Anyone who knows me knows that I am opposed to the idea of New Year's resolutions. However, I am all about personal goals and challenging myself. In my house we have set a reading challenge between my fiance and me. We are challenging ourselves to read around 55 books collectively. Naturally, we hope for more, but in the basic structure of a day with work and family, sometimes it's difficult to squeeze in the reading time. Reading isn't merely a hobby of ours, but a necessity. There are numerous benefits to reading and the notion that reading is a drag is only for those who are a drag. I didn't meet my reading challenge for last year, which was low to begin with. I found myself busy with other things and didn't manage my time wisely. I forgot that the very things I needed would have been found by picking up a book—mental stimulation, stronger analytical thinking, improved focus, and most of all, stress reduction.
As a writer, it is absolute must that I read. My writing and vocabulary skills will not only improve, but I'll find the inspiration I need to write my own stories. How a writer makes me feel as a reader will only aid in reaching my goal of how I want my reader to feel. My first three books of the year have writers who have inspired me. I started off the year with the historical fiction Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler. She researched Zelda's life, the untold stories, creating a plausible viewpoint from Zelda's perspective. It's written in first person, so I had the benefit of reading Zelda's internal dialogue. Her story has stayed with me and offered empathy for a woman people have claimed to have ruined her husband's life and career--if the many stories about her are even true. Did she really keep F. Scott Fitzgerald from attaining his goals as a writer? Did she really keep him up late partying and make him the raging alcolholic he was? What I gained from the novel is that she could have easily been a victim of circumstance and society. As far as I see it, F. Scott Fitgerald is responsible for his own actions—as we all are
What's currently on my typewriter is a first-person story that leans towards creative non-fiction, with some historical events. I doubted my direction of first-person, but now feel more comfortable with carrying on after reading Fowler's book. The interesting part about creative non-fiction is that it's more common that we think as many fiction writers include their own experiences and people in real life. The names are changed to protect the innocent, although "innocence" is not always the case. Whether or not you're into fiction or non, in the camp that Zelda was crazy, or that she hindered Fitzgerald's success, the book is an excellent and eye-opening read. If anything, it will make you think more about her situation from rational perspective. It's very much like the idea of reading a book before watching the movie. You get more of a backstory, the reasons for the character's behavior, and insight that the movie can't offer in 90 minutes. This novel is no different in that regard when trying to make your Zelda determination
Another great read was Dominick Dunne's autobiography/memoir, The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper. Dunne writes about his start in the Hollywood scene and the many people he met along the way. His writing feels honest and there is a sense of humility. The catch with autobiographies is that they are an account of our life as we "remember" it. Although Dunne refers to his journals that he kept along the way, it's not easy to think the same as our younger selves. Trying to rely on our memories, even with photos and journals, doesn't necessarily lend itself to an accurate event. But, Dunne puts it plainly in the title, "Recollections." What I appreciated the most is that he is overall respectful of those he writes about. He doesn't assume he knows why other's behaved as they did despite having background stories. Dunne also wasn't afraid to be a bit self-deprecating. His account of his life didn't feel exaggerated—something I am immensely aware of. Dunne's writing will affect how I share my story. I want the feeling of openness and honesty with each word, regardless of after-affects of popular opinion. Everyone around you, in your inner-circle, think they know you. They may in some form or fashion, but writing down your thoughts in the quest to be completely true will probably make them question how much they really know. I admire those who do, even if I don't agree with their decisions in life.
I recently completed Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain, a fictional memoir of Beryl Markham. Beryl was born in the UK, however moved to Kenya in 1906 when she was four years old. She became the first woman to become a licensed horse trainer in Kenya. Beryl is also the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo when she flew from Europe to North America. Although Beryl wrote her own memoir in 1942, West With The Night, McLain offers the emotion behind her story. It offers the feeling of hearing Beryl's story as it's happening, or as we imagined she was feeling at the time. Her story is inspiring for me as a woman, encouraging me to move forward with my own goals. She was determined and unafraid of society's limitations on a woman. The rights of women have come a long way since the 1920s, so it's not lost on me that my advantages are far greater than hers. If anything, there should be no excuses on my part.
This is the second novel I've read by Paula McLain. I read her historical fiction, The Paris Wife, about the life of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife. It could definitely be said I appreciate the biographical novels as that is what I seem to read the most. Hadley's story is also a remarkable one and she displayed self-sacrificing dedication to her husband and his writing. Unfortunately, her efforts were unappreciated by Hemingway at the time and he moved on to another woman, Pauline Pfeiffer. It was after three more wives and several women later that he appreciated Hadley, calling her the love of his life. Nevertheless, McLain did it again for me with Circling the Sun, drawing me in to an extraordinary woman's life, leaving me wanting to know more about them. I want a better understanding of how McLain came to her conclusions of how these women may have felt during these events in their life.
I'm about to start reading Zelda: A Biography, written by American biographer Nancy Milford. Because of Therese Ann Fowler, I truly want to know more about Zelda and if my empathy for her is justifiable. This will be my second biography by Milford, who also wrote Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Millay was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize (1923) and she did so writing beautiful poetry. Needless to say, I have acquired Millay's poetry in my fascination with her life and her work—all because I picked up a book. She is also responsible for the the popular line in her Fig from Thistles: First Fig poem, "My candle burns at both ends" —an idiom that applies to me sometimes.
Aside from the inspiration I derive from reading, the increased vocabulary, and the many other benefits, I do believe I've become a bit more cultured My appreciation for poetry has expanded over this past year with both Millay and Sylvia Plath, having read their biographies and journals.. I think Oscar Wilde summed it up nicely with "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it."
Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real
As any writer will tell you, reading the work of others stimulates our own writing. I've also realized that watching documentaries about great writers is also inspirational. I recently watched a Netflix documentary on Joan Didion— "Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold." She is an American journalist and literary icon. Ms. Didion's life story is a captivating one as it's full of remarkable and heartbreaking experiences that she used in her writing. It all began with her entering a contest (which she won) for Vogue magazine while she was a senior at UC Berkley. Afterward, she moved to New York and started her writing career working for Vogue.
Her love for writing began at the age of five when her mother gave her a notebook--telling her to cure her boredom through writing. As an adult, Ms. Didion spent time with movie stars, rock stars, and political leaders. In watching the documentary, it seemed there were few she didn't rub elbows with. She is Aunt Joan to actor and director Griffin Dunne, who did an extraordinary job sharing her life's story by talking with her and sharing archival footage. Ms. Didion told Tom Brokaw in an interview that her stories come to her as she is writing. A lot of us (including myself) sit and wait for something to come to us. All we really need to do is just start writing. Write anything; and the stories will come. In fact, I find that even if I sit down with a story in my head, it changes direction completely as I'm writing.
All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.
Ernest Hemingway offered this and a lot of great tips, such as stop writing when you know what will happen next. If you stop when you hit a road block, that's exactly what will be waiting for you when it's time to write again. Another is to not feel the need to describe the emotion of your character, make it. Identify the action that caused the emotion and present it. A lot of times, we want to spoon-feed our readers. Allow them to create the intended emotional response along with your character. It's always helpful to learn from writers whose work we admire. We want to explore their processes and find out their secrets--hoping to gain some divine knowledge of becoming a great writer. The good ones will only tell you their secret is to read a lot of books and write everyday. Hemingway said, "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." Writers can't teach us how to write, only how they became a writer. W. Sumerset Maugham, known for "Of Human Bondage" and "The Razor's Edge," said it best:
There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
Another inspirational documentary was not specifically about writing, but the tool in which to write--the typewriter. I watched "California Typewriter," which is about those dedicated to the typewriter as a tool and muse. Everyone shared their love for them, making me want to buy one immediately. I had one growing up and even took a typing class in high school (yes, I'm that ancient). I used it all the time. Many of those commenting in the film were writers in some form or fashion. Tom Hanks, the most fabulous actor ever that I’ve followed since Bosom Buddies, has about 250 typewriters in his collection. In fact, he’s written a book, "Uncommon Type"—a collection of 17 short stories featuring a typewriter within each one. The late Sam Shepard—actor, screenwriter, and playwright—received one from his son and used it almost every day. John Mayer, singer and songwriter, bought an electric one online and types out his random thoughts that may or may not become lyrics for his songs. Then there are renowned writers like David McCullough, who has used only his typewriter to write his books. Books such as his two Pulitzer Prize winning works, "Truman" and "John Adams." McCullough hopes that one day his grandchildren may write their very own books on his 1946 Royal KMM. I completely understand the magic behind typing on a typewriter. With all of the technology we have today, such as computers and iPads, it is a lost art form. They aren't just antiquities on a shelf, but a tool used to encourage creativity—seeing your words instantly in print, typed one letter at a time.
I love to write. Whether it's in a notebook, laptop, or my soon-to-be-purchased typewriter. However, life gets in the way and becomes the excuse to abdicate. And, I love to read. I have a library of books that constantly grows. I willingly fall into a world the author has created for me. I actually imagine all the characters stopping what their doing in the story when I close the book. They just wait, chatting amongst themselves, doing the things people do when waiting for someone. They can get impatient with me and I imagine their annoyance when I'm taking too long to start reading again. It brings a smile to my face to hear them cheer as I start reading again. That's precisely what I love about writing and reading—bringing the characters to life.
Horror movies have been around since the late 1800s and, as expected, have changed with the times. Watching a scary movie, like Dracula filmed in 1932, is not at all like watching Dracula Untold in 2014. Now, I know that Dracula may not be considered “horror” to some, but technically it is. I’m talking about the imagery and characters, laying out the differences. I don’t find either of these scary, but having read Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I’m more in love with the literary aspects anyway. With this said, I don’t watch today's horror films--at all. It’s not because I’m scared of what lurks in the dark, it’s the potential nightmares. I like my sleep and appreciate the dreaming part. The things that scare people these days are the catalyst for my nightmares.
I remember watching scary movies at my cousin’s house when I was in my early teens. Try not to laugh, but at the time, Nightmare on Elm Street was pretty damn horrific. Someone who infiltrates your dreams and kills you? I'll pass. Everyone knows when you die in your dreams, you die in real life! Which, of course, was the reason the film was probably made. That may not be true, but I really don’t want to find out. I laugh at the thought of being scared now about Freddy and his scissor-hands now--mostly. The other movie that stands out is Carrie. Adorable Sissy Spacek with telekinetic powers she uses against those who hurt and make fun of her. That movie scared the hell out of me and still does. It's probably a combination of the imagery and music. Don’t get me started on the very end of the movie. I can barely type this without thinking of it. I still hesitate at cemeteries to this day.
What scares me more are the horrors of the psychological thrillers. The idea that what is happening on screen can actually happen in real life chills my inner core. The other night I walked into the room to find Michael watching Misery. It’s the film version of Stephen King’s book where a famous writer who is injured in a car accident is held captive by a lunatic fan of his work. She keeps him hostage and breaks his ankles with a sledge hammer when she discovers he’s been able to get out of his locked room. What transpires in this movie is terrifying to me. Not being able to leave, no one knows where you are, drugged (not the good kind), and knowing the person who's responsible for you is bat-shit crazy. No, thank you.
Any movie where I can imagine myself waking up and being in the same spine-chilling situation is essentially a horror film for me. I had to leave the room when Kathy Bates’ character lifted the sledge hammer, and when the writer was trying to get back to his room that he escaped from because she was coming up the driveway. Yes, I physically leave the room as hearing it is just as bad. I am involved enough in the plot to empathize with the victim and feel their anxiety. Another film that has stuck with me is Dead Calm. Nicole Kidman and Sam Neill play a married couple out on their yacht and encounter a man, Billy Zane, who needs rescue. They are terrorized by this psycho drifter, as was I. Let’s just say sailing a boat around the world is out. Almost a decade later, I could barely watch him in Titanic and felt he was a wise choice for the part he played.
I can’t say I’ve made valiant attempts to watch scary movies as I’m just not that brave. I already know how it will end--with me scared to fall asleep. Michael did get me to watch The Shining and I’ve pretty much talked myself out of remembering the scary parts (you know what they are.) We stayed up late watching The Exorcism of Emily Rose a couple of weeks ago--based on a true story--I might add. Every time I went to cover my eyes, just knowing something was about to happen, he’d say, “it’s okay, nothing scary happens.” After the black spirit materializes in a window, AND people’s eyes were spilling black ooze, I remembered his version of not-scary and mine is way different. I knew better, but I was determined to be fearless and quite possibly impress him. I don’t think he was impressed, but he was amused and hopefully saw my angst as endearing. I know based on your religion, being possessed by a demon is possible. So, let's go with that theory.
How is it I am with a man who searches for movies that will scare him? According to him, he’s been pretty unsuccessful so far. He’s shown me video clips of Paranormal Activity. Nope, not happening. He’s mentioned one that’s creeped him out a bit--The Strangers with Live Tyler. This happy couple is on vacation in the husband’s childhood summer home and hears a knock at the door. Over the course of the movie, they are terrorized by three people in masks. When a scared Liv Tyler cries out, “Why are you doing this to us?” The reply is, “Because you were home.” What?! Just watching the trailer scared me enough to never watch it. This is the kind of shit that can really happen, so don’t answer your door!
A few other films that have left their spine-tingling scar on me, but probably shouldn’t have:
I know there are many more I have purged from my mind. And, there are some still up there, but I refuse to open that door in my memory palace. I know what lies behind it and just writing about it....yea, no.
Empathy is said to be a good trait to have, but perhaps some of us carry it too far with the characters we see on screen. Having an overactive imagination doesn’t help either. I can’t count how many times Michael has told me, “Breathe!” when watching a movie. And then, he reaches over to reassure me all will be okay--kind of like a kid afraid to sit on Santa’s lap. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to do when watching a movie, be deeply entranced. I do wish I can put all of these images aside and remember that it’s all about the entertainment value. It would definitely expand my catalogue of things to watch, as well as give Michael someone to help seek out the scariest film. Needless to say, his quest will have to be solo. I think it’s nice to have our individual interests. I read it can be healthy for a relationship.
We had a fantastic weekend! I’m almost ashamed to write that. Partly because the kids are away visiting their grandparents. All parents need a break sometimes—and this was ours. We slept late, not caring what time it was when our eyes opened. There were no commitments or deadlines to meet. We just flew by the seat of our pants. That is a fabulous feeling. The weekend was ours for the taking; and we took it.
We decided a road trip was on the agenda for Saturday and headed to St. Petersburg. We wanted to do two things, visit an old bookstore, and go to the beach. Our first stop at Lighthouse Books offered us exactly what we were looking for: Ernest Hemingway for him and Edith Wharton for me. This bookstore is unassuming and has been around forty-years. Without the sign in the front, you would assume it was just another house on the block. Inside, the rooms were lined with shelves and every inch of real estate was occupied with books. We stopped at another book store down the street, but it was more like a discount Barnes & Noble. It lacked the charm of Lighthouse and had more new books than old. We decided to head toward the beach for part-two of our journey and stopped at Sloppy Joe’s in Treasure Island for a bite to eat. The bonus—we were dining beachfront at a restaurant whose namesake was inspired by Ernest Hemingway (we embrace our nerdiness.) We sat on the open deck, sipping cocktails and devouring our lunch as the ocean breeze blew, listening to the seagulls cawed, and feeling the sun tanning our skin. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
With full bellies, we drove down the coast through St. Pete Beach. Just past The Don CeSar hotel and all its salmon-colored grandeur, we found a great spot on Pass-A-Grille beach. As our toes touched the sand, that peaceful feeling one finds when near the ocean, swept over us. We love the beach and try to be relaxing on one whenever we can. There was a wedding that had just taken place just past the entrance. We were amazed how anyone would want to have a beach wedding in the heat of a July afternoon, but understand the sensation of vowing to love one another where the land meets the sea. But I must say though, it must be hard to keep your wedding-do upright if your head is melting.
As we threw off our shoes, we were surprised that despite the 95 degree weather, the sand wasn’t at all hot under our feet. Amazingly, and what a lot of people don’t realize, St. Pete beaches are covered with white sand and a deep teal-colored ocean. It’s assumed the Gulf beaches aren’t as beautiful as they are on the Atlantic. They are… so, go! We decided to walk along the shore, talking about anything and everything, laughing along the way. The water was warm, yet inviting, ironically cooling us down. The waves were minimal at best and the water simply disappeared into the horizon. There were people swimming, fishing, building sandcastles, parasailing, and some were just relaxing as they soaked up the sun. We were compelled to take several photos, but Michael is the real photographer—crouching down to catch shots of the tiny waves, making them look large enough to surf on. It’s a gift.
We decided to head back to Orlando not too long after our jaunt on the beach as the heat of the day had taken a toll on our enthusiasm. We already had a list of places to explore on our next trip out to St. Pete and can’t wait. Our road trips offer great conversations, sing-alongs, and opportunities to stop for snacks. This one was no exception, both coming and going. We usually pick a couple of things we don’t normally have and probably haven’t eaten in years—items like Slim Jims, spicy pork skins, and, of course, Icees. Not the diet of champions, but hey, it’s a tradition now. This one provided Boston Baked Beans Candied Peanuts. If you haven’t had tried them, or had them since you were a kid, you must indulge! The peanuts are coated with a rich crunchy shell that is essentially pure sugar. After about three, I was done as the nostalgia was more satisfying than the sugar rush. How I ate a whole bag as a kid is beyond me.
Sunday was a bit lazier, but we took care of our grocery shopping. That may not sound at all fun, but with us two clowns it’s sure to be a blast. We headed to Freshfields Farm to load up on fresh fruits and veggies. This is how we go crazy when the kids are away--fill the dinner table with vegetables they’re unlikely to touch. Michael had never been and it’s been years since I shopped there. I offer no excuses. There are two separate stores within: one laden with farm-fresh vegetables and fruits, and the other is stocked with meat, poultry, and seafood. Our inner chef was inspired the moment we walked through the door, overwhelmed with the rich colors each display was filled with. We were like kids in a candy store (go with me on this.) We picked up the greenest of veggies like beans, and peas. We grabbed brightly colored fruits, like red tomatoes, yellow bananas, and purple grapes. Our basket was filled with pretty much every color of a rainbow and included a dragon fruit. Not a clue what it taste like, but anything with dragon in the name has to be good. We bought a couple of logoed burlap grocery bags to haul our loot, feeling satisfied with purchases considering a lot comes fresh from local farms, and the fact we were being so eco-friendly.
Walking into the other store was a different experience as it was bright with white displays filled with a variety of meats. Every cut of steak you can imagine and then some can be found here. They also have a butcher in the back to offer fresh cuts of meat, in addition to deli selections sliced to your preference. We had a craving for filet mignon, but they had already sold out—which was not surprising given the constant flow of customers. We decided on some Alaskan sockeye salmon that looked like it was caught fresh that morning, and a package of chicken breasts that is sure to last us a month. The amazing thing is that everything costs less than the regular grocery store and no doubt fresher.
We ended up at the regular grocery store as well to pick up all the other items we needed that Freshfields Farm didn’t sell. We skipped the processed and frozen foods given our new-found health kick (road trip snacks don’t count). Together, we’ve already planned the meals this week. It felt good to fill up the fridge with all that we purchased, but had to work it like Tetris to get everything in. I immediately went to work on dinner and had a renewed excitement about cooking. I pan-seared the salmon in olive oil, steamed the green beans, and sliced up the yellow and red tomatoes with some red onion to make a salad. I used a limes and some cilantro in the rice, which accompanied the salmon perfectly. There’s something to be said about fresh ingredients as everything was absolutely delicious. Of course, the chef has a lot to do with it.
Needless to say, we are making plans our final childless weekend and very much looking forward to it. With Orlando perfectly centered in Florida, it offers a smooth segue to everything we want to do. We traveled to the West coast in about two hours, passing and very close to all sorts of hot spots we are planning to visit. Next weekend is the East coast, Palm Beach specifically. Yes, there’s a beach and yes, we are going to a particular antiquarian book store. But, that’s what we love! I know we’ll see other sights, dine in some local restaurants, and stop for artery-clogging junk food along the way. That’s what makes it so special! I do love living in the heart of Florida. Even in Orlando we find new things to do around every corner—it’s not all just theme parks. I will say, Michael and I do have annual passes to Disney, but we’ve gone to several museums and parks, shopped at local businesses, dined a variety of restaurants, attended shows at Plaza LIVE, and much more. There’s always something to do, with or without three teenagers in tow. And believe me, it’s definitely like you’re dragging them sometimes.
Overall, I think life is good. I didn’t always feel that way and found myself in an unhappy, dark place a few years ago. It was a bombardment of shitty things that left me asking, “Really?!” I honestly believed that my experiences were the examples used when explaining Murphy’s Law, because if anything could go wrong, it actually did. The opposing thought of “everything happens for a reason” or “look to the bright side” did nothing for me. “Roll with the punches” is great when you’re getting a few jabs now and again, not when it’s a full-on MMA assault.
Anyway, I’ve had to many good things happen as of late to maintain that philosophy. But, I do falter sometimes in my self-pity and have come to the conclusion that I’m the unknowing victim in W.W. Jacob’s short story, “The Monkey’s Paw.” For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a story about a withered, old monkey’s paw that will grant the owner three wishes. But, there’s a catch...there’s always a catch. You see, the hopeful person who makes the wish is messing with the hands of fate and must pay a price.
In the story, Mr. White decides to wish for money to pay off his house. His wish was granted. His son is in a fatal accident at work and the exact amount he needed was given to him by the factory as compensation. I won’t spoil the rest, but I think you get it. I’ve concluded that I have somehow obtained this monkey’s paw and made some wishes.
So, what had happened was....I got this job as a vacation planner last year and thought of it as a stepping stone to get where I wanted in the company. What I wanted to do was write and they had a content marketing department. My favorite job was for a hotel company essentially doing that very thing and I looked forward to getting back into the hospitality business. As I went through the training, I realized that this wasn’t necessarily a company I wanted to be a part of because I feel their business practices of luring people into timeshare ownership was deceptive. I found a way to work through my guilt by being completely honest with those calling in to plan vacations and educating them on the positive aspects of their investment. This did include warning them of the negative, but also how to make it work for them. It was amazing how much they didn’t know, even after years of ownership. I thought writing on the company newsletter or blog could fix that. But, booking vacations for them wasn’t the job for me. I wanted out—so, I made my wish.
I got my wish in the form of involuntary dismissal just before the six months ended, which was when I could apply for the other department. Not exactly what I meant Mr. Monkey’s Paw. The dismissal was not because of my performance. I consistently ranked in the top of my team with vacations booked. “Exceeds expectations!” I was told month after month. And, it wasn’t because of my customer satisfaction, because my surveys kept me around 100% when callers rated me. Their dissatisfaction with the company kept my overall score averaging around 92% in overall ratings. I got dismissed because I used my paid sick days. Yes, the company provided paid days off for illness, but you were penalized with an “occurrence” if you used them. The final straw was my leaving early to take my daughter to emergency care when her fever reached 103.8. This was the third time one of my kids had a fever over 103 while working for the company. Please note that aside from the common cold, my kids rarely get sick. Now to be fair, I understand I’m paid to be at work and the company has every right to expect my presence. However, life happens—which is why the company provided the benefit. Either way, I got my wish—I was out.
Another good example was finding the perfect home for the kids and me when I got divorced. The condo complex is gated and has a security guard. It’s very quiet and lush with trees and beautiful landscaping. It also has an amazing lakeside pool facing west to watch the sunsets. The location is perfect just south of downtown and practically across the street from two highly ranked schools for the kids. And, it has a great layout with a huge kitchen. A year after I moved in, the owner I was renting from decided she wanted to sell the condo. I was extremely disappointed and made my wish she’d change her mind. The first thing to stop the sale was the refrigerator breaking. In the course of six months with a half dozen or so repair visits and missing work to accommodate the appointments, I lost a few hundred hundred dollars worth of food and salary. Well, I didn’t have to move, right? It was taken off the market again a few months later when the roof started leaking. More repair visits. I’m still living in the condo almost two years after it went on the market. I think I could be winning on this one.
This is just a couple of examples in a series of wishes that make me heed the warning of being careful what you wish for. It almost doesn’t stop me from wishing for my dream job where I can write and be as creative as my little heart desires. The pessimist in me thinks something will go wrong. Like, my boss will love my work, but tell me they have an adversity to using verbs in a sentence. It could happen. I once had a boss that insisted on everyone using #2 pencils, but went crazy if they saw any eraser shavings on the desk. She would literally stand there as you cleaned up, watching to ensure every strand was gone. No amount of free lunches was going to make that better (I was twenty and having lunch provided was fantastic). So, yes, something could go wrong.
The good thing is that the optimist side is a bit stronger and keeps pushing me along—keeping me hopeful that I will find the right job for me. My fiancé insists that statistically I’m due for a great job. I sincerely hope the science of mathematics works, or rather it’s my wish that it does.
I’ve learned something about myself recently. I’m really not a very good driving teacher. I officially have two teenage boys learning to drive and I am a hot mess. The funny part is I am the backseat driver--literally. My fiancé is the teacher sitting ringside and I guess you would call me the teacher’s aid. I sit in the backseat and observe, chime in when needed with my driving know-how, and get to say “slow down” a lot. I let Michael do almost all of the teaching and he’s really very good. He’s patient and already has Son #2 driving with the regular traffic on lesson three. If it were me, we’d still be driving in circles in the empty parking lots and my need for Xanax would be astronomical.
I’ve learned my self-control is stronger than I thought as I can sit quietly and appear calm in the back seat, despite sometimes feeling like my death (or that of a fellow citizen) is flashing in front of my eyes. Son #2 is driving very well and an excellent student. He listens, doesn’t panic, and follows directions. I, on the other hand, have small panic attacks with each turn of the wheel. The silent scream of “Oh my god!” rings through my head as we weave through a grocery store parking lot as unknowing potential victims walk by. Today was driving in 5-o’clock rush hour traffic as the swarms of commuters fly through the downtown residential neighborhoods. We survived unscathed. And, my need to control the situation (because obviously I know best) has taken the backseat with me. I don’t question the teacher’s methods and let him instruct. I need to keep things serene by not blurting out my worrisome mother-thoughts.The last thing any of us need is a distracting debate while teaching a teenager to drive. Besides, Michael knows never go against a half-Mexican when death is on the line.
I’ve learned to give Son #2 more credit in what he can accomplish. It’s not that I didn’t think he couldn’t do this whole driving thing, it’s just the idea he could do so well in the first three lessons. I know we have to allow our kids to fail in order to succeed. But, I don’t think they meant while driving your one-ton vehicle for the first time. Failure means car accidents and the potential for my seeing blood. I have a weak stomach for that sort of thing, not to mention my immense despair anyone get hurt--much less my son. I don’t take for granted anything can happen during this ritual right of passage. It’s my willingness to be open to the fact the boys can successfully learn to drive when given the chance to do it on their own...with our help. Five to ten years should be enough time to learn to drive, right?
I’ve learned to trust. Not that I don’t have the utmost faith in Michael. I do, completely. It’s trusting that he knows what he’s doing when he decides Son #2 can drive up busy Michigan Avenue with the many maniacal drivers on the road. There is no one I have more faith in than Michael. He puts my mind at ease with a simple look toward the back seat, always sensing my angst. He knows me. Not unlike Son #2, this is a first for both of us--for him, driving; and for me, allowing it. It really is a leap of faith no matter how much trust you have in those you love. Quite honestly, it’s not my concern so much for those in my car, but those people driving alongside us. As a veteran driver, I know way too many people drive rather shitty and won’t know we’re in teaching mode. I know there will be that one day when we’re honked at, yelled at, and get the universal hand gesture signaling their displeasure with our driving presence. Perhaps that’s the real right of passage.
I’ve learned that I will survive this driving lesson with a sense of humor. My father did. My dad was patient and a great teacher, but let you know street racing is illegal when I floored it at a green light. I also heard, “What shade of green do you like?” if I was too slow. These jaunts out on the open road have brought a bit of nostalgia with them. I remember driving with my father and his comments like, “you may want to pick a lane, you can’t have both.” or “You’re supposed to have your eyes open when driving.” My dad is not one to let any opportunity go by where he can poke a little fun. And just like my him, Michael keeps things lighthearted with his jabs at Son #2’s sudden stops causing whip-lash or gunning the accelerator when the light turns green. I know this is all part of learning to drive, and having a good sense of humor whiling doing it is essential...not to mention a neck brace.
I’ve learned to be humble about my own driving experiences. They key is not to brag how perfect you remember your first time out driving. It wasn’t. I was nervous and anxious, just like the boys are. Did I assume it would be easy and didn’t need much help? I’m sure I did. However, what I share is my own mistakes while learning to drive. My parents told me to take it slow when changing lanes, ease into it. When #2 switches lanes as if it’s the last thing he’ll ever do. I say the same thing my father did. When I turned corners on two wheels, my dad let me know he wasn’t ready to die. It’s okay to share your mishaps with your children as it reminds them no one is perfect and we don’t expect them to be. We let him know we are proud of him regardless of whether or not we were at times terrified. And, we also let him know what he needs to work on. If we get this right, both our boys will be excellent drivers and feel comfortable behind the wheel--even if it’s out of alignment from hitting the curb.
Lessons for Son #1 will commence soon and he has a completely different personality. He is somewhat like me in the sense I want to be perfect the first time out with anything I do. Perhaps all of us are like that when trying something new. We know it isn’t possible and can get easily discouraged. A different approach will be needed with him and we will have to hold back on humorous criticism. I think having Son #2 start first was a good thing, like a primer. He is more laid back, whereas #1 is all business. For us parents, we are getting in the groove of teaching a life skill everyone takes for granted. It’s a refresher course for us and we are more aware of not only how important it is to follow the basic rules of the road, but we’re that learning this can be a scary experience for all involved. We’ve all been there. And for kids, teenagers specifically, they have to become vulnerable to their parents as they get behind the wheel for the first time. Name me a teenager who doesn’t hate that. They’ve spent the last few years trying to convince us they already know everything and can manage on their own. It’s obvious they can’t. Not yet.
So, I look forward to the day when my children call me to share their experience teaching their own children. Hopefully, they’ll be able to look back on their own experience and remember how much patience we had, relatively. I hope they recognize this is a driving lesson for us parents as well. I’ve already started thinking about teaching my daughter how to drive. I’ve got about four more years to prepare. However, I’m really not too worried. Everyone knows women are the better drivers.
I really don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. Why wait until a new year to start doing the things you want to do? I constantly think about the things I want to change—all year. Let’s call it a coincidence I’m starting in January. I guess you could say with all the talk of resolutions, it’s made me think about making some changes. Perhaps it’s in the phrasing. So, I’ll change “I plan to…” with “I want to.”
I want to be more proactive in my goals, which includes getting a job that allows me to be creative. This essentially means using my brain as guiding people on where to vacation has felt sales-ish. I guess if there are incentives involved in booking vacations, that’s really what I’m doing—sales. That is not why I chose a degree in writing. I want to devote more time to writing, not just blogging. However, I do need to get back into doing that, too.
I want to be more effective with my time, accomplishing what I need to in a timely manner. I have this knack for procrastinating and then feeling stressed when it’s crunch time. I want to make lists, which is writing (see what I did?). That extra time can be better spent doing other things, like napping. I’m kidding, but I’m not. However, there really isn’t anything more satisfying than crossing shit off your list.
I want to be more steadfast with my kids as I seem to have adopted their lackadaisical attitude they have housework and homework. They need discipline and so do I. I could spend hours talking about how this will help with raising respectful, responsible kids. I can’t expect them to be accountable if I’m not, even if it’s just to myself.
I want to clean more. This sounds like I’m being funny, but I’m not (although I am sort of laughing as I write it). Now, I know I have kids for that, but there’s a certain way I like things and I have become flippant about even that. I have hoarder tendencies and need to keep that in check if I want my home to look clean after spending the time doing the maid stuff. Mopping around boxes in the corner or wiping down counters laden with mail is absurd if you think about it.
I want to be more efficient in my household shopping. Planning out meals and keeping an eye on toiletries will not only save on time, but it will prevent those last minute trips to the store for toilet paper. I’m not a huge fan of buying in bulk, however with a family of five sometimes you have to let it go. Seeing 50 rolls of toilet paper in the closet can be sexy from what I hear. I do enjoy cooking and creating a menu for the week would benefit everyone, mostly me. I can’t stand the daily questions of what I’m making for dinner, especially if they are watching me make it. Hearing ”whatcha making?” as I flip a hamburger is justifiable homicide, right? Then there’s the concept of posting menus as it lends itself to disgruntled family members. One doesn’t like roasted chicken, but likes it breaded. One doesn’t like potatoes mashed, but likes them fried. Those with kids totally get me. And you can forget about vegetables of any kind with the kids. I guess you could say since I buy the food and cook it, I decide. However, I HATE throwing food away. And, making them eat what’s on their plate is such a pain. Besides, I hated that as a kid, too. I’d rather buy vitamins, in bulk. I’ve tried various recipes, including those that trick them into eating veggies. Now, there’s joy in saying, “HA! You ate a vegetable and liked it!” However, then they won’t trust my cooking and that would piss me off even more after spending time deceitfully (yet artfully) making meatballs out of black beans and cauliflower.
I want to be more connected with my family. With so many things going on in my own life, I forget to ask about theirs. I love chatting with my siblings, they’re super funny. Not to mention, talking to my grizzled Dad and spirited stepmother. You’d think they weren’t in the same room together when they’re faux-bitching about what the other is doing, but they are. I miss them all. I don’t want to only call when I have a problem, or have to call because of an ambiguous Facebook post when I should have known how their lives were going. I want the good stuff, too. And, I want to get to know my fiancée’s family, as well. Surely they can’t be crazier than mine.
I want to read more. I did sign up for my Goodreads book challenge. But, it shouldn’t be a challenge to read a book. I used to lock myself away and read ferociously, but that fell by the wayside as of late. That’s the last thing I needed to stop doing. The only way to become a better writer is to be a better reader. I read that somewhere.
I want to not be on the resolution bandwagon and mention exercise, but I will. I want to exercise. Although I look amazingly younger than I am (I got carded at the liquor store), I want to have energy and not continue the thigh-vs-jean melee every morning. I think I still look good, but I could do better. My fiancée is a runner (although on temporary hiatus) and what better way to get closer to him than to enjoy what he does? He wants to train me and I know it will make me say ugly things, but it will be good for both of us in the end. And he knows I won’t mean it when I say things like asshole or suck it.
Well, there are my not-resolutions so far. I want to have more, I think. Like travel or spend more time at the beach or go antiquing or perhaps meditate. But, I want to pace myself for now.
I started reading A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham and found myself absolutely enamored. What Cunningham has essentially done is taken well-known fairy tales and applied a lot of modern day reality. I describe it as a sardonic twist on the old-fashioned happy ending. Personally, I don’t mind that not every story ends like a Hollywood movie. And when it comes to reading, if I finish a book and the girl doesn’t end up with the guy or the dog dies anyway — I’m firmly planted in the reality. This isn’t to say I’m not left saying, “Seriously?!” I move on with the notion that the author knows things don’t always work out the way we wanted. And that my friends, is life.
I, like most people, grew up believing in the fairy tale endings. It goes something like this: I meet the man of my dreams, we get married, travel the world, have two kids — a boy and girl — and live in a huge estate by the ocean (and by estate I mean castle.) We’d live happily ever after, of course. I understand completely how that sounds now, but we’ve all done it. We’ve all watched a movie or read a book thinking, “That’s exactly how it’s going to be for me.” For the fortunate, it really does happen…well, maybe not the castle. As for the rest of us, our experiences have shown that it was all just a fantasy.
One of short stories Cunningham cleverly wrote is called "Poisoned." You know you’re reading about Snow White and The Prince who gave her the kiss of life. But, what happens after they get hitched? Life happens. Bills, work, mood swings, and worn-out jokes about that damn apple she just had to take a bite of. Also, it seems those little dwarf friends of Snow’s got a little too comfortable hanging around. Sounds like some in-laws I used to know. The good thing is that the dialogue between Snow and her man shows they are still in love and making it work despite the little obstacles of life.
SW: Tell me something you love about me.
P: Come on.
SW: Be specific.
P: Okay. I love the thing you do with your mouth when you’re concentrating. This little squinchy thing, sort of half biting your lip but not exactly, it’s just…squinchy, it’s totally involuntary, it’s so you.
I’ll take that answer over a fairy-tale version any day. It’s real and heart-felt — not some arbitrary response like “because you’re pretty.” We all get caught up in our expectations, having decided how life is going to play out.
I’m not saying that I don’t still sit and dream about how I want my life to be. It’s all very parallel to the fantasies I created when I was younger. The thing I’ve learned is that my daydreams have to be altered to fit my reality. I will share this, it’s true what they say when meeting your true love — the heavens open up, the sun shines brighter, and you instantly feel like you can’t breathe. The storybooks definitely got that part right. We may not be traveling the world right now or living in a house on the ocean — however, this doesn’t diminish any aspect of what I’ve always wanted. I have new dreams now, along with a new attitude when things don’t go exactly as planned. I have no doubt that’s what they meant by happily ever after.
There is definitely an art to rediscovering yourself. It’s done in pieces and when it comes together, it’s a magical thing. You feel as sense of relief – a sense of triumph. All of the things I ever wanted out of life have suddenly come to light and now it’s time to take action. I think the biggest obstacle is maintaining confidence in yourself and believing that you are capable of greater things; especially if you’ve convinced yourself for years that you aren’t. As I’ve mentioned in my recent posts, I’ve made many changes in my life. Admittedly, when making these changes, a sense of doubt crept in making me question everything. I knew that getting a divorce was necessary, but could I be a single mother and maintain a career all on my own? It was overwhelming at times. There was really no choice but to move forward and that in itself helped me see that I could. Although I have the support from those I love and care about, I knew I had to make things happen for myself. I came to realize that I needed to restructure my thinking and focus on what it took to build my new life –not dwell on things I had no control over. I’ve gone through the hardest part and I know I came out successful in the end. In fact, I like who I am a lot more and believe I’m a better person because of it. However, this is a long process. And while I’m in a better place, I know I’m never quite “done.” Change is constant.
As it relates to the things I want out of life, that was a little more challenging. I no longer have to sacrifice my goals because of someone else. It may sound like an excuse I keep using, and perhaps it is in a way. In hindsight, I didn’t realize I was a victim of mental abuse by someone who saw me as inferior. I didn’t recognize how much of myself I had neglected. This marriage started to deteriorate because I was figuring all of this out, questioning why I let someone have such control. Our life was in a constant state of uncertainty. Almost every single problem we faced financially and emotionally was because one person didn’t want to do their part. As a result, I became withdrawn. I no longer voiced my thoughts or what I wanted. That’s no way for a marriage to survive. Now that I have separated myself from that, I am the only thing that can hold me back and that’s not going to ever happen again.
My days are now filled with what I want and I’ve never been happier. I’m still looking for that dream job, but at least I know what it is. And, I’m not waiting around for it to happen; I’m actively pursuing it. The best part in my entire rediscovery process is that I’ve surrounded myself with those who support me unconditionally. The most important person in my life genuinely cares for me and has always encouraged me to be my own person.
Given everything I’ve done to redefine my goals in life, I’m no longer afraid to take a chance. I can’t lose. I can only learn more about myself. That’s truly what it’s all about. No longer am I worried about what others will think and curb who I am to appeal to them. I don’t pretend that my world is absolutely perfect. Shit happens, and that’s life. However, what I chose to do after that makes all the difference.
Someone once said “Whatever you’re willing to put up with is exactly what you will have.” Hence the need for boundaries as they are a reflection of the respect you have for yourself and the respect you want from others. Whether it’s your children, family, friends or co-workers, you have to know when to say yes and have the courage to say no. Most important is your commitment to these boundaries. When you start making exceptions, those lines get real fuzzy. Ambiguity becomes the norm. I know from experience—having no set boundaries in place—it can be a difficult challenge once you get started. However, think about how you feel when they are ignored. You may feel resentment, or perhaps you get overwhelmed. I know there are times I felt helpless during my divorce when boundaries were repeatedly violated. Now, through experience, I now have learned to respect myself and my feelings.
Boundaries are defined as something that shows where one area ends and another begins. A demarcation point, if you will. It’s a point (or limit) where two things become different. I will loosely apply the definition to getting a divorce as nothing could further define what was happening. I became different. I was rediscovering all of the things I wanted to be -- who I wanted to be. My husband felt the changes I was making pushed the limits of his own boundaries. My wants and needs were constantly, and blatantly, being ignored. At the start of the separation, I was highly advised to set boundaries for not only my ex, but for everyone in my life. This was a most difficult task. My emotions and stress levels were reaching an all-time high. I was dealing with someone who felt he wasn’t accountable for his behavior. As anyone who has been through a divorce will tell you, boundaries are extremely essential. Almost two years after the initial separation and one year after our divorce, I am still receiving calls near midnight. I can promise you that no good can come from answering a call from your ex at midnight. Ever.
Life is all about boundaries; whether they are your own or what we have to live by. However, they aren’t all about limitations. They can be lifesavers as well. Equate them to traffic signs – they tell you when to go, when to stop, when to yield, and what speed to travel. You can also apply this to signs that read open or closed. I have close friends and family with whom I am open and readily share myself. Conversely, I have flipped the sign to closed for those with their own agendas that endangered mine. Learning to say no in any form is something we should all practice if that’s what you feel. Whether it’s a question you don’t want to answer or something you don’t want to do. Be honest with them and yourself. Then we have “friends” who drop into your life when the spirit hits them. It’s never about you, but about them and the attention they want. That ex-boyfriend who’s in town wants to get together for drinks. Remember there’s a reason they’re an ex. The girl from high school who you haven’t heard from in five years needs a ride to the airport. Yea, that’s not going to happen. Take a close look at people in your life and see if there’s a mutual friendship there. Or, are you the one maintaining it.
It’s time to reflect on what your boundaries are. We all have a few in some form or fashion. I perused the internet and read books to get ideas of the boundaries I needed to make when getting divorced. But, I also reflected on what I wanted and expected from others and myself. Being a single mother required me to change my approach with my kids and my family. I found I am much more confident in knowing that I am ready to speak up for myself having established boundaries in my life.
Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.
~Shannon L. Alder
I am a woman-child at heart; continuously evolving to find my place in life. I am a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I am a lover and a dreamer--an explorer and a traveler. But it's my passion for writing that allows me to explore my ingenuity. This is something that undoubtedly carries over to the many roles that make up the ever evolving woman I am.