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.

 

Y2K, A Time Capsule, and Change

It’s hard to believe there is only one month left in this decade. My wife tried to tell me 2020 belongs with the 20teens, but I’m not buying it. Remember the chaos of the pre-Y2K days and the impending doom of the new millenium? Again, hard to believe it’s been 20 years because it’s been largely forgotten, overshadowed by what happened 1 year, 9 months, and 11 days later.

At The Rally of Writers conference I attended in April, Jan Shoemaker, the workshop facilitator, gave us prompts and we had about 5-10 minutes to write our response. The topic was: Waiting for it to explode. We also had to include the following words “wherever there is life, there is a twist and mess.” In response, I wrote this:

Y2K, New Year’s Eve. We escaped to our off the grid cabin unsure whether the world we left would survive. We each wrote letters to our future selves imagining what our lives would be like in a couple of decades; I wrote of my writerly dreams. With a circa 1999 cell phone, we buried a time capsule, sure that we nailed the future. But wherever there is life, there is a twist and a mess.

I’d forgotten about the time capsule, a 18″ x 12″, 6″ deep plastic tote sealed with duct tape. We had unearthed it from it’s hiding place in the California Central Coast when we sold the cabin. We hauled it to Michigan and from one place to another, then I got custody in the divorce.

The tote is heavy and it rattles. My daughter and ex remember what’s in the time capsule. I only remember the three letters we wrote, and the cell phone. 

Our lives today look nothing like we could have imagined. And what did we think we would need to preserve to show what life was like at the dawn of the new millenium? I look forward to finding out soon.

Writing Fiction, NaNoWriMo Style

2019-NaNo-Winner-BadgeNaNoWriMo 2019 is a wrap and it was oh so very different from last year’s win on many levels.

First, last year I was a NaNo Rebel because I wrote memoir. I knew what the story was (or so I thought), and didn’t have to make up anything. This year, I tried writing fiction and I finished my shitty rough draft with 50,373 words. Since non-fiction has always been my go-to, this month has totally been out of my comfort zone, which was the point. Blogging provided my non-fiction, real life outlet and I was surprised by how much grief dominated my posts this month. The fiction I wrote, on the other hand, was more about resilience and the power of love. Interesting.

NaNo-2019-Daily-Word-Count-Deb-SinnessSecond, last year as a first time  participant, I didn’t know whether or not I could really do it because 50K is a hella lot of words. I knew I’d need the support of the local Lansing NaNo group for inspiration. With their write-ins, I got a head start on my word count and never looked back. This year, I had a death in the family so I only participated in one local write-in. There were six days I wrote less than 500 words a day, and two days I wrote nothing at all. But I knew because I had finished and ‘won’ last year, I could do it. So I kept at it, stringing one word after another, no matter how much of a slog it became.

Third, these fictional characters have a mind all their own. That surprised me, never having written fiction before. I mean, it was my fingers doing the typing but what was coming from my brain through my fingers seemed to come from nowhere. That’s some magical shit right there.

Fourth, you know how when you find a great book to read that can’t put down and you have to stay up until 2 AM reading because you want to know how it ends…only to be disappointed because the air came out of the tires at the very end? Yeah, that’s a little how I feel about my shitty rough draft. But then again, I’m a recovering perfectionist, my goal was to hit 50K words, and I wanted to write “The End,” so there’s that.

Which brings me to my final point. I hate to admit it, but as an INFJ, I’m a pantser. It seems like in every other area of my life, I’m a planner. As much as I’ve tried to plot and outline my ideas, my brain just doesn’t seem to work that way with writing; I have to write my way in to figure it out.

So today is the final day of National Novel Writing Month and I came in just under the wire, whew! How was your month? Whether you hit 50K words, or just wrote your first sentence by overcoming the fear of putting words on the page, celebrate your progress. It’s more than we started the month with. After all writing, as in life, is not just about the destination. It’s about enjoying and celebrating the journey.

Giving Thanks for the Memories

I tried writing a post for Thanksgiving yesterday, but I finally gave up. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty to be thankful for, yet I was filled with a sense of melancholy that I found hard to express.

This is that time of year when my thoughts inevitably turn to days gone by and those no longer with us at the Thanksgiving table. The memories surround me. I ate the Thanksgiving dinner my wife prepared at the sturdy ball and claw oak table that was my paternal grandmother’s. The same table where she changed my diapers, taught me to play Crazy 8s and Go Fish. The table that bears the dice dimples from countless games of 6-5-4 with my father.

I know I’m blessed to have had so many happy memories of holidays spent with loved ones. Lots of people are not so lucky, which I was reminded of when I saw a blog post from Sark called Happy Thanks~Grieving While Wildly LivingShe beautifully captures the complex emotions many of us feel and shares her “love and transcendent wishes for people to be able to deeply grieve while wildly living.” Thank you Sark for helping put into words what I could not.

So on this, the day after Thanksgiving, I’m filled with gratitude for all that has happened over the last year and memories of past Thanksgivings. I also recognize that grief will sometimes sit beside me at the table and I’m okay with that…it reminds me of those who have loved me. I live wildly as their legacy.

 

Grief Comes in Waves

I’ve learned grief isn’t something you get over, it’s something you learn to live with. You never know when a new wave is going to strike without warning.

My guilty pleasure is The Voice, and I usually watch it when I’m walking on my treadmill. Today I watched the Top 13 perform, and when I heard contestant Marybeth Byrd was going to sing the beautiful, heartbreaking “Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill, I was immediately transported back to the days following my father’s death. I was one of the family members giving a eulogy, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through it.

Every morning and evening that I drove his Subaru Forrester the 30 minutes to and from town, I had this song and one other on repeat so I could embrace and settle into the grief. It helped. I did some gut-wrenching, ugly crying and was able to deliver the eulogy my father deserved.

Which brings me to today, nearly two years later. When Marybeth’s tribute package rolled, she spoke of her beloved Grandfather who passed the night before she left for her blind audition. Marybeth no sooner began the song when grief rolled through me again. I damn near fell off my treadmill.

I recently attended a book reading by my friend Gordon M. Berg, author of Harry and the Hurricane. The book details the true account of his seven-year-old father living through the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. His father rarely spoke of his experience, and Gordon only learned the details after his death, when his mother told him.

Gordon ended his talk imploring us to ask our loved ones “What is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, and how did you get through it?” That is one of the many questions I wish I had asked my father.

Who is someone you’d like to ask that question? Do it…before it’s too late.

Circle of Life & Writing Goals

This isn’t the blog post I had planned to write for this NaNoWriMo month. I wanted to get a jump on my writing early in the month, instead I received a late night call about the unexpected death of a family member, earily similar to the call I received three years earlier about the brother of the deceased.

Life is like that. We have plans, then life makes other plans for us.

Our family has experienced a lot of loss in the past three years, and dealing with death is never easy especially when it seems random and unexpected. In death as in writing, we search for meaning. We mine our memories and remember the good times, the earlier years, the days of innocence.

The truth is, none of us are getting out of this life alive. That doesn’t make anyone’s passing any easier for those of us left behind. Death sucks.

Needless to say, I’m way behind in my writing goals this month, but that’s okay. I was where I needed to be ~ with my family, mourning an unexpected loss. But I refuse to concede NaNoWriMo defeat so I’ll keep plodding along, stringing one word after another and I’ll be happy with however many I end writing, because it will be more than what I started the month with.