And we’re back for our (ir)regularly-scheduled programming, Fiction Friday! This week, we’re in Seattle, “at some point in late 1993”: ‘at some point’, because I haven’t yet figured out where this scene will go. That’s one of the things I love about piecing novels together scene-by-scene instead of writing to a strict, structured outline.
This excerpt is, of course, taken from Entertain Us. You’ve met Jesse, my darling little shithead of a lead singer. Now I’d like you to meet Cara….
A man and his young son tossed a football between them. An elderly couple, walking their terrier-type dog, paused so that the creature could sniff a tree; while a group of twenty-somethings, probably students, lay in the grass poring over papers and books. Cara scanned her surroundings from behind her sunglasses, looking out for a familiar face. She checked her watch: her visitor was ten minutes late already, and she was sorely tempted to leave; bail on their scheduled meeting.
Cara jumped in her seat. Oh no, not today. Not today. “Yes?” she said, trying to convey as much displeasure as she could in a single word. It was one of the twenty-somethings, and she didn’t have the emotional strength to be recognized and ogled today.
“Could I just reach under you real quick? The wind got to some of my papers…”
“Oh!” Cara stood, vacating the bench, and the young man reached under it to retrieve his notes. So he hadn’t recognized her at all. She was thankful that he didn’t look at her when he gave a cheerful ‘thanks’, and didn’t see her reddening face.
You’re almost as bad as Jesse, she chided herself, but she was distracted, before the thought could take root, by the sight of her visitor in the distance, looking in every direction but Cara’s, holding two coffee cups. There was a sort of franticness to her movements, a quickness in the way her head jerked as she looked for Cara’s face among one cluster of people after another, that showed her desperation even from a distance.
“Mom,” Cara called, with a sigh. Lynn turned her head in Cara’s direction, and Cara waved a hand in the air to catch her attention. She sat back on the bench; judge and jury all in one.
Her mother stood sentinel for a moment, too overwhelmed upon seeing her daughter for the first time in months to find words. “I got us some coffees,” she said, at last, needlessly. She handed one to Cara.
“Thanks. You going to sit down, or…?”
“Of course, of course.”
Perhaps a park was a poorly-suited venue. Its attraction to Cara stemmed not just from it being a neutral ground (there was no way she would ever return to that house, not for any reason; and she was even more unwilling to give her mother the address to her apartment) but because all the territories she now occupied carried with them happy memories she didn’t want to be tainted with a bad one. The studio; Jesse’s garage; the parks and grassy knolls and coffee shops nearer to her home. But now that she had come halfway across town to a park she’d chosen for its location in an affluent area – to try to remind her mother, even subconsciously, that she was better off without her – she could only see it as a place where families came to enjoy each other’s company. She hated the little boy and his father; she hated the elderly couple and their dog. She hated the students for the happy, ordinary family she presumed they had at home. “Why did you just stand there?” she said, finally; ice in her tone. “You just stood there, and did nothing. No, wait: didn’t just do nothing. Just walked by into your bedroom, like it was just some… Some minor little inconvenience to you. Like someone left the TV on, or something.”
“It’s not enough.”
“I know it isn’t. But I am. It was shock. I didn’t know he was like that, with you.”
Cara opened her mouth to argue, but paused. With you, she’d said, the implication of those words heavy. “So he…?” The words died on Cara’s tongue; fleeting sympathy replaced with a flash of anger. “How could you not know? It was happening right under your nose.”
“The same way that you didn’t know, honey.” Lynn laid a hand on her daughter’s forearm, and though Cara flinched, she didn’t pull away.
“So why stay? How could you still love a man like that?”
“Love him?” Lynn gave a joyless chuckle. “Cara, I haven’t loved him in a long time. But he put food on the table; kept a roof over our heads. And when I thought I was the only one suffering for it, it was worth it.”
“Is that why you married him in the first place?”
“No. I loved him back then. I didn’t know what he was really like.”
Cara scoffed. “Maybe you should have waited longer. Dad wasn’t even cold.”
Wounded, Lynn released her gentle grip on Cara’s arm. She closed her eyes, so she never got to see that Cara winced; she would never know that she regretted the words as soon as she’d said them. “When you lose someone you love, you can’t just roll over and stop living. I had you to think about.”
And what a load of good that did me, Cara thought, but she had inflicted enough damage already. An uncomfortable silence fell over them. Cara hadn’t known what to expect from this meeting, but it certainly wasn’t this: to be sick at the sight of her; to know that it wasn’t her mother’s fault, but to find that being angry with her felt so good that she didn’t care. To be caught somewhere between wanting to accept her apology and rebuild their relationship, and feeling that she could never forgive her for just standing there motionless, no matter what her reasons. “Why did you write me? Why now?”
“I wanted to write, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to find you, until you got the PO Box.”
“Bullshit. I’ve had that box for months. Why now?”
Other parents might have called this insolence, but in Cara, Lynn only saw backbone, and it almost brought a smile to her face. So Ray had not taken that from her.
“I need your help,” she confessed.
I’m writing this with puffy eyes, messy hair, and winged eyeliner that is tragically off-fleek. I’m writing this cradling a cup of coffee like it’s a lifeline, because last night, instead of going to bed when Lillian went to bed (which is what I’ve been saying I’ll do ‘tonight, no matter what’, for the past week) I stayed up into the small hours of the morning. Writing. Thinking. Planning. And then, when I finally laid my head down on the pillow, I picked up my phone to record a voice memo because I couldn’t sleep. My brain was still writing. Thinking. Planning.
I don’t know how to switch off.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s look back at November; at how we got here.
I returned to the stage. One short, manageable rehearsal a week became four rehearsals a week; five shows over four days. But then it was over, and I could pause. Breathe.
Just, you know, not for too long, because NaNoWriMo. But that wasn’t so bad. I’d write on my lunch break, I’d write when I put Lillian to bed, and then I could pause.
Or, at least, I could pause long enough to record vocals for a cover/tribute album. But that just meant waiting until the house was quiet (HA!) and singing a few songs by my favourite band; it was hardly torture. And then I could-
-well, not pause, not just yet; because first, there was Operation Christmas Child to take care of. My wonderful parishioners did the leg work there, though: they’re the ones who dedicated their time and money to shopping for gifts, wrapping boxes, and filling them with love. Really, all I did was send the boxes on their way around the world. Then the project was done for the year, and I could—
—do my homework, because, oh shit, we’re in week what? I’m how far behind? Okay. Breathe. Focus on homework. It’s okay. You’ve got your 50,000 words and you’ve still got two days before NaNo finishes. Then you can relax, you can—
Who am I kidding?
Some people try to burn the candle at both ends. I hack away at the wax to expose the wick, and burn it from the ends and the centre. I’m not going to go to bed early tonight, or tomorrow night, or the next. I’m never going to finish the book I started reading in September.
I thought I could pause when NaNoWriMo was over, but I haven’t. I’m still writing every day. That’s great news: I’m in love with this novel, fully engaged with it, and it’s coming along so nicely (there’ll be an update soon). But I don’t pause. When I get a free moment it’s like I have a compulsion to fill it. Even now, though I’ve ordered myself to take a night off from writing and go to bed early, I’m thinking instead I should update this page. I’m thinking about how tonight, I need to record vocals for a Foo Fighters tribute album I signed myself up for. I’m thinking that I can see a free window to catch up on sleep, to pause; and it doesn’t matter that it’s ten days away. I can keep going until then.
Newton’s first law of physics. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. I suppose that for the first time, I’m admitting that I’m scared of what will happen if I stop moving; if I pause.
Drum roll, please.
NaNoWriMo is now less than two weeks away. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when I give up sleep, Google things that might get me put on the no-fly list, and watch my body composition turn to 70% caffeine, 25% gin, 5% bones and muscles and the like.
Last year was a huge success. I wrote 51,159 words in 30 days: words which weren’t perfect, but formed the backbone of Say Nothing. Over the past year I’ve edited, deleted, cried over, and re-written those words into a complete novel. I’ve never worked harder on, or been more in love with, a writing project. Why it took me so long to put my
obsession with love for history together with writing, I just don’t know. But it’s definitely ‘my’ genre.
I’ve known since writing the very first chapter of Say Nothing that it will be a series. I’ve known from the first chapter how I want the series to end (no, I’m not telling). Over the last few months, with NaNo creeping ever closer, I’ve been planning its sequel. I’ve got the bare bones of a plot, from start to finish. I’ve got pages and pages of research notes. So, without further ado, I’m happy to say that this year’s NaNoWriMo project is….
Let me briefly explain how my brain works.
My brain is like that asshole college roommate who drinks all your good beer and replaces it with Natty Light. Sure, it’s not exactly what you wanted, but it will do, right? I don’t ever have ‘an idea’ rattling around in my head. I either have nothing, or I have too many to work on all at once. For a while now, I’ve had ‘nothing’. But for several weeks, conversations with my brain have looked like this:
Yo, I’ve got an idea for a novel.
Brilliant! Is it the sequel to Say Nothing?
…okay, what is it?
Seattle. 1990s. Grunge scene.
…that’s…. That’s not a novel. That’s a setting, and a theme.
Hey, my work here is done.
With NaNoWriMo just around the corner and a sequel to Say Nothing already earmarked for that, I was going to ignore my persistent, petulant brain. Then it gave me a (working) title. Then an opening scene. Then two characters. Now I was listening. Then it gave me the vaguest idea of a plot, and now I’m excited.
I’ve written the first chapter. This is a tiny excerpt – just a teaser – introducing you to one of the main characters. Enjoy!
Above a double garage in the green suburb of Washington Park was a studio apartment where Jesse lived in squalor. The occupants of the house were the Williamses, an elderly couple whose ears could rarely pick up the sound of Jesse’s loud guitar, even if their noses often caught whiff of the pot smoke that frequently came across the garden from the garage. Jesse had lived in the apartment for two years, but had made no effort to scrub it up: paint was peeling in the loft area above the kitchen, where a mattress and rumpled sheets on the floor formed his bed; in the tiny bathroom, the faucet dripped; there was a pervasive smell of damp (noticeable even over whatever takeout was spoiling on the counter) from a roof leak he never bothered to report to his landlords. His landlords, quiet though he kept it, were his parents. Embarrassingly wealthy, they owned one of the largest real estate companies in Seattle, and the house in Washington Park was one of their many rentals. The Williamses paid rent; Jesse did not. Though Jesse’s apartment was small and filthy, he found that his friends and bandmates were in awe of him having his ’own place’, so for two years he had simply let them assume that his landlords were the Williamses. In Jesse’s defense, he had never technically lied, he just hadn’t corrected them: he couldn’t be held responsible if they came to the wrong conclusion. He didn’t correct them when they assumed his parents had cut him off, either. They painted for themselves an image of Jesse as a struggling musician, Mom and Dad’s purse strings brutally cut; the rug pulled out from underneath him; on his own since the day he flipped the proverbial bird to his parents’ dreams for him and dropped out of real estate school. He was their hero. A rock star. After all this time, like the stench of weed that perforated the furnishings and even the walls of his apartment, this white lie had seeped into Jesse, until he almost believed it himself.
So he let the apartment go to ruin. He didn’t replace the couch when it started to sag in the middle, or the bulb that blew in the kitchen. Someday, when his band made it big, there would be a glittering write-up in Rolling Stone of his rags-to-riches tale. Jesse Parr, who came from nothing and formed the greatest rock band of all time. Jesse Parr, the kid who made it big.
Autumn sweet, we
Call it fall
I’ll make it to the moon
If I have to crawl
Today, I have a story to share. Admittedly, it doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of this blog, but it’s not suited for Facebook, either; and it’s a story that I think should be told. It’s about music, and art, and babies.
I have always been deeply moved by music. I don’t think that makes me a rare and special snowflake – who doesn’t feel that way? – but it does have a strong effect on me. If I find myself staring at an empty page, music can help the words come unstuck. Certain songs have never failed to cheer me up; certain songs have never failed to make me cry. Then, somewhere in between, there’s Scar Tissue. (Put it on. Have a listen.)
Red Hot Chili Peppers always have been, and always will be, my favourite band. Scar Tissue always has been, and always will be, my favourite song. As someone whose body is rippled with scars, its meaning to me always came from taking its lyrics at face value.
Until I heard the words “your blood tests came back abnormal; we’re going to send you to a specialist to check the baby’s okay.”
Let me first state, very plainly, that I am wiser now than I was just four years ago. I know now that the diagnosis I feared would not have been the end of the world for my child, or for me. But at the time, I didn’t know that. It can be scary, being pregnant with your first child. It’s terrifying to be pregnant with your first child in a new country, with no health insurance, no prenatal care, no money, no job, and no idea when your situation will improve. To scrimp and save for your only prenatal appointment, only to be told that the baby “might not be okay”… I couldn’t handle it now, if I had to; and I certainly couldn’t handle it then. In the days that we waited for an appointment with the specialist, I cuddled my pets close to my belly and I counted kicks and I cried, consumed by fear.
And then, as quickly as that fear took hold, it was vanquished. Results of further tests normal. No indication of any abnormality or delay. No sign that this pregnancy is nonviable. Relax, Momma. Everything will be okay.
On the way home, we stopped to get gas and a couple of sodas. I could tell you the specific Chevron station where I sat and waited in the car when it all finally sank in. After going so long without even basic prenatal care, I hadn’t dared to make dreams for this child. I couldn’t bring myself to buy baby clothes, let alone daydream about what my child would be like. Now, I had permission to dream. That was the first time motherhood felt like something wonderful and beautiful and life-changing. It was the first time I wasn’t scared.
And while I was sitting there in a Chevron gas station, trying to piece my thoughts together and trying to comprehend everything I was feeling, Scar Tissue came on the radio. My favourite song; one I hadn’t heard in a while and one I’d never heard on the radio before. For the first time, I really heard the words I’ll make it to the moon if I have to crawl, and I thought, “we’ll be okay”. It didn’t matter that I had no job, no money, no health insurance, no light at the end of the tunnel. We’d make it, somehow, this baby and me. Then – and I swear, this is true; though I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t believe me – I looked through the window up at the sky, and a flock of birds flew overheard right as I heard with the birds I’ll share this lonely view.
That was it. Scar Tissue was forever going to be this baby’s song.
I tried to incorporate music into the baby’s life as much as possible, even before she was born; even before she had a name; even before I knew she was a she; even while I was still scared. The baby listened to Nirvana’s In Utero whilst she herself was in utero, but she also listened to Elvis; to Johnny Cash; to whatever country music was playing on the radio. Before long, she’d picked out her favourites. Before she was born, she’d kick like crazy for Elvis. By the time she was six months old, she would giggle with delight if I sang Sugarland’s “Baby Girl”. At two, she was adorably headbanging to Nirvana. By age three, she was singing Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. And now, at age four, she’s picking up on my love of Red Hot Chili Peppers.
I haven’t forced it. I’ll always ask her if we can listen to music, and if she likes the song that’s playing or if she wants something else. So far, she’s never asked me to skip a Chili Peppers song, and my heart just swells with delight: it’s such a special and beautiful thing to have shared interests with your child, particularly when it’s something you love as much as I love those funky California dorks.
Lillian is still so little, and her interests are changing fast. But I think – and I hope – her love for the Chili Peppers is genuine, and lasting. Recently, I was listening to I Could Die For You and Lillian, recognising Anthony Kiedis’s voice, started singing Under The Bridge. She loves what she calls ‘the bubble noise’ on Feasting on the Flowers and asks for it on repeat.Her reaction to hearing Mother’s Milk for the first time was to thrash around the room and jump up and down on the couch. My little rock star.
Scar Tissue is the perfect song for Lillian; for us. I have dreams for her as big as the sky. I do everything I can to teach her not to accept a life with limitations; to not listen to those who say “you can’t do that” and to never dare say it to herself. She may never understand how it felt to hear that song the day I sat in a Chevron forecourt and let go of my fear. She’ll never know how it feels like life has gone full circle when she sings Scar Tissue. How it hits me like a freight train. But one thing is for certain: I want her to know that if she wants the moon, she can make it there.
Even if she has to crawl.
Last night, Lillian and I were watching Avengers: Age of Ultron. She was firing off all these questions at the speed of light and I answered each of them. Then she asked me something which made me pause.
“Is he a bad guy because he has a gun?”
It will probably not surprise any of you that guns make me deeply, deeply uncomfortable. I grew up in a country where they are almost completely outlawed, and I fear them. My first instinct was to answer her with a “yes”, but I know that isn’t true. I personally know and love many civilians who carry firearms. They are not ‘bad guys’. I personally know and love many soldiers and police officers who carry firearms. They are not ‘bad guys’. At age almost-four, my daughter is too young to understand that sometimes the people with guns are bad guys, and sometimes they are good guys.
Because, you see, James Holmes had a gun when he killed twelve people in a movie theater in 2012. He was a bad guy.
Philando Castile had a gun on Wednesday when he was pulled over for a busted taillight in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He was a school cafeteria worker with no criminal record. He was not a bad guy.
So how do I explain to my child why James Holmes is alive and Philando Castile is dead?
I wasn’t going to write about this. My voice is not the important one here, so I was going to sit back and let others speak.
Then, Dallas happened. On Thursday, five police officers were killed during a demonstration related to the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. The Dallas police were there to keep the crowd safe. They posed for pictures with demonstrators, they filmed them and shared the videos on Twitter. Spreading the voice of their discontent. Helping. They were not bad guys.
I am seeing the people I love and admire following the same script from the same sick play that opened after the deaths of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Freddie Gray… The names change, but the dialogue doesn’t.
“Black lives matter.”
“Blue lives matter.”
We want things to be simple. We want clearly defined “good guys” and “bad guys”, but life is far more nuanced than we would like it to be.
In our rush to oversimplify things, when we hear “black lives matter” we think that it means “only black lives matter” or “black lives matter more than others”. We turn “blue lives matter” into “only the lives of the police matter”. “Black lives matter, and police are the bad guys” versus “police lives matter, and everyone they come up against is a bad guy”.
I urge you all to remember that “black lives matter” doesn’t include the word ‘only’. Its meaning is not “black lives matter, and the police are the bad guys”. A closer, but wordier, explanation of its meaning would be: “this country has a long, tragic, and even recent history of treating people of color appallingly; and today we see people of color killed by law enforcement at a much higher rate than is proportional to their percentage of the population as a whole. When people of color are killed in high-profile incidents involving law enforcement, the media is quick to sully their name and their reputation by any means necessary, as if that justifies their deaths. So maybe, just maybe, America hasn’t healed from that history yet; maybe well-meaning cops are growing up hearing the racial attitudes of the not-too-distant past, and even if they are not intentionally racist, they’ve taken in those messages and absorbed them. So maybe, when the media rushes to dehumanize people of color, a fear and a prejudice grows in those well-meaning cops until they automatically see skin darker than their own as more of a threat, even if they don’t realize that they’re doing so. That might explain why last year, black men were nine times more likely to be killed by police than any other group, even though they only make up 2% of the general population.[Source] This has to stop. Black lives matter, too.”
But I also urge you to remember that “blue lives matter”, likewise, doesn’t include the word ‘only’. Maybe its meaning is closer to “the men and women who work in law enforcement make it their jobs to protect us. They put themselves in danger every single day, and many die in the line of duty: an average of 40-50 are shot, stabbed, strangled, or beaten every year.[Source] Demonizing law enforcement as a whole in the wake of high-profile incidents only heightens fear of the police and widens the gap between law enforcement and the communities they serve. To demonize law enforcement as a whole is an insult to the people who have sworn to serve and protect us, and do so every day without incident. Be outraged when innocent people are killed by the people who were supposed to keep them safe, yes; but please, remember that blue lives matter, too.”
And so we’re back to Lillian’s question, which, at its heart, is “how do we spot the bad guys?”.
We don’t. Because unlike in superhero movies, the bad guys don’t belong to one defined group, or organization; there isn’t one specific behavior that singles them out.
So please – please – stop pitting these two movements against each other. You can respect law enforcement in this country and grieve for officers who have fallen in the line of duty and still feel that people of color are dying at the hands of police at an alarming rate. “Black lives matter” doesn’t mean “only black lives matter”, any more than “blue lives matter” means “blue lives, and only blue lives, matter”. And while there is an ‘All Lives Matter’ movement, I would caution you that the movement and that language are not as inclusive as they sound. The battle cry of ‘all lives matter!’ is used more often to silence the grieving and the angry than it is to include them. To borrow from a popular internet analogy, it’s the equivalent of taking money from a fundraiser for a cancer charity while saying “what about the other diseases?”. It ignores people’s justified pain and outrage. It says “what about everyone else?” at a time when grieving communities are saying “yes, I know that all lives matter, but a life in my community was extinguished today and I am allowed to grieve for that loss; to focus on this particular life that was important to me”.
Two communities are hurting today. It is possible to show some compassion for both.
Guess who’s back?
I came to a realisation a few weeks ago that my stress levels skyrocketed when Camp NaNo (sort of a NaNoWriMo Lite™, where you set your own word count goal) finished. Apparently, I can cope with the batshit insanity that is my life as long as I am writing. Aside from finally making me feel like a ‘real’ writer, figuring this out was important because, hey, I’ve got an antidote to stress right here in my brain. I can tap into it at any time, right?
Except that I asked my brain to give me a short story, or a scene prompt, or something, and my brain responded like this:
Before doing this:
But, with a contest deadline looming, my brain finally gave me not one, but two short story ideas. They will both eventually be featured here. In the meantime, here is a teaser for a story featuring my new favourite character, Clark Darcy, a chatty Vietnam veteran whose styling *cough* was in no way inspired by an infamous Athens coffee shop regular *coughing intensifies*.
Clark Darcy sat outside a cafe on the corner of First Street and Main, a toothpick dangling between his teeth, bouncing on the vibrations that came as he spoke. Clark had developed the habit of speaking through teeth that were permanently clenched around a toothpick, a straw, a pen, the edge of a fingernail: whatever he could put between them. He had also adopted a New York drawl, although it had been twenty years since he’d briefly lived in the state. The weather today being above sixty degrees, he was dressed in his usual attire of sleeveless white undershirt and cargo shorts; his white hair was slicked back with pomade; and he wore his trademark aviator eyeglasses, which he’d had since he was a kid with a gun in ‘nam in ‘73. The bullet he wore on a chain around his neck came from the same era.
“Anyways,” he said to the pretty young blonde who had stopped to pet his dog, “that’s hows I got run out of Milwaukee.”
The girl nodded slowly, wide-eyed. Almost thirty minutes had ticked by and the dog – an enormous pit bull known affectionately throughout the town as “that big lump” – had long since drifted off to sleep under her hand, while she waited to politely exit during a lull in conversation that Clark was not going to provide.
“You, err… You lost me at the one-armed foreman of the tire factory,” she said, truthfully. “Um. I should go, I have to get to class.”
“Well whaddya doing hanging around here for, then? Go.” Clark’s smile revealed several gold teeth. As the girl walked away, he sipped his Americano and gave the dog a light thump with his foot. “Look at you; useless. Can’t even keep your eyes open long enough to greet your adoring fans.”
The dog groaned, rolled over onto his side, and exhaled deeply.
“Oh my god,” came a shrill voice, and looking up Clark saw a brunette in an oversized tee and running shorts. “Can I pet your dog?”
Clark sat back in his chair, lacing his hands behind his head. “Please.”
Before he was Clark Darcy, he had been Eugene McCloy, but he changed his name before he enlisted. A new name to take into battle. Clark for Clark Kent, quintessential American (he would not be convinced otherwise) hero; Darcy because he fancied himself an old romantic, and because it went well with the ranks he tested beside it. Private Darcy. Sergeant Darcy. Sergeant Major Darcy. He never made it so far as Sergeant Major, however: not because he lacked skill with a rifle – if anything, it was unnerving how confident he was with a firearm in his hand – but because of an unfortunate incident with a group of local girls. A well-timed shrapnel wound sent him home for medical reasons and spared him a dishonorable discharge.
“What’s his name?” the young girl was scratching behind the dog’s ears.
“Custer, after General Custer. They teach you about Custer at that school of yours?”
She shook her head. “I’m a psych major.”
“Figures. You’re all psych majors these days. You ever learn about that time Freud visited Area 51?”
The girl shook her head again, now looking confused, and a little apprehensive.
Clark clapped his hands together with glee. “Oh, do I have a story for you…:”
According to Plan A, I should be an American citizen by now. I should have finished my schooling and passed the bar. My husband and I should be living in Dahlonega, in the house that we own. Scratch that, time for Plan B. According to Plan B, I should be finishing up with my degree by now. I’ve been a stay at home mother and part time student, but now that I’m graduating, it’s time for me to join the workforce while my husband– Err, okay, let’s move on to Plan C. Plan C is foolproof, though. I’ll work full-time and study online. By the time Lillian starts first grade, I will be ready for law school. That’s a long time away. By then, I will have found a solution to the “how do I work enough hours to pay bills while going through law school?” problem– Ah. Alright. Time for a new plan.
Five years ago, when I was waiting on a visa, I had a plan in place for the rest of my life. Nowhere in that plan did it mention:
a) Being single
b) Being a single parent
c) Being broke (see b)
d) Still not having a Bachelor’s degree, let alone a J.D., by age 25
e) Law school looking impossible, and – even scarier – like it’s no longer what I want.
In fact, had somebody told me that was in store for me if I came to the US, I would have bailed. Broken off the engagement. Withdrawn my visa application.
I am so damn glad I didn’t.
Yeah, I’ll be honest – more honest than I have ever been on this blog, really – sometimes, this life is HARD.
What’s hard is when the alarm goes off at 6am and you were up until 1am. What’s hard is when you’ve got a tiny person who can’t understand that bedtime means “go to bed now” time, not “misbehave and go to bed eventually” time, because the minute her head hits the pillow you need to become Student, then Writer, then Maid, in that order. What’s hard is convincing yourself that you just don’t need 8 hours of sleep because you know you will never get it. What’s hard is watching that lie change: 8 hours became 7, somewhere along the way; 7 became 6; and now 5 hours is not just ‘enough’, it’s ‘a lot’.
What’s hard is cramming all your study time into weekends, when she’s away. Saying “no” to going out with friends. Perfecting your ‘history student pallor’ in the library when it’s sunny outside and you’d rather be working on a summer glow. All because you would rather sacrifice your sleep, your social life, your fun, even your health than say “no, sweetie, I can’t play right now; I have homework” to your tiny person. What’s hard is sometimes having to say that anyway. Hating yourself because she’s watching TV while you’re poring over a textbook.
Scheduling naps days in advance. Gaining weight. Losing weight. Losing sleep. Hair falling out. Running to relieve stress. Losing valuable homework time, becoming more stressed. Having to stop running. Becoming stressed. Wake up work eat dinner play with child read to child put child to bed clean up after dinner study take dog out write prep lunch for tomorrow study more shower go to bed fall asleep mid-prayer, repeat. Day after day.
Feeling like you cannot be a mother, a student, a runner, and a writer all at the same time and do them well. Gritting your teeth and telling yourself that it will be worth it in the end.
Then you realise that you don’t know when that ‘end’ is. Is it when you’re done with school? When she’s grown? Is it a few years away, or decades? Out of the blue, you start wondering if it is worth it.
Thinking, sometimes, “I never asked for this.” Who in their right mind would ask for this?
But the balloons at this little pity party start to deflate pretty quick when I remember that there are sixty million girls in this world who are out of school, while I’m pursuing higher education despite obstacles that could have stopped me. When I’m too busy to run but find that it isn’t the end of my world, I remember that there are an estimated 8 million people with eating disorders in the US alone – people who can’t be blase about their bodies – and that I used to be one of them. When I’m feeling sorry for myself because I’m going at this alone, I think of the example it sets for my daughter. How to be independent. How to balance the things that you want to do with the things that you have to. How to move from Plan A to Plan B, C, D, all the way through Z if you have to.
No, none of my plans worked out. I’m not a newly-qualified lawyer, a homeowner, a marathon runner, a wife, or anything I thought I would be five years into my big American adventure. But I’m a stronger, more determined, more thankful person for it.
This isn’t the life I wanted.
What a title, huh?
I’m tired, you guys. The long weekend isn’t even over yet, and I’ve already crammed so much socializing, working, cycling, baking, and errand-running into the past few days that I am in that weird high-from-exhaustion stage, and when I get like that, running on fumes and dark roast coffee, I always want to write.
It makes little sense, but I’ve always been that way. The more tired, busy and frantic I am, the more I want to pick up my pen or sit down at my laptop. When I’ve got free time in spades and schedule out a nice, quiet moment to write, I end up sitting on Facebook or watching Golden Girls while playing Plants vs. Zombies. My brain is very fickle. I rebel against any attempts to make myself adult.
Last night would have been an ideal time to sit down and finish up…
View original post 1,747 more words