REPORT A PROBLEM
I feel sad when I'm alone in the apartment, though happy that my son is independent and hanging out with good friends. I find myself looking back at the day and trying to rewrite it, looking at my flaws with a magnifying glass. It would be helpful if you could re-do days, but you can't. It's as though I'm afraid to look at good things about myself and life, my boss and D. really liking the new course, family members looking forward to spending Xmas Eve at my place, and my writing buddy and I planning to visit J. tomorrow.
I still treasure the memory of the gift my ex-husband gave me (well, he wasn't my ex at the time) the Christmas after my mother died. A glass sculpture of an angel, maybe a foot high, it gleamed in light. He said he chose it because I was his angel.
Of course, the marriage ended for good reason; the emotional abuse--physically preventing me from taking a late-night walk--finding ways to disrupt my writing--once wanting me to promise not to write on New Year's Day--are so obvious now. But they weren't then--maybe the angel represents whatever was good in the marriage.
It's been a long time since a guy called to wish me merry Christmas. My son enjoys taking walks to Mariono's with me, and tomorrow my brothers and their families will visit for Christmas Eve--brothers I didn't know until adulthood. I have friends I email and see regularly, a job I love, belong to a critique group of published writers, was published twice in the last twelve months, have cats surviving diabetes and hyperthyroid disease. A. regards me as a daughter, and M. sends me a card from Ma and Dad and the rest of the family. Thank you, God.
Christmas. What does it mean? Jesus's birth, of course--but what does Jesus mean to me? He was a person--maybe a divine one--who lived many many years ago, but his rules for living--love one another--resonate still and are the reason I still call myself Christian, if ex-Catholic. And Christmas itself seems to have taken on a life of its own, inspired by the joy of God sending someone like Jesus to us, reminding us to love each other--the joy of love, the joy of giving, the joy in remembering that all people are brothers and sisters. The heady joy of celebrating.
Writing about Rachel and sports is tricky. Should she change and love sports just because her friends do? If so, then her friends should learn to appreciate fine art just like she does. I probably should learn more about sports, though, just to make the scenes with Benjie and David more authentic--just as I need to know more about creating art to make Rachel's endeavors more accurate. Luckily, research on the Internet is painless, and I have a sports expert in the house, smile. Sometimes I feel guilty about Rachel's aversion to sports, as my son loves sports so much.
I eat chocolate cake from yesterday--Jesus's birthday cake--and now feel regret because I ate too much. Ty scoffs--"Glad I'm a guy" because, he says, guys don't worry about whether or not they eat too much--if it tastes good, be grateful. But as a woman who used to be a girl, I still haven't recovered from seventh grade teasing for being overweight, and the fixation on dieting. At the same time, I know that the only times I've ever lost weight have been times when I focused on something else so much that I forgot about food--dieting is counterproductive for me.
When I was a kid, senior citizens were 65 and older. Now that I'm in my fifties and people are living longer and longer, senior citizen has been moved down to 55, sometimes even younger. I don't like it and I don't get it! If we're living longer and healthier, shouldn't the age when you're declared "senior" (i.e., old) be raised, not lowered? M. excitedly invites me to a senior luncheon, and C. tells me I can join the senior movie group. No thanks. I refuse to label myself old when I'm still working and competing! Why invite age discrimination?
Brittany and Tiffany are the cool, mean girls in Rachel's class. Tiffany's dad is a doctor--not sure what kind--and Brittany's mom is, believe it or not, a social worker and a single parent. Brittany is insecure and follows her beautiful, rich friend Tiffany in everything, including meanness--she can't see how her mom's helping people is in stark contrast with her own bullying of the "not cool" kids. Both Brittany and Tiffany have professional parents, and they value wealth and appearances, although Brittany feels more insecure. Tiffany has always been pampered and told she's better than others, and she believes it.
Caitlin's father is a lawyer, her mother a kindergarten teacher, and Caitlin's very impatient of people who aren't secure in themselves or who are incompetent. She gets some of that from her father who suffers no fools and has never accepted anything but the best from Caitlin or her brother. Caitlin's mother is more nurturing--her parents are mismatched and fight a lot. Caitlin relates more to her dad. Something about weakness infuriates her, which explains why she bullies Rachel. She and Miguel have been friends since kindergarten and now are dating. Nobody understood it, because Miguel is nice to everyone.
The critique group says that Rachel's dad doesn't talk like a poet--but do poets necessarily talk differently than other people? I see Frank as shy and not wanting to show off talents, even if he does see the world in metaphor and has an excellent vocabulary. Or am I just being lazy, or grasping for reasons why my dialogue isn't all it should be? Rachel and Benjie do tend to talk alike; I need to give them verbal mannerisms, maybe. Should I maybe even include a poem Rachel's dad writes about Rachel? Maybe he could write about Rachel and Goldie!
As I plan to write "stones," tiny bits of writing that pay close attention to something, anything, I think of my ex-husband who felt frustrated by sighted people--"You never notice anything except with your eyes!" Totally blind, he noticed everything--who was in the room, what they were eating, emotions signaled by tone of voice or by pauses, the weather outside by the sound of feet wet from rain or snow. But like most sighted people, when I think of observing I think of what I see, not the odor of coffee in the room or the rumbling of the furnace.
C. is dead; I read her obit in the Sun-Times today. She died three weeks ago. We could have been friends, although at times we were fierce enemies. We were both too strong, too blinded: I see everything as the daughter of a mentally ill mother, she saw everything as a wheelchair user. I don't think she ever believed that that didn't figure in my mind when I saw her. One time I took a picture of us all enjoying a Thanksgiving meal; she made a wry comment about a gimp Thanksgiving. I was thinking of a Thanksgiving of friends.
Steve Jobs advised college graduates, "Stay hungry, stay foolish," and I think that sums up my life, for good or for ill. Instead of majoring in something that would bring me money, I chose a passion close to my heart--creative writing--and my jobs focus on something just about as lucrative--disability rights and services. At age fifty-one, I go back for my MFA--again in creative writing--and now I'm a happy member of an online critique group for writers of kids' books. But rich people don't seem any happier or worry-free than me, even if I live paycheck-to-paycheck. I'm hungry, I'm foolish.
When my husband (now my ex) and I went to marriage counseling, when I was deciding whether or not I wanted to have a baby, I casually mentioned my family history--my mother's mental illness, my father leaving when I was one, having five younger half-siblings.
"Being abandoned for a whole new family--that's major" The counselor hurriedly wrote notes. I was an interesting case.
That's why I don't ever want to see a counselor again--I want to be seen as the person I am now, with lots of friends and a good job and a wonderful son--not as an "interesting case."
Chelsea Dagger plays on Pandora, and I remember the Blackhawks victory celebration parade with my son and his friends, the hot June sun blazing as we stood in a sardine-packed sea of black-and-red garbed fans, literally no place to move, human-to-human all the way from one side of Michigan Avenue to the other, nothing to do but wait until the festivities began, but we were entertained by one guy with gorgeous dreadlocks with a boom box that kept playing a scratchy version of Chelsea Dagger. T. was in complete bliss, though, despite the heat, anticipating the arrival of his heroes.
I confided in E. about the eviction when I was eleven, and not knowing what happened to our cats. It was a grief I'd pushed down to focus on my own survival. But E. was my best friend; I thought I could confide in her.
"You guys shouldn't have had so many animals."
Looking back, I wish I'd reacted in words: "Oh yeah? I tried to get my mentally ill mother to find homes for the animals--she wouldn't. I was a child."
E. wasn't concerned about my eleven-year-old self surviving an eviction.
My next, real bestfriend, wasn't an animal person.
Murphy's Law strikes again; walking home in autumn darkness, relishing the leaves blanketing sidewalks and the glow of streetlamps, happy about the on-sale black shoes bought at Payless and thinking about my upcoming Friday-night date with R.--how long has it been since I've had an actual date?--I trip and fall, full-impact, down on my knees. Barely could get up--but did, and slowly made it home. Barely skinned, but swollen lumps and feel stiff. Maybe it's good that I'm not skinny, smile--the padding probably helped! Still--wish I could be slender for the date. Does R. think I'm fat? Does he care?
They say people become more conservative as they get older, and I'm afraid that it is true for me--as I feel hesitant about joining Occupy Chicago, because what if I did get arrested? Would I get fired--the administration is not very liberal, and I need my job to support my college-student son and my diabetic and hyperthyroid cats, never mind me and my writing and my coffee addiction. My twenty- or thirty-year-old self would have been out in a tent with them. But--a lot of those Occupiers wouldn't be there either if they had jobs or had heavy family responsibilities.
My critique group will hate this chapter, wanting Rachel to tell the principal herself about the bullying. But in real life, Rachel wouldn't, wouldn't, wouldn't. Would her father tell, without asking Rachel?
Maybe Uncle Richard calls Rachel's dad and tells him.
How does Rachel's dad approach her?
He glances at her after pouring spaghetti noodles into boiling water.
"What's been going on at school?"
Rachel jerks, her pencil point breaking. "Nothing."
"Are you sure?"
Rachel looks up, sees his eyes on her.
"Honey--I heard different. Are you OK?"
Rachel let out a breath. Why had her friends said?
"Your friends love you. I love you. We don't want other people to be messing with you. You shouldn't just take it."
Rachel thought--well, they shouldn't be messing with me. It's not my fault I don't know how to stop them!
"Bullying is against school rules. You have to tell."
In Mrs. Hernandez's office were three boys. Rachel gasped, recognizing them as the snowball hurlers.
A week later, Ms. Hernandez beckoned her in her office again.
"I know you didn't want to be a tattle tale." Hrs. Hernandez smiled. "But word gets around. Here." Rachel took the envelopes.
"I'm OK." Rachel grabbed another pencil and went back to shading the leaf of the flower she was drawing. Flowers were safe. Or cats, or anything except people. She didn't want her dad making a big deal out of this--she didn't want to give the bullies more ammunition.
"I wish you'd told me--"
Rachel glanced up, and she thought she saw a bit of hurt mixed with the worry.
"I know, Dad. It's just--" She'd never told him how the Dickens kids--and the crossing guard--had retaliated after he'd talked to the teacher at Dickens--she didn't want him to feel bad.
"I don't want to be a tattletale," Rachel said. "I'll be OK. I'm fine."
"Rachel, no. It's not being a tattletale. Tattling is--telling on someone for no good reason, because you enjoy them getting punished. Reporting someone who's doing something wrong--to stop them--that's not being a tattletale."
Rachel wrinkled her nose--that made sense--but that's not how the bullies would see it.
"Rachel, if I look out the window and see a criminal breaking into someone's house--what should I do? If I call on the police, is that tattling?"
"Dad, this is different."
Her father shook his head. "No. Same idea."
SB writes of changing her name to Susan; I'm tempted to write and tell of how I think of changing my name to Dena, the childhood name I gave myself when I couldn't pronounce D. Maggie had always been Margie until one day in her forties she decided she was a Maggie. Is it too late for me? Name-changing seems such a hassle. And some people say D with love in their voices; a new name might feel artificial. Would I lose the self I've been, the one who had to overcome having a name and heredity she didn't like?
I hate being afraid of ice! I miss when I'd look out the window, see gentle snow falling, and think of Dickens and the world he created in nineteenth century London, and try to imagine what world he'd imagine in twenty-first century Chicago. Instead, I envision myself falling, face first, knee down, on ice and maybe this time unable to get up. T. shrugs--everybody falls--it's not your age. Does he believe that or just saying that to encourage me? It's been a scary year--dizziness and my knee going out and two hard falls. But I don't want to be afraid.
Christmas. When I was eleven, I went to sixth grade at St. Al's, and our class put on "A Christmas Carol" and sang carols. My mother worked, and while I was home alone over Christmas break, listening to the radio, a broadcast of "Miracle on 34th Street" came on. How I loved a story about another little girl whose dad had abandoned her and who lived just with her mom. Back then, especially going to Catholic school, divorce was a dirty word. But it was my reality, and how great to have it affirmed, with a happy ending to boot.
After a long walk to Mariano's with my son, I drink orange-tangerine zinger tea and listen to John Lennon sing "And now this is Christmas" on my Pandora.com radio. Christmas cards are hung all about but out of reach of our cat Daisy who likes to bat at them. Outside it is dark; strings of red, green, and white lights gleam on Christmas trees and bushes and from windows. I'm happy my son still likes to take walks with his mom, and that my siblings like spending Christmas Eve at our place, and that old friends remember me with cards.
Pandora.com plays the Ronette's "Sleigh Ride" as I drink decaf hot buttered rum coffee and my son Skypes with his buddies in his room, Christmas cards line walls, and red and white bulbs glow from our little tree perched on a wicker-seat chair. I feel happy and content--my son's words yesterday sparked an epiphany. He said he looks forward to being a dad because it's special, being able to give what you weren't given. My relatives did not give me the nurturing I needed--but what a special joy it is now to nurture my son, my godkids, and my friends.
National Novel Writing Month 2011 Ideas:
my memoir in 100-word segments
a middle-grade adventure novel with lots of plot
a series of picture books
a fictionalized memoir
a thinly-veiled fictionalized memoir with just the names changed
fictionalized biography of someone? Jane Addams? Charles Dickens? J. L.?
a diary book for boys
a novel about animals
middle-grade novel told from a cat's point of view
middle-grade novel set in the 1960s
middle-grade novel set in the 1960s, with the main character living in a conservative, somewhat bigoted household
r and c 8th grade
Do I want to write my memoir for NaNoWriMo? I want someday to write one that focuses on miracles I've known in my life, from Sept. 9 to 1750, from getting to know half-siblings to my wonderful son born on his due date. To best friends J. and M. who still loom so large in my life, even though they're in heaven (if heaven exists). But--I'm afraid of the pain, of confronting sins, remembering friendships that have died--with the S.'s, with the A. group. There are people out there who despise me as well as folks that love me.
I like Written? Kitten! better than Write or Die because I don't feel the pressure of a page turning pink but look forward to a new kitten picture. My son would think I'm weird, grin--but in a good way! His cat is now climbing atop my work computer, getting ready to mess with Helinda who is sitting on my printer. I know this program is called Written? Kitten! and rewards you with kitten pictures--but I'm writing way too much about cats! I should be writing about R., our emails back and forth, and my hope that I don't seem desperate.
I feel caught in a web of shoulds. i should be cleaning the apartment, as tomorrow's Thanksgiving and we'll be putting up the tree--and A's party is Saturday, and C. may visit Thursday before our dentist pumpkin pie adventure. I should be working on Chapter 20 of R and C--and don't I owe MJ a phone call? But maybe I don't think enough of what I have accomplished--sending Thanksgiving cards to friends and family; enjoying a nice chat with my landlady from over twenty years ago; having a healthy dinner with spinach; writing in 100words.com; doing good at work today.
The Tip Jar