Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Totally New Direction

The most cursory glance at posts on this blog over the past few months will demonstrate that this has been a time of transition, change and growth for me.  Some wonderful things are happening now, and I am doing what I need to do to lay the foundation for the future I want to build.

It saddens me to discover that one of the casualties of that process is to be this blog, at least for the foreseeable future.

Writing this blog has been a joy. Sharing stories is what I'm all about.  Going forward, I plan to focus on other things, including writing non-fiction. I enjoy blogging so much that I'm sure there will be another blog in my future someday.  Right now, I don't have the time to devote to blogging with the level of commitment required to do it well.

I will continue to monitor comments and my email from time to time, so if you feel inclined to reach out, please know that I'll get the message.

Thanks to all who have stopped by, and thanks in particular to those who've taken the time to comment or sent emails.  I truly am thrilled when someone drops out of the ether to make a connection.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Two Inspiring Women (One Real, One Fictional)

Originally Posted - THURSDAY, AUGUST 6, 2009

Revised: September 2013

For some reason, today I sort of meandered down the road of recalling people who have most inspired me. The first two names that popped into my head were Erma Bombeck and Mary Richards.

My self-image as a kind of literary type would love to have those first two names be Germaine Greer and Lucy Maud Montgomery (the author of the Anne of Green Gables books), who were authors who inspired me. [I would be willing to bet this is the first time those two ladies names have appeared in the same sentence and I bet they'd both love that!]

But, my heart remembered Erma Bombeck and Mary Richards, first.

Upon reflection, I have to admit that my heart did a bang-up job of dredging up the two people who I most wanted to be when I was a young woman.

First, I (and most other girls I knew) wanted to be Mary Richards. She was pretty. She had a totally awesomely cool apartment. She was a single, career woman living alone in a city. She was a writer. She was everything I wanted to be. I don't think I missed one episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show during its entire run, and I probably watched most of the reruns. A lot of my friends were similarly inspired by that show. Mary Richards was a free-spirited woman who was not a bra-burning radical. She offered a sort of middle way for women who did not necessarily want to pursue a life of marriage and motherhood, but who also were not particularly radical.

My adulation for Erma Bombeck is a little more difficult to explain. I never had any intention of getting married or having a family. (I ultimately did both, but it was not part of the plan. I was going to be Mary Richards, remember?) I didn't want to be a mom living in Dayton, Ohio, writing about laundry and cleaning products. The things about Erma Bombeck that lit me up and inspired me were that she was honest and she was funny ... and she was from suburban Dayton, Ohio, which I took to mean you didn't have to be an anorexic, Bryn Mawr educated woman living in New York to be a literary success. (That was important because I was a fat, small town kid from rural Ohio.)

Women in the Midwest in the 1960's were not encouraged to be honest or funny. Bombeck managed to be both a nice lady and honest as well as funny as hell. Not to mention a fabulous writer.

I wanted to be a humor writer, documenting the life of a single career-woman.

I ended up a married, career-woman, who writes stories. I'm still working on the "funny" part.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Achieving a Lofty Goal (Or, the Bear Went Over The Mountain...)

Since 2005, I've written more than a dozen novels, virtually every one of them dealing in one way or another with the issue of how a person puts their life back together after tragedy strikes.  I think every one of those stories was essentially my mind rehearsing various scenarios for what I might do if (when) my life imploded.  The first novel I wrote, Always Faithul, was really my fantasy about how I wanted to navigate midlife: launch my child successfully and go tripping down the path to old age, hand-in-hand with my husband, still as much in love as ever. I knew even as I was writing that story, my own ending would be different. My marriage was already dying, and neither of us made much of an attempt to save it.

After that, while my own life slowly unraveled, I wrote fantasies with various other scenarios: reconnecting with lost loves; finding new loves; pursuing some kind of new job in a new place, etc.

For the last three and a half years, the total focus of my life was to pick up the pieces of my shredded soul and get my daughter through college. I have accomplished both of those goals. I have reassembled the remnants of my past life into something new, and my kid has launched.  She's headed off on the next leg of her own journey to adulthood.

As a part of the process of reassembling my life, I spent a lot of time reading some of my past non-fiction writing, both my journals and  my previous attempts at blogging.  Reading one's journals is a terrifying thing. In retrospect, I could see the foreshadowing of future catastrophes that I couldn't imagine when I wrote the entry.  It can also be hilarious to discover how clueless I can be at times.  I also revisited my previous (abandoned) blogs.  I discovered there's some good stuff to be found there (some of which I am going to recycle and post here from time to time).

Right now, it's time for me to do the actual work of moving forward, alone, after that midlife meltdown. The task before me is to reach down and find out what I really want to do with my life (as opposed to what I used to want or thought I should want).

The time has come for me to walk my path.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"The Conflict: How Overzealous Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women" by Elisabeth Badinter

This book may be the new Feminine Mystique. It certainly has the potential to be as controversial. Badinter occasionally gives in to the temptation to make blanket statements that actually made me mad. However, I think if you eliminate the (intentionally?) polemical tone, and look at the content, the woman's got a real point. Over-parenting may ultimately be almost as bad for the kids as neglect. It certainly is bad for the parents, especially mothers.

My mother never worked for wages. Most of the mothers of my childhood friends worked at home, as well. I knew few women who were employed. Virtually all of the women who worked for wages had no children: some were childless and others were older ladies whose children were grown. One of my school chums was the child of a single mom (I don't recall if her parents were divorced or if her dad had died). Her mother was a nurse. She was the only working mom among all my friends. I never met her because she was not involved at the school like the other mothers. She was too busy keeping food on the table and the light bill paid.

When I had my daughter, I quit working for wages for four years. Among my group of friends, a few worked full time, a few were at-home moms and most worked part-time. The women who worked full-time had more money, and typically had help with both housework and childcare. We at-home moms lived a very similar existence to our mothers, and we shared childcare among ourselves to give one another a break from time to time. When my daughter was four, I went to work part-time in order to pay for a nursery school for her, because she needed to be around other children. 

In my first job after I returned to gainful employment, I worked with three women: a woman who had never married and who was the caregiver for her elderly mother who suffered from dementia; a woman who worked full-time and had five children from three to early teens (the older three all played some kind of sport); and, a single mother of one preteen girl who also worked full time. All three of those women were exhausted virtually all the time.

In various subsequent part-time and, now, full-time jobs, I've seen that scenario play out over and over. Mothers are expected to work full time, take care of their homes and be involved in every aspect of their children's lives. Some husbands step up and help with child-rearing and housework. Most do not. The women all take up the slack. Virtually every woman I know with children at home is trying to do all the mothering that at-home moms used to do (and more) while working full-time. It's no wonder they are stressed-out and exhausted.

Part of that is because I think on-the-job expectations of productivity have increased with the use of technology. In the past, a day in which I read and responded to twenty or thirty letters or memos would have been an extremely busy day. Now, I get more than 100 emails a day, and virtually every one of them is time sensitive. At the end of the day, I'm mentally drained. But, that's okay because I come home to an empty house. I can make dinner if I feel like it, or eat cheese and crackers for supper. My house doesn't get messy because I clean as I go, and I'm the only one here. That gives me the time in the evenings and weekends to relax and rest.

My colleague, on the other hand, who has the same workload, goes home every night and cooks for her family. She helps her two kids with homework. She does all of the housework. She is exhausted, stressed, and worried all the time. I worry for both her physical and mental health.

The few women with kids who worked in the 1960's were not expected to be involved in their after-school activities or sports. Actually, a lot of the kids of working (usually single) moms did not participate in after school activities or sports because there was no one to provide transportation, and, often, not enough money. The at-home moms were involved in school activities because they had the time, but even the at-home moms did not spend every minute of every day serving their children's every need or wish.  Parents did not "entertain" their children. Kids were expected to keep themselves occupied and stay out of the way as much as possible. 

Until recently, nobody was expected to parent with the intensity that young people are doing today.

Today, women are expected to bring home the bacon, cook it, clean up, take their kids to sports practice and/or make sure they are being entertained with "enriching" experiences.  After that, they do the laundry and/or help the kids with (mostly stupid, busywork) homework assignments.

The constant pressure to over-parent endangers the parents' health and, potentially, their relationships. Badinter's point is that it is very bad for women in every area of their lives. Modern mothers are supposed to be virtually slaves to their children.

That's bad for the parents, but I fear even that what it's doing to the kids may be worse.  They are growing up believing that they are each the center of the universe and all their desires must be fulfilled immediately and abundantly.

They are in for such a rude awakening! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Navigating the Rapids of Change: Easy Does It

In my late twenties, after years of working a grinding schedule, I had the opportunity to switch to working part-time, on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule.  The first Tuesday I was off, I wandered from room to room thinking about all the projects I could undertake around the house, and day-dreaming about various creative things I wanted to do.  At the end of the day, I had accomplished exactly nothing. I didn't even cook dinner.

For the first time since childhood, I had large blocks of time that I could fill any way I wanted. I didn't know what to do with all that free time, so I basically frittered it away, accomplishing nothing for a couple of weeks. When I became acclimated to the schedule, I filled up my time with housekeeping, volunteering and lots of reading. (To this day there is nothing I love better than to spend a day immersed in a book while the rest of the world is at work.)

These days, here in my little Empty Nest, I'm undergoing a similar experience. I am at a turning point in my life, and there are a lot of options before me.  Basically, what I've been doing is looking out my window and daydreaming about all the things I could be doing.

I haven't written any fiction in a couple of months. That isn't because I've run out of ideas. On the contrary, I have so many characters and stories swirling around inside my head, I can't focus on any one of them in particular.  In addition, I want to do something new, something different from anything I've done before. I may try writing a new genre. I may experiment with some other kind of creative outlet.  Something is clearly bubbling in my Soul, but it has not yet revealed itself.

In the past,  I would have felt frustrated or depressed to be at such loose ends.  This time, I'm going to be kind to myself.  I'm going to give myself the time that my mind and heart need to settle into a new stage of life. Other than my boss for 8-10 hours a day five days a week, I have no one to answer to, and I can do as I please. If I feel like doing nothing, that's what I'll do -- at least until some of those characters and stories come into better focus.  Then I'll get busy again. Maybe.

Then again, maybe I'll just continue to look out my window and savor the utter magnificence of my surroundings.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Is War Really the Best Way to Solve Political Disputes?

As a general rule, I don't like books or movies about war.  Recently, the book The Thin Red Line by James Jones came up on a Kindle Daily Deal, so I bought it thinking that it might be interesting to get some insight into what my dad might have experienced on Guadalcanal. (He never talked about the war with me.)

I think this book is probably as realistic a depiction of the jungle combat as is possible to convey in words to someone who has never been in the military. The utter stupidity of warfare comes through in every paragraph.

There wasn't much of a plot other than the struggle for a few guys with nothing in common to work as a team, and stay alive while being bombed daily from the air and periodically sent into battle to gain a few feet of jungle. The characters were something of a  motley lot. Interestingly, the "heroes" were not particularly heroic. The cowards were more interesting and in many ways more sympathetic. The only women mentioned in the story were thousands of miles away, and they were for the most part stereotypes. It was less a story than a tableau of a few guys' experiences during a critical battle in a long war.

I can't help but comment on the experience of reading the book itself. It was originally published in 1962.  The rules for fiction were different then.  I think I like those rules better than the rules today. Jones had the luxury to meander around in his story and provide a level of detail about the inner lives and back story for the characters that would be verboten today. I loved the narrative detail and the opportunity to get inside the heads (and hearts) of multiple characters. The story was the same as any other war story: stay alive, keep as many of your buddies alive as you can and don't piss off the brass. Jones shows the reader, from inside the characters' heads, what that was like.

It was fascinating (and frightening) to see how ordinary people from many walks of life and various socio-economic classes can be turned into killers. Jones describes in detail the psychological transformation that comes over soldiers during combat, and he doesn't shy away from their struggles to return to some sort of normal state after the fighting stops.  It's obvious that many of the soldiers in the story will end up so psychologically scarred they can never be the men they once were.

That caused me to think about the young men and women serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of those kids have been deployed for years. Even the ones who don't have physical wounds must be emotionally and spiritually traumatized, whether they are aware of it or not.  How can someone be in a combat zone for years at a time and not suffer permanent emotional damage?  The statistics on the numbers of homeless veterans from Vietnam and Desert Storm do not bode well for our currently active duty soldiers.

I don't understand how political leaders can sleep at night after sending their countries' young people into combat unless it is absolutely necessary.  (In my opinion the only absolutely necessary military action since WWII was the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.)

As is typical when I read about almost any war, my ultimate reaction to this story was the final line from the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai  -- "Madness!!"


This post was queued up for publication before President Obama requested Congress to authorize military intervention in Syria.

I voted for President Obama, twice. I read his email about his reasons for requesting Congressional authority to intervene in Syria. I follow his reasoning.  It makes logical sense.  But, it strikes me an updated version of the old Domino Theory that brought us the Vietnam fiasco. I do not believe that some sort of limited "shock and awe" military intervention would make any difference in Syria -- or anyplace else. We should have learned from Vietnam not to EVER get into a fight without a concrete end in mind and a strategy for accomplishing it. I give the president credit for getting Congress involved in the decision, since war powers rest with Congress (a fact, that presidents -- including President Obama -- have been ignoring since the Truman administration). However, the place to be having those discussions is at the United Nations, not the U. S. Congress.

It is past time that a country (my preference would be the US) would be brave and visionary enough to say, "Stop the madness!"  We must find a way to settle political disputes that does not involve violence. We will not alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people by dropping bombs on top of poison gas.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Growing Old With Attitude

While I was in junior high, my mom and her three closest friends all turned 40. When the youngest of the group had her 40th birthday, they got together for lunch at the home of one of the ladies. It was summer, so I went with my mom. The birthday lady cried through the whole party. The other women tried to console her, but she couldn't stop crying. She said she felt that all she had ahead of her was loss: menopause with the loss of fertility; the loss of her children as they grew up and left home; and, she feared, the loss of her husband's love as she turned into an old woman. The others pointed out that there were good things such as not having rug rats constantly needing something and the opportunity to occasionally go out for dinner alone with your husband. The oldest of the women, whose kids were already grown, insisted that her marriage got better after the kids left home. The birthday lady wasn't having any of it.

I have never understood why people are so freaked out about getting older. I've always thought older people (especially women) were very interesting. My idol was Kathryn Hepburn, who was in her seventies when I was in my early teens. I loved her crotchety, smart and funny persona. I made it a point to watch every interview she ever gave. (The Dick Cavet interviews are classics!)

The women I knew personally whom I admired the most were all older women. My mentor and "other mother" was a childless woman who was one of my mom's best friends. She didn't wear make-up or a girdle, and she didn't wear a bra when she was at home. In my [small-town Midwestern] world that was very edgy. Another woman I admired was a lady who went to our church. She was cool because, even though she was in her sixties, she drove a Corvette, wore stylish clothes (including miniskirts) and didn't seem to give a damn what other people thought of her. I wanted to be like those women, but most of my life I gave in to cultural pressure. In other words, I wimped out and did what others told me to do.

Now that I'm flirting with sixty, and alone -- dependent on no one and with no one dependent on me --, it's time for me to conform to no one's expectations but my own. I don't have any expectations for myself other than that I will commit to savoring small pleasures and to being creative in as many ways as I can -- whatever that may mean. I'll figure it out as I go along.

Who would have guessed that getting old could be so exciting? Maybe it's not quite as exciting as the very first time you move out on your own, when you're too young and inexperienced to know that you should be terrified at the prospect of some of the shit that life will dump on your head. When you start over in the third stage of life, you do it with your eyes wide open and in the knowledge that you can survive (and even thrive) with a whole lot of shit on your head.

Today, most of the happiest people I know are women over 50. That includes me.