Saturday, August 23, 2014

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today is a birthday that is significant because it does nothing but mark the passage of time. I was officially on the down slope of life last year, so this birthday is just a reinforcement of that status. It isn't that I am unhappy to have this birthday. Indeed, I spent all day writing in my mind all the things for which I am grateful. In these last few moments of my special day, I'll share a few of them.

I no longer need to worry about how other people perceive me. It isn't that I don't care, it is that I can accept myself as I am. If someone else has a problem with that they can keep it. It is not my problem.

I am no longer in a hurry. I do not mean that I have accepted being late to everything as a lifestyle choice. It means that I don't have to push myself past my own comfort zone to allow someone else to stay in theirs. I saw a bumper sticker once that said, "Your emergency is not my crisis." I allow myself extra time to get places these days, just to make sure I don't feel rushed, and I am okay with that.

A related gratitude list item is allowing myself to take my time. "Taking my time." This small sentence fragment contains a huge concept. In practical terms, I have decided that I want to take responsibility for how, when, where and with whom I spend my time. My time is a precious commodity that I have been giving away. As the end of my life peeks around the corner at me (still a distance away, In'shalla), I understand that I do not get back squandered minutes. There is no instant replay or Tivo. There is no time for regret. I will either do something and accept the outcome or I will not do it and clearly understand why. I have also come to understand that it requires time to develop that understanding. Today, I give myself the gift that is me and the time it will take to understand me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"But, if you try, sometimes..." Rolling Stones

Well, you may have noticed that I have not been posting as frequently. I have not been writing everyday. I have pieces of things that I could post, but I had to think hard about their relevance. After much thought, I have come to understand that everything I write is about being a teen parent. The way I think about myself, the way I interact with other people, the kinds of jobs I have taken, the ways in which I perform my jobs.

Alongside the thinking I have done about the relevance of some of the pieces I want to post but haven't, I have been giving a lot of thought to the reality that I cannot make myself believe that writing is a job. I have this idea that a job is something that is tied to receiving a paycheck, and job evaluations from people who don't really care who sits in the chair across from them.

This is honestly a struggle. I am a one book wonder. I have published one book based on my dissertation, 3 book chapters and 2 peer reviewed articles. I have written more book reviews than I can count, for professional journals. At a tier three school that would get me tenure and promotion to full professor, which it did. At a tier one school that would have gotten me tenure without promotion but I would have worked even harder to publish not because I love to write, which I do, but to get the promotions that prove that my job performance is excellent.

How do I do that for myself? How do I become the person in the chair across from me thinking, "what has she done for me lately"? How much effort have I seen her make? How much initiative does she demonstrate? I have to admit that if I were that person I would give myself a very low performance score. That is crazy. It is crazy not just because I started from a place that was free from expectation. It is crazy not just because I am in a surprisingly small percentage of the American population who has a Ph.D. and publications (I know it seems like every other person you meet has a Ph.D. and is working at a Starbucks). I looked it up, I am part of something like 15% of the American population and no one knows how many people in the category began as teenage unwed mothers. It is crazy because I love stories. I love reading them, telling them and writing them. Why isn't it okay for me to just spend time each day doing something I enjoy while I am still on this planet? These are not rhetorical questions. I really want to know why I am having this difficulty and don't tell me I am afraid. I know I am afraid. I never give myself permission to not do something because it scares me, except for riding roller coasters. Those things are death machines.

So, I have spent 20 minutes writing. I could easily spend 20 more but I won't because I have to get up early and do something that someone else expects me to do. There are people out there who do what they love come what may. Tell me - you people - how do you tell yourself everyday that what you want to do is more important than what anyone else wants you to do? Maybe I am so far off base about this that I am not even asking the right question.

Odd segue, I walked to the beach today, for exercise. To the water and back  - no lallygagging. But, there was a guy trying to sail surf, or whatever it was called. He looked about 28, buff, tan, confident even though that sail was kicking his ass. It was a beautiful sail. A black background with a red splash that arced from the bottom left corner to the upper middle part of the sail and then a white splash immediately below that began to follow the red arc but then crossed over it to end closer to but not quite in the upper right hand corner.

It was a strong wind and a stronger rip tide. I was having trouble standing at the edge of the surf. The cross current kept trying to move my feet into something that felt like the steps of a tango. At one point this guy got close enough to me that I could see his green eyes. The sail had almost beached him. I said, "watch out for the riptide." But, he was already back at work moving the sail, his face a study in concentration, as though he willed that sail to honor his demands. And, it did. In no time really, maybe 2 minutes, he was half a mile out. I thought he must be scared to death. What if he can't get back to shore. That wind could have taken him to Cuba. But he continued to focus on the sail. He began to synchronize the movement of the sail with the approach of a breaking wave and even did a few cool wave hopping moves. He was clearly doing something he loved. He was doing something that I enjoyed watching, along with several other folks sitting in the sand, but I am fairly certain that he did not have that in mind when he decided to buy the flashy yet sophisticated sail or when he loaded it on the top of his car, or when he dragged it down to the water where he was dunked over and over again. I imagine that he was thinking, "I want to learn how to sail surf." And, he did. He spent an entire day folding and loading the sail, driving to the beach, maybe trying one or two before he settled on the beach I was at. He spent at least 20 minutes getting water boarded by the sail and the rip tide. I left before he made it back to shore - things to do for other people. I walked away thinking that he spent a whole day devoted to doing exactly what he wanted to do.

Honestly, what is it about a person that allows them to spend their lives doing what they want to do, maybe not everyday but on most days?

Because I did not post this until now, I got no answers to my questions from those who seemingly effortlessly do what they want, when they want and how they want. I would still like to get some responses. This is what I came up with (sorta) on my own. Tell me if I am getting closer.

I read, somewhere, that my favorite author (in the top 5), Louise Erdrich, actually tied herself to a chair to make herself write. I think that is brilliant. I certainly know the feeling of wanting to write, of needing to write, of needing to empty my brain onto a blank page or screen, so badly that to do anything else felt like refusing to vomit up a poison. Walking around cramped and miserable, feeling the tide of bile lap at the back of my throat, so close to the back of my teeth that if I opened my mouth to speak it would pour out in a torrent drowning me and anyone near me.  Why would anyone put themselves through that? Maybe those people, like the guy on the sail surfboard, or Erdrich tied to a chair, are addressing an irrepressible demand that for reasons unclear to anyone including themselves refuse to be ignored. What if they aren't doing what they want to do? What if they are doing what they need to do?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thank you Jared Leto's mom

I haven't been writing for myself everyday as I set out to do when I began this blog. I have, however, been writing everyday, for other people. I now volunteer as a grant writer for two organizations that help "women like me". Or, as +Matthew McConaughey might put it, the person I was who looked forward to the person I am now, but is not who she thought she would be. I get it.

+Jared Leto was more direct when he said,

"In 1971, in Bossier City, Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative and work hard and do something special. That girl was my mother and she’s here tonight. I just want to say ‘I love you mom, thank you for teaching me to dream." Read more: Oscars 2014: Watch Jared Leto's Amazing Acceptance Speech: VIDEO |

I have not seen the movie for which these actors won awards, something nags me when I think about watching it. I understand the basic plot. I will always love McConaughey for his role as the pragmatic and, literally, hungry lawyer in Amistad, a movie I teach every semester to teacher candidates, some of whom really believe that something happened in the 1960s that made racism go away. McConaughey's character never fails to capture those students because, as is true of most Hollywood movies, through the characters the audience learns what to accept and what not to accept.  

 Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven introduced "the hero that is not" character. A small movie that I stumbled upon about a year ago, Puncture, brought that character to fruition, in my opinion. I think that McConaughey's character in Dallas Buyers Club might just yank that character up another rung on the ladder of complex characterization. I'm just not ready for more uncertainty even though Hollywood seems to think I am. 

And then Jared Leto Spoke. I have boycotted watching the Academy Awards show since they started the 10 second delay, after +Quentin Tarrantino's awesome "F" bomb on THE Red Carpet. It was the pinnacle of real moments that have been caught on film before and during the show. 

And then Jared Leto spoke.  And, I missed it. But I heard about it. Why? Because it made a HUGE noise. It was as graceful an "F" bomb as I have ever heard. Tarrantino who? That mispoken "F" bomb has been trumped. Unwed teen parents have now been publicly recognized as capable of raising cultural icons. Leto may have made the unacceptable acceptable in Hollywood. 

We shall see what happens next. I was able to stream McConaughey's entire "speech" but Leto's was be taken down due to proprietary issues related to the Oscars (I paraphrase). My eyebrow is up. 

I cannot help but think that somebody in Hollywood is saying "what are we going to do with this unwed teen mom"?  Think about the portrayal of +Eminem's mom in 8 Mile. I don't believe Hollywood can handle characters as complex as she, or Jared Leto's mom, or any of us who raised children statistically destined to infamy, or at least bad life choices, but who became Hollywood icons and teachers and doctors and firefighters. Jared Leto has renewed my hope. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

2014: Let it be a Positive Trajectory

I haven't posted in almost a month. I have started and stopped 5 different pieces. I keep asking myself, "What does that have to do with being a teen parent"? I finally answered myself yesterday, "Everything." The way I work and live today are direct results of the the way I worked and lived while I was raising my son. I have to say that I have been moving along a positive trajectory, which is why I am writing this blog and not sitting in someone's living room with a long neck and my cigarettes. I am thankful that today all I do is romance memories of getting drunk as fast as I could and as often as I could because when I was sober enough to understand the weight of the job I had taken on as a teen parent, I was scared nearly unto death.

I am a workaholic because after working two and three crappy jobs (see the earlier post) for most of my adult life it just seemed wasteful not to work 16 and 18 hour days. Even after my son was on his way to financial stability, I was still churning out the Benjamin's--just in case. The only real difference is that today I have only one job that I pour my hours into, and I make more money doing it. In my family that is the goal and I reached it. When other people hear my story, teen mom, welfare, put myself through college, son a college graduate, writes and publishes, they always say, "Your accomplishments are amazing considering where you started." At this, part of me wants to say, "Hells yeah, and it was hard." But, the larger part of my brain says, "Yeah, I know. Who would have ever expected me to be in the newspaper for anything other than a domestic abuse story or a drunk driving arrest. That long neck, abusive boyfriends, and weekend visits to my son in San Quentin are more along the lines of what I was supposed to do."

Charles Chesnutt was the first African American to earn a living as an author of popular fiction. Just prior to one of his last novels, he wrote a letter to his publisher instructing him not to advertise his work as being written by a "Negro" author. This was around 1900. Chesnutt wanted the merits of his work weighed on the same scale as his White contemporaries. When the publisher ignored Chesnutt's request, Chesnutt stopped writing. I am not equating my experiences with Chesnutt's, his burden was so much heavier than mine that there isn't even a number that can adequately describe it. Sixty years later Martin Luther King, Jr. would ask America to learn how to "judge a man not by the color of his skin but by the quality of his character." Some of us are real slow learners.

I bring up Chesnutt and King because I do have the experience of people expecting nothing of me. The scale of judgement used for me was not the color of my skin or my ethnicity. It was that quality of character that King discussed. Is it possible for an unwed, teenage parent who American society wrote off long ago as having the morals of a Guinea pig ever be a positive role model? Do we want kids to look at the poor, promiscuous, punter now grown into a proper person with all those letters following her name as someone to emulate? I think not. I think that those of us (teen parents) who move along a positive trajectory are meant to do so quietly and in gratitude for the breaks life must have given us. I think that is the role we are meant to play in American society. When you step out of line you must make every effort to step back in and be grateful if someone left a space open for you.

Because American society continues to believe that upright citizens do not have children before they are capable of supporting them, or allow their children to do so, I believe that writing this blog is very definitely career suicide (OMG she's a teacher) not because I am less qualified than anyone else but because of where I started. Once word gets out that a teen parent can also be a productive member of the community, well, who knows how many girls and boys will think that they can do it, too. This is not a life path I recommend but it is the one I chose. I am proud of my son and of my scholarly accomplishments. I believe that on a good day I am an extraordinary teacher, and on bad days I am still pretty effective. I plan to continue on my positive trajectory because now I am just curious to see where it takes me. Am I allowed to say that?