Our Life Stories

 

all of life is a series of

nonstories

the might-have-beens

the almost becames

the things we dreamt of

doing

but never did

the wishes unfulfilled

presents never delivered

or received

places never visited

near-misses

chance occurrences

that developed into nothing

the left-behinds

and

soon-to-be forgottens

all stories untold

mysteries locked

romances closeted

things never experienced

foods never tasted

but secretly yearned for

nonstories frozen in place

and time

with no characters to lament

plots stagnant

themes dragging behind

do we obsess

over the lost stories

and live life in a

vacuum?

NO

we constantly create

our personal life stories

our dreams springing to

a life lived luxuriously

laughing joyously

over the endless

possibilities

A Huge Loss

What do you do when your eyes dim

and gray clouds cover the world

and you live to read and write and

admire the photos of your grandchildren?

 

What do you do with your time when

it hurts to read and the words dance

in crazy swirls that hop across the page

and you have stacks of books to read?

 

What do you do when you feel like

crying about all the lost joys that

you most recently discovered, knowing

that, in time, they will fade away?

 

What do you do when you want to write

but the words drown in a sea of gray

sinking to the bottom of a speckled pit

and fall out of your mind like dandruff?

 

What do you do when the world you used

to see disappears behind a distorting mist

that threatens to take away your freedom,

your driver’s license, your mobility?

 

What do you do when hope seems to have

abandoned you in your time of need and

when you are too young to fall apart and

there seems to be only a steeper fall ahead?

 

You cry, weep, moan and seek the company

of family and friends who will listen and

understand how truly great the loss is

and offer sympathy without comment.

 

You get down on your knees and pray

to the Lord of all, to the God of mercy,

and ask Him to give you a few more good

years of loving the printed page.

 

You think of all the good years that have

come and gone, all the places seen and

friends loved and family times shared,

and rejoice in the Lord’s blessings bestowed.

A Teacher’s Lament

I spoke with your teacher today,

And this is what she had to say:

Please tell Billy I like him a lot

But not when he licks each tiny spot

Of food off his plate.

It’s just plain gross.

 

It’s not polite to pick your nose

That’s why tissue’s good for blows

Putting snot between his teeth

Makes kids stare beyond belief.

You just don’t do it.

It’s just plain gross.

 

He needs to keep his shoes on his feet

The stench smells like rotten meat.

While in the playground yard

Children find it too hard

To forgive him.

It’s just plain gross.

 

People don’t put their hands on their butts

And scratch until they make big cuts

Blood through the clothes

And a stink up the nose.

It’s just plain gross.

 

 

As far as work, Billy’s losing out.

He wrinkles papers and runs about.

Seldom sits for more than a minute.

Pencils in places where they don’t fit.

He’s failing.

It’s just plain gross.

 

There’s not much more that I can say

Except that you should be on your way

To talk to Billy. tell him I care.

For him I’d go anywhere

To find him help.

He’s not that gross.

Being Me

For the longest time, I really didn’t like myself. I knew, intrinsically, that somehow I was not the child that my parents wanted. That’s a hard cross to bear.

I was not pretty. I was not talented in any way. I took a long time to learn things. My memory was not the best, so I repeated the same mistakes over and over.

I was not girly. I wore dresses only because that’s what my mother gave me to wear. I wanted to wear pants and shorts and t-shirts because that’s what my brother wore.

I hated long hair. It took too much time to brush it, and then what I got older, it was difficult to style it because I had no skill in that area. I wanted short hair cut in a “boy” style. When I finally did get it sheared off at shoulder length, it angered my father so much that he called me foul names.

In terms of academics I was not my brilliant brother. He excelled in science. I excelled in nothing. No, there was one thing that I could do better than him! I could write beautiful cursive.

I was so slow to learn that I spent most lunches in a tutoring room, supervised by a strict nun who offered no support. I hated the room in the summer as it was sweltering. In the winter, however, it was shelter from the cold.

In high school I discovered that I was good at math and languages. I was still awkward. I was still not pretty. I was still not girly. I was now able to wear shorts and jeans at home, but had to wear dresses to school and church. I felt fat and dumpy. When I sat, the width of a single one of my thighs matched the width of both of anyone else’s combined.

I discovered that I had a talent for bowling and badminton, so played on my high school teams. I was not the best, but I held my own. This gave me something to crow about. I held my head higher and walked prouder.

When a young man asked me out, I felt desired. Not at first, but as he continued to date me, I accepted his amorous fumblings with positive regard. Because of him I began to understand that beauty is not defined by what you see on television or in magazines, but what others see when you walk by.

Once I was in college I realized that my skills in math and languages were appreciated by my professors. My heart swelled with pride.

When contacts came on the market, I entered a trial program on my campus to wear them. Without my glasses I didn’t feel as old-fashioned or as clumsy. I dated several men at the same time! Wow! Imagine how it felt to be popular for the first time!

I smiled when I walked about campus. I greeted casual acquaintances and sat with people I barely knew. I worked in the bookstore and found myself a valued employee. I was a good roommate and a good friend.

As my circle of friends grew, so did my self-esteem. By the time I graduated, I must have had at least fifteen friends! A record number for me.

After college I had no choice but to return home, back to the environment in which I was less-than my siblings. I was subjected to cooking lessons which I never mastered. I was forced to clean house every day, including my sibling’s rooms which I felt was grossly unfair. I was little more than a servant.

To make matters worse, I could not find employment. I applied wherever I could. I was rejected over and over because potential employers didn’t like that I was a college graduate with no office skills. I wasn’t even hired to distribute cards from store to store! What skills would that require?

The longer unemployment went on, the lower my self-esteem plummeted. At home I was that unhappy, unfeminine little girl. I was worthless because I lacked domestic skills and had no desire to learn. My activities were monitored, so I was not allowed to be social. I could only go out when my activities were chaperoned by an adult.

I was an adult! I was twenty-one. I could drive and vote and drink legally.

When I finally got hired at a now defunct furniture store, I was out of the house forty hours a week. I bought a car. I rented a studio apartment. I was free! And once again I began to like myself.

From there I slowly became who I am today. It was not an easy road. I spent hours alone, but I also went skiing, saw movies, ate out with colleagues. I saw Joan Baez in concert. I went camping in the Santa Cruz mountains. I took a class in hiking and went with the group. It was tough! My backpack was canvas on a metal frame. By the time it was packed and on my shoulders, I feel over backwards! But I went.

The rest of my story, my story of learning to like myself, was like climbing a ladder. Each rung up taught me that I could do things, that I could succeed, that I had value.

When I look back and I realize how long I struggled to overcome those early restrictive years, it’s amazing that I emerged as me. I wish I could spare all girls the struggle. What I can offer is my life as example.

No matter where you are in life, never give up on yourself. Fight against whatever forces hold you back. Find something that you do well. Anything. It doesn’t have to be academics. It doesn’t have to lead to career, but it could.

Believe in yourself. No matter how others treat you, no matter those who try to hold you back, know that in you, there is value. You have much to offer the world.

Like yourself. Be you.

 

Conquering Loneliness

When I was a little kid I didn’t feel loved at all. I was a shy, miserable child. A loner who yearned to be held, caressed, even though I didn’t yet know the meaning of the term.  I wanted to be held in the same regard as my brother, who, in my mother’s eyes, could do no wrong.

I played alone most of the time, preferring my own company to the tension-filled interactions with my family. I knew that I was often the cause of much yelling even though I don’t recall hearing my name being uttered as the cause. Little kids just know these things.

Recently I saw some old home movies that were taken when I was a child. In all the scenes in which I appeared there were two brief moments when a tiny smile creased my lips. In one I was running toward my grandpa, in the other I was in his arms.

It was a great consolation to see that there were, indeed, periods of happiness.

When I went to school I understood that I was going not because I was smart, but because I was dumb. This was reinforced daily when my mother, who learned how to drive so she could get me to a school, reminded me of what she was giving up, the sacrifices she was making to enroll me in the school.

Later on when I went to elementary school I knew my place in the hierarchy of students. I was the dumb one, the girl who never knew the answers when the teacher called on me. I was the one who never got Valentine’s Day cards and who was never invited to play dates and parties.

Granted, it was probably my fault. I was a sullen, sulky kid who wandered the playground aimlessly, interacting with no one. I remember seeing in a magazine ad how to make tornadoes in a jar. Every recess I carried my jar, twirling it, setting the miniature tornado in motion, finding limited solace in watching my creation. Imagine what the other kids thought when they saw this strange girl roaming the playground with a glass jar in her hands. No wonder I was alone.

There was one girl who became my friend in fifth grade. She was new and so didn’t know my status. One weekend she invited me to spend the night. It was a revelation to me. At the dinner table her parents conversed without yelling. There was no name calling or bickering. Everyone had smiles on their faces.

I fell in love with that family. I wanted to live with them, for them to adopt me. I cried when my mother came to take me home.

In eighth grade an odd-looking boy invited me to go roller skating. I went because it was a date, my first one, and he was a nice kid. At the rink we skated side-by-side. The music was too loud to talk, which suited us both. After a while he held my hand. His was damp but I didn’t care.

In ninth grade he invited me to my first school dance. My mom made me a powder blue dress for the occasion. He arrived in a suit, bearing a corsage.

Neither of us knew how to dance, so we spent a lot of time standing on the outskirts of the floor, leaning against walls or, if possible, sitting on folding metal chairs. I thought he was nice because he was kind.

We moved to California that summer. I brought the addresses of neighbors that I had thought were friends. I sent them letters every week. None of them wrote back. I cried.

Because I was still shy, I made no friends that first year. My Algebra teacher was the closest thing to a friend that I had only because he smiled when I got the right answers.

Across the street from us was an older young man who showed an interest in me. He looked like every glasses-wearing boy of the sixties. Black haired combed to the side, black-rimmed glasses, and button up the front plaid shirts. We went bowling, to movies and hung out at his duplex listening to music. He wanted more.

Sometimes as our date was ending he’s park in an isolated spot and we’d make out until my lips hurt. I was terrified that the police would find us, arrest us, and then I’d be in trouble with both my parents and the law. But no cruiser ever found us.

He moved his love-making to the couch in his house. He told me how much he loved me. I believed him but I never said the same to him. My parents were thrilled. The daughter that they felt was unlovable had someone declaring true love.

When I transferred to USC I joined a group of lonely looking people who sat at the same table meal after meal. They welcomed me. We spoke about a variety of things, many of them intellectual in nature. For the first time I had a group in which I felt an equal. I don’t know what they felt when they saw me, but I was always treated with respect. I dated two of the guys. They were really nice.

And then the boyfriend showed up and took me to Disneyland. We had a good time, but all the while I knew that I was going to break up with him. He loved me, but during our separation I understood that I liked him, but did not love him. He cried when I told him. I did too.

At that point in my life I realized how much I had changed. I was no longer the lonely kindergarten kid but a part of a social group that did things together. That treated each other as equals. That valued intellect over money and appearance.

We did crazy things together, like drive across town just to buy chili burgers. We went to the beach even when it was raining. We studied together in the lobby of our residence hall. We were inseparable.

I still have my lonely days but I don’t let them drag me down. I know that they are only a blip in what are normally busy times with friends and family. I have a husband who likes to be with me, who respects me and encourages me to do all the different things that I love to do.

Being lonely as a kid is a terrible thing. You see other kids running around in groups that are ever changing, but you stand alone. There is no one to help you navigate the social circles, to teach you how to fit in. But there are glimmers of hope.

For me it was the girl who invited me over to her house, the boy who took me roller skating, the young man who said he loved me and all the college friends who respected me. Because of them I entered the world of work prepared to interact with those who showed signs of openness.

For the sake of all the lonely people in the world, be open. That will help them overcome loneliness. Be kind.

 

Making Do

When I was a kid, I was aware of the fact that money seemed to be a constant concern of my dad’s. He kept a budget that went out several weeks into the future that accounted for every payment, every bit of income, every spare dollar. He used the budget to make decisions that affected our welfare.

For example, we never went on big vacations. Too costly. However, we did visit relatives in Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nebraska. Wherever we could find a floor to sleep on, there we went.

While I never felt truly poor, I did understand that there were things I didn’t have, couldn’t have, that other kids did.

Until seventh grade I attended a Catholic elementary school. We wore dark blue jumpers and white blouses. Before school began parents held a sale in which used uniforms could be purchased. Because I was overweight, my choices were limited to those outfits that some other, older fat kid had worn.

My blouses were never truly white and my jumpers were never dark blue. I stood out from the neatly dressed kids with their crisp new clothes.

I survived.

I remember when Barbie dolls hit the market. The girl across the street, my only friend, got a doll. I thought it was beautiful with its svelte body and long ponytail, neither of which I had. The dolls arms and legs moved and the head could turn from side to side.

I wanted on so badly that it hurt. But, according to my dad’s budget, there was no money.

I earned twenty-five cents a week allowance for doing assigned chores around the house. I argued that, if I did more work, all unassigned jobs outside my normal duties, I should be paid more. Guess what? No money in the budget.

I wanted a Barbie so badly that for weeks I saved every penny from my allowance. Thinking I had enough, I stuffed the quarters in my pocket when we went to the store. I beamed with pride and excitement. I was going to have a Barbie!

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the true cost of a Barbie. My coins wouldn’t even make a dent in the cost. I would have to save for months just to get close to having one, and buy then it would be winter when we seldom went outside.

I was incredibly disappointed. In the aisle where they sold cheap plastic toys, I found a look-alike doll. Yes, the plastic was thin, almost opaque, but she resembled the real thing so closely that I thought the neighbor girl wouldn’t notice.

With resignation, I used my saved money to buy the imitation. At home I was given fabric scraps to fashion outfits for her. I spent hours in the shade of a tree in our backyard cutting and sewing. Eventually my doll had a variety of things to wear.

I took my treasures across the street.   The girl noticed immediately that my doll was not the real thing. She laughed, a cruel, heartless laugh of superiority. I went home with my face burning from shame.

I continued to play with the doll, but only at home. I made her more clothes, my stitiches getting better with each mew thing I crafted.

I learned an important lesson. While it’s nice to have the real thing, the actual Barbie and uniforms that no one had worn before me, it’s also possible to make do with what you can afford to have.

What I learned as a young girl I took with me into adulthood. When I could get to a markdown store, I bought groceries there for a fraction of the cost in a chain store. The items were just as good, albeit sometimes odd-shaped.

I shopped at thrift stores for clothes for me and for my family. Because of this we were always dressed nicely, even though sometimes the fashions were a bit out of style.

My dad taught me to only spend money that you had; an important lesson that continues to influence my decision-making today.

There is nothing wrong with making do. It’s something that people around the world do every day.

I can be one of those people who spend only what they can afford. But because my husband and I lived with our future in mind, we can also go on vacation to places that we’ve dreamt of seeing.

Making do was the foundation of my upbringing. It taught me to appreciate what I had even when there were things that I dearly wanted. I learned that fashions come and go, items lose popularity and are replaced with new things that everyone simply must have, but financial solvency is more important than going into debt. It has served me well.

 

 

Conference Behaviors

As I am getting ready to attend my favorite writer’s conference, I need to remind myself of how to get the most from the experience. You’d think by now that I’d have it down pat, but because I am essentially a shy person at heart, I need to keep in mind all the tips that I’m going to share.

First of all, come prepared. Make sure you have paper and pens for notetaking. If reading materials have been provided, make sure that you have read them!

Convince yourself that no matter how shy you are, don’t sit there with your mouth shut. If you have questions, ask them. If you want to make a comment, do so. Introduce yourself to total strangers. Walk up to them or lean over when seated and give your name, ask theirs, ask what they’re working on and share your work as well.

Participate whenever there is an opportunity to do so. If there are panel discussions, ask one clarifying question. If there is a chance to read, do so. If you can submit a work for critique, so it.

Step outside your genre whenever possible. While you might not write poetry, you can learn something. Maybe memoir is not your thing, but they might talk about pace, backstory, and dialogue, things you need to relearn.

Take advantage of any opportunities to meet one-on-one with professionals, even if it means paying for the privilege. This is your chance to solicit advice from the very people who are there looking for new clients.

After the conference is over, stay in touch with friends you meet there. I have been blessed to have several good friends that I met at the same conference that I am going to this week. Many of us have been meeting regularly over a period of five years. It’s been a blessing that’s worth every moment spent on the road to see them.

Lastly, don’t feel that you have to do everything offered. You can’t pop into every session for a few moments and think you can walk away with gems that will influence your work. Be reasonable and make the best choices that you can. If it works out, great. If it’s not working and there’s a break, don’t be afraid to walk out. Your time is valuable.

You also need time to rest. Learning is exhausting. If you are too tired to process, go back to the hotel or go for a walk. It’s okay.

I hope this helps you as much as it helps me. Now I am ready!