Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Shedding Skin

I hung wallpaper for a short time, around 1985. I sucked at measuring and cutting. My boss complained that I was weak and needed too much direction. (He was not wrong.)
Next: I entered tax forms for the Internal Revenue Service. Was a whiz at the 10-key, but pregnancy nausea put the kabosh on that desk job. Keystrokes were counted; I spent a vast amount of time hovering over a toilet in a dimly lit government-issued bathroom stall. (I wasn't fired. I quit.)
Twenty-two years later, after three children, a Bachelor of Arts degree to teach secondary English (I preferred high school then), a community newspaper gig (I was assigned the education beat) , and a newly elected seat on the local school board (I wanted to serve my community), I scooped ice cream at a mom and pop business as a stop gap between reporting and returning to the classroom. Turns out that a person cannot write education news and serve on the school board at the same time. Something about a conflict of interest. (Also, and this is important, because I am proud: I created a chicken salad concoction that became a kind of legend on the Square in downtown Liberty while working at the quaint, brick-walled ice cream shop.)
Reporting and teaching: the bulk of my career. Two decadess. During those years, I was also raising kids, laundering thousands of socks, grocery shopping twice weekly and preparing meals twice daily. My husband traveled six months out of the year. He ate meals out and slept in nice hotel beds. I was left at home, trying to get myself and three children under the age of six up and out the door by 6:45 a.m. Needless to say, I was tired and bitch-cranky. My PMS was severe; at one point I (seriously) thought about running away from home (and work responsibilities), maybe head to New England. Chop off my hair and peroxide-dye it. Pierce my navel ~ hell, FIND my navel. Get into shape. Get a tattoo. Create a new identity that had nothing to do with motherhood or teaching or asking complete strangers prying questions.
For two decades, I was passionate and pissy about those two jobs. (There were some good days.) Now, I tell myself those feelings were valid, and not emotional fabrications to ease the psychic pain of withdrawal from the newsroom and the classroom. It's what I did. Was good at. Defined by. Paid for.
Look. At heart, I am an introvert, and as such, I am a person who not only adores solitude and quiet but needs it. As you can imagine, it was tough for me to go out into the world (read: my community) with a smile and a notebook and interview superintendents and lottery winners and city councilmen. I always felt artificially poised and posed, there in my pumps and business suit, as I asked questions and wrote furiously to record answers. Showtime! (Jazz hands.)
Teaching high school was one big show, too, only six chaotic times a day ~ in profoundly noisy fifty-five minute increments. The hooligans needed fun assignments or else they were bored, apathetic, and problematic. With the energy I expended day-in-day-out, I might've trained to swim from Cuba to Florida. (Bet Diana Nyad never taught high school English.)
Later, I found middle school and it fit me like a comfortable shoe. At heart, I am fourteen years old. I laugh at fart jokes; I like, truly like, the music of Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez; I purchase for myself fuzzy-fabric covered journals and when the Book Fair rolls around, I always buy bobble-head pens and erasers that look like chunks of cheese. Mostly, I think early teens are pretty dang funny; in fact, I feel most tender toward awkward adolescents. Why? I remember being thirteen, fourteen. I remember feeling out of control and painfully shy and oh-so-ready to grow up, even though it meant leaving the security of my childhood.
And then my mom died and I lost my mind. I left the classroom to devote my life to beating myself up with guilt and trying to work shit out in/through/around/ my writing. I got accepted to the MacDowell Colony and got to write, undisturbed, ten hours a day in a gingerbread-like stone cottage nestled among towering trees in southern New Hampshire. I was productive and loved every single minute of my twenty-four days.  I came home energized. I would finish my novel and send it off; I would enter contests and win; I would be published in bona fide literary journals, like Ploughshares and Glimmer Train.
None of the above happened. What happened was home and all the responsibilities that come with it. Furthermore, a lack of discipline and my damned ADD took over and I reverted to pre-MacDowell ways, which meant spending too much time on facebook, too much time watching Modern Family and Dr. Phil, and eating out with friends three times a week. Bad for the waistline; bad for publishing.
And now, here I am. Forty-eight years old. I am not reporting. I am not teaching. Without my income, vacations are a luxury of the past; I do my own nails now. Pedicures? What are those? I do, however, have money in my purse for a Starbucks latte anytime I want one. I am one lucky lady, thanks to a wonderful and supportive husband who goes to work each day loving what he does. He is the major bread-bringer-homer. Me? I freelance and pick up some money here and there. I am a (paid) morning and after-school childcare provider. (Love my pseudo-grandchildren!). And ~ and this is BIG ~ I am owner of a kick-ass writing room
Sometimes, I even go in there and I write.