Every five or six years, my birthday falls on Mother’s Day. I was actually born on Friday, May 12, 1972, and back in those days — just after the invention of the light bulb but before epidurals became common practice — hospitals kept patients longer than a minute, so my mom was still in the hospital on Mother’s Day.
When this phenomenon happens, we’ll do the Mother’s Day thing and my birthday thing just with my parents and brother, and I’ll do any other birthday celebrating — as in the imbibing of beverages with friends — on another day. If I had had kids, I suppose I would know how those with birthdays on Christmas feel, but as it stands, the dog and the cat can’t shower me with Mother’s Day fabulousness, so all that goes to my mom.
She deserves it all because while growing up, Mom actually cooked a lot of her own Mother’s Day dinners. Then when my brother (almost two years younger than I) graduated from high school, she all but announced she was done cooking nightly dinners and every Sunday. A common statement of hers this time of year is, “Do y’all want to come over for dinner Sunday? I figure I need to cook one more time before it gets too hot.”
I don’t mind sharing my birthday because I have a close relationship with my mom (or at least until she reads that previous paragraph). Yes, we have had our arguments. Yes, she has called me by my full name (as a kid). You won’t find a mother-daughter duo who has not experienced troubled times, but for us those times have been few and far between.
I’ve been lucky in that respect. Before everyone had work email, I called Mom almost every night — so often, in fact, when The Husband and I first started dating and I told him I was calling my mom, he asked, “What’s wrong?”
I hate to see friends who don’t have close relationships with their parents — mother or father. These two people are responsible for bringing a life into this world, and for some reason, whether it’s in or out of their control, they’re unable to nurture this life to its full potential.
However, the parent-child relationship works both ways, and I have known some people and situations where the strained parent-child dynamic got there from both sides. (I’d like to stress that I am saying “some,” thereby NOT generalizing!) Some children accuse their parents of expecting too much, but other children do the same to their parents. When I say “children” here, I mean adult children — the ones who should be capable of recognizing that their parents are human beings and make mistakes.
That realization doesn’t hit everyone at the same age, but one day you do realize that your parents are not perfect, and you know what? That’s not the end of the world.
Well, not always, I suppose. We all know too well of instances where the parents are serious contenders for Worst Parent Ever. There will always be relationships that are beyond repair — the addicts who won’t get help, the criminals who continue to break the law, the selfish who never compromise with loved ones.
Every relationship has to have that compromise — that give and take — and every relationship has one who’s more of the giver than the taker. In families, especially mine, the givers have been my parents, and in recognition of their sacrifices, in celebration of their unconditional love, I don’t mind letting Mother’s Day overshadow my birthday.
One day, hopefully multiple decades from now, my birthday falling on Mother’s Day will become a bittersweet combination, so my plans are to see Mom today.
And we are making my brother cook Sunday dinner for us.
I’ve seen this question going around the blogosphere over the past couple of weeks, and then a survey I took for a writing website I subscribe to inquired about my reasons as the lead-off question. That’s just a deep question to put on a survey in my opinion. I had to answer the other questions first and then come back to it.
I started with a simple answer of, “Because I have stories I need to tell.” I was making up stories in elementary school, usually using my Barbie dolls as actors. (Hmm, perhaps I should try directing as well.) and the ideas never stopped coming. Books and movies only spurred my imagination, as I would read and watch things that made me say, “I wanna write like that.”
In the sixth grade, I repeatedly checked out Requiem for a Princess by Ruth M. Arthur from the school library. I read Judy Blume and I loved John Hughes movies. Later, I discovered Nora Ephron and Cameron Crowe. In high school there was To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby; my freshman year of high school I read Rich in Love by Josephine Humprhies. Then I took a southern literature class and could not have felt more at home than if I were sitting on the squeaky glider on my grandmother’s front porch.
That answer, however, wasn’t enough, so I tried, “It’s the best thing I can do.” I can do math, but I’ve always been a better writer. I wrote sappy poetry in my ninth-grade science class. I’m horrible at sales — just ask my boss from the telemarketing job I had in college. I’ll never paint a masterpiece or perform a life-saving surgery, and I’m okay with that.
What I can do is string words together into an article or ad copy or a story, and I do that rather well. That might sound conceited, but I’ve done this professionally for almost 20 years, and people keep asking me to help them and others do read my work. Obviously, I’m doing a better than average job, and if I am, why not focus on that? Why not try to improve?
What I finally decided on for my answer was a combination of the two responses. Because I have stories that I need to tell and because writing is the best thing I can do, I don’t know how to NOT be a writer. I can’t imagine my life doing anything else.
A few years ago, not long after I started this blog, I found a quote from Ranier Maria Rilke that truly applies:
Ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down deep into yourself for the deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you meet this solemn question with a strong and simple, I must, then build your life according to this necessity.
Along those lines of why I write I discovered a statement that sums up WHAT I want to write. Two years ago an indie movie called The Art of Getting By was released. The Husband rolls his eyes when he catches me watching it, but I do so for a couple of reasons: (1) I like it. Is it the Best Movie of All Time? No, but it is well-acted and has a quiet charm to it, in my opinion. (2) The main characters are teenagers, and a couple of stories I have in the works center around kids in high school and college, so I’m sort of “studying” these flicks.
Last night I found the third thing I like about it: an art teacher’s description of his assignment. Jarlath Conroy’s surly art teacher Harris McElroy challenges George with one final assignment and his description struck me as something I — and any writer for that matter — should aspire to achieve with my writing:
I don’t believe that dumb, lifeless assignments are the measures of a person’s soul. I want one, one meaningful work from you. I want you to look in the mirror, listen to your gut, and make an image that speaks to the real you — what you care about, what you believe. It can be big, it can be small, it can be painted in bat shit — as long as it’s honest and fearless.…Something you’ve never had the courage to say before.
So now that I’ve got that figured out, cranking out that book will be a cinch!
This week’s writing challenge from The Daily Post involved imagining the door to your home has become unstuck in time and the next time you walk through it, you enter the same place, but a different time. I veered off path just a bit and took the prompt to spur something in a short story I finished a few weeks ago — perhaps something that could continue it.
Instead of delaying the judgement that waited inside by walking up the driveway and then across the concrete path to the front steps, Alexis crossed the front yard in a straight line from the car. The Bermuda sod had lost much of its lush green hue over the past week, and it gave a stiff crunch under brown flats. She was thankful for those light shoes as she took the front steps without the slightest sound.
The black front door stood in front of her. Her parents had to special order it last year because the opening was smaller than the standard, and her dad grumbled for a week at the extra cost. Her mom wanted one with the decorative oval glass in the center, but her father refused to consent to anything that allowed someone to see in the house. Alexis had never been so grateful for his stubbornness.
As she reached for the door knob, she felt the porch spinning. She wondered if by some miracle something was transporting her back — or ahead — in time. Perhaps she had wished so hard for the chance to do last Saturday differently, someone or something had granted her wish. Perhaps God had heard her prayers — the ones she prayed every night since Sunday.
She pushed the door open and floated across the living room illuminated in morning sunlight as she brought in the newspaper and passed her younger sister who sang along to the Katy Perry video on the television. Alexis set the paper down on the kitchen counter and grabbed a warm blueberry muffin from the plate next to the stove.
Sunlight streamed into her bedroom windows as she got ready to meet at the school for the band competition. This time she wasn’t annoyed at how hot it made her room. On the way to the school, she didn’t regret leaving her sunglasses on her dresser; she closed her eyes and welcomed the sun on her face. She loved feeling the warmth as she marched on the football field during the band’s performance, and she hated to see it fade on the trip home as she sat on the bus and let Brayden teach her how to twirl drumsticks between her fingers.
This time she wouldn’t linger in the chorus room to tell Madison about how it felt to have Brayden pretty much holding her hands for two hours. She would tell her that she’d call later and try to get out of the room — perhaps to see Brayden one more time. She would do anything to make sure she got out of there before Mr. Easterling could catch her.
She closed her eyes to stop the porch from spinning and turned the doorknob. The incandescent light from the ceiling fan hurt her eyes, but she still saw her parents seated on the couch. Her father’s arm circled her mother’s shoulders as her mother’s hand held a tissue to her nose. A Merriville City Police officer sat in the chair next to the sofa.
The three of them watched her enter the house and close the door behind her.
I’ve had a Pinterest page for about a year and a half, and I’ve noticed that at times, I wonder what would I have done without the site. Other times, I wonder why I even started one. Today, I start with the good things.
1 — Helpful bookmarks all on one page with pictures. Found a cool recipe? Pin it! Want to show my stylist a hair color I wanna try? Pin it! Then I can bring it up anytime I want on the computer or my phone or my iPad.
2 — I never knew there were so many freakin’ uses for baking soda. From cooking to cleaning to skin care, why doesn’t this just come in a thirty-pound box that we can store in the bottom of our pantry?
3 — OMG, y’all… the recipes! If I wanted new ways to cook chicken, I had to Google it, but now I can find a Pin that links to a site with 25 recipes. All. In. One. Spot. At Christmas, I wanted to find appetizer recipes with filo dough, and all I had to do was type “filo dough” in the search box. Yesterday, I saw a recipe for pumpkin bread with pumpkin buttercream frosting drizzled with salted caramel topping. Holy. Nomnom.
4 — Finding tips and advice. A couple of months ago, I was getting frustrated with how our whiteboards/dry erase boards at work were just looking horrible, so I searched Pinterest for “cleaning whiteboards” and found dozens of pins with all sorts of tips to try.
Next week, I give you five things I hate about Pinterest.
I turned 40 almost a year ago. That’s right; I’m almost 41 — less than two weeks away as a matter of fact. It still feels weird to say and see in type — not because I necessarily feel old. Although I sometimes do… like when I heard one of my coworkers say she graduated from high school in 2005, I had to sit down and let that sink in. Then I used a cane to get back to my desk.
I started THIS BLOG in 2005 — in April as a matter of fact, so happy eighth anniversary to Sappy Chick.
I suppose I still hold on to the belief that many people do when they hit their 40s — that they should have accomplished more. Sometimes I feel regret that I haven’t worked harder on my writing and pushed to get more fiction published, but I know that there are writers who never published their first novel until they were in their 60s.
When I was a teenager, I thought my adult years would seem more glamorous. I was 17 when I saw When Harry Met Sally, and I thought Meg Ryan’s character was so sophisticated — even if she was also quirky and OCD. I wanted to be that woman: living in New York, writing for the New Yorker, strolling around those iconic NYC neighborhoods, having the guy I was friends with but also harbored deeper feelings for confess that he couldn’t live without me — on New Year’s Eve at midnight, no less. (Faking an orgasm in the middle of a crowded deli was an act I was never brave enough to do, though.)
That movie, as well as most others, don’t show the less glamorous side of being an adult — the humdrum of grocery shopping, watching your bank account dwindle down after paying the bills for the week, the job interviews you go on and never hear from again. All those scenes end up on the cutting room floor — or a montage.
Eventually, I realized that I’m not the NYC type. I like my mild winters with little snow, and when we traveled to Chicago in 2004, I realized after four days that I missed looking out the window and seeing a back yard. Nora Ephron, however, remained a writing hero of mine.
I’ve entertained the idea of grad school for the past couple of years. I think my interest peaked when I started working in a post-secondary setting. I told my mom some of my goals of trying to attend a low-residency MFA program for creative writing — what was involved, what the program was like, why I wanted to go, among other stuff — and she said, “Don’t you wish you had done something like this ten years ago?”
Much love to my mother — who I know did not necessarily mean her question to sound as if she thought I was too old to go back to school — but ouch!
Sure some snot-nosed teenager is always going to be around scoring some multi-million book deal off some from something they posted on the internet (Jealous? Me? Heavens, no…), but I believe that my life experiences are helping me (and will continue to help me) write deeper stories. I think there’s something to the ability to look back upon what’s been gained and lost, loved and hurt, accomplished and failed that adds much more relatability. (Yes, I know that’s not a real word.) The advice of writing what you know doesn’t always apply to the main plot.
It’s not such a stretch to think that I’ve got lots of writing years ahead of me. Nora Ephron had the bulk of her movie making years in her late 30s and beyond — including an Oscar nomination for When Harry Met Sally, and writing the classic Sleepless in Seattle. So at 41 (almost), I definitely wouldn’t mind having what she had.