Friday, September 25, 2015

A writer's life

Being a writer is like having an assignment that's always due. No matter how much fun you're having, in the back of your mind, there's a voice that says, “You still need to do that paper,” except, unlike in school, you aren’t given a topic. 

Being a writer, at heart, means you always have a nagging feeling that you're leaving something undone, incomplete. Like a hungry child who's forced to leave food on the table or an alcoholic who has to leave wine in a glass, that raw nagging, gnawing feeling, the yearning, remains.

Being a writer means no matter how materially successful you are, how cushy your "real" job is, how many weeks vacation you have or the size of your boat, you feel a fraud. You can't relax. You don't take a deep breath and look around and sigh, “Ah, I've made it!” because you know, just below the surface is a story that must be told, that must burst forth, that in your mind, your fingers, your soul is a story that might somehow, someway touch someone and make your life worthwhile. For why else, would God, the Higher Power, the Master of the Universe, why else would He or She enrich you with this gift, this drive to put words on paper or font to the screen? It's a calling that must be followed or forever regretted.  

And it's an odd one. Musicians seem to pick up a guitar and let it play, to make music and joy, but writers are a different lot. We fight it. We want it, yet we are terrified we’ll lose it. It's our identity, yet we resist it. We downplay it. We force it to be quiet when it compels us to pull out an envelope to jot down a phrase, or when we are introduced to a person, and we roll her name around in our minds to see if it would fit a character. A character we have in our heads, as we appear here but not here, living in a world all to our own, feeling guilty for not sharing it, the stories we make up as we go. We see the couple in front of us at a concert and come up with ten different scenarios for who they are, why the wife seems so weary, why the husband seems to be trying to hard, their background, their future, we see it, all in a span of a song. Yet we push it away. We do the laundry, cook breakfast, nag ourselves and make plans to do it tomorrow while the compulsion bubbles beneath the surface threatening to erupt.

Then, suddenly, we look at the screen where we passively sit and watch other people’s lives, and we see that one of our writer friends has done what we only dreamed, they published something, a book of essays, a work of fiction, a newspaper column, and we profess happiness, but, deep inside, we hear our voices saying: I can do that. I should be doing that. Why am I not doing that? Am I lazy? No, the effort it takes to resist writing is far more than it takes to actually put pen to paper. Is it fear of failure? I don't really think so because it's not success I care about. It's getting it out, it's telling it, so I can be free and breathe and know that when I meet my maker that He'll look at me and say, “Well done.” 

Because, to a writer, hell would be getting to the end and having God shake his head in disappointment, and my having to look down in shame, knowing that I squandered it, this special gift He entrusted to me, and others like me, and that my story, your story, our story would be buried with me.

That would truly be a life unlived – and nothing to write about.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Going up?

There’s a phenomenon that occurs when elevator doors shut that causes personalities to change.

For example, seemingly ordinary people turn into comedians, cracking jokes and forcing laughs from his captive audience. He, or she, to be fair, say things like, “Guess this isn't the express? At least we’re in good company! Yuk, yuk!” and “Are you working hard today or hardly working?” and, of course, the “Is it hot/cold enough for ya?”

Sadly, there’s no off switch for these people. No amount of looking at one’s cell phone or shoes or folding one’s arms in a leave-me-the-hell-alone stance can make them stop. In fact, the more you ignore them, the harder they try. Conversely, the worse the jokes get.

The second type of person is perhaps the most disturbing. I hesitate to mention it, but since it’s the most annoying, I will. Ladies, see if you agree with me. Certain men think that because a woman is standing next to them in the elevator that she wants to be there. They truly believe that she thinks what you have to say is amazing; thereby, they seize the moment to treat it as if they’d just walked up to you in a bar.

“So, how you doin’?” they’ll ask, as they try to lean coolly against the wall.

To which, I’ll reply “fine” without looking up from my phone.

“Havin’ a good morning so far?”

“Pretty good,” I will unenthusiastically say, glancing up to see a grinning face, before quickly looking down.

“I’m glad you are having a good morning,” he’ll say and continue to stare outright while I ignore him completely and pray the next stop will be his. If God is in a good mood, it is, and as he steps off, he will say, “Hope you keep on having a good day!”
At which point, I’m in such a foul mood from his speed dating attempt that my day is a long way from being good, especially since it’s only 8 a.m.

The third type is the person who is clearly terrified to be in there – claustrophobic, crying out at the slightest shake and on the verge of screaming “We’re all going to die!” when the elevator door doesn't open right away. I’m actually OK with these people.

Of the three, I would prefer to be trapped with this person. I’m not claustrophobic and think that I would be able to calmly wait until the paramedics arrive should the elevator break down; however, were I trapped with personality type number one or two, I would quickly morph into number three. And, were I stuck in the elevator with number one AND two, I would run in place, do jumping jacks and probably a set of burpees or two.


Because next time, I will definitely be taking the stairs.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wanna wait or go in?

A law is under consideration to allow citizens to break into the other citizens’ vehicles in order to retrieve a child who has been left inside. With cases of parents and grandparents forgetting their children/grandchildren in the backseat becoming more and more commonplace, I think it’s a good law, especially in light of Georgia’s summer heat.

But, it’s definitely not one I would have supported in the 1970s. The highest honor my mom could bestow on me and my sister was allowing us to wait in the car for her while she went in and did her shopping. I cannot describe the exhilaration. Of course, we kept our windows down – and our doors locked – as if that would save us, but the truth is we never had to worry. The only time we would be in trouble was if we laid on the horn or hung out the window and waved too hard at passerbys. In that case, someone would recognize us, go into the store and promptly tell on us. Mother worked for the school system, and the fact that I could never get away with anything because of that was the bane of my 10-year-old existence.

If we were lucky, Mom would leave the a.m. radio on and a song such as “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” would start to play, and my sister and I would sing every word as the breeze blew through our hair, or more than likely, as our thighs stuck to the seat, and we waved a piece of paper rapidly as a fan. Sometimes, I’d scoot into the driver’s seat, under the big round steering well of my mom’s white Pontiac and pretend to drive. In my mind’s eye, the car was a comvertible, the song was something by Andy Gibb, and my legs were long enough to reach the pedals. In my dreams, my sister and I would roar out of town, leaving a trail of busy bodies wagging their fingers and clucking their tongues behind us. OK, truthfully, they’d be clucking because I roared off and left my sister behind because she wouldn’t stop looking at me.

Ah, nothing like the imaginary freedom of the open road.

Apart from the independence, there’s another significant reason my sister and I were grateful to be able to wait in the car. We hated going inside the store, no matter what store it was. My mother had, and still has, a warm manner that made everyone from the bread aisle to the meat department want to tell her his or her life story, and what’s worse is she’s a good listener! She’d patiently listen and ask probing questions and take the time to give thoughtful responses, while my sister and I would wave off cigarette smoke from shoppers and compare the bottoms of our feet to see whose had gotten the dirtiest from walking down the grocery aisles without shoes. At least at the end of the  grocery shopping trip, we were likely to have conned a pack of Little Debbie oatmeal pies out of Mom in exchange for our misery. 

The worst experiences, however, occurred in the downtown fabric store. First of all, there was no air in the fabric store, not one breath. Second, there was nothing to look at in the fabric store, except, you guessed it, fabric. Third, I did not always enjoy the matching outfits my mom made my sister and me from material purchased at said fabric store. Of course, had I behaved better and not pleaded, whined and begged to stay in the car until she threatened me bodily harm or to tell my dad (same difference), then maybe said fabric may have looked a little more ten-year-old girl appropriate, instead of six, to match my sister’s age. Who’s to say? I just know I hated that place.

I’m not sure how my sister felt about it. I only knew she hid under the fabric rolls once we were in there and would not come out for what felt like hours. I was convinced I would die in there, or worse, be locked in and have to spend the night until my sister started sleep walking, and we found her hiding place.

I had this happen in K-mart once, the locked in part, that is. Somehow my mom didn’t heed the last call announcements, and the front doors were bolted. About the time panic set in, we were ushered out the back through a dark warehouse, where we shuffled through in a herd, until we exited out the back side of the store, seemingly miles from our car.

It had quite an impact on an imaginative girl, enough to know she’d rather take her chances and wait in the car. It's too bad kids today can’t.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

There's food in the breakroom!

A strange thing happens when you bring food to work. People, civilized, nicely dressed, well-paid people, turn into ravenous wolves that have apparently not eaten in days.

Don't believe me? Bring any kind of leftover to work, put it on the table in the break room and then stand back to watch the crumbs fly. I've seen half-eaten boxes of cereal brought in and then quickly emptied; uneaten sandwiches and pasta from lunch meetings are gone faster than the blink of an eye and dessert is devoured almost simultaneously. For a group of people who remain largely inactive, office employees sure do like to eat a lot.

For someone like me who has enough of her grandmother in her not to see good food go to waste, I have found it a satisfying, though oft disturbing, environment. It’s a great way to get rid of extra holiday candy or peanut brittle or loaf bread, for that matter.

A recent study showed that providing lunches for employees boast loyalty. It can also cause employees to bite the hand that feeds them so to speak. For example, my former office had a donut day. The first day they were hot and from Krispy Kreme, and we all ate and appreciated them. By the second time, however, we were criticizing the fact that they weren't hot, and by the third, we bemoaned the fact that they were no longer from Krispy Kreme. By the fourth time, we were completely disgusted, “What the heck is this? “ Why can’t we have bacon and eggs?” “Who chose these flavors? Pink icing with sprinkles? We aren't kids!” we said, bitterly.

I guess our complaining worked. We no longer get donut day.

My sister has had a similar experience at her office. She works in Alaska, so her boss is kind enough to bring them lunch almost daily, so they don’t have to get out in the cold – until he went on a diet, that is. Her office was no longer filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread, pizza and cookies for dessert.

“He’s got to get off this %$* diet,” my sister and her coworkers complained. “I don’t care if he losing weight for his health, we need some food up in here!”

So much for loyalty. The stomach wants what the stomach wants, even in the workplace. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Living lean and (not) mean in 2015

Today is a new year, but more importantly, it’s a new day. The sun is shining. I have a nice new fuzzy red blanket that looks a lot like Santa’s cape covering my lap, and I’m sipping coffee from a mug that says “Meow” that my daughter made me. Never mind that she wrote “Crazy Cat Lady Club” on the bottom.

So much emphasis is put on a new year. My email was bombarded with “New Year, New You” messages about everything from teeth whitening services to something called lipotropic weight loss shots, to microdermabrasion - which I actually considered for a second before I realized there is nothing wrong with my skin, and I really don’t even know what that is – along with constant messages from a boot camp telling me my backside will get three sizes bigger if I don’t show up for its trial session this Saturday. It’s so overwhelming that it makes me want to break my get-out-of-bed-before-nine resolution and crawl back under the covers.

I can’t say in the past that I would have signed up for all of the above, but I would have differently felt guilty for NOT signing up. I have tried every approach to resolutions from making them, to not making them, to changing the time of year I made them. Yes, I made 4th of July resolutions for several years. You can read about them here. And here.

Nothing worked. I tried narrowing my focus, for example, to work out every day, instead of the vague “get into shape.” I tried making my resolutions more realistic; for example, work out three days a week versus every day. That helped, but it never stuck. Go to the gym in February, if you don’t believe me. You’re more than likely to see the same people who were there in Dec., with the January influx having already tapered off.

This New Year, however, things are different. I am different. I no longer expect that when the ball drops, I’m magically going to become this new person who loves working out at 6 a.m., never leaves trash in her car, and can’t wait to get home from working all day to cook a healthy yet delicious meal and then help her kids with their science fair projects. But, I am the kind of person now who if I can do one of those things in a day, heck, in a week, I will be satisfied.

And, I think that is key. Accepting oneself and one’s shortcomings, but being open and willing to improving, not by some magic that comes from turning of the calendar and toasting of the new year, but by hard work that requires constant effort day by day. I think self-improvement comes from waking up each day and saying, “What can I do to help other people? How can I be kind to others?” and, most of the time, that includes being kind to myself.

Wishing you and yours the very best every day of the new year. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Picture perfect

I begged my family to take one beach photo. Here is the result.
As I scrolled through my Facebook page and saw gorgeous family picture after picture, I asked myself, “Where are my gorgeous family pictures?”

Actually, I thought, “Where are my family pictures?” Period.

It’s that time of year again. The time when I go to a lot of trouble finding the “perfect” picture to mail to our friends as a holiday greeting. Of course, that’s all a farce, not the perfect picture part, but the idea that I’ll actually mail them.

Just joking – sort of.

My children are teenagers, and despite the money I’ve spent on their braces and the number of selfies they take with their friends, they do not want to smile for their mama. And nothing makes me madder. I don’t ask for a lot, but I would like to take one picture of the four of us before the year ends, so I can plaster it on a card. That’s all. Call it my birthday, Valentine’s, Mother’s Day and Christmas Day gift. Just take it. One. Picture.

Recently, at the beach, the sun began to set, and I said, “Now, let’s go take our pictures. It’s the perfect time.”

Groans and moans emit from the back seat. One would think I’d picked up a few zombie hitchhikers.
“Everybody does that, Mom,” my daughter said, “Don’t be cliché.”

“I’m not making you wear all white,” I said. “Just stand there. I’m not asking for much.”
As the sun set on my request, I began to resort to more drastic measures of persuasion, “I gave birth to you!”

I’m not sure why moms say that. We are the only ones who remember what we put our bodies through, and the pain we endured. The kids see only the pictures, the happy, smiling pictures that we moms made sure were taken before our infants became teens and refused.

This was not the case when I was a child. We had our family picture taken every year and looked forward to it. Granted that’s because we had them taken at the county fair, but I still like to think I’d look forward to it even if promises of rides and candy apples weren't
part of the bargain.

The more than a decade worth of photos rank among my most treasured possessions, despite my awkward phase that seemed to last an abnormally long time and my penchant for closing my eyes at the exact time the shutter went off. Today’s kids are lucky. Thanks to the delete button and unlimited outtakes, they’ll grow up and never have a poor picture of themselves. Of course, in my kids’ case, they’ll be no pictures at all past the age of 13.

The best family pictures, come to think of it, have been totally unexpected and unplanned, like the one I used on last year’s Christmas card. We were at a Braves baseball game, and a lady who looked a lot like the actress Sofia Vergara asked if we’d take her picture. My husband almost broke his neck doing so, and the woman offered to take ours in exchange. Her accent was so endearing, we all agreed. She leaned over and took it with quite a bit of fuss. The result was the four of us looking into the camera with natural smiles on our faces and two guys snickering in the background.

Another great natural shot happened during a vacation to St. Mary’s, located on the coast of Georgia, when my children were younger. We’d eaten a great seafood meal, had indulged in a nice beverage and were out strolling the streets at dusk when a lady, from out of nowhere, offered to take our picture. Surprised, we agreed. We stopped for a second, smiled as she snapped and wandered on to watch the sunset.

As I recall that time, I think maybe the kids are right.  Sunset photos are cliché. Now watching it as a family with a full belly on a warm night, that’s another story. One that’s documented in our memory banks alone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Messy mom guilty as charged

My family and I watched a television show not long ago about the power of observation. The show depicted police officers looking for subtle clues to decide on a suspect’s guilt or innocence.

In one true scenario, an officer was on the lookout for a stolen red Mustang without tags. It just so happened that two were parked outside a convenience store. The officers staked out the place and witnessed a man with his head down walk quickly toward one of the vehicles, toss his trash in a nearby can, jump in, slam it into reverse and drive away. A second man soon followed, except this one took his time, glanced at the policeman and nodded, turned up his bag of chips, and then wadded up the bag and threw it in the backseat before casually getting in the vehicle and carefully backing out. Who’s the real crook?

The answer is … number two. What gave him away?

“Who throws trash into his own car?” asked the show’s host, incredulously.

At this point, my entire family turns and looks at me, and I know what they are thinking, “We’d better save some bail money.”

My grandmother, the tidiest person I ever knew, would be appalled if she saw the back seat of my car. It’s true, I’m embarrassed to admit, I tend to throw things back there. It’s usually as I drive, and it’s usually with great flourish. For example, I will finish off my bottle of sparkling water, say “Ah,” and toss it in the back.

At which point, I will usually get a sounding chorus of outraged voices going, “MOM!”

My messy car has not been the only source of admonishment from my children. I also have trouble with papers. You know all the hundreds of thousands of papers that the kids bring home from school every day. Why, why, why so many papers? And, where, where, where is a parent supposed to put them? I tried organizational boxes with the kids’ names on them, the dining room table, behind the pepper jar in the kitchen, and for a long while, on top of the pool table, but since we sold that, I’ve now regulated them all to a big, fat stack. You need your physical form, your field trip form, your science Olympiad schedule? Check the stack.

It worked pretty well until my son had to ride the bus for the first time this year. He came home and said, “Where is my bus form?”

I told him to - say it with me - “Check the stack.”

He looked there, and then we went down the list of other locations: behind the pepper jar, on the dining room, and even his book bag, which is the equivalent of the Lost and Found, but no bus form.
“Just get another one tomorrow,” I advised.

“Um, I will, but I don’t think she’ll like it much.”

Next day, he came back with the form, and I dutifully filled it out. I took him to school that morning, and he rode the bus home and promptly asked if his sister could pick him up the next day.
I looked at him and said, “You lost your form, didn’t you?”

Turns out, the bus driver told him that was his last one, and he wasn’t going to get on the bus without it. We eventually found it. No, not in the stack but tossed in the backseat of my car, along with some empty sparkling water bottles, and some other miscellaneous papers.

Please don’t judge me. I've already called the Mom police, and they are on their way. I’ll be in the red Mustang finishing up my chips.