A Complicated Calling

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If I had to have a calling, why couldn’t it be teaching or fighting fires or some other noble pursuit that makes a difference and is more…tangible? Something that would not have me fantasizing about tossing this laptop off the 21st floor balcony and watching it shatter into pieces.

I had a second essay workshopped in the last class of this semester’s Writer’s Studio, and it ends up I have to revise this one, too, and get it to my professor in order to get approved to move on to the next semester. I wrote and then revised my first essay while at Ragdale, and I think I nailed it. I was so excited. Now I have to blow up the draft of this second essay; I mean what else can “relook at the structure” mean?

I didn’t even think we had another semester this Spring, which is probably half the reason I’m so bummed. Enough about how brilliant I am not. The bigger question: to write or not to write? Writing is a difficult passion to pursue day after day. When I just can’t do it, I read for inspiration. Aside from being profoundly moved, the activity makes me all too aware there are already countless great writers in the world. Who needs another one? One who feels mediocre in this pursuit at best?

Boy, would my mom come in handy ri8362d-00130006ght now. Perhaps writing about her loss is what’s bringing all this indecision front and center. She’d say, “knock it off, Dollface, and just do it!” All my life she told me I had a book in me. I wish she told me where to find it. And I’m glad she’s not around to read that sentence. It’d go over as well as a B-. She never understood the + and – concept in grading, and to my horror would march down to my grammar school to explain her problems with it everytime a teacher would add that element to my grade.

Shirley Stone’s life wasn’t a quiet one. She reveled in her passions, and she shared them with everyone. Of course there were those she didn’t see eye to eye with, and I imagine they thought she marched too loudly through life. But that wouldn’t bother her. She lived comfortably in her skin, confident in her decisions, satisfied with the outcomes. She always found it futile to look back.

My mom made the most of every day, and she did her best every day. She loved and laughed as she nurtured anyone lucky enough to cross her path. She was wise and her genuine interest in others was as much a part of her DNA as was her eye color, shoe size and the cancer that took her too soon.

She’d remind me nothing worth having or wanting so much comes easy and to knock it off, sit my butt down and do what I need to do to move to the next step. And then a few minutes later I’d get a Shirley hug, strong, heartfelt, pats on the back, and an “I love you Dollface,” whispered into my ear.

My mom, my muse, my best friend. I think of her every day, and that’s reason enough to keep on pursuing this passion. I couldn’t let her down when she was alive. To give up because she’s physically not here would be inexcusable. Thanks for that, mom, wherever you are. I’ve no reason to doubt her expectations of me aren’t any different today than they were decades ago. Giving one’s all when the going gets tough was part of her fiber. So there it is: why I can’t give up. Even the thought of letting her down when she’s no longer with us isn’t in my fiber either.

Talk about powerful love and confidence, bridging death to have my back. Even if this writing gig doesn’t pan out, I most certainly pulled the long straw. I will always be Shirley Stone’s daughter.

How do you manage your writing time?

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Outside of ensuring my family and friends are happy and healthy, I have only two big goals over the next two years. The first is to move, and that’s simply a matter of timing. The place is ready to be shown. We already did the “big” downsizing when our girls had the audacity to leave us so this next one is much easier.

My second goal is to finish the two-year Writing Certificate program at the University of Chicago. Tonight is class #2. I’ve done my homework, and I’m excited to get to know my colleagues and teacher better as well as learn to become a better writer.

Still there is also so much info on the web to read from credible sources like “What turns editors on?” “What gets you thrown off the slush pile?” “10 ways to impress an agent,” “How to manage your time!” Then there are the magazines—Poets & Writers, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Sun not to mention all the great literary publications from Glimmer Train, Ploughshares, Fifth Wednesday JournalAnd the on-line journals and blogs—way too many to list. But so many great ones to read.

I’ve worked hard to keep up a writing routine. In the morning I go to my desk. It’s somewhat away from the hub of the house so it’s relatively quiet. But people know how to find me! At least once a week I go to my girlfriend’s. She lives on top of offices. We work in the offices, and truly get very few distractions so we do get a lot of work done.

But we never end a long and intense day without feeling like there’s so much more we need to do, learn, research, double-check. Writing is hard, time-consuming, and we know it’s unlikely to make us wealthy. But writers have to write.

Any suggestions? I guarantee I’ll find time to read those.

Learning to Share Your Journey

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Thirty-two years ago I married a guy I was certain I would love forever. After all, in your 20s you know that you already know everything about yourself and the world. Some parents try offering insight from the decades-bigger buckets of experience they lug around. But that journey’s bends and bumps are ours alone to navigate. How we manage the curves turn us into the Adults every 21-year-old adult believes is the marker into the all-knowing. Still, loved ones watch us confidently stride into our futures, acutely aware we don’t know that we don’t really know much of anything about ourselves and the world yet.

What I didn’t know marching down the aisle 32 years ago would have long ago destroyed rain forests if I printed out the volumes describing it. And the guy I married is long gone. He’s grown into a Husband, Father, Uncle, Grandfather, Coach, Teacher, Wage Earner, Partner and more. While at that, we hurled head first into multiple moronic mistakes. There were times we thought we’d implode if we stayed together. We couldn’t agree on a path, and they all seemed too narrow to fit us both.

Yet We Did It. In huge measure by his toughing it out despite all the potholes I drove straight into as well as the unanticipated twists and turns. I’ve been sick, sad, mad, hurt, angry, exhausted and more. We’ve managed through his share from this list, but we learn that every couple racks up its unique set of shortcomings. It takes two to neglect or nurture a marriage. Some survive, others don’t.

Still, I needed seemingly endless support from this one person. Having lost my parents and siblings in only a few years over a decade ago, he somehow survived my wanting from him everything you get from your immediate family, not your spouse. The unconditional love, keeping alive a history he didn’t experience, sharing my new family’s experiences with my original one, and trying to grasp my loss as he participated with his six siblings and I shifted through anger, sadness and jealousy.

My bad luck became his, and he tried with everything he had when he could have walked away with ample justification. How lucky am I? Beyond bucket loads.

We’re all imperfect. The sooner we accept that, the easier it becomes to be most mindful of the best in others. Remembering the great and not the worst moments is neither a lesson learned early or easily, something our parents knew.

Now we are the parents. Our two daughters are our greatest achievements and possess the best of us. Yet, they’re already on their own journeys.They visit with spouses, awesome grandchildren and significant others, and then they leave us, alone.

We haven’t experienced just the two of us for almost 30 years. Neither of us are the same person we were on August 14, 1982. We’ve grown—together, even when we didn’t think so—closer, despite the moments that separated us—grateful that we didn’t choose the fork in the road when it seemed easier—and wiser, at long last.

Love is as much a journey as is life. I was lucky enough to marry a guy I could learn about love with, despite our youth and the many differences we shared but wouldn’t see until infatuation morphed into Adult reality. And I’m blessed to remain with the man he became, who stayed connected as we realized we really knew very little about ourselves and the word around us when we began this leg of our journey.

The G-Word

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Hundreds of emotions rushed through me when my daughter announced she was pregnant with her first child. Her health, age, future, childbirth, anything a mom can fret about simmered within me throughout her pregnancy. The biggest surprise, though, was the difficult time I was having accepting the reality that I was old enough for grandparenthood.

If that doesn’t prove “youth” is relative, I don’t know what does. As if I couldn’t have passed for a grandmother without my daughters having children. I’d already had practice. My stepson had three handsome kids of his own who I adore. I spent a great deal of time with the oldest when he was young, and it remains among my greatest experiences. Gus is the first little person I didn’t give birth to who enjoyed being with me as much as I loved being with him. Nonetheless, he’s a reminder my husband is older than me, and another Grandma rightfully ranks first in all their big hearts. Bottom line: I avoided the “I’m-a-grandma-now” reality check.

Daughter #2, Niece, Daughter #1, aka Mom, and Cait

Like the teenager who knows everything, I was an early-in-my-50’s mom who still had much to learn but didn’t think so when daughter #1 announced her daughter was due in September, 2007. I was abuzz with busy―baby showers, learning the latest in all things baby, and calling friends, most of who held their Grandma comments to themselves, although I could see the smirk in their eyes.

My daughter allowed me to be with her when Caitlin arrived. I was overwhelmed remembering all the love and happiness greeting my oldest when she was born. My parents and I spent years staring at her, awake or asleep. My youngest daughter, Caitlin’s new aunt, joined us in the birthing room soon afterwards, and I remembered how excited my mom and dad were at her arrival, especially my dad who’d finally slowed down enough to revel in all things infant and toddler. Every mispronounced word worthy of a story, told repeatedly. Then in came my niece, and I relived the joy my grandmother, mom, dad, sister and I felt when she made her debut―the first girl born near enough to hover over since my birth.

I held Caitlin close for a few minutes, introducing her to these women whose blood she shares. I told her about the long line of strong women preceding her, a tribute to those who instilled a love so powerful that those remaining were present now. The notion of missing even the first few moments of this new life unthinkable to each of us who instantly became part of her story through no choice of her own.

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Grandma and Cait

What an aha moment for this mom. Just when you think you’ve experienced all the great stuff in life―job promotions, marriage, rock star kids, beautiful homes, and even the significance of surviving the big 5-0―it’s not a leap to believe any big, magical milestone moments might be behind you.

Silly, inexperienced me. It took a year before Cait could say “Gamma.” Now that she’s getting ready for 1st grade, she can pronounce, spell and read Grandma as her mother, aunt and great-aunt did before her. And, I learned that just when I thought there were no longer any more big life lessons left,  being a grandmother is perhaps the most definitive life-affirming experience.

Caitlin and now her little brother multiple infinitely the profound love I felt when I gave birth to their mom. I don’t think either my very tired and hard-working daughter and equally exhausted niece can process the concept of so much love. Nor can my youngest who will be a terrific mother after she ventures down the many paths still before her. They have plenty of time. But this mom, who’s more motivated than ever to stay healthy to experience her baby’s babies, too, alternately laughs and cries at that naïve 50-something woman who feared the thought of being called Grandma.

It’s only when we stop learning new things every day that we genuinely have something to fear.

It’s a slap-happy silly Saturday

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Climate change naysayers pooh-poohing any personal responsibility for the environment, refusing to acknowledge the parallels, haven’t visited Chicago recently. This afternoon it’s 80-something, dampness droops over everything, heat hangs in the atmosphere and the humidity hovers at 187%, at least. It rained all Friday night and most of this morning. I don’t know how it isn’t raining now. Someone must have slipped some plastic sheathing between the heavens and the North Side.

Next week it’s supposed to fall into the 60s, maybe 70s. On the news, meteorologists are using that best-forgotten phrase from last winter: Polar Vortex. Yep. July 12 in Chicago, any number of neighborhoods flooded, and the 2014 Polar Vortex plans visiting next week. You can’t make this stuff up. I suggest any undeclared college majors  seriously consider a meteorology major. Mother Nature rules and  weather forecasting will never be an exact science. Type-A’s might rest easier knowing their predictions aren’t more reliable than thermometer-shattering temperature swings, daily plummets and spikes in barometric pressure, off-shore oil rigs spilling seas of gunk into our oceans. Not that I think it won’t be cold next week, I can’t blame the weather-people who probably wish for radio gigs so no one can recognize them. I’ve a feeling my favorite CPA is bordering on silly today, too. He sent a crazy funny list of Adult Truths, and I also found the following extremely insightful parenting article from the renowned paper, The Onion, on his Google page. There’s comfort in finding some stuff never changes.

Study Finds Every Style Of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults

NEWS IN BRIEF • Science & Technology • Parents • Our Annual Year 2011 • ISSUE 47•50 ISSUE 47•43 • Oct 26, 2011
SANTA ROSA, CA—A study released by the California Parenting Institute Tuesday shows that every style of parenting inevitably causes children to grow into profoundly unhappy adults. “Our research suggests that while overprotective parenting ultimately produces adults unprepared to contend with life’s difficulties, highly permissive parenting leads to feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood,” lead researcher Daniel Porter said. “And, interestingly, we found that anything between those two extremes is equally damaging, always resulting in an adult who suffers from some debilitating combination of unpreparedness and isolation. Despite great variance in parenting styles across populations, the end product is always the same: a profoundly flawed and joyless human being.” The study did find, however, that adults often achieve temporary happiness when they have children of their own to perpetuate the cycle of human misery.
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