Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Because I've Been Writing

That's the answer to the burning question, "Why haven't you been blogging?"  Ok, so the question probably wasn't burning all that much, but the answer stands.

I'm going to skip over most of the details (to protect the innocent), but I stumbled across something in late December/early January that made me wonder if I could successfully write a short (very short) story (scene, really) in response to a given prompt.  It had been over ten years since I had done any creative writing, other than babbling here, so it was a challenge to myself.  Somehow, the words poured from my fingertips onto the screen and I submitted my prompt fill, albeit anonymously.  Then I sat back to see what would happen.

The response was swift and entirely positive, which sort of took me by surprise.  I mean, here I was, on the internet, where people are famously cruel for no reason, right?  I had posted anonymously; nobody knew me or owed me a damn word in response.  Even if they liked what I had written, it would be easy to enjoy it and move on.  Instead, some people (not a ton, by any means) took the time to praise my writing, ask me if I had done anything else, and encouraged me to write more.  Wow.  I have no actual experience to back this up, but I think it was like taking my first hit off a crack pipe.  I was addicted.

So, of course, I wrote more fills to more prompts.  After my first two (if I remember correctly), I decided to go ahead and create a screen name and a journal on which I could keep all of my stuff.  And people continued to be nice to me.  My reaction to their kindness was foreign to me; I've simply never been the type of person who wanted/needed/strove for external recognition of anything.  I'm self-driven and haven't cared much about awards/accolades/public pats on the back.  There's nothing wrong with those things, but they've never been a factor in what I do or how I do it.  But with my writing, simple though it may be?  Suddenly what people think matters to me, and it's weird.

I've branched out since I started writing three months ago, posting more of my stuff on more than one website.  Overwhelmingly, the reviews have been positive and encouraging, though I've also experienced the occasional anonymous troll who seems to get pleasure from being unnecessarily mean.  The logical side of me (which, let's face it, has always controlled my life) has struggled to ignore the random cruelty, even in the face of such ongoing kindness from plenty of other strangers.  It's something I'm learning to handle, but it's hard.

Within the past several weeks, I've actually made one very solid acquaintance/friend through writing.  She lives in England and we email daily as we work through our individual stories, help each other past mental blocks, ask key questions that drive us forward, edit stories prior to unleashing them on the public, etc.  It's been really great to have that develop.  I've also joined something of a community of many other writers that I've admired on these websites, because I see them interact with each other, collaborate on stories, and cross-promote as additional work is posted...and I want to be part of that.  It's so difficult for me because it's the first time I've ever wanted to be a part of a group like this.  I was never part of some "in crowd" in school, nor did I ever really care to be.  But now, I'm on the outside looking in, and it's hard for me to navigate the emotions that come with wanting to join them.  Ultimately, I don't feel like I've earned the right to be part of the community, so I'm really censoring myself when it comes to starting up any conversations or whatnot.  I recognize that I'm being somewhat ridiculous about it (they're all just other humans trying to write good stories), but my insecurities are really all over the place right now.  I have made a concerted effort to reach out to a few people and I haven't been shunned or anything.  At this point, I'm just going to move slowly and build what relationships I can.

This sort of brings me to my last point, for now.  There is one particular writer on these sites who I have clearly placed on a pedestal above all others (right or wrong).  While there is a handful of people whom I've come to consider very talented, I am drawn to her more than the others and she makes me want to be a better writer.  She's managed to make me cry with scenes of fewer than 1000 words, which is insane given that I'm known for being dead inside.  I could go on and on about her, but she's just an amazing writer.  I had attempted to start a couple of online conversations with her, but she was a bit short in her responses (polite, but short) and there was never an indication that she wanted to keep talking, so I let it go.

Then, the other night, I said something to her and she actually asked a question back to me.  And when it came out that I was working on a longer (25,000+ word story) that involved stuff that is more personal to me, she offered to read it and give me feedback before I post it to the public.  That shocked the hell out of me because she does not seem like the type of person who is super outgoing and willing to help everyone and make offers like that without some honesty behind them.  I was terrified.  I mean, it's one thing for me to post a story and not know who has or has not read's a big step to send it to her directly and let her pick it apart.  Ugh.  It took me two days (and I gave her two more outs that she didn't take), but I finally sent her the story yesterday.

As of last night, she had only read the first chapter, but sent me an email in response to that.  I wasn't surprised to find that there was a lot of criticism, with a hint of positive potential.  I also wasn't surprised that the criticism hurt, despite the fact that I don't disagree with all of it.  I know that I write with too much detail sometimes ("too clinical") and have a tough time bringing the necessary emotions to the surface.  Truthfully, it's who I am as a person...obsessively logical and detail-oriented, rarely sensitive or it's obviously a struggle of mine when I write.  And she is amazing at conveying emotion, so I know she can give me guidance on that.  It still sucks to hear it.

She also disagrees with a very basic premise of my story, which will be an entirely different issue.  I can't see myself changing my mind, so we may have to agree to disagree on it.  And honestly, if she's already got a problem with the one premise, I can predict that she will have a fundamental problem with some of the other things I've included, so I'm bracing myself for those remarks.  But I think I have to find a middle ground here, where I recognize the value she can provide in my writing style and growth, while standing firm on the specifics that are important to me.  Because while I think she's fantastically talented, she's still just one person and I can't disregard my own opinions in the face of hers.

So, there you have it.  I've found this crazy passion for writing and have been utterly unable to stop the words from coming, but now I'm making a real effort to improve and I'm scared shitless.  I'm also forming relationships, never a strength of mine, which adds to the ongoing fear.  I'm thrilled to be writing and terrified of what happens next.  I'm a mess, but I kind of like it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday Meme

It's late, so I'm taking the easy way out.  This meme was boosted, with love, from Mrs. Chili.
What is your favorite possession?   Honestly, I feel like I could do without most of my possessions.  If there’s something I’m absolutely grabbing in case of a fire, it’s my favorite childhood home video and a picture of my dad and me (both circa 1981-ish).
Do you like to read? If so, which books do you love best?   Yes, indeed.  I started reading when I was pretty young, so I guess I’ve always loved it…I have fond memories of library trips with my mom.  I almost entirely stick to fiction, specifically crime dramas/psychological mysteries.  I also enjoyed the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games trilogy.  Oh, and everyone should go read The Book Thief.  Seriously.  Right now.
Do you have any pets?   I have a 4 ½ year old cat, Max.  He was the only way I could get Jersey to marry me.  Ok, not really.  
What was your favorite food as a child? Is it the same now?   Well, my favorite childhood meal was a casserole thingy that we call “bacon mac” and it’s the simplest thing (basically elbow macaroni, tomato soup, milk, cheese, and bacon crumbles stirred up and baked in the oven).  I don’t know that I have a current favorite food, but I still LOVE bacon mac.  If we’re talking standalone foods, then my favorites include avocado, ranch dressing, and ice cream.
What is your favorite thing about blogging?   It’s a good way for me to release some things that bounce around in my head.  Even when I took a two-year break from blogging, I’d often think of things I needed to say.  So, it’s a safe place for me.  It also allows for some self-discovery.
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?   Orange County, CA or Fairfield County, CT.
What is your favorite number?  11
Which of these things would you find hardest to give up for a year? Chocolate, reading, coffee or smoking?   Well, I don’t smoke, so that’s easy.  I love coffee, but I think it’s the routine of it as much as anything.  I’d miss it, but could deal.  I think I could give up chocolate, too.  There are other sweet things that could probably curb that craving.  I can’t imagine not reading.  That just seems crazy to me.
If you could make your life into a movie, what would you name it…and who would you want to play you?   Funny, I actually started to write a script for a movie based upon my life (though it was a very specific segment of my life).  I gave it up when I realized that it wasn’t serving its purpose…I needed catharsis, so I ended up creating the soundtrack of the movie instead and still have that CD.  I know I had a title for it, but I don’t remember it now.  Oh, and I would have cast Julia Stiles in the main role.
If you had £20,000 for a shopping spree, what would you buy?  I’m too lazy to go look up the currency conversion, but that seems like a nice amount.  If I’m shopping (versus being responsible and paying off debt), then I’ll go with new carpeting, a new bedroom set, assorted electronics, and clothes.
If you could eat lunch with one famous person, who would it be?   Wow, that’s actually really tough.  Barack Obama, Neil Patrick Harris, and Stana Katic come to mind, but I think there are a lot of famous people with whom I could have a great conversation. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ten Things Tuesday

I've been a fan of Cory Booker (Mayor of Newark, NJ)  for quite some time.  I consistently find myself smiling at something he's done or said.  While I'm aware that he's 1) human and 2) a politician, I get a sense of authenticity from him that is severely lacking in our world.  His intelligence, humor, humility, and honesty are all traits to be admired.  Mayor Booker is often asked, "What are you going to do about X, Y, and Z?"  How does he respond?  "I will do this and that, but I can't do it alone.  What will YOU do to help?"  I could go on and on, but I'll just give you this list of ten things I love about Cory Booker.

1. He’s a real-life hero, saving a neighbor from a burning building.  He also helped out at the scene of a car accident, though that’s probably more common that crawling through flames.

2.  He has publicly refused to perform any marriage ceremonies until everyone has the right to marry.

3. He graduated from Stanford, which is also the alma mater of my super cool sister.  He also gave a pretty cool commencement speech there.
 4. When a group wanted to interview him, they offered a $250 donation to Newark schools in exchange for his time.  He agreed to the interview and said that he would match the donation…but he didn’t stop there.  He challenged his Twitter followers to donate to Newark schools and matched them, raising approximately $17,000 in three hours.


6. He admits that he has an ongoing, passionate love affair with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Mmm, ice cream.

7. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when power had been restored to his home, he invited neighbors without power to use his house for food, warmth, and a place to charge their phones.  He was too busy working to be at home, but figured someone should take advantage of the electricity he had.

8. When a follower recently tweeted about transgender friends who were nervous about moving to Newark, he offered to call them personally in an attempt to assuage their fears.

9. He recently invited a Twitter follower to join him in a food stamp challenge, to encourage better understanding the difficulties of a system criticized by so many.
10. “Go out there and swear to this world your oath, not with your words, but with what you do. Not with your hand over your heart, but with your hand outstretched to a world that desperately needs your hand, your help, your insights, your creativity, your honor, your courage. It needs you.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A New Home

So, I had a nice “rant” post planned in my head, but I decided to honor the Thanksgiving holiday and save it for next week.  Instead, here’s something for which I am grateful…

Before I get to my main point, I'll give a bit of background info. Both of my parents were raised in families that did not identify with any religion, never attended church, etc. When my parents were in their early 20s, they decided to be baptized Catholic. As luck would have it, they met each other right around that same time, ended up getting baptized together, and then got married in the Catholic Church.

My sister and I were raised Catholic...Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation...the whole shebang. We were both active in our church youth groups. I ended up attending a Jesuit university. My sister is now a teacher at a private Christian school. Suffice it to say that our faith has always been a key part of our lives. Jersey was also raised Catholic, up to a certain point. Long story short, some family circumstances caused her to back away from the Church for a while, but she has been ready to return in recent years. We have had MANY discussions about religion and how we plan to raise our children.

For the past several years, I have looked for a local church that feels comfortable to me. The church in which I was raised in CA was always a place of calm, love, and peace. I really felt great being there and considered it home. I've struggled terribly to find anything like that here. In addition to the general "empty" feeling I've gotten from the churches I've attended locally, I began to question whether the Catholic Church was really the best place for us. After all, would a same sex couple (and their kids) be welcome? There is a local church with a gay and lesbian ministry...but I'm not sure I want to be peripherally accepted as part of a fringe group (freak show?).

I began to look elsewhere and found a local Episcopalian church. It's an amazing feeling when something just feels right, like it's the obvious thing that was missing. I was welcomed with open arms and lots of smiles. While I have no doubt that there are Episcopalians who are against my marriage (and I know for a fact that there are Catholics who support it), it's nice to feel like there is an overall INclusive atmosphere, instead of an EXclusive fear.

I've been attending this church for several months and many moments have warmed my heart, with a insistent message of “ALL are welcome.”  Back in July, my favorite sermon was given.  You can read it in its entirety here
, but I will quote a couple of my favorite parts.

By classifying people, we sort them into two categories. Us and them. If they are like us, well they can’t be all bad can they? But if they are not like us, they are the other. And if they are the other, then they are not us. And if they are not us, well they really don’t measure up do they? And if they don’t measure up, then we are able to treat them shabbily. We can look down upon them, laugh at them, cheat them, beat them, enslave them, even kill them, because, after all, they are not like us. They are different.


When we see these things happening, or even worse, when we find ourselves doing these things, I urge you to remember Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus. Jesus didn’t come here to create divisions but to heal them. We are not in the church by our own will, but by God’s. We are not a club or a benevolent organization or a fraternity or sorority where we get to decide who is and who isn’t a member. We are decidedly not the Kiwanis club with hymns. We don’t get to review the qualifications of a potential member and decide if they have what it takes to be part of our club. For we are members of a church created by God and it is He and He alone who decides who is a member. And he decided that we all are. For all are welcome in God’s church.


At the general convention our church decided to approve a blessing for same sex unions. I know this is a controversial conversation as many people have strong feelings one way or the other. But it should not surprise anyone that our church decided to take this step. For if we didn’t, we would be failing in our mission to love one another. Jesus didn’t ask us to judge one another, but to love one another. That is what we are doing. We are not setting criteria for membership and deciding who can and who can’t be part of God’s love. We are simply doing what Jesus did. Accepting people and loving them as He found them. This is what we have done for years. From the acceptance of black people, to the role of women in the church, to the conversation about same sex couples, I am proud that our church has always chosen to stay true to our foundational principles. That we should love God and love our neighbors. That is the church I want to belong to, and that is the church I want my children to be part of.

On this Thanksgiving, I am so glad to have found this new home.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Our Past Selves

About two months ago, I received a Facebook friend request from a familiar name from my past.  There’s not much that really shocks me in life, but there was definitely a moment of surprise as I realized that I was being contacted by the man to whom I lost my virginity.  He was a coworker of mine the summer before I went away to college; I was 18 at the time and he was significantly older.  He was also my manager and I was the restaurant hostess (some stereotypes are true!).  We had a summer fling before I packed up my stuff and moved across the country.

I had no hesitation in accepting the friend request.  I followed that up by browsing through his pictures, noting that he is now married with three kids and still lives in Southern California.  It wasn't long before I received a message from him with a quick hello and surprised congratulations on my marriage (the surprise was fair enough, given that his experience with me didn't exactly indicate that I’d be married to a woman).  We chatted back and forth a bit, simply updating each other on the significant events in our lives…no big deal.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he brought up our past.  He said that he wasn't sure whether my wife was reading his messages (she wasn't) , or whether she even knew about him (she does), but that he felt awful about everything that had happened and wanted to apologize to me.  Honestly, I was probably more surprised by his apology than by the friend request.  First, I was the one who initiated our entire encounter 15 years ago.  I approached him, I told him what I wanted, and I explained that it would be a no-strings-attached fling.  Second, while I completely understand that the experience wasn't really the way a “first time” should go (no romance, no magic, not even an actual relationship), I have never regretted what we did.  Not for a second.  In fact, I’m still proud that I felt like I was in control of my decision and that it was never something that just happened to me.  I’m not sorry.

We discussed his worry that he has taken advantage of me; I told him that I understood where he was coming from, but that I had never felt that way about it.  I pointed out that many (most?) 30-something men would react the same way to an eager 18-year-old.  He held to his apology, telling me that I was a tremendous young woman back then and that he hoped I had gotten great things in life.

I reflected upon my utter naiveté about the whole situation and laughed (groaned? rolled my eyes?) at how little I knew about physical/emotional entanglements.  Back then, I thought I was so mature and understood so much.  Looking back, I was ridiculous.  He assured me that we’re all pretty different from who we were 15 years ago.  I think he intended to show me that I shouldn't be so hard on myself for being a silly teenager; I turned it back on him so that he would let himself off the hook a bit. 

It also made me think about how much we are always changing.  I mean, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 1 year ago…I was not the same person I am today.  It’s actually funny to imagine the things I would tell my past self, and even more interesting to think of things that I would intentionally withhold from myself.  What should I have known then, and what was I better off not knowing?  I may shake my head at that inexperienced girl, but she did pretty well all by herself.  I’m not sure I’d change a damn thing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Playing Dumb

This certainly isn't a new thing.  In fact, my parents very specifically warned me against doing it when I was a child.  Yet, as I see it more and more among adults in my life, I want to scream.  Playing dumb is dumb.

When I was young, school was my thing.  I mean, I got great grades and was mocked (bullied?) for being "Little Miss Perfect."  I wasn't athletic or pretty or anything else particularly outstanding...but I did well in school.  Obviously, my parents saw enough of it to warn me that I should be proud of being smart.  They did not want me to hide it for the sake of pleasing others, or to make myself more "acceptable" to the insecure.  So, I embraced it, surrounded myself with good friends, and let it be.

Now, I see women around me (more than a few) who seem to have made playing dumb a way of life.  Perhaps I'm more sensitive to it because I was explicitly told NOT to behave that way, but it bothers me.  Actually, it scares me a little because I can't totally tell whether they are smart women who are playing dumb or whether they are just women who were never encouraged to be smart in the first place.

Before I go any further, I'd like to clarify a couple of things.  First, I'm not sitting up here on my high horse and saying that I've never played dumb.  However, when I've done it, it's been an occasional, strategic manipulation in order to achieve a specific goal.  I've never used it as a day-to-day "this is who I am."  Second, I'm not criticizing people who weren't lucky enough to have my parents, my education, my experiences, etc.  We all have different talents, measured in different ways.  Some people have book smarts, others have street smarts, plenty have a combination of both.  All of that is awesome and I certainly don't think I'm above anyone else in that regard.  This post isn't about women who hate reading, suck at math, or have crappy grammar.  This is about women who act helpless, so that other people will do the heavy lifting of their lives.

It freaks me out to see professionals shrug their shoulders, bat their doe eyes, pout, and use just enough of a whine to make people jump up and do things for them, to make decisions on their behalf.  The pathetic "I don't me" look shakes my very core.  Why is this okay to them?  When did it become acceptable to let other people pull the strings? If a generation of these women are now raising daughters of their own, what the hell will the future hold?  We were given a backbone for a reason; we need to stand tall. Asking for help when we truly need it is a sign of strength.  Asking for help when we don't, is a weakness.

My Return

For a variety of reasons, I've been planning a return to blogging.  It's something I've been working toward for several weeks (months?), but it seems perfect that I'm finally doing something about it exactly two years after my last post.  Here I am.
I've got a lot of stuff bouncing around in my head, as usual, but I'm going to start with something light.  Memes are an easy way to give you all a peak into my life, so here it is (for more peaks, click on the "memes" tag at the end of this post and read some of my other ones).  This was stolen, with love, from Mrs. Chili.  I will follow this up with something a little more meaningful; in the meantime, enjoy.
1. What was the last clothing item that you bought?  A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a pair of jeans from Kohl's.  Recent weight gain has made my other jeans a bit too tight, so I was looking for a pair that would fit correctly and make me feel good.  Alas, I succeeded.  Funny how the right pair of jeans can give you a sudden confidence boost, huh?
2. If you could stay one age forever, what age would you choose? Oddly enough, I've really never had a problem getting older.  True, I'm still only 33, but I'm not apprehensive about aging.  I suppose, for the sake of the question, I'll stay life now is pretty awesome.
3. When you say “lol”, are you really laughing? I don't recall ever using "lol.'  It's just not my thing.  If something truly amuses me, I may type "hahahaha," in which case, yes, I'm usually laughing out loud.
4. What is the most interesting thing you’ve done in the past year?  Interesting?  That's hard to say.  I mean, I feel like I lead a relatively boring life (and prefer it that way).  Perhaps giving myself daily fertility shots for one of our attempts to conceive this summer?  It's not something I had ever imagined doing.
5. If you started a business, what would it be?  Well, I am an independent contractor, so I already am my own business.  If I were to start an actual company with employees and such?  Probably something along the lines of professional organization.  Going into businesses and/or homes to evaluate need and set up systems.
6. Do your friends/family/coworkers know about your blog? My immediate family (mom, sister, Jersey) knows, but it's not something I've shared with my in-laws, cousins, etc.  A couple of friends know about it, but I do not have any intention of "going public" with it.  Some anonymity is crucial to my ability to speak freely.  Censoring myself would take away a huge reason for my blogging.
7. How long does it take you to write an average blog post? I haven't done it enough lately to remember.  Most of my topics are things already on my mind, so it's just a matter of letting them out.
8. How do you keep up with the blogs you follow?  I really don't follow anybody these days.  It's something I should get back into; I've just completely let it slide.
9. What is your bedtime? Is sex always involved? I try to get upstairs by 9:00ish and to sleep around 10:00ish.  That hour in between is for changing, brushing my teeth, washing my face, watching TV, and reading a magazine or book.  No, sex is not always involved.
10. Introvert or extrovert? Definitely an introvert.  Always have been.
11. What is your biggest fear? At one point, I might have said regret.  I think I may have that under control enough that it's no longer a fear.  I'll have to think about this one.
12. What is the best job you ever had?  In a lot of ways, my very first job (as a restaurant hostess) may have been my best.  I was 17 and had no idea that the job really kicked ass at the time.  Oh well.
13. Dog person/cat person/both/neither?  Really, neither.  I have a cat, but pets have never been my thing.  Even as a child, I never asked my parents for one.  I don't dislike animals, but I'd be fine if none of them lived with me.
14. If you had $1,000 to spend any way you wanted, what would you do with it?   These days, it would probably go to fertility treatments.  If I had to spend it on something frivolous, then I'd either go for an assortment of movies, clothes, shoes, etc., or a vacation with Jersey.
15. How do you “dress” your toast?  I don't really eat toast very often.  When I do, it's usually got a bit of butter on it.  Nothing terribly fancy.
16. How do you feel about snow? Love the peacefulness of it; the quiet.  Don't care to spend a ton of time IN it, but appreciate a lot about it.
17. What was the worst job you ever had? Now may be a bad time to ask that.  Nah, none of my jobs have been so terrible that I couldn't stand them.  They've all had pros and cons.  The one where I was called into meeting for supposedly saying my own name incorrectly was a little ridiculous.
18. What song can you not stop listening to?  I go through phases and most songs get old to me after a while.  That being said, I'm still not tired of Baba O'Riley by The Who and Somebody to Love by Queen.  Classic rock tends to last with me longer than any current pop stuff.
19. Love your name or hate it?  Neither.  It just is.  I suppose having something that isn't mispronounced as often would be nice, but it's not that big of a deal to me.
20. How did you choose your blog/twitter handle?  Morgan is a nod to Captain Morgan, my liquor of choice.  I could have come up with a million different things (and I do have different names in different areas of the internet), but this was easy enough for blogging.