My Reading Homework

I have just completed “Creative Nonfiction III,” a ten-week writing course offered through UCLA Extension.

And, I didn’t complete all my homework.

In addition to workshopping essays every other week, each student was supposed to read a book a week.  There was no prescribed reading list.  We were simply to read one book each week of class.  And I didn’t.

When I’ve taken this course in prior years, I diligently completed all my reading homework.  I calculated the minimum number of pages I needed to read each day to make sure the book would be finished on time.  It was stressful.  I’d power-read, just trying to get the book finished without truly enjoying what I was reading or paying attention to the author’s tone or the book’s structure.

So with this class, I decided I wasn’t going to do that again.  I would try to read a book a week, but if it didn’t happen, so be it.  There is no negative consequence.  I wasn’t taking this class for a grade.  I was taking it for me.  I pushed myself during this class, writing in a couple of new styles, writing on different topics.  And I slowed myself down to enjoy what I was reading.

I may not have finished ten books in ten weeks, but overall, I did pretty well.

Since class started in October, I have read:

  • Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind: Thoughts on Teacherhood by Phillip Done 
  • The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo   
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi  
  • Tell Me More – Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan 
  • Writing Is My Drink by Theo Pauline Nestor
  • Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

And I’m currently reading. Wherever You Are: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Brain Injury by Cynthia Lim (an author I first met through a Writers Retreat and who has also taken classes through UCLA Extension).

Readers, I’d love to hear about any books you’ve read in the last ten weeks.  Feel free to share in the comments section!

Thoughts On Marriage

Hourglass – Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro is the latest book in my “just finished” pile.  Ms. Shapiro’s memoir is an intimate look at her eighteen-year marriage.  She writes of honeymoon memories, family struggles, financial worries.  

Basically, she writes about  her marriage.  Not the wedding; because marriage isn’t the wedding; it’s everything that comes after.

From Ms. Shapiro’s book:

“How do you suppose time works?  A slippery succession of long hours adding up to ever-shorter days and years that disappear like falling dominoes?”

“A shared vocabulary – like a soundtrack to our lives – so familiar that we hardly even notice which of us is speaking.”

“I cannot bring myself to even idly wish any of it – not even the most painful parts – away.  Eighteen years.  Change even one moment, and the whole thing unravels.  The narrative thread doesn’t stretch in a line from end to end, but rather, spools and unspools, loops around and returns again and again to the same spot.”

Eighteen years for her and her husband.

Nineteen years for me and my husband.

Forty-three years for my parents.

 

Mommy a.k.a. Short-Order Cook

What does family dinner look like in your home?

Do you sit at a table or in front of the television?  Do you all eat the same meal?

My idea of a successful family dinner has changed since becoming a parent.  And it’s my son who has taught me that what is on each of our plates isn’t nearly as important as what is happening at the table during our family dinner time.

Click here to be re-directed to parents.com to read my personal essay, “Choosing Peace over Peas.”  My essay was written in response to a Parents-sponsored essay contest, with a 300-word limit on the theme, “”The Parent I Thought I’d Be.”  I was a finalist and won a $100 gift card!

 

The 5 Hardest Things I’m Learning To Say

I recently completed reading Kelly Corrigan’s memoir, Tell Me More – Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say.  The book has an interesting structure; the author uses 12 different phrases as springboards for her personal stories. 

Among Ms. Corrigan’s “12 Hardest Things” are the phrases “I Don’t Know,” “I Was Wrong,” and “Tell Me More.”

It got me thinking, and inspired by the book, I’ve come up with a list of the 5 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say.

1.  I Need Help.  Not an easy one for me, at all.  I’m used to being in charge, used to being independent, used to being able to handle everything and anything that comes my way.

2.  I Can’t Right Now.  It’s not easy for me to back out of plans or to tell my son I don’t have the energy for a bike ride.

3.  I Need to Rest.  In my head, resting (and it’s extreme – napping) means there’s really something wrong with me.  Anytime I nap, I am sick.  Really sick.  Throwing up, feverish sick.  I am like the Energizer Bunny: I just keep going.

4.  I’m Scared.  I do try to keep it all together, keep my fears in check, not let my emotions blur my logic.  But it’s hard.  Each year seems to bring with it more tests (many of which I’ve never heard of before until it’s time for me to schedule one).  And each time, I’m afraid of what the test will reveal.

5.  No.  A plain and simple reply to a multitude of requests that I don’t want to do, or don’t feel like doing, but do anyway.  

 

And you, dear readers?  What are you learning to say?  Feel free to share in the comments.

Under Self-Attack

 

Time spent by the ocean is always good for my soul.

I have a question for you, dear readers.  How would you define “self-care?”  

For some, it means a bit of pampering, such as taking the time to get a pedicure or massage.  For others, it means doing something just for you, something that makes you feel good, whether it’s sitting down with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book or going for a walk.

But what about people like me?  People who struggle with invisible disabilities?  People for whom “self care” means something entirely different?

Click here to be redirected to The Mighty to read my recently published personal essay, “With Autoimmune Disease, There Are More ‘Self-’ Practices Than Just Self-Care.” 

 

 

Bartering for Health

Does it all come down to luck? My dad and my son breaking the wishbone. Thanksgiving 2017

 

We’ve had some scary health incidents in my family during the last couple of years.  During those times, I find myself praying, thinking good thoughts, looking for signs – even more than I usually do. 

And then I take it to the next level.  I start making “deals.”  I try “bartering for health.”

It’s a crazy kind of deal that implies I’ve got some sort of power and control, and that this higher power is just waiting, listening, and receptive to requests for such health-related barters.”

The paragraph above is taken from my personal essay, “Bartering for Health” which was published in the Fall issue of Breath and Shadow.  You can click here to read the rest of my essay.

 

 

 

In Disguise

Halloween 2008 – Dressed as “Fancy Nancy”

I think Halloween is popular for a number of reasons.  The candy, of course.  But beyond that, Halloween gives us permission to put on costumes and disguises.  To try out new identities, with the safety of knowing it’s temporary.

For some, these costumes, these disguises are a natural extension of who they usually are.  For others, these costumes are a complete departure from their more usual personality.   

For my ten-year-old son, it’s a bit of both.  Over the years, he has celebrated Halloween by dressing up as a firefighter, Michael Jackson, a skeleton, and a magician, to name just a few of his costumes.

As for me, when I was teaching, costumes were primarily about ease and which ones required the least amount of preparation.  Over the years, I was a chef, a golfer, and a baseball player.  One year, my best friend and I dressed as “Fancy Nancy” of the Fancy Nancy books written by Jane O’Connor (which admittedly took a lot more prep, but was one of my favorites!). 

Now though, I feel as if I am always in disguise as I navigate my days as an “undercover disabled woman.” 

In case you missed it from a few months back, you can click here to be re-directed to The Mighty to read my personal essay, “My Life as an Undercover Disabled Woman.”

 

 

My Son Is An Only Child

Our Beautiful Family

It happened again.

A couple of weeks ago, while at the checkout line, the friendly Ralphs cashier told me I needed to have at least one more child.

She said this in front of my son.

This time around, the cashier is someone we chat with each time we see her.  She is warm and friendly with my son.  She comments on how tall he’s gotten and asks how he’s doing in school.  

But this was crossing the line.

While she scanned my groceries and I bagged them, I tried my usual answer.  “We’re blessed with Ryan.”

But she didn’t let it go.  “You need to give him a brother or a sister.  You never know what could happen to you or your husband.  You don’t want to leave him alone.”

I felt a physical reaction, as if I had been punched in the stomach.  I know this.  It is one of my great fears.

As we loaded our groceries into the car, I spoke to my son about this conversation.  “I really like it when we see Dora, but I really didn’t like what she said to us today,” I told Ryan.

I continued.  “You know each family makes their own decisions about children.  How many to have, or if they’ll have any at all.  And each family’s decision is right for them.  Our decision is right for us.  Daddy and I feel so lucky that our family is the way it is.”

“I know,” Ryan said.

But like I began this post, this isn’t the first time a supermarket cashier has commented on our one-child family status.  And even though I’ve dealt with this before, it doesn’t get any easier.

Click here to be re-directed to RoleReboot.org  to read my personal essay, “When A Stranger Told Me I Needed To Have a Second Child.

 

Mommy Has a ‘Boo-Boo Leg’

My curious son and I, on the observation area of the Santa Barbara Courthouse. June 2018 (I climbed all the stairs!)

“What does the doctor do with all the blood after they check it?”

My son once asked me that question.  It took me by surprise and caught me off guard, because it was something I had never considered.  

It’s not the only good question Ryan has asked me over the years.  There have been so many I wrote a personal essay about them.  And I’m proud to say that “Mommy Has a ‘Boo-Boo Leg’: Talking to My Son About My Autoimmune Disease” is now a non-fiction finalist in the Pen 2 Paper Disability-Focused Creative Writing Contest.

Click here to read my essay, and this year, readers may vote for their “audience favorite.” (You must have a free Submittable account to vote).  

Thank you in advance for reading and spreading the word!

 

A Tribute to Teachers

 

Though I left my teaching career five years ago, there are still many aspects of teaching I really miss.  There’s a special sort of magic that happens when you connect with a child, and that’s why I still enjoy reading about teachers who love teaching.

Recently I read Phillip Done’s memoir Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind – Thoughts on Teacherhood, and I’d like to share with you some of the passages that stood out for me.

“What exactly is a teacher anyway?  A lot of different things.  Teachers are like puppeteers.  We keep the show in motion.  When we help children discover abilities that they don’t know they have, we are like talent scouts.  When we herd kids off the play structure at the end of recess, we are like shepherds.  Teachers are like farmers.  We sow the seeds – not too close together or they’ll talk too much.  We check on them every day and monitor their progress.  We think about our crop all the time.  When we see growth – we get excited.”

“Teachers are word warriors.  All day long we explain, correct, examine, define, recite, check, decipher, sound out, spell, clap, sing, clarify, write, and act out words.  We teach spelling words and history words and science words and geography words.  We teach describing words and compound words.  We teach synonyms and antonyms and homonyms, too.”

“Teachers try everything short of back handsprings to get their students to quiet down and pay attention.  We flick off the lights, clap patterns, hold up fingers and wait, change the level of our voices, count up to three, count down from five, set timers, brush wind chimes, shake shakers, bribe kids with free play, and seat the boys next to the girls.”

“I was in Teacher Mode.  It turns on automatically whenever children are near and goes into overdrive when it senses busy streets, mud, gum, or bloody noses.”

“Of course nothing has changed like technology.  A bug was something you brought in from recess to show the teacher.  A desktop was something you scraped dried Elmer’s glue off with your teacher scissors.  Hard drives were on Monday mornings.  Viruses kept you home from school.  And cursors were sent to the principal’s office.”

Now it’s your turn, dear readers.  Feel free to share any school memories or teacher anecdotes of your own in the comments section below.