells every day after. You will learn this soon enough.
Secondly, Dan: That you love our Rachel so well makes you A-Okay in my book. But, thankfully it doesn’t stop there. I’m lucky to have your stand-alone friendship and I can’t imagine life without your silly puns and fantastical moustache. You’re a damn good guy. Period.
Third: I cannot wait for the day you two make me a Grammy! However, I haven’t spent a second wishing or wanting for this baby to be any one person. For some very specific reasons. To start with, every new person deserves to become who they are uncorrupted by anyone else’s expectations. I certainly can’t ignore that fact. Even more, though, I am so excited to see who this person is and how its parents’ features (both physical and personality) mix together to create it. Will it have curly hair? A Kunzle chin? Looooong fingers?? Will it be stubborn? A book worm? A wild child? Guh!! I can barely contain my excitement!
But there are a few things we need to get straight before that day comes. Just in case you haven’t already figured it out…
I plan to be an Utterly Impractical Grammy.
Now, if you find yourself thinking, Whaa…? You should be ashamed of yourself. You obviously think I might be a totally different person when I become the third generation in our family. Your kneejerk reaction should be: Well, of course you are (with an accompanying eye roll). Just in case, I thought I’d announce my intentions before anyone goes having any absurd expectations.
So, without further adieu, here are a few things you should expect as your baby grows into whoever s/he will be:
1. Things are gonna get a little bit loud. Impractical Grammy doesn’t care if we scream or sing or talk too loud. We’re just exercising our lungs. We’re probably clanking pots and pans, too. There will likely be quiet times, too, but they will be momentary at best.
2. Messes will definitely be made. If I’m honest, I will admit that messes will probably be the norm. Paint, playdough, ooblik? All nontoxic, but messy and more fun than we could ever have otherwise.
3. That’s gonna leave a mark. Clothes will be ruined: by paint, mud, some sciencey something or other I ordered on the internet. So, do not send your child(ren) to this Grammy’s house in their Sunday best. You’re only going to end up mad about it. And then I will have to remind you that we already discussed this very situation…
4. Homework will go undone. I will likely forget there’s homework to be done in the first place. However, even on the odd day I can rely on my memory, there’s probably going to be a book to read or trail that needs walking much more than the damn homework needs doing.
5. Crazy ideas will be discussed… as though they are the most reasonable ideas in the world. Imaginations will be honed, sharpened, ripened (pick your favorite) at Grammy’s house and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. BE PREPARED!
6. Arguments will be had. But they will be made up again, too. Life isn’t all fun and games. Sometimes a kid has to wholeheartedly (toss in loudly here, too) disagree with the people s/he loves most in the world. Loud and boisterous arguments will always be welcome at this Grammy’s place. Meanness, however, will not be tolerated.
In other words, don’t expect me to suddenly become this alien, other person just because you’ve gone and had a baby… 🙂
P.S. This list is a decent start on things, I think. However, I reserve the right to revisit and revise it at any time in the future. I probably forgot something that needs specific attention. But don’t worry. I will love that little-little more than any other Grammy could love it. That will always be my priority more than sending her/him back home to you with clean clothes and without a scratch.
Love, Mama (AKA Becky-in-law and Grammy-to-be)
Americans make a big deal about independence. Of course we do, our founding document has the word right there in its title. But American feminists, even more so. Independence is this thing that we all seem to look on as the ultimate in personhood. But I question the wisdom of this idea of independence at all cost.
The day my mom had a stroke I learned what it’s like to be enfolded in the supportive embrace of one small part of the Black American community. Two of mom’s dearest, closest, best friends – Dee and Brenda – are of African descent. They both flew (metaphorically speaking) to the hospital as soon as they heard my mom was there. We three mostly just sat around and kept the patient company – the stroke left little damage other than a bit of trouble with word recall – and tried to convince her that an overnight stay was not a bad idea. That my mom is a stubborn lady goes without saying.
When visiting hours ended, Brenda and Dee suggested we go for dinner. That’s when the magic happened. These ladies are incredibly openhearted and we sat for a delicious and long dinner talking about my mom’s strength, my fears, all of our fears, all of our strengths, loving each other, helping each other… Not to mention the stories that were told around that table. I depended on those two ladies to make the situation okay, in my heart-space and in my brain-space, that night.
Black American women have an interesting relationship with dependence vs. independence, I think,* because poverty, or living on the bare edge of it, makes you dependent on help from friends and strangers sometimes just to put food in your mouth. That’s a mean place to be, given the wrong mindset. Black women, the one’s I’ve been fortunate enough to know, make helping each other such an essential, natural part of community and friendship, though, that it’s impossible to tease it apart from the rest. You may as well tell a woman to stop breathing. That I was privy to such natural help changed the day my mom had a stroke from incredibly scary to manageable.
Mothers and daughters have this indescribable something between them. When faced with the first real demonstration that one day that relationship will change forever, it’s a heavy thing to accept. I’m lucky I didn’t have to do it alone. I had these two very special ladies to help me.
That’s the first time I questioned my need for independence.
Here’s the thing: I looked it up and Merriam Webster told me that dependence is the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else. Here I’d been operating under the misconception that the very reliance associated with dependence goes hand in hand with control. Not so?
Since that time a few years ago, I’ve become financially dependent on my fiance. The thoughts of controlled by him pop up in my psyche every now and then, but I’m always able to talk myself down off that ledge. We have a partnership, he and I. [Insert cheeky remark about me being the brains and him the brawn] Honestly, though, we naturally separate when it comes to our priorities in the relationship: His biggest concerns are taking care of us physically, financially, while mine are taking care of us emotionally, mentally. Only one of those concerns requires money, and the job that brings it.
I have an ulterior motive, too, though. Because of Steve, I am able to stay at home, keep the dogs company, run household errands, and write. I have this unrelenting desire to write for a living. The issue with that is the for a living part takes a while to get going. It’s a slow process…
…But I am making progress. Maybe one day my earnings as a writer will exceed Steve’s earnings. It’s not probably in today’s readers market, but it’s not altogether impossible. Either way, our relationship works, just as it exists. Plus, we’ve weathered a couple of life-altering storms over the past five years. We adapt.
But what, again, about that dependence thing? I’m going to say it right here, right now. I am BOLDLY dependent on my man. Forever it’s been anti-feminist to be dependent on a man, right? That’s the only reason I have to add the boldly part. If I’m going to go against the grain, I damn well better be bold about it, right? Yes. That’s right.
To end this post, I’d like to dedicate it to those wonderful ladies: Dee Sewell and Brenda Whitehurst. Thank you both for bringing me through that night. Even more, thank you for showing me that bold has many faces. I am forever in your debt.
*I am a white woman, so I can only describe how I see the Black American community from the outside in. Please excuse whatever misinterpretations that might come from that fact. Feel free, though, to correct me in the comments if my ignorance is crude or leads to blatantly wrong assumptions. I only know what I know from my personal experiences.
Once I was in a delicious little town in Louisiana call LaFayette. The place was delicious because I adore green places; especially those with hanging mosses. The food was delicious because… Let’s just say if you’ve never eaten foods doused in creole sauce you’ve never really eaten. The people were also delicious in that they were kind and generous and oh, so laid back. Plus their accent made me wish I’d been born a Cajun lady instead of the Northeasterner that I am.
The best part about traveling is getting to know the cumulative quirks of the local culture and appreciating them for what they are: those little things that makes a place its own self. At that time I was traveling around the country teaching doctors to use an application called Dragon Medical to dictate medical notes into their patients’ health records. LaFayette is still the only place I ever trained where every single physician insisted on dictating the name of a sausage into their notes: Boudin.
Boudin is a cajun sausage which I’ve never seen outside of Louisiana. It’s so common down there I have no doubt there’s a McBoudin sandwich on every McDonald’s menu in the state. The name is pronounced Boo-DAN (the n being all but silent). Ha! The things I remember from my days as a trainer…
Anyway, one afternoon I went to a local sandwich shop to eat my lunch and learned they don’t have provolone cheese there. WHAT? I ordered swiss on my sandwich instead, then was shocked again when asked Do you want that all the way?
This was rather early on in my traveling trainer career, so I was a little embarrassed to admit I had no idea what the lady behind the counter meant. Right before she noticed the confused look on my face, I blurted out I don’t know what that means.
Where I come from, when we ask if someone wants a sandwich with all the fixings we say Do you want everything on that? In Louisiana it’s called All the way. I don’t like a bunch of stuff slipping and sliding out of my sandwiches, so I politely asked for just lettuce and mayo and hoped she hadn’t noticed me blushing.
The point of my story, which I may have hidden a little too well, is that while I don’t want my sandwich All The Way, that’s exactly how I intend to live my life. I try to make that my first thought every morning when I wake up. Why bother, otherwise?
It’s not like I don’t forget myself sometimes. Some days I wake up feeling blue, or lazy, or tired from too many hormones and not enough sleep, and I just can’t manage it. But most of the time? I intend to fill every single minute of every single day loving hard, imagining harder, thinking, writing, reading; breathing in every ounce of the life I deserve. I only get this one chance at it (maybe), so I don’t want to waste it.
Ding-ding-ding-ding!! Since you read all the way to the bottom, I think you deserve an extra special treat. I met Lady Tambourine on my most recent trip to Louisiana. She definitely knows a little bit about living All The WAY. What do you think?
Everybody seems to be doing the “list” thing these days. Buzzfeed started it; I think that’s how it went, anyway. But then everyone else followed suit. It’s quick and easy internet fodder, ammiright? And unfortunately, clever gets mistaken for talent online all day everyday. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not saying there aren’t some entertaining lists out there. I’m just saying I have a problem with the trend.
A list is a way to say something, but without putting a whole lot of heart in it (not to mention soul). That’s super sad. Me? I like to get at the heart of a thing.
Now, I’d be lying if I claimed I’ve never been entertained by a list like “10 Organ Recipients Who Took On The Traits Of Their Donors” or “21 Hilarious Tweets That Will Make You Question Everything.” However, I can honestly say I only go to sites with lists like that when I’m irretrievably bored.
This list thing that’s overtaken the interverse is also sad because, well? It seems so on-trend with the direction America is taking these days. They’re bundled up cheap thrills that keep us occupied from otherwise having any kind of productive, provocative or creative thoughts.
This morning I thought I’d try to dump that premise – the one that says we’re becoming less productive, provocative, and creative because things – on its head and ask: WHAT IF I write a story in list form? Hmmm, interesting… Besides, I’m always up for a challenge, so here, uhhh, for better or worse, is my first try at it.
(It’s certainly not the best story I’ve written, but I’d say it’s not completely smelly-bad for a first try.) What do you think?
I’ve been trying hard to let this writing thing I’m doing progress in the most organic of ways. But I get impatient sometimes…
It’s been a year and a half since I joined a weekly writers’ critique group. (Keep reading to the end for a sappy little tribute to this group and all the people in it!) This weekly deadline to produce something shareworthy has been a great motivator. So good, as a matter of fact, that if I go more than a week these days without writing something I feel the need to up the dosage on my antidepressant.
I read a quote somewhere that “It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer.” Gerald Brenan wrote it. #goals
I don’t usually sit down to write first thing in the morning, but I do try to put pen to paper by eleven AM every day. It’s still morning, so I supposed I’m technically following Gerry’s instructions. This habit has grown my writing abilities in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Just writing every day. So simple.
Reading authors who write in similar ways as I do has been great, too. It’s helped me learn to take the ideas in my head and get them down on paper, but to do it in a way that my sentences are interesting and vary in length and structure. Reading well written stuff is like taking a creative writing class, if you pay attention to what you’re reading. It’s a lot cheaper, too. Plus, and maybe it’s just me or my penchant for letting things flow organically, but I’d rather learn by reading than have some hack, who happens to have some letters behind his/her name, corrupt my voice because I don’t follow the rules.
It’s breaking those rules that makes my writing interesting, sometimes. Like, the sometimes when I write a line with awkward syntax on purpose. Ew? You might think so, but there’s a reason I do it. Maybe I want you to think extra long on what the character is doing at that moment… 😉
So here I am, finally at a point where I feel like my writing is consistently good. Consistently heartfelt. Consistently has truth in it. Consistently gives voice to a character who wants to be heard. Yay me!
Now it’s time to get down with the business part of writing. I write because it satisfies my creative desires better than anything else does. Why write if nobody’s ever going to read it, though, right? Well, not really. I have pages and pages and files of stuff nobody will ever read. Stories and characters that I love, but aren’t prime time ready, so to speak. They were more practice stories than anything else.
Could I go back and edit to make them better? Change them so they might become worthy of publication? Sure. I could. But what if that changes those characters in some fundamental way? I might not want to do that. Besides, I think of it as similar to a baseball player practicing his swing. All those hours swinging, building that muscle memory so that he can bat a .300 season. That’s what those stories are for me. Precious because I fall in love with all of my characters, but more because it’s nice to look back and see how far I’ve come.
This business end, though. Yikes! It feels daunting. How do I build a following? How do I let readers know what I’ve written? How do I find readers who like to read the kind of stories I write? That’s where I am right now. This morning I found an article for how to grow my Twitter following. I’m about to hop over and read that right now.
Wish me luck in this new part of my writing endeavors. I’ve never been good at self-promotion, so along with the excitement I’m feeling, I’m also trying to make this feel like a normal thing to do: toot my own horn.
Now, about my writer’s group? AMAZING group of people. We encompass a huge variety of writing styles, genres, levels of creativity and experience, all in one back room at a pizza joint every Monday night. We have some amazing writers who I can’t wait to slap down a few bills to buy their books when they’re officially published. We also have some not so great, but trying really hard to get there, writers. I’m somewhere in the middle…
When I first started attending we were a weekly group of maybe ten, but sometimes as small as three, for a while. Now we’re consistently a group of over twenty writers meeting for pizza and reading, and sometimes yelling over what we’ve read. Always great advice, though. Always. I wouldn’t trade this group for any other. <3
Welp. You’ve made it all the way to the end! Maybe you’re interested in my most recent short story, Birthmarked. I wrote about it here. If so, drop a line in the comment section and I’ll send you a link!
I thought it might be time to add another post about my writing process. Not that anybody’s asked for it, but I think it’s interesting to know how other writers go about putting their stories down on paper. So, I figured someone else might be, too.
First things first: At this point I am totally hung up on short story writing. I like a story I can get down on paper (I write my first drafts in a handy-dandy composition book) in just one sitting; two if it’s on the longish side. I don’t have a great attention span, either, so short stories suit me that way, too. Mostly, though, I’m gonna blame it on my main characters. They never seem to need more than a couple of thousand words to tell their tales.
Which is probably the main point of this post in the first place. When I write a story, the days or hours before I sit down to it always go something like this: I’ll think of a really good opening line for a story. Maybe I’m in bed about to fall asleep, or in the shower, rinsing my hair. Once I read a non-fiction story and was so struck by an observation in it I immediately knew I had to use that line.
Having that opening line is crucial, for me, because it’s how I find my characters for the story. Who would say something like that? Why? Who would she say it to – another person, or maybe to herself?
Sometimes I have a vague idea of how the story will go, but usually not. Most days, I sit down and start writing and the character tells me what to write next. Not in a I hear voices in my head sort of way, though. The story just comes out of my pen.
My most recent story, about a fourteen year-old drug addict, happened this way. I knew she was a cocky kid named Darla when I sat down to write her story, but that’s about it. Turns out she has a big purple birthmark on the right side of her face and found herself in a rehab group for adults. Who knew?
Darla did. I learned it yesterday, and now you know it, too.
My question, at this point is: Are you interested in reading the story? I don’t like to technically publish my stories here because if I’m able to publish them anywhere for pay, it needs to be previously unpublished. However, if you’re interested in reading Darla’s story, leave a comment below. You’ll have to sign in with an email address, but then I can send you a link 🙂 Sweet!
Don’t get me wrong. I love to write, LOVE IT, but eventually I’d LOVE IT even better if I could make a living from it. While I’m working on that part, I sure would like your support and to start to grow a following. I’m not looking to get famous, really. I don’t think I’d like it, honestly. But a hardcore group of people who like reading my stuff as much as I like writing it? That would be awesome!
Today is the day we set aside to celebrate mothers. Let me tell you, we certainly are a group that deserves celebration. We form and grow the bodies our children inhabit for a lifetime. Which is just the beginning of it. True? Mothers are the driving force behind how we create who we become as human beings, citizens, heartful people into the rest of our lives. Mothers are not all powerful, but we’re as close to it as anyone can get.
To say that I am grateful to my mom says nothing of what she means to me. Without her, I am not. It’s a biological fact, sure, but it is also an emotional and mental fact, too. She rocked me until my tears stopped falling as a tiny baby, then again as a scrawny little girl, a self-conscious teen, and even now as a full-grown adult person. Then there’s the fact that I am stubbornly me because of my mom. Good, bad, or otherwise I wouldn’t have me any other way. I may not like myself every moment of every day, but I will never apologize for who I am; that would hint at a flaw of my mother’s. She’s never flawed, in my eyes, because my mom is as perfect a mother as I will ever need.
But this is the part where things get complicated. I love my mother dearly, but if she were the only role model I’d ever had as a woman, I wouldn’t be near to who I am. My other mother (some might call her a step) has taught me ways to be that I’d never learn from the woman I call Mom. The way I like to think of it is, if my mother forms the fabric of me, my other mother is the glittery thread shot through it. She adds a special dimension that I’d be a lesser person without.
What’s especially special this Mother’s Day is that my daughter will soon become a mother, too. <3 So along with celebrating my mothers, and my Rachel for making me one, I will soon get to celebrate her as a mother in her own right.
If I have one piece of advice for you, Rachel, it’s this: Don’t try to be “THE perfect mother.” Don’t worry about all those silly, little things parenting books and mother’s groups and friends, family, and even strangers tell you will cause irreparable harm. Most of the time it’s just a load of crap. Love that baby as hard as you can. Nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, is as important as that.
I’ve only been cheated on by one man in my lifetime. Once was enough; I’m sure anyone would agree. But the thing is, that experience gave me fodder, today, to write a character’s emotional response to the same situation. So, Thanks? I guess.
That’s what I do, as a writer. I take personal experience and reform it into something a little different, then I write. If there are no other fringe benefits of writing, that one’s enough. Reframing is a wonderful thing.
To be honest, though, I’m feeling especially sad, right now, re-feeling all those feelings. Sure, it’s been a long time since it happened. I’m a changed person now. No more forgiving than I was, let me just put that out there, but I’m not the same woman I was back then. The whole experience doesn’t matter so much these days, mostly because I no longer think of that person as a man. No real man cheats.
No real person cheats, man or woman. It’s cruel and it’s immature. It’s damaging in the absolute unfairest of ways. But don’t get it twisted: I do have an understanding of how and why someone could cheat. Of course I do. No one makes it to 50 without that, do they? Life is hard. It’s complicated and frustrating and confusing. But those together don’t give anyone a free pass to behave in such a way.
Still, without having that experience, I couldn’t have so easily conjured the sick feeling in the pit of my character’s stomach. I couldn’t have known the feeling of what is wrong with me? Or how did this happen? That feeling of an invisible weight between my shoulder blades that simultaneously made me want to break things and sleep for days. I couldn’t have written the scene I wrote so convincingly. For some odd reason, the word grateful comes to mind just now.
Yes, grateful. No matter what I see and experience in my lifetime, I am grateful. I have the talent to take what I learn and make it speak. I know that my writing will be richer, have a depth that it would never have without my pain and struggles. So, it’s not a bad thing, after all. They’re going to be there anyway (the dark days), why not use them?
Now, before I end this, I feel the need to add these two thoughts:
Finally, if you’d like to read the short story I referred to in this post, please leave a comment. I’ll send you a link!