Thursday, October 31, 2013

N is for Nail

This nail, as my children call it, is twisted barbed wire plucked from the ruins of the Berlin Wall. In 1995, my husband traveled throughout Germany. The Iron Curtain was barely lifted, not quite five years prior. The memory, the fog of what the oppressive government was, still taunted the minds and hearts of East Germany.
And here this nail sits, several thousand miles away from the dust of hurt souls. It's displayed on the polished granite in a home sanctioned by freedom.
This nail reminds me of all that I have, and all that I should become. Because once there were people bound by the limits others set for them. I refuse to be cut off from my potential - no matter how insignificant my lot in life may be. I might just be one person, but this one twisted piece of metal continues to prick alive the memory of the Wall of Shame. My husband now shares it with the rest of my five member family. This single, isolated piece of history will continue to share its legacy for generations to come. It signifies the consequence of life when freedom is destroyed - I am ever so grateful for my life, even in its insignificance.

M is for Mad

M is for Mad.
Let's blow the dust off a dictionary and flip to the definitions...yes, that was plural. Definitions, with an S. If each one is a symptom of Mad then I've acquired an acute and lethal case.

Disordered in the mind
Insane, would be a more economical description - which is impossible. It's not like I mumble to myself daily (I keep it to a few days, tops). I may, or may not, pretend to be a girl in love one moment or a psychopath villain the next. That's not insanity. It's writing... I admit, it's utter madness.

Completely unrestrained by reason and judgment. 
This doesn't mean I need a strait-jacket, white walls and an eternal prozac prescription. It just means I'm part of the exclusive club of Rejected Writer's Club who continue querying and editing despite the harsh judgment of agents. Why? Because I'm also a part of the Supported Writers Club, where agents have critiqued and patted my head fondly before sending me back to my computer. 

Carried away by intense anger.  
This stupid word doesn't even come close to describing my red-faced, fists clenched, and murderous stare when a certain someone deletes a chapter. That certain someone was barely forgiven. Barely.

Incapable of being explained or accounted for. 
"Are you even listening?" Is the question most often asked when I've temporarily lost the ability to hear. It happens when a tempting window becomes a perfect beacon for daydreaming. "What are you thinking?" Is the second best question but pride ties my tongue. There's only so many times a day I can admit to thinking about my characters. Besides, obsessive starts with an 'O', that's not for two more letters.

Intensely excited, carried away by enthusiasm or desire. Or marked by wild gaiety and merriment. 
 I am ecstatic when I've written a few thousand words, but I'm excited when those words are actually good. But I'm mad with delirium when the polish of editing births beautiful sentences.
It's a distinctive feeling. Thankfully, a familiar one at that. It's  the moment I run a difficult marathon and glance back to the mountain I've just conquered. It's a mixture of fear and respect - for both the opponent and myself. It's a feeling, I hope one day will burn within me the moment the publisher's purchase agreement is wet with my signature.

Am I mad? Absolutely. 
Is it madness to continue to write and hone a craft that is already dripping with saturated talent? Of course. But I hope my children are infected with this madness, this disease of shoving caution out the door and packing the bags for reason and judgement. I want them to snatch the hand of mad and become intimate friends. To commit to living this life in its fulness. 

Mad, my dear, I adore you. 
Because of you I married a man weeks after knowing him. Don't forget about the forty minute play we wrote for my six grade class. Or breaking a colt in the forgotten back hills two states away from home - as a teenager to boot.

How about the time we jumped on a plane to New York City and pitched to thirty agents. That was almost as crazy as writing the blasted book.

To all my mad men and women, don't ever abandon your Mad.

Friday, October 25, 2013

L is for Lie

Once upon a time there was a girl, hypothetically of course, who stopped growing at the ripe old age of twelve. I topped out at five-foot-nothin'. Yes, Midget and Little People were frequent nicknames.
Fast forward to that all important age of sixteen where the driving test, the milestone that divided the adolescent from the adult, is administered.
With clammy hands and jittery nerves, I drove within two miles of the speed limit and whipped the Chevy extended cab truck around the small town of Visalia like a pro. This teenager offered a goofy grin and fist pumps worthy of a varsity cheerleader when I received the passing percentage of 96!

A short black-haired woman slid my paperwork with one finger across the counter to my overzealous self. The clerk had to clear her throat a few times - I was engrossed in a self-congratulatory monologue. My pride dwindled once I realized that the clerk wasn't my only audience. In fact, there wasn't a single person left in the DMV building that wasn't privy to my I'm-a-driver-dance. Including the flirtatious Dukes of Hazard looking college dropout immediately behind me in line.

Pink cheeked, I stood on the tip of my shoes to snatch the form when a fantastic idea entered my pubescent brain. No more would I be smaller than average, at least on paper. I quickly scrawled the numbers five and four on the height but hovered over the weight. If I were four inches taller, how much would I weigh? 
The clerk cleared her throat for an unbelievably long time announcing her irritation and lack of patience. I quickly wrote 160 pounds and slid the paper back over. 

She picked up the form with two fingers and waved it in front of me. "Honey, I weigh 160 pounds. You're closer to 106 and look at this, five-four? I'm five-two and I know you're shorter than me."
The college drop out in line behind me snickered. He coughed and asked, "You don't even know how to lie right. Girls try to get smaller, not bigger."
I pulled the scrunchie from my hair, and hid my reddening face behind it. Leaning toward the counter, I whispered, "I must have forgotten my measurements?"

The woman raised her eyebrows and huffed. Her nails clicked along the keyboard. "I'll give you five-one. Goodness, girl. Be grateful you're one of those Little People."

And yes, to this day I am larger on paper than in person.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

K is for Kindness

Last month, at our Writer's of Kern meeting, Dr. Chuck Wall educated (and entertained) us with stories of kindness. He founded The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation
I bought a few books and shipped them out to those who would treasure this idea (and quite frankly, those who already embrace this lifestyle).
Did I recommit myself to acts of kindness, yes. But more importantly, for the rest of the day...and week I thought about all those moments when others were kind to me. 
Our friend and realtor who dropped off a brand new jogging stroller when I wasn't home. He knew I loved to run and I was nervous about the financial aspect of having our second child.
The girlfriend who called and insisted on pulling me (kicking and screaming) from severe postpartum depression. The doctor who stayed late at the hospital for my daughter. The professor who knocked on my door, refusing to let my grades suffer the same fate as my self esteem - who knew I was better than I believed. The editor who met (and meets) with me again and again (despite the anxious emails and texts). The husband who worked fifteen hour days and came home to do the dishes I neglected. 

The list goes on and on...

But something magical happened as I pondered these moments of kindness. While I was deep in thought, my actions changed. From opening my home to a family I didn't know to holding the shoulders of a friend consumed with grief, I realized kindness begets kindness. It's an organic and invisible mass that grows with each touch, each thought...each action.
 


Monday, October 14, 2013

J is for Juicing

I have a fantastic life - no argument there.  However, out of our family of five, three of us suffer from chronically sour stomachs. If I could rid myself of a few minor things like my stomach pains, I'd be thrilled. If I could do that for my kids - I'd be in heaven. By heaven, I mean the pearly gates and angels singing.
 The newest solution for GI bliss? Juicing.
Does it help? For now, yes. Whether it's gluten-free or sugar-free, nothing seems to cure our problem.
But for this little interim we are happy campers. 
Except for one thing... it tastes like muddy salad - minus the ranch dressing.
We decided to take our all organic juice and mix it with the processed powder of Crystal Light. Now it looks like dirty grass but tastes like sweet lemonade. 
Or maybe that's the true problem, we can't commit to the extreme health diets our stomachs beg for. Either way, I have some juice to devour. Cheers!

I is for Impossible

I is for I.
As in the old adage, Me, Myself and...I.
As a member of the Writer's of Kern, I (and I pray I'm not the sole obedient one) have been asked to submit a quick biography.
Proud as a peacock, I decided to enumerate my endless list of qualities and accomplishments - minus well, the qualities. And accomplishments.
I even employed the SYBIC (Slam Your Butt In a Chair) tactic. Sort of a diabolical move. My eyes glazed over and my legs lost feeling before a word was written.
I knew desperation was lurking in the shadows when the thought to call my mother came. Twice. Maternal perspectives are impervious to faults.
The temptation to steal the bio my husband wrote a few years ago was squashed when I realized it was laid to rest in an electronic grave a few months before.
Hope was lost until my author daughter asked why I was staring at the white screen (the empty word document). After assessing the situation (with the distinctive flair of an imaginative seven-year-old), she announced a solution.

She would interview me.

Daughter: But you have to type because I'm the reporter now. I need to hold the pen and paper.
Naturally.

Daughter: How long ago were you born? Grandma said it was important to presidents. Does that mean you knew Abraham Lincoln?
Me: I was born during Reagan's Inaugural Speech. January 20th, Inauguration Day.


Daughter: (Sighs) Oh, I thought something interesting happened that day. 
Me: Well, Grandma had cancer and I was born in a cancer hospital.

Daughter: (She offered a blank look and kept going) You have to tell the truth. Grandma said you liked school so much you kept going. But she also said you skipped school. Tell me the truth, cause I skip things I don't like. Like math. We should skip math every day.
Me: You're not getting out of math. But yes, I graduated high school early so I could go to college.

Daughter: I think I should graduate early right now. I could go to an author college. (She holds her pen in the air) That's a pretty good idea.
Me: You can't go to college until you're older.


Daughter: (rolls eyes) Fine. Did you go to an author college?
Me: No. I graduated in Animal and Veterinary Science. Now I'm raising three monkeys.


Daughter: That's hilarious (She wasn't laughing).
Me: Ask me another question.

Daughter: Why did you adopt a sister?
Me: Grandma and Grandpa adopted my four brothers and sisters. Grandma couldn't have anymore babies so they brought home foster brothers and sisters.


Daughter: They wanted more kids? Did you tell them they could have my sisters?
Me: We're not giving away your sisters.


Daughter: Fine. (another eye roll) What's all this stuff? (waves hand around the piles of first aid stuff).
Me: It's part of my service for the church. I help the women become self-reliant. Financial and budgeting classes, food storage, coupon classes, health classes, and emergency prep. That's why I ordered all the first aid kids and medicine. I want everyone prepared and independent.

Daughter: Is that why you're at the school so much?
Me: No, that's the school site council.


Daughter: Do you do anything interesting?
Me: Raising you is definitely interesting.

Daughter: (smiles) I am pretty interesting.
Me: One more question.


Daughter: Nice try. I'm the reporter. Where's all your medals?
Me: My running medals? They're in your sister's closet or yours.

Daughter: No. The good ones, the ones from when you rode horses.
Me: They're hidden away. It makes me sad to look at them.


Daughter: Sad? I never get sad when I get medals. Something's wrong with you.
Me: I wasn't sad when I won them. I'm sad I no longer ride. I can't fit it into my life right now. I will later, hopefully.


Daughter: (very serious) You said that you're Mom and you make the rules. Why can't you make a riding rule?
Me: Because I'm too busy trying to get a Mom Medal. It takes a lot of work to get that one.


Daughter: (grins) I have a few ideas on how you could win a Mom Medal.
Me: You're not getting out of math.

Daughter: (frowns) I'm changing the name of your story. I is for impossible!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

H is Heaven, and Hell

There's a line, a thick black gulf that divides life. Good to bad, love to hate, and heaven to hell.
For three nights in a row, I was up all night, every night. I was tending to a certain child who refused to sleep. Except apparently when and where she's not supposed to.
Between homework, cleaning, editing, cooking...or just life, I was exhausted. To boot, my husband had worked several late nights and early mornings. 
Being (essentially) a single mother was for the birds. By birds, I meant vultures. The kind that scavenged the kitchen seconds before dinner was served. Or fight an epic battle for something so trivial as sharing the same air in a room. 
I wish I were kidding.
Life, however beautiful, sometimes feels as much a blessing as a curse.
Especially when (hypothetically, of course) a certain housewife unleashes on a husband, only to walk into the kitchen and discover this...

 
Heaven is when my four year old runs to me with open arms and squeezes me with every ounce of her joyful life. She kisses me on the cheek and declares her undying love for me. Hell is when I pick her up and she squeals with delight as I discover she peed through her underwear and pants - not to mention the fact that she sprinkled feces in with her special surprise. 
This last weekend when I attended conference, there were protesters. As a child, they terrified me with their cursing and menacing behavior. Abuse for my belief is unfortunately nothing new. Having the protestors bare their teeth and label me, and fellow members as hateful, nasty people is somewhat of an expectation. 
It should strip me of the spiritual high I had obtained while in the conference. But as I marched with my daughter and mother the sound of music began to drown out the protestors. Men and women lined both sides of the walkway, creating a canopy of heavenly music. The wall of hymns didn't force the vulgarity to disappear, but it created a haven amongst hell. I was straddling the very line of humanity, the fence between great love and empty hate.

My favorite quote came to mind as we walked.  
Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal, is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he's been robbed. The fact is that most putts don't drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey...delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.  (G.B. Hinckley)

And so we did. We thanked the singers, taking pictures of their kindness instead of the protestors. My husband and I joked about the chaos of our little family - the girls and my youngest daughter's penchant for bowel mischief.

Why? Because life is both heaven and hell. For the moment, I'll choose the heaven.

G is for Grandma

 My mother dedicated her life to giving her children (and subsequently her grandchildren) everything her own childhood lacked. She rebelled from her family, deciding religion and education were her answer to changing the family cycle. She sacrificed to send me and my older brother to a private university. Now that she has several darling grandchildren, she wants to continue her love affair with learning, both secular and spiritual. My daughter turned eight this past year, old enough to pass the age restriction on the biannual conference held by my church. Tickets are free but limited to only 20,000 (out of 15 million worldwide members). 
So off we went...

 At my urging, my mother shopped for new clothes (she insists on helping her family dress well but neglects herself).

 Growing up, while my family watched conference (similar to Catholics watching the Pope on television) my mother would create a festive atmosphere that could challenge the binging holiday of Thanksgiving. 
Naturally, we kept the tradition alive.
 In between Saturday conferences we visited the Lionhouse, one of the many houses the first Govenor built. I've had a love affair with historic homes and furnishings. It might have something to do with being five feet tall. Today, the world is created for those several inches taller. Cars, cupboards, chairs - everything is made for the average American. In 1850, I would be closer to the average height. Chairs, door handles, dresses are the perfect length for someone like me.

 The detail and craftsmanship of yesteryear is incomparable to today's standards. The guilds secured the quality of work for centuries by training and retraining young apprentices. I confess, my heart skips a beat when I admire the labor of days gone by.
 My mother in law volunteered at the conference and snagged us front row seats. We were able to feel the hush of the crowd as the President walked into the building. One of these days I hope to see Rome and walk the halls held sacred by Catholics.
  For the last four generations, the first girl is named Clarissa, either as the first or middle name.  My oldest daughter already dreams of naming her own daughter the same.


 After both conferences on Saturday, we toured another home from the first governor, the Beehive house.

 We sat in the original chairs built over 150 years ago. We walked through authentic halls and doorways with intricate carvings and elaborate embellishments (look at those "ordinary" chairs outlined with gold paint). I'm still swooning at the memory.
 The stairways and beds were narrow and short - I was born a few centuries too late!
 I'm standing next to a writing desk filled with books because his daughter wrote several journals. Her immaculate record keeping allowed historians to accurately capture life in the mid 1800's. 
She was a petite five feet tall woman.
Her name was Clarissa
Clarissa Y. Spencer, to be exact.

 The three living Clarissa's made their way home. I remember several years before, when I was my daughter's age and seeing the house for the first time. It was the first summer I wrote in a journal. It's been over two decades since and I've faithfully recorded my life from the chaos of college to the madness of motherhood. Much like my mother before me. 
As I sit at my desk now, my daughter writes about her trip in her personal journal, just like Grandma.
G is for Grandma - and her legacy.



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

F is for Forever and Ever - Amen.

Kern River Parkway
Forever. 
It's both a declaration and a curse. My children swear it's their impending doom when homework is at hand...or chores. Forever is shouted as frequently as its cousin, never.  
Math is taking forever, is quickly shouted from an all too eager pout. Just as We'll never finish homework!
I tease the poor saps, knowing full well I would never use absolutes. Forever is a thirty mile run on the bike path. Or trying to finish a blasted novel. Only children would be so dramatic.
I even went so far as to tell my children this with a knowing chuckle.
The phone rang.
PG&E claims department was finally calling, after my three week long battle. In frustration, I stiffly told the man, This is taking forever. You're never going to pay the claim, are you?
I hadn't even hung up before three miniature soldiers disguised as darling daughters threw my words back at me. With laughter to boot.
Later that night, I tossed a 500 page book across my bed. My head hurt from the horribly bland writing and lifeless characters. My middle daughter, the author, skipped into my room. You're never going to finish that book are you? She smiled with two devilish dimples. It's taking forever. She lowered her voice. It's okay, I won't tell anyone. You can say forever. You could say forever and ever, amen.
I rolled my eyes and took the bait. Forever. I said forever.
She threw her head back. A deep, guttural laugh escaped her tiny frame. Her sisters joined her as she jumped on the bed. Mom said it, I got her to say it! She's just like us.
The three soldiers erupt in mutinous laughter, chanting Forever! and Ever!
When ordered to brush their teeth, they smiled quite cheekily, But it'll take 'forever.'
After prayers, hugs and kisses, my youngest wrapped her taut little arms around my neck. She whispered, I love you, forever and ever. Amen.