Looking for Signs

Today, 39 years ago, I remember packing  your hair dryer in the blue Samsonite case. It was the same one you’d had since you were nineteen. You were now 35. You hadn’t been feeling well during Christmas, so Dad was preparing to take you to the hospital.

I was used to these regular visits to doctors – checkups for things of which I had no knowledge, save the fact that I knew your skin was getting harder and harder by the day. Your fingers cracked and bled, you had difficulty holding a fork to eat, and now, you were so physically exhausted, a wheelchair had been rented.

I didn’t know that the scleroderma you had also weakened your lungs and caused pneumonia.

I also didn’t know that, sitting there on the bed beside you as Dad packed a few things, this would be the last time I would ever be this close to you.

You died in the hospital five days later.

There are so many times I have rehearsed in my head the things I should have said to you. The things I should have asked of you. How I wanted us to have a”secret sign” that would let me know it was you, paying me a visit on each day I graduated. When I was recovering from the hysterectomy. When I turned 50 a few weeks ago.

But I was eleven. I had no idea those things would be so important down the road. I had no idea I would outlive you.

It never gets easier each year. I just learn to deal with it the best I can.

And I still sit, wait, and look for signs. Just like I think you did

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Momma on her favorite pier – Bogue Pier, NC. 1975.
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I Made It, Folks!

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They loved me… they REALLY loved me!

I’m honored and humbled to have landed a part in our university’s production of The Vagina Monologues. This is important to me on SO many different levels.

Just found out a few minutes ago… my work-focus is shot for the rest of the day. 🙂

The Day My Vagina Spoke (Warning: Language)

I wasn’t so sure about doing this, but she was. It was an audition for The Vagina Monologues at the university where I work, and when I read the announcement in the weekly staff newsletter, she jumped for joy. Or maybe, she twitched. I’m not sure what you’d call it.

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I guess vaginas can jump for joy, right?

Anyway, I walked into the student union about 10 minutes before auditions were to begin, and rounding the corner of the hallway, was met with a wave of loud, giggly, chattering women. YOUNG women. Barely even women. College-aged women in their late teens and some maybe just having reached their twenties. It looked and sounded like an audition for Glee or American Idol. Or a sorority rush party.

Shit. What had I gotten myself into?

“Don’t you go getting all weird on me. You know you’ve wanted to be in a play for as long as you can remember. It’s time to make a notch on your bucket list.”

I had to admit it. She was right. And I had been looking for a way to share my voice concerning things that women experience. Or tolerate. Or avoid altogether. So, I found my place in the line and took a deep breath.

There were young women who had their theatre audition “game faces” on, sharing their acting resumes with those around them in a vocal level noticeably louder than the rest of the group.  There was the young girl who was giddy over the fact that she “had just turned 19, and her mother couldn’t do a damn thing about her using ‘cuss-words’ on stage or anywhere for that matter – she could say ‘pussy’ all she wanted.” And there was the shy, frail-looking girl who was making her way to the end of the line behind me but who also looked like she’d dart and run at any moment.

I was looking over the part I was to read, when my “old lady/teacher/surrogate mom” instinct kicked in and couldn’t help but turn around to the shy girl and ask if this was her first audition. I could barely see her eyes over the top of her glasses as she quickly nodded yes. I told her it was my first as well, hoping it would make her feel better. She smiled nervously and continued reading her part.

My audition piece was about hair. You know, the hair down there? Yeah.

What the hell was I thinking? I had rushed home from work, made dinner for the kids, and fed and walked the dog, only to rush back to work for a chance to read a 45-second paragraph about pubic hair? I’d lost my damned mind.

“Keep reading. It gets better. There’s the part about the ex-husband who was demanding and controlling and who eventually screwed around on you because you didn’t satisfy his ego, regardless of all the sacrifices you made for him. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

I swear, I could feel her grinning maniacally. Shifting my weight to the other foot to try and shut her up, I looked around nervously, hoping that no one had witnessed this. Nope. They were too busy holding hands in a circle, jumping and chanting, “Pussy Power, Motherfuckers!”

As I read and re-read the paragraph, it did begin to sound familiar. It began to sound like my story. I had been there, endured that, and eventually made the choice to leave it. This audition thing might not be so bad after all.

Tugging at the hem of my skirt was an attractive young girl, sprawled on the floor in front of me. I had been amused earlier by her iPhone video conversation with someone who was hopefully her boyfriend. She had been fluffing her hair and posing seductively into the phone for the last 30 minutes without saying much of anything. “Would you mind if I read my part to you?” I said that she was welcome to, surprised that she’d ask me instead of finding someone her own age who might better relate to her. This was going to be interesting, I was certain.

Her part was about the word, “cunt.” I detest that word for so many reasons, but apparently, it’s in this play quite a bit. She launched into this provocative, almost erotic, almost pornographic, yet perfectly-enunciated presentation. I was impressed and, at the same time, horrified that an eighteen-year-old seemed to know how to play this role quite effectively.

It was getting to within 20 minutes of the scheduled end of the presentation, and as I looked around at the group that remained, I began to wonder why these young women would even want to audition for something like this. What had they experienced in their young lives that even came close to the content in these monologues?  How could they begin to relate to the experience the character behind these words?

As the producer came out to say she was going to bring us in by groups of five to speed up the process, she pointed to me and said, “I’m going to go ahead and move you up to the front of the line.” I’m guessing she saw the haggard look on my wrinkled face and was told by the other staff that I was the “only one out there who wasn’t a student.” Maybe she felt sorry for me.

Removing myself from the line, I walked to the door, and as I was about to go in… I spoke to the group. Or maybe it was she who spoke for me, blurting out above the chatter.

“Girls, me and my vagina are AT LEAST 25 years older than you, and we’ve had a long day. We need to get back home to take care of two kids who have NO idea what type of audition this is, and they WON’T know until they’re of appropriate age for that explanation. So thanks for letting us go ahead of you.”

Oh, lord. I can’t control her.  Apparently, she’s in her element now. I’m not sure which one of us read the actual part during that one-minute audition, and it really doesn’t matter. The fact is, it was done. Checked off the bucket list. Pussy power, motherfuckers!

As I walked across the lawn to my car, I felt this chill of excitement. Of inspiration. Of courage that had risen to the surface and finally gasped for a breath. And out of that breath began to come my own monologue. OUR monologue.

Me and my vagina, we haven’t always had the best of relationships. In fact, I can’t say we’ve even HAD a relationship until this evening. I never much wanted to acknowledge that she existed for nearly 49 years. She has been the subject of horrible jokes from neighborhood boys, has been protected by me while being poked and prodded by doctors with no sympathy for the memories of past abuse that came suddenly and often, was the “last organ standing” after a hysterectomy, and now, she’s tired. We are both tired. But tonight, something changed. I realized that she and I are one and the same, and we’ve always been here, waiting for each other. We have experience and a common voice that can lend themselves to healing. Healing ourselves… and others.

When the producer wrote my name on the audition list, she asked me a question. If your vagina could talk, what would it say? Without hesitation, the words came freely:

“SHE would say, ‘It’s about DAMN time you let me speak!”

(We find out whether or not we made it in a week or so.)

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Better Late Than Never

A few months ago, I found my childhood journals. According to one of the entries, when I was a freshman in high school, it appears my dream was to be a journalist and go to UNC Chapel Hill to learn to become one.

Well, maybe there was one more dream – that the older boy up the street with the most beautiful smile full of braces who recently broke his writing arm while skateboarding would pay attention to me just the slightest bit.

But I digress.

I have no idea how or when the desire to become a journalist originated nor an explanation how, as a mere thirteen-year-old, I knew that UNC Chapel Hill was the place to go. Throughout childhood, writing and drawing were comforting things. Helped me to remember and to forget. Helped me to deal with the traumas of being a young girl with little to no confidence, whatsoever.

That's me, third in line, waiting to read my essay... and about to throw up.

(Millis Road Elementary – 6th grade graduation, 1978. That’s me, third in line, waiting to read my essay… and about to throw up.)

Throughout high school, the journal entries were peppered with adolescent angst. Weekends spent on major school projects, the hopeless crush on “unattainable popular boy ‘X’” who passed in the hall with his head cheerleader girlfriend, and the ever-present pressure of feeling that I was always in competition with the other kids in the senior class for that spot at Carolina.

I was an “A” student in English classes and loved any opportunity for creative expression. While teachers saw potential, and my report cards reflected the same, the thing that weighed against me the most was my lack of ability to recognize – and believe in – that potential as well. As classmates filed in the guidance office to meet with the counselor to discuss admission applications and essays, something in me resisted the effort. For weeks, the UNC application sat in my desk drawer at home, and while I would take it out from time to time, answer a few more questions, and mull over what I would write for the personal essay, it never made it to the guidance office for review. My SAT scores sucked (at least I thought they did), and I didn’t feel I measured up to all the other classmates who had submitted the same application and whose scores were obviously much better. So it went in the trash.

And thus ended my dream… or so I thought.

Thirty-two years later, that love of writing hasn’t faded. Not one bit. In fact, it has deepened. In those three decades, college happened – although not quite the same way or in the same location as I had dreamed it would back then. And a tremendous amount of trial and error, rejection and acceptance, tears and joy. “Life education,” as it’s referred to in the stories I write these days.

As I approach fifty and the possibility of retiring soon, I find myself back in that senior class, pondering the future – life after graduating from career. What is it that I want to do now that I’ve “paid my dues” and am ready to explore all the world has to offer?

Thanks to the influence of a few good teachers and fellow writers/mentors, some who are now among my closest of friends, again I find myself sitting in front of that UNC Chapel Hill admission application. This time, though, it’s online – the application to the graduate program in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. As I prepare to write the personal essay, life rewinds back to 1983, where I stare blankly at the space and wonder what I could possibly write there that would make me so special that the people making the decisions would grant my admission without any question.

And so I write from the heart. From life. Sharing that, not only do I feel the program would benefit me in the work I presently do to earn a paycheck, it would offer the opportunity to grow personally and artistically in the work I actually enjoy doing outside the 8 to 5 day and in retirement. It would also push me even closer to the goal of writing my first book. And yes, maybe it might even help me to feel a little more confident in general.

I stared at the essay for what seemed like days and eventually mustered the courage to hit “send.” Even if I received a rejection letter, at least I had made the attempt, right? Leaning back in the chair, I took a deep breath and patted myself on the shoulder. Thirty-two years – better late than never.

The other day, I received a letter from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

My acceptance letter.

Tears crept into the corners of my eyes as I read the first sentence over and over, aloud. The seventeen-year-old who never took a chance to pursue her dream finally had it.

So did I.

Learning never ends. Better late than never.
Apply yourself
, regardless of the outcome. You’ll be glad you did. — Me

“Coughing up” My Latest Post…

Hi, all.  I’m back from the depths (again).

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This little fella has been giving me a hard time for the past month or so. Living in North Carolina during the spring sure is pretty, but it SUCKS for those of us with highly-reactive sinuses and lungs.

When I can’t type because I drip all over the keyboard, or the ink from my pen starts to mix with post nasal drip to create “art on paper,” I know I need to surrender for a while…

But this week, I loaded the “big guns” and am fighting back with more meds than I’d really like to have in my system, but hey – it’s starting to do the trick.

So, the oxygen level’s starting to climb, the snot’s less-snotty, and the drips are less-drippy. And I’m feeling like writing again. Yay!

So, please stay tuned for some interesting stories.

There’s the one about a desk named Flossie…

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and fishing in the cemetery pond.
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See ya soon!

On Approaching Forty-Eight

Forty eight.

Age sixteen… for the third time.

The seventeenth anniversary of being 21.

 

Four dozen years, all packaged up in stretch denim,

Over-sized sweater, and warm fuzzy socks.

The day’s sensible shoes, taking rest in the corner.

At this point, comfort over fashion is key.

At least it is in her world.

 

Sitting at the keyboard,

Remembering her past,

Dreaming of her future.

Interrupted by the present…

Reality, asking if she’s going to do the laundry.

 

The spin cycle begins.

What have I accomplished?

Have I made the right decisions?

Will I ever be able to retire?

Should I throw in the towel?

Who the hell am I, and what do I want?

 

Stop.

Take a deep breath.

Remember what the chiropractor said.

And the counselors – all three of them.

Time to strengthen. Time to heal.

 

Forty-eight years.

Age is nothing but a number.

Time to start living your life.

Lots of questions to be answered,

So put on those stretchy pants and get to it.

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Back from the Depths…

First off, I want to apologize for not having posted here in a very long while.

Truth is, I’ve been busy — this writing thing is starting to take off now, and I’m really excited about the direction in which it’s headed.  Over the summer, I submitted two stories for inclusion in anthologies and am honored to say that both of them were accepted for publication!

The first one — Letters for My Little Sister — is a marvelous book about menopause.  It’s filled with stories from women of all ages and walks of life from all over the world.  I’m one of those gals who never learned from my mother about these things because, quite frankly, she passed away when she was only 35.  My grandmother never shared anything, either, because I wasn’t experiencing (or even thinking about) symptoms when she was still here with us.  So when I opened this book and started reading, it felt as if I had settled in among a circle of kindreds — I poured myself a cup of favorite tea, pulled up the blanket, and started reading.  Couldn’t put it down. Several times I felt myself chuckling in acknowledgement at some of the experiences – of course, my husband wondered what I could possibly be laughing at, but he DARED not ask, for fear of what might happen (I’m pre-menopausal, you know?).

The second book — Women Awakening: Discovering Our Personal Truths — is an anthology of I Am Subject Stories that focus on women sharing how the influences of family history, body and mind, internal/external roles, and life-altering moments have helped shape their lives… and their stories.  The stories are raw, honest, risky.  I would like to meet several of these women in person some day.  Diane DeBella, the book’s editor and the creator of the I Am Subject project, has become a friend via the wonders of technology (she lives in Colorado and I’m in North Carolina), and I hope to get together with her very soon to explore some opportunities to expand on this project.

I encourage you to consider these books and their creators.  Here are links to their webpages and book information:

Cecelia Gunther — Letters for My Little Sister Book Order Page
http://thekitchensgarden.com/book-orders/

Diane DeBella — The I Am Subject Project Page
http://iamsubject.com
For Women Awakening Book Orders
http://www.iamsubject.com/diane-debella-books/women-awakening/

Here’s me… as proud as punch!
My Books Sept 2014