Childhood Dreams

I think I said in an earlier post that last week I read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  The book was an easy and wonderful read.  Every chapter either moved me to tears or made me laugh.

A major theme in the book was the importance of childhood dreams.  Randy presented his childhood dreams and then went on to show how all of them (with the exception of one) came true.  Even the absurd dream of wanting to be Captain Kirk came true in a round about way.  It got me thinking about my childhood dreams.

Being a wife and mother were definitely on the list.  I’ve accomplished those.  For a time when I was a kid, we had a ping pong table.  We found that when the table was pushed up and stored it could be used as a chalkboard.  We spent time playing school.  Perhaps it was then when I decided I wanted to be a teacher.  I did become one.  Although I feel I am done with my time in the traditional classroom, I do not feel I am finished teaching.  I know that I dreamed of being a published author, although I think I also dismissed that dream as being “impossible.”  I also went through a phase where I desperately wanted to be a model.  I’m not exactly sure why seeing as I wasn’t tall or thin enough…or even pretty enough for that matter.  But I wanted it enough to give up a vacation to Hawaii so I could attend John Casablanca’s modeling school.  I guess I just craved the spotlight somehow and that was the only way I could imagine being in a spotlight.

Except for the fashion model fantasy, I don’t think I really dreamed BIG.  I loved my life just the way it was and never really longed for much more.  When I think of the activities that were my absolute favorite…those that defined my childhood it would be three things.  I loved being a cheerleader and showing off my cheers to anyone who would watch.  I loved playing Barbies and could spend hours on end in this fictional world of my imagination with Barbie and her friends.  I loved drawing and coloring.  The funny thing is except for cheerleading (which I participated in from 2nd grade through 12th), I’m not sure how often I did those other things.  Maybe it was only a year that I was taken with Barbie and maybe my drawing obsession only lasted a few months.  Maybe there were other things I did better and for longer, but those are the things I remember.  When I visualize my childhood I see the Barbie Dream House, the spiral notebook in which I drew portraits of  Strawberry Shortcake and all her friends, and my Godmother’s laughing face as I “perform” for her.

Randy’s book definitely has me reflecting once again on my childhood dreams, talents, and hobbies.  I do believe that what we are drawn to as children gives us clues about our future careers and lives.  The dreams of our children should not be dismissed.

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Selfishness…

Tuesday was a busy day.  We had new carpet put in to replace the nearly 20 year old carpet that was in our bedrooms.  We spent the day moving around furniture and belongings.  I blinked and it was dinner time.  After dinner I went to see Eat Pray Love with my friend, Kelly, and it was during the movie that I realized I hadn’t written or scheduled a blog post for Wednesday.  Luckily I was watching a very inspiring movie.

I read the book Eat Pray Love over two years ago.  I remember liking it, but not loving it.  The spiritual aspects of it spoke to me, but I’ve never dreamed of being a world traveler so with the exception of the ashram in India I didn’t feel any envy on that front.  That being said, I LOVED the movie!  I don’t know if I’m just in a different place now, but it was moving, funny, and I really loved Liz and the whole cast of characters in her life.

That brings me to the title of the post.  Last week I read a scathing review of the movie.  Pretty much had I never read the book and just read this review, I might not have paid to see the flick.  The overall criticism of the movie was that the main character was selfish and narcissistic.  I’d put the link to the review here if I could remember, but I can’t.  The reviewer was so convincing that she even had me vaguely remembering the self-involved nature of the author in the book.  But guess what?  It was a memoir.  The purpose is for the author to write about her life experiences and her personal reactions to those experiences.  Of course it would have self-involved overtones.

So I went into the movie with this review still in my head and plans to pin point all those horribly narcissistic moments on the big screen.  The thing was, I didn’t see any.  I saw a woman with her own problems, dealing with them in the only way she could.  A big argument made by detractors is that she “had it all” and was so selfish that she left it to find something else.  It was made clear in the movie that her big dream was not to be a wife and mother, so how can we say she had it all.  Sometimes we make decisions based on a mold created for us by our families or our culture, sometimes we make decisions for ourselves and simply change our minds.  It was mentioned that Ms. Gilbert so thoughtlessly left behind her family and loved ones to travel the world, but all I saw was a woman who was given the perfect opportunity to have an adventure.  There was no one in her life that NEEDED her in order to survive and thrive.  In fact, the people who thought they wanted her went on to find more success and happiness once she was out of the picture.

I think it’s sad that people tend to jump on the label “selfish” every time another person does something specifically for their own well-being, sanity, and happiness.  We have no idea what other people are actually thinking and feeling.  A small problem to us may be a devastating obstacle to someone else.  A person who appears to “have it all” may in fact have not one thing that makes them feel good about living.

I, for one, find Elizabeth Gilbert inspiring and no more narcissistic than anyone else in the world.  (We’re all a little narcissistic and selfish right?)

Slow Down

My message for today was “Slow Down.”  I went to the mindfulness meditation meeting at church this morning with my mind going 100 miles per hour.  It’s hard to be mindful of your breath and body and sensations in the present moment when you are very busy thinking and planning.  I haven’t said anything on the blog about it, but I am working on that novel.  Not the novel I posted here, but the one that I’d intended to start writing when I began posting “click stories.”

The “clicks” took on a life of their own though and I didn’t really find myself with a lot of extra time to write.  In fact I spent just as much time writing introductions, tweeking the font sizes, and requesting author photos.  I love the click stories though and even wrote a book proposal for a book that would compile all those wonderful stories.  (With the permission from the authors of course.)   I queried about 10 literary agents without getting any requests to see or learn more about the project.  That’s when I originally felt my message was to slow down.

I put that project on the back burner just as the guest posts stopped rolling in.  That is also when I changed my posting schedule to 3 times a week.  When I did this I had more time to just be.  As things quieted down I started to get inspired.  I’ve had the idea for a Young Adult book series for over a year now.   I know the major themes and plot points for 3 of 4 books.  I know the main character and her sidekick.  I’ve been trying and failing to force myself to think about it and to write it.  But finally after so many months I’ve started seeing it again.  When I’m not glued to my computer screen the characters pop into my head.  I can hear their conversations and feel their frustrations.  I’ve actually been writing it.  I set the same goal that worked for me before…3 pages a day.  It has been going very well….

Until….

I found out a friend of a friend is interning for a great New York literary agent from now until September.  They are seeking YA authors to represent.   Suddenly I felt this push to move faster.  I started planning how many pages a day I needed to write to finish the book in August.  I decided 6 would work.  Last night was the first night I tried to write 6 pages.  I successfully completed 1 page.  That’s it.  I didn’t even get my normal 3 finished.  I was frustrated to say the least, but decided it was OK, I’d only lost one day.  I could make up for it over the long haul.

Then I got to church today and was reminded to be mindful and slow down.  I’d started answering those questions on my own again.  The how was this connection to the New York agent and the when was September.  In just 30 minutes, Spirit reminded me that I’m not in charge of those questions.  I only need to remember the power to do it is within me.  Take action in the moment and have faith in the results.  Based on the current political climate and the research I’ve been doing on one of the major events I’m including in the 1st novel, I think this book will be an important and entertaining resource for young people right now.    I don’t want to rush this.   I want to do it right so that it will find it’s way to their hands (or kindles, Ipads, and laptops).

Catching Up

Aside from what  I wrote for Owning Pink, this is my first blog post after returning from our trip to visit family.  After three years we finally made it back up to Maryland to see my mother-in-law.   I have to admit I resisted the trip with everything in me.  As much as I wanted the girls to spend time with Grandma, it came down to me just NOT wanting to drive up there.  Three years ago we flew, but this time that just wasn’t in the cards.  In May,  after a lot of “flip-flopping” I made the final decision that we were NOT going to go.  I told Mark it was my decision and I would call his mother to inform her.  I knew she was going to be upset but I rationalized it all.  (There were a few more issues a long with the drive.)  Before I made the call I meditated and got very peaceful.  I set the intention to be open and loving and for our conversation to go smoothly.  It turned out to be one of the best conversations we’ve had in years.  We talked for an hour and a half and when I hung up the phone, I told her we couldn’t visit in August but we’d try our best to visit.  I listened to her with an open heart and she changed my mind.  Once we found out she wasn’t working in June we began to plan our trip.

We left on Wed. the 23rd at 4:15am and arrived at her house at 8:15pm.  We traveled with the girls and our two mini dachshunds and amazingly enough there were no problems at all.  I never imagined the drive could possibly be that peaceful, but it was.  The trip was great.  We went to Assateague Island one day.  The waves were rough and cold, but once I got used to it I tried out the boogie board.  To my surprise I was pretty good at it and as we were packing up a woman approached me and said she and her family had voted me “best wave rider” of the day.  Another day we went to the nearest zoo, which will be a whole other not-so-cheery blog post.  The girls reveled in their time with grandma and I did some reading and relaxing.

On the way back home we stopped in NC and stayed at my parents’ house for one night.  My sisters, one brother-in-law,  and nieces were all there to greet us.  We had a wonderful few hours of catching up before going to sleep and waking early to hit the road once more.  We made it home in the evening of the 29th.

Since we got back I spent the week preparing for a big event on July 4th.  Some of you may remember a blog post I wrote where I was considering volunteering to speak at Unity Eastside (my church).  July 4th was the day I chose for my talk.  I chose that day assuming everyone would be out of town, but to my surprise most people were in attendance.  So, I gave my first morning message to a full house and it went pretty well.  I learned that I can handle public-speaking just as well as public-writing.  Since the topic of my talk was “living the questions” I’m not going to try to figure out what will become of my new found ability.  Instead I’ll just peacefully wait to see what unfolds…

Thank you guys for sticking around while I was away.  I hope “fiction week” was entertaining enough.  I’ve got a few post ideas brewing, so hopefully I will get them out over these next two weeks!

The Circle Home (3)

The following is the end of chapter one although it does not pick up where Wednesday’s post left off (it skips a few pages).

More Chapter 1

A few more people talked about Mom.  They said she was funny and smart and talked about how much they loved her.  No one talked about the cancer that kept her hooked up to machines in the bed in our living room  Even the home nurse only mentioned her beautiful smile and how it lit up the room on even the darkest days.

After the closing prayer everyone began to leave the room.  Dad, Grandma, and Grandpa stood in the double doorway, shaking hands and hugging guests as they left.  I stayed behind to look for the lady in white.  I ducked between the men and women as they talked about my mother, my family, and the good ole days.

“There goes Emily.  That poor darling.”  One woman whispered.

“Look at that red hair.  She looks like Matt and has Janet’s spunk.”  Another man stated.

Then I saw her.  She was tall, slender, and her skin was clear and radiant.  She was wearing a long white wedding dress, like the one in the portrait, and a crown of daisies atop her blonde curls.  She beckoned me to come closer.

“Mommy?”

“Shhh, not too loud sweetie.”  She whispered.  “I don’t think anyone else can see me.”

“I thought you were in Heaven and then I saw you over there in that box, and now you’re here!”

“I wanted to see how you and Daddy were doing so I thought I’d hang around for a bit.”

“But you died.”  I whispered.

“I know.  It was a nice funeral.”

“Are you a ghost, like Casper?”

“I’m not really sure.  I just want you to know that I’m still here for you.  I want to spend time with you and do some of the things we didn’t get to do when I was so sick.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Do you want to play hide-and-seek?”  Mom asked.

I smiled and nodded.  I ran up the aisle and past the coffin that held the body that looked like my mother.  I climbed up the stairs and hid behind the podium in a small space just my size.  I waited there for Mom to find me.  She surprised me and I giggled when Maw Maw walked right past her and picked me up.

“Emily, this is not the place for games.  Look at what you’ve done.”  Maw Maw pointed to the crowd of people staring at me.  Many of them had taken their tissues out and were crying again.

“But Maw Maw, I was just playing hide-and-seek with Mommy!”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  You need a nap.”  She held me tightly against her.  I smelled the fresh powder on her face and felt the brooch poking against my chest.  I looked over her shoulder.  Mom was following us up the aisle.  She smiled and held a finger to her lip.  I realized then that everyone in the room thought she was gone forever, and only I knew the truth.

The Circle Home (2)

As I stated in Monday’s post, this week I am unplugged and decided to post a little fiction.  This weeks posts are excerpts from the novel I wrote titled The Circle Home.

Chapter 1

My mother died on January 2, 1979, a few months before I turned four-years-old.  She held on long enough to bring in the New Year, but not long enough to celebrate my birthday.  Most of the memories I have of her before she died aren’t really mine.  They’re stories my dad or grandparents told me so many times I began to feel like I was really there.  My first real childhood memory is the day of her funeral.

It was a cold day in January.  We rode silently to McEwen’s funeral home.  We were in Maw Maw and Papa’s light blue Pontiac.  Papa drove with both hands on the steering wheel in a white knuckled death grip.  Dad sat beside him, in the passenger seat, running his hands through his red hair the way he always does when he’s nervous.  I was in the middle of the back seat between Uncle Brian and Maw Maw, perched on the hump which was as close as you got to a car seat in those days.

“Hey Emily, punch bug!”  Uncle Brian gave my arm a little tap.  A yellow Volkswagen Bug had just turned at the stoplight in front of us.

“For God’s sake Brian, we’re on the way to Janet’s funeral not an amusement park.”  Maw Maw pulled a tissue out from her sleeve and dabbed her eyes.  Her hand shook.

“I like to play punch bug, Maw Maw.  Why can’t we play?”

“It’s just not a good time for games, that’s all.”  Dad spoke from the front seat.

“Daddy, when are they bringing the bed back?”  I asked.

“What bed?”

“The special one, that Mommy had in the living room.”

“They’re not bringing it back.  It’ll stay at the hospital now.”

“So, where’s Mommy gonna sleep when she gets back from Heaven?”

Maw Maw reached over and pulled me to her chest and patted my back.  I struggled to get back onto the hump and avoid having my eye poked out by the huge rose brooch she wore on the lapel of her black polyester pantsuit.  Dad lowered his head and shook a little.  Papa reached over and squeezed his freckled neck.  Uncle Brian just stared out the window with his chin resting on his fist and his forehead pressed against the glass.

We got to the funeral home early.  There were only a few cars in the parking lot, including Grandma and Grandpa Lohing’s burgundy Oldsmobile.  Papa pulled into a spot as close to the door as he could get.  Uncle Brian stepped out and reached for me.

“Come on butterfly, let’s dance.”  He lifted me over his head and twirled me around.

He had been calling me that since I had dressed up like a butterfly at Halloween.  Mommy was really sick that night so Brian and his girlfriend, Jennifer, took me trick-or-treating instead of Daddy.  I felt special having a nickname.  “Wheeee!”  I squealed as he spun me around.

“That’s enough Brian.  Put her down and act civilized.”  Maw Maw straightened her Dorothy Hamill haircut with one hand and pulled the glass door open with the other.  I held onto Daddy’s hand as we followed his parents and brother into the funeral home.

Maw Maw walked straight over to Grandma, who was sitting in a metal chair staring glassy-eyed into space.  She was fiddling with the cross around her neck and her mouth was twitching to one side.  Grandpa stood behind her with his hands gently resting on her shoulders.  He was a really tall man, but on that day without his bright smile he seemed too far away to reach.

“Oh Sylvia, I’m so sorry.”  Maw Maw knelt down beside the chair and Grandma fell over into her arms.  They both started crying, making sounds that I’d never heard before.  I kept my distance from them.  I was scared to move closer.

“What’s the matter with them?”  I whispered to Dad.

“They just miss Mommy, Sweetie.”

“But Daddy, she told us she was going away.  I thought they knew it too.”

“It doesn’t mean they don’t miss her.”

“Am I supposed to miss her too?”

“You can feel whatever you want.”

“Is it okay if I’m not sad?”

“Yes.”  Dad replied with tears forming in his eyes.

We stood outside the entrance to the chapel.  The smell of flowers filled the space.  There were arrangements shaped like horseshoes, hearts, and crosses.  I had never seen so many flowers before.  Grandma and Maw Maw stepped through the maze of flowers, pressing their noses to each display and carefully reading the cards.  I followed behind, mimicking their behavior until my dad called me away.

“Emily, come here, I want to show you something.”  He was standing by a portrait.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s your mommy.”

“She looks so pretty!  Where am I?”

“That’s our wedding day.  You weren’t around yet.  You were just a twinkle in her eye.  If you look close I think you can see it.”  Dad pointed to Mom’s eye in the picture.

As the minutes passed I watched more and more people file into the funeral home and fill up the seats in the small chapel. Dad positioned himself at the door to the chapel.  I skipped around the sanctuary, stopping to say hello to Mom lying in the coffin.  She looked like Sleeping Beauty; except I’m pretty sure Sleeping Beauty didn’t wear a wig.

I noticed that everyone wore black and carried tissues.  There were some kids like me.  One boy skipped towards me.  He was smiling and I knew he wanted to play, but his mom pulled him back and gave him a spank.  No one else came near me, but they all watched me skip, even the grownups.  When it was time for the service to begin there were no seats left and all I could hear was sniffling noises.



The Circle Home (1)

This week I am unplugged.  In order to do everything I need to do to prepare for unplugging,  I decided to have a “fiction week” on the blog.  This will be the first of three posts sharing some excerpts from the last novel I wrote (the one that is shelved indefinitely…or permanently).  The novel is titled The Circle Home.

Prologue

Someone once told me when you can’t go any further; you’ve come to your edge.  When you come to the edge a breakthrough is about to happen and you must go further.  I want to remember the person I was and the road I’ve traveled.  If peace has found a place in my heart, it’s because I crawled over the edge and found my way home.

The house is silent, outside still dark. It’s my favorite time of day when the only light here is the 60 watt bulb in the lamp beside me.  The only sounds are the creaking of the house and the coffee mug landing gently on the side table as I set it down.

The Christmas tree is still up, though not lit.  It is almost New Year’s.  I walk over and gaze at the tree, stopping at my favorite ornament, picking it up.  It’s one of those macaroni wreaths.  We made it the last Christmas my mother was with us.  I am pulled away from my thoughts by the sound of tiny footsteps.  I look up and see Janie Beth rounding the corner.  Her wild blonde curls are shooting out in all directions and she is rubbing her eyes.  She looks at me and smiles.  Suddenly the room and my life have more light in them.

“Good morning, Sweet Girl!”  I place the ornament back on the tree.

“Mornin Mama.”  She holds her arms out to me, lips poked out.  I lift her up and give her a kiss.  “Hey, it’s our ornament.”

I learn so much watching the way this little girl moves people.  She’s breathed life into me and everyone around her. Even the dog forgets how old he is in her presence.  We all call her JB, except for my father.  He calls her Janet two, because even at three-years-old she’s the only person who can make him laugh the way my mother could.  Last month, right after he found out my stepmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, JB said to him, “Gammy Beth’s gonna be okay, Pop.”  He smiled when there shouldn’t have been a smile left in him.  I think he believed her more than the oncologist.  I believe her too.  My little girl knows things, even if she doesn’t remember why.

Once when she was just a year old she pointed to the scar on my chin and said “boo-boo”.  It was a scar I had gotten when I was a baby too.  My father had told me the story many times; it was his last tangible memory of my mother and me together.  She was teaching me to walk and I got too close to the hearth.  When I started to fall she didn’t reach me in time and I hit my chin on the bricks.  Dad ran out of the room for a towel and some ice and when he came back Mom was using her favorite sweater as a compress.  She held me tightly and rocked me as I cried.  Dad said he saw tears streaming out of her eyes.  He’d joked that he’d get her a new sweater if that one was ruined.

Losing Mom was hard.  Grandma and Grandpa were never quite the same, at least that’s how the story goes.  I was just grateful that Grandma lived long enough to meet Janie Beth.  I think in the end she knew the truth about her great-granddaughter.  It’s a truth I’ve known since I gave birth to her and have only ever shared with my best friend, who happens to be her father.  What I love most about him is that he believes me.