Who I Want To Be

I’m turning into my father. Yesterday I withdrew my name from consideration for a promotion at my day job. I had received word earlier this week that I had passed the third of four hurdles in the promotional gauntlet and my interview was scheduled for Tuesday, January 28th. With more responsibility and stress, I felt conflicted about the job. But, I reasoned, the bump in salary would make a big difference in my pension when I retire in a few years.

When sharing my news and conflicted feelings with a recently retired friend, he asked if I had run the numbers…what my pension would be without going for the promotion and what it would be with the promotion. I hadn’t, assuming it would be a big enough difference to make the sacrifice worth it.

nautilusYesterday I ran the numbers and did some serious soul searching. Other than my NaNoWriMo fiction win, my writing has ground to a halt since I applied for the promotion back in August 2019. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe not. Then I thought about getting the call for the third hurdle in the gauntlet just before the New Year. Since then, it was all about cramming, studying, and preparing. I haven’t written a blog post or anything of substance, and my next two weekends would be spent in interview prep, not writing.

I’ve worked hard for the past 14 months, and writing is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I realized my momentum would be seriously curtailed with new responsibilities. I’ll withdraw my name, I thought and immediately felt a huge sense of relief. Then pride and that part of me that always wants to do the best, giving a 110% kicked in. I’ll see what the numbers say, maybe it will be worth it, I told myself. The numbers told a different story.

I’m turning into my father. A shift-worker his entire life, I couldn’t understand why my father didn’t want to be considered for an 8 to 5 job promotion. When I asked him why, his answers never satisfied me. I couldn’t fathom why you wouldn’t want to pursue the next rung…until I finally felt that way myself yesterday.

Today I attended a Poetry Workshop and in a session lead by Jan Shoemaker, learned about writing a poem using an extended metaphor with the title as the subject. I struggle with metaphors, but this is what I wrote:

Promotion

The war rages on, each side fighting to be heard.
I listen to the pleas with measured breaths,
not wanting to rock the boat, yet
consider joining the struggle.
My father’s faint whisper, barely imperceptible,
becomes louder.
“Don’t do it.”
“Why?” I ask. “It’s who I am.”
“Because,” he says. “Who do you want to be?”

Indeed.

Closets, Scarlet Letters & Memories

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I hate that it’s become a tool to divide our country, but I like keeping in touch with family and friends and I especially love seeing memories from years gone by pop up in my timeline. These are always a gentle reminder of where I used to be, and how far I’ve come.

Three years ago yesterday, I wrote the following post after a magical weekend of reconnection in Washington, DC with some fellow members of my high school band, (ironically organized through a stealth Facebook group):

DC Class of 73 cropped43 years ago when I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to get the hell of out dodge because I felt I had a scarlet letter tattooed on my forehead…my mother was mentally ill and was institutionalized at the state hospital. Few people knew and I didn’t let many people get close enough to me to find out, so high school was a pretty painful place for me. To the select people I’ve discussed my family situation with, I’ve said coming out of the closet for having a relative with a mental illness has been FAR more difficult than coming out of the closet as an older lesbian.

Fast forward to our 40th class reunion, it felt great to rekindle friendships and make new connections. Then a group of ~35 classmates, friends & family made a stealth plan to descend on DC the weekend of December 3rd to celebrate the season and the wonderful career of our classmate Army Colonel Tim Holtan, the Commander of “Pershing’s Own”. During the weekend, I reflected a lot on my journey…my military service, how band was my one high school joy, how proud I was of Tim’s success, and how tired I was of living in a closet. In short, the weekend was magical and I feel so very blessed to be a part of my beloved Class of ’73 family.

There, I said it publicly…closets & scarlet letters be damned.

I re-wrote that last line five times as tears were streaming down my face. I waited 10-15 minutes before I gathered up the courage to post on Facebook. Brené Brown describes describes the nausous feeling you have after disclosing something deeply personal as a vulnerability hangover. The old fear of judgment reared it’s ugly head and as was my habit, I wanted to delete the post and shrink away in shame. Not this time, I’m done, I reminded myself.

Five days later as I read the post comments and bathed in the love and support of family and friends, I was reminded of the power of sharing our stories. The truth does set us free, but there is still the hard work of untangling the emotions surrounding that truth.

Three years ago my post was behind the Facebook privacy wall. Now, it’s public. Closets and scarlet letters be damned.

 

90 Years Loved

img_1915Last weekend I spent five days with my extended family in North Dakota. I’m always relieved to come home to Michigan this time of year because the weather never seems quite as bad as the frozen, windy North Dakota prairie.

My Aunt is now the matriarch of the family and the sole survivor of her generation. As my cousins and I celebrated her 90th birthday, I wondered how it was possible we cousins had gotten so old. With a 15 year spread and the oldest cousin being in his mid-70s, I’m the only one who isn’t retired.

Seems like yesterday we were chasing after our kids, yet in the blink of an eye we’re the grandparents, the elders. When you’re raising your family, the days seem endless but the decades fly by all too quickly.

When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of North Dakota. Now reflecting on the many trips I’ve taken over the decades to return to my Dakota roots, I am the person I am because of those roots.

Work hard. Love much.

Reclaiming My Name

In my first blog post, I alluded to my 1990s writing journey. As a professional woman, a mom of an adolescent, and a busy wife, I was working through a lot at the time. I became extraordinarily frustrated when the creative well dried up no matter what I tried. I’ve come to believe the universe was telling me I wasn’t ready.

I spent 31 years being married to two different men. I divorced for the first time after four years, taking back my birth name Sinness. I felt strongly about it at the time, and I didn’t want to be reminded of that failure. After 27 years of marriage to a terrific guy, sharing a daughter, and establishing myself professionally with his surname and my birth name as my middle name, the decision to retain his surname was easy. I had been known as my married name longer than my birth name. Reclaiming

After a third marriage, this time to a woman, we explored changing both our last names to one we could share. After many philosophical ‘why do women change their surname’ discussions, we decided to retain our own names.

After I began writing my memoir in November, I faced the dilemma of whether I should consider a pseudonym or pen name. When my partner suggested using my birth name, I was resistant. Why? I loved my recently passed father dearly. Why was I opposed to using his surname?

I brought up the issue to my writing coach Lauren Sapala, the author of “The INFJ Writer”, and she nailed the reason…to reclaim my birth name. It makes perfect sense. I did not know who I was during my adolescence, early adult years, or even when I wrote one of my first poems in the 1990s. It’s time to make peace with my past and reclaim the surname I was given at birth, Sinness.