Hi!

Hey, how have you been? I mean, besides “managing.”

If I was the writer I thought I was in March I would have started a journal or, at least, written some short and quippy relatable observations as we slogged through the pandemic.

I should have talked about the baking I took up and the massive amount of yeast I’m still going through.

Italian Rum Cake. I made that!

I could have documented a trip to the grocery store in March then compared it to one now with a sidebar on how I used to enjoy shopping and now abhor it.

I should have talked about how it first felt like a snow day until the numbers started rising, moods started flaring, and sides of Mask/No Mask were taken.

I could have done several hundred words, some in bold text, on how maddening it is to see some people conducting life as usual, during a very unusual time.

The nesting every person in my house did had to have been duplicated elsewhere.

I could have shared that our path of emotions and the tip-toeing around button pushing topics within our family was perfectly normal.

Oh! Procrastination! How it’s been amped up since March and how the ability to focus on one particular thing has become weakened. I could totally bullet point a post about that.

How about a piece on outside time and how precious it’s become?

I could have written reams about the treatment of our elders in this country and what isolation has done to them.

The steps my brother and I each took so we could see our mom would fill a long essay

The story of how I broke my solid brand loyalty and traded my beloved Galaxy for an iPhone just so I could FaceTime people I missed very much.

But I didn’t. I think firing this site back up is a good sign that maybe my brain is reactivating itself; that I’m rediscovering the joy of writing (not so much re-writing, but that does bring a certain thrill, too, I suppose.) How seeing words on a page makes me feel visible in a time when I’m feeling quite the opposite.

I could have written a nice essay about the adventures of my asshole fish, Elton, who doesn’t play well with others…or, at the very least, a running gag.

A valuable lesson oft-repeated

Image may contain: text that says 'Heidi Stevens @HeidiStevens13 When saw Oprah interview Michelle Obama Oprah asked how Michelle got over feeling intimidated sitting at big tables filled with smart, powerful men and Michelle said, "You realize pretty quickly that a lot of them aren't that smart." think about that quote every single day.'

Yes!

I learned something similar when I was in my 30s and a stay-at-home mom. Back then, successful days meant getting to the end with the house still standing and at least one kid still talking to me. Extra points if no one complained about dinner.

I was already boarded for a rare solo flight to visit my family when a tall, beautiful, finely-coiffed woman dressed in an expensive power suit came down the aisle. Silently I started willing her to another row, “don’t sit next to me, don’t sit next to me…” Not necessarily because I like having the row to myself– who doesn’t?– but she didn’t look like anyone I would have anything in common with and I was in the mood for in-flight chit chat.

Of course, she was seated next to me and a tasteful cloud of expensive perfume settled in around her. She was confident and impeccable, I felt small and frumpy. When she told me what she did for a living my brain translated it to “Upper Management, Financial something, Impressive Degree.”

If my emotions at that moment were described as my perfume, “small and frumpy” would be the base note, with “unaccomplished” as the top note, and a heart note of “intimidation.”

BUT!

Within fifteen minutes she was asking for life guidance. She may have been professionally successful and confident, but she was personally very insecure. That flight made me realize that most people are great at something, but most people also have parts of their lives that are a mess…just like the rest of us.

That fact became my mental equalizer.

I don’t know about you, but I often have to relearn lessons. I don’t forget them as much as I misplace them, it makes me feel better about myself if I think of it as relearning them for emphasis–like a life exclamation point.

Maaaany years, an actual career, and a new definition of personal success later, I was at a professional conference cocktail hour. Along with my co-workers, we were planning an exit strategy so that we could head out for our collective dinner plan when we spotted someone we knew of: a person who was at the top of the game in our industry. The person who had lived the dream of rapid and overwhelming success in the field–so successful that people outside of it would know his name. (Yes, even you; no, I’m not spilling the name.)

And this pinnacle of success was standing alone, nursing a clear plastic glass of a clear liquid, ice cubes, and a lime wedge.

As the designated extrovert in the group, it was quickly established that I would go over, break the ice then the rest of the group would join and invite him to go to dinner with us.

Crossing the hotel’s ballroom-turned-networking-club, I did feel nervous. Just because someone is extroverted that doesn’t mean they are confident…or at least it doesn’t in my case. I am not very good at networking events, I say really stupid things and always manage to find a couple people and stick with them the whole time which totally negates the purpose. That night I had seen this guy in several group conversations, although I hadn’t been in any of those. I thought to myself, “He looks so serious, he’s probably sick and tired of people ‘picking his brain.’ ” When I passed the point of no acceptable social-detour and he made cautious eye contact I thought, “Holy crap, I’m intimidated.”

I mumbled an introduction and invited him to come with my group to dinner and, as per the plan, my pointing brought all of them over. Chatter began, not business chatter but a talk about anything but our industry.

His face melted to a sincere smile and his quiet demeanor took over his previously intimidating stance. I realized that while he earned his professional confidence, personally he was as awkward as me (only less animated about it.)

He couldn’t join us for dinner, one of those earlier, better at networking groups had invited him, but when we parted his, “Nice to meet you” was very sincere.

As was mine.

I’ll probably have to relearn this, again–my life needs a lot of exclamation points–but I’ve not allowed myself to feel intimidated since.

Impressed, yes, but not intimidated.

The end is now the beginning

This column first ran in The Kansas City Star on November 22, 2019. Here’s proof! (As long as the link works, anyway.) It ran almost to the day that my very first column was published in 2010, but this particular column was an end, not a beginning. 

I was very sad when I wrote it and tried to put on a happy face with my words. I may have done too good of a job. When I posted the link on Twitter and Facebook, people congratulated me. People seemed excited for my writing future. I wasn’t excited, leaving wasn’t voluntary and I have no firm plans for any new published writing. Like a lot of journalists and freelance writers associated with newspapers, I got laid off. Why me? I was given a reason that has to do with geography: where I live and where my columns ran didn’t match. I understand, it’s business and I’m grateful for the many years that I had with the Star. My editor sincerely seemed sad, too. Among many nice things that she said was that my “prose was often poetic.” I may get that as a tattoo, what a lovely thing to hear.

The column below ran right before I hosted Thanksgiving which was rapidly followed by Christmas hustle so I was relieved to have no deadlines…until today.

Thanksgiving is over.

Christmas is over.

New Years is over.

2019 is over.

My run as a weekly Star columnist is over.

All this hit me this morning. 

My last editor wasn’t the only one who has said nice things about my work and work ethic, so they must be true. They have told me that my columns were their favorite to edit, that my pieces weren’t self-indulgent but honest and not always happy. I took on tough issues; I taught them a few things. I made them laugh and cry; my topics were relatable. My copy was clean…and I am adding this because, now, I’m in self-promotional mode. I’m not comfortable doing it, in all these years it’s never become easy…but I need a new gig. A new paid gig. First-person, slice of life columnist for hire.

One woman’s exhausting and clumsy journey through American life.

This ending column is the beginning of something new…now what?

*********************************************************************************

Please step into my time machine, won’t you? We’re headed back to 2009 and visiting a stay-at-home mom who just sent her last child off to kindergarten. After her celebratory brunch wore off, she said, “Now what?” She had been putting off this conversation for a while, but it was time for a heart-to-heart…with herself.

Simply put: The life change staring her in the face in 2009 was daunting. The career she left 13 years earlier to stay home with the kids had been outdated into oblivion and her marketable skills list was really short.

Some people think best through exercise or talking things out, she thought best at a keyboard so she began her own blog. It was the heyday of the Mommy Blogger and, damn, she had fun! Was it possible to turn this into a paying job?

She came up with a plan: Write regularly scheduled, amateur essays on a large website, become a featured blogger on that site, make the leap to Professional Writer and, then, world domination.

No one was more surprised than she when the plan (mostly) worked. Within months she stood in front of a blank wall in her house and snapped a selfie to use as a featured blogger; within a year she stood at her mailbox and cried when she got her first paycheck for something she wrote. She had always considered herself a writer, but making this leap proved that others considered her one, too. She scratched “world domination” off the list and replaced it with an equally ambitious plan to have a book published.

Because life tends to bundle changes, the very same month she began to call herself a professional writer, a friend asked her to co-host a women’s history podcast. “We’ll call it The History Chicks,” her friend said. “Just us drinking coffee or wine and telling the stories of historical women.” So what if she had gotten a D in AP History in high school? AP History was about wars and treaties and memorizing dates, but this history was about people. She loved people.

For the next nine years, she kept pinching herself that this was her life; she thrived…I thrived, you’ve figured that out, right? During those years, my two older kids went from grade school to college, one’s graduating this spring. The kid who entered kindergarten in 2009? He’s a high school freshman. For nine years of family life, of social life…a slice of my life went into this space. I got to talk about my failures, successes, and lessons learned; I got to whine about being a non-sporty mom with very sporty kids. When I sat down to write each column during those nine years, I did it with pride and care like it was the last one I would ever write.

And now it is.

I’m not hanging up my keyboard, I’m just saying good-bye to this special space.

Thank you to Jennifer Brown who had this column before me and gave me a heads-up that she was leaving, to the now-darkened but then fabulous Mom2Mom KC website that gave me my first blogging gig. A grateful hug to all my gentle editors at The Star who corrected my “creative punctuation.” The biggest thank you to you, the reader, who has had this one-sided conversation with me. One of my friends once told me, “You put emotions into words.” If you gave me a nod of someone who relates, cringed because something happened to me and not to you, smiled, laughed, or cried—thank you.

Ten years ago, I stood in front of a blank wall in my house and took a selfie to run with my blogs on Mom2Mom, that photo still runs in the physical versions of this paper. Today I stood in front of that same wall and took another selfie to say, “I’ll miss you, but we’ll meet again.”

xo,

Susan

LAST COLUMN GRAPHIC

Who Said That?

Life is hard; citing sources is sometimes harder. -Susan Vollenweider, 2018

I believe in research, I’m also practitioner of due diligence so when I asked my Facebook friends for their favorite, life motivating quotes for a column I was writing (See: Kansas City Star) I also asked them to cite the source. Due diligence sent me to confirm those sources and that’s when I ran into a few walls.

Those walls worked like a maze and redirected the original premise of the column. I had thought it would be a nice, easy way to share hard-learned wisdom from some of the wisest people that I know (ie: I could fill the space with someone else’s words for a change), but research sent me down so many rabbit holes that the project took four times as long as it usually does and the end result wasn’t close to my original premise. (Pro tip: It often isn’t.)

BUT I did learn a lot and can’t consider that time wasted. These are all quotes given to me by my friends that filled more hours of my day than I care to admit trying to track down the sources.

The Google box is only as good as the search words you use, and even then, you have to dig deep to get the answers. Fortunately, there are people who love doing this so much that they have created websites of quotes and try to trace them back to whomever said them in the first place. My favorite, methodically researched website for learning the origins of quotes is the Quote Investigator.

The people who formed the words into a profound sentiment SHOULD be credited for the work they do, and no one knows this better than creatives like writers, photographers and other artists.

BUT for a lot of us, the message is what is important. I got so busy searching for the source that I began to be numb to the message of the quote in the first place. There has to be a happy medium here: equal parts joy of learning and reflection on the message.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here next to me.”

This is credited to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, but the exact quote seems to be: If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.” According the website, Quote Investigator, Alice didn’t say it as much as she had the witty taste to have it embroidered on a pillow. If she made the pillow or had it made for her based on something someone else said—we’ll probably never know.

Speaking of Roosevelts, one of my friends loved this quote and attributed it to Eleanor Roosevelt. Don’t let anyone determine your self-worth.” The actual quote (which means exactly the same thing) is No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” According to the Quote Investigator, Eleanor probably said it. Not definitely, but more than likely. (Read more about that here.)

“Be the change the you wish to see in the world.” 

Ghandi is usually given credit for this one, and he may have said it in essence but not in the order of the words. His actual quote, per Quote Investigator: If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards himRead more about that here at the Quote Investigator.

But not all quotes have already been investigated and we have to do a little work on our own to find the source. Some are easy and Google will lead you right to the original document:

Lewis Carroll didn’t write in Alice in Wonderland, “I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.” What he did write was “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

But Anne Frank definitely said, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Be strong and courageous……for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Is, indeed, found in the bible- Joshua 1:9 But that gets a little tricky. There is a whole subset of deep, academic study that I am not qualified in the least to explore about who actually said what in the Bible. Was it a direct quote from the writer, from someone else, or had it been twisted around in oral histories like a game of Telephone into a version that was pretty close to either?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

Maya was very, very wise and this does sound like something she would say, but the quote was originally published in a book of quotations and attributed to, Carl W. Buehner, an official in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Some of my friends pulled quotes from their real lives, but even then my friend Jamie wasn’t sure if he, or his wife had said, “It isn’t enough to be nice or think good thoughts. You have to fight for what you believe in, and when you’re faced with systemic oppression and suffering you have to directly confront it. We can’t hug our way out of this.”

They are both very, very smart—it could have gone either way.

It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and minute to destroy one.” She also warned, “Don’t strain your arm patting yourself on the back.” -Marc’s mom

Don’t worry, Marc’s mom, I’m not. For ones that I had to dig and dig to find, I still feel like a failure;still fuzzy about the source even after a lot of searching.

 “Enough is as good as a feast is attributed to Sir Thomas Malory but I can’t yet find the exact source and may have been “Enough ’s a feast, content is crowned” by Josua Sylvester who lived a full 100 years after Malory but it’s in one of his poems.

Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”

My friend Kathleen told me that she often quotes this and had first read it in a book by former Vice-President, Joe Biden. She, and Biden, attributed it to Immanuel Kant. But in trying to verify its origins, I also discovered sources that attributed it to that Essayist Joseph Addison (who died five years before Kant was born) and Clergyman George Washington Burnap who was the baby of them all.

Tricky stuff this citing business, but it can’t (or Kant) distract from the message which is solid life advice. All of these quotes are wonderful ways to look at life. We can all learn from them, and while discovering the source is a rewarding learning experience of its own, taking that message into our lives may be the most important part.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, heeeey

I can’t help but notice that there is a bit of traction over here lately. I suppose if I was the SEO markety sort this would send me into a tizzy of posts trying to capitalize on the activity and boost my visability using all kinds of buzzwords.

But I’m not that type. I don’t even know most of the buzzwords the kids are using these days, heck, I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for getting “traction” and “boost” into that first paragraph.

This site has always been a journal, and will continue to be. I don’t give a flip about how far my voice goes, it’s going to you and that’s all that matters.

2017 garden dahlia.jpg

Dear Diary,

It’s been, literally, a year since my last confess…post. Here is where I am in life:

I have two kids in college. One started this semester and is studying History Education because he wants to be a history teacher and coach. True story: History teachers have to coach, it’s part of the job (according to the head of his department during our tour of the campus.) He’s a freshman going through all the elation and challenges thereof. Also, his is not my story to tell, so I won’t.

The other college age kid is taking a gap semester between her sophomore and junior years. She wanted to travel a bit, work more and save money for college. She has a part-time job in her (as of right now) field and wasn’t ready to leave it yet. I was on board and very supportive of this (for selfish reasons.) She had been commuting to school for two years but is transferring to sleep-away college in January. I’m freaky crazy proud of her for getting into her first choice school that’s three full hours away and…damn, don’t tell her but I’m going to miss her so hard. I’m misting-up writing this, that hard…but the Mama in me knows that this is the best best BEST thing for her and I can’t be selfish anymore. Well, not as far as she goes and hers is also not my story to tell anyway.

That’s okay, I still have another kid to baby.

That kid is in 7th grade, smart and charming and he broke my heart this fall when he tried football and loved it.

He. Loves. Football.

And it looks like he’s good at it? Something something starting quarterback?

I realize that this is a thinking position but, in my head, a thinking position in a game that can knock the thinking out of a guy is sort of futile. I don’t want what I saw football did to his brother to happen to him…but I got overruled. Three Vollenboys for football; Mom against (daughter abstained.)

And me?

Heavy sigh.

I’m at one of those places in life where if I look back I can see I’ve come far and like what I’ve done, but when I look forward I only see multiple roads full of things that I haven’t done and that makes me feel like a failure with an urgency to succeed except….

…I don’t know which road I’m supposed to take so I tread water and mix metaphors.

It’s not a very comfortable place to be.

And don’t even get me started on politics. Please. Don’t.

Okay–here it is: I am a liberal who was terrified of what would happen when exactly what happened happened. My husband is a supporter of what happened. I try to shut up about it around home unless I know the conversation isn’t going to spiral into a fight that sounds a lot like a publicly posted social media thread about the news of the day.

This is also not a very comfortable place to be.

Wow, writing things out did not make me feel better, Diary. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

S.

PS: I’ll be back. I believe in the journaling process.

Women of New England Desire to Vote

“Wait, Susan, women ALL OVER the United States don’t just desire, they DO vote.”

True, but in 1880, the did not and all they could do was express a desire.  Anti-women’s suffrage voices suggested that women really didn’t want the responsibility of voting. So Matilda Joslyn Gage asked them. As the owner and editor of the pro-woman suffrage newspaper, The National Citizen and Ballot Box, she compiled a massive list of notes from women all over the country who answered.

My friend JD thought it would be cool to share these notes but there were so many, he divided them up into states and asked friends to post them. He gave me ones from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island–my home area. If you would like to fully appreciate these letters from all over maybe from your area, click over to Words from Us where JD has links to all of them. Individually they are meaningful; as a collection they are a powerful voice for women at a time when they were not always heard.

Pick a name, vote for a woman who couldn’t…or vote for women in your life now…or yourself, your children…just vote.

women-vote-aperquote

The work of reading these thousands of postals and letters and selecting from among them for publication, has required the labor of two persons over two weeks, and a portion of this time three persons were engaged upon it. Although but comparatively a small portion of them has been given, they form a very remarkable, unique, instructive and valuable addition to the literature and history of woman suffrage.

They not only show the growth of liberty in the hearts of women, but they point out the causes of this growth. Each letter, each postal, carries its own tale of tyrannous oppression, and each woman who reads, will find her courage and her convictions strengthened. Let every woman who receives this paper religiously preserve it for future reference. Let those who say that women do not want to vote, look at the unanimity with which women in each and every state, declare that they do wish to vote,—that they are oppressed because they cannot vote—that they deem themselves capable of making the laws by which they are governed, and of ruling themselves in every way.

These letters are warm from the heart, but they tell tales of injustice and wrong that chill the reader’s blood. They show a growing tendency among women to right their own wrongs, as women have ofttimes in ages before chosen their own ways to do. Greece with its tales of Medea and Clytemnestra; Rome and the remembrance of Tofania and her famous water; southern France of more modern times all carry warning to legal domestic tyrants.

Regards,

Matilda Joslyn Gage

CONNECTICUT.

Believing that the world’s salvation depends primarily upon emancipation of woman, therefore I wish you and your noble compeers speed in this noble cause, a cause for which I would gladly live or die.—EMILY P. COLLINS, Hartford.

Yes, I want to vote, and I am not ready to die until I have done so, at least once. —GRACE SPENCER, Madison.

Earnestly, and anxiously working and waiting for the ballot.—HANNAH M. COMSTOCK, New Haven.

I most earnestly desire that women everywhere should have a legal recognition of every right, (suffrage included,) with no other conditions or limitations than such as apply to male citizens.—EMILY J. SENARD, Meriden.

Not till men feel our power will they respect our rights.—FLORENCE PELTIER, Hartford.

I think women should vote.—F. A. L. ROOMIS, Meriden.

Believing as I do that the ballot is not only the first right of woman but that it is for the best good of the country that she exercise those rights. *—Abbey J. Mathewson, Brooklyn.

RHODE ISLAND.

My wish to vote grows out of the inevitable law of progress in thought, so soon transmitted in civilized countries from men to women. Unless men are willing and able to restore the day of absolute rule in the state and authority in the church, they cannot consistently relegate woman to a lower intellectual place than such as the duties of the age require every thinking being to occupy. A long passive intelligence has matured into an active phase and man is powerless to arrest its development at just that point which may now seem to him most consonant with his tastes or interests.—ESTHER B. CARPENTER, Wakefield.

“With all my heart” I concur in an emphatic demand for an insertion of the proposed plank in the platform of each party, and if foiled by all in the claim, let there be a banding together to either throw the election into the House of Representatives or to execute the determination of A. S. Adams in 1776, “to promote a rebellion,” etc.—C. C. KNOWLES, East Greenwich.

MASSACHUSETTS.

I wish to express in the strongest manner possible my desire for the enfranchisement of women, and my deep sense of the wrong and injustice of depriving her of the right of self-government. —Arabell Browers Elwell, Lynn.

If the ballot educates man it will also educate woman; if it protects man, it will also protect woman. —Noretta E. McAllister, Lawrence.

I wish to vote because I take a lively interest in the welfare of my country, (more perhaps than half the men) and wish to see the government in clean and safe hands. Because women are taxed and should have something to say about the spending of taxes. Because there are many selfish and intriguing politicians who pursue the “rule or ruin policy.” Because I think there is a great good coming out of it. Because there are so many intelligent women who wish to vote. Because they are as well, (if not better) fitted for it as foreigners, negroes and Indians. Because woman suffrage means fairness, justice, liberty and equal rights for women, and because I have never been represented by any man. —Abby D. Hicks, Blue Hill.

Ella F. Weeks from Marlborough, sends thirty-seven names.

I wish to see the ballot in the hand of woman, first to satisfy my sense of justice, and secondly, because I should consider it a very great step toward her elevation, and consequently to the advancement of the whole human family.—Evelyn M. Walton, Saugus.

And most earnestly desire to see the day when women shall no longer be deprived of the ballot and the opportunity of developing and improving all the faculties, with which they are endowed. —Zilpah H. Spooner, Plymouth.

“Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish,” I am with you in this fight for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yours for the right.—ELIZA F. DOANE, Athol.

As one of the 60,000 superfluous women in this little State of Massachusetts and one of several thousand young women employed in the three factories of Lynn, Mass., I want what I hope in due time all my sisters will want, it is to vote.—ELIZABETH O. ROBINSON, Malden.

We, the undersigned, being unable to be present at the mass meeting, desire to forward our names, together with our most hearty approval of your proceedings and our warmest wishes for the highest success of woman suffrage.—MRS. E. O. WILLIAMS, MRS. M. E. ORR, MRS. C. C. POWERS, Roxbury.

I would express with all the earnestness my nature will allow of and with all the emphasis I can bring to bear on any subject, that I here with send my name as one who desires to vote.—FENNO TUDOR, (widow,) Boston.

We all wish to vote,—MRS. C. W. BROWN, MISS CLARA WILDER, MISS MARY A. RICE, MISS KATH. L. WILDER, Barre.

May God speed the NATIONAL in the splendid work it is doing! That woman should have the ballot is my most earnest desire. I have always wanted to vote.— MRS. HARRIETTE R. SHATTUCK, Malden.

Pledged to labor for the right of suffrage earnestly until it is acknowledged to be ours. May yours efforts be crowned with success. Yours for Woman Suffrage.— EMILY EATON, Athol Center.

I am with you in thought and spirit as there are thousands of others who cannot be there in person. Hoping God will speed the day when women will secure the right of suffrage.—MRS. MARIA SWALLOW, Springfield.

I want the franchise of a citizen because I love justice, because I love freedom, because I am a woman.—CATHARINE B. YALE, Shelburne Falls.

Massachusetts School Suffrage Association. I shall be with you in spirit and feel it is one of the most glorious meetings ever held in our country. I trust all will be accomplished in giving us the right of full suffrage.—HARRIET LMIST, Boston.

Resolved, that the right of suffrage inheres in the citizen of the United States, and that intelligent women are citizens and should be so regarded by law.—MRS. L. C. W. GAMMEL. Holyoke.

I desire the privilige of voting, believe right of suffrage should be given to all citizens of the United States.—ANNIE LORD CHAMBERLAIN, E. Somerville.

I also desire to vote.—ALICE B. SAMPSON, Boston.

women-vote-aper-custom

Every time I write a column…

Great, brilliant idea.
Write one paragraph of great brilliant idea and 800 words of crap.
Tell myself that I suck as a writer, ask myself what the hell am I doing? No one should pay me for this garbage. Your basic peptalk.
Destroy and rewrite eliminating great brilliant idea in favor of thread that sorta made sense that appeared in middle of garbage pile.
Realize deadline was an hour ago, freak out. Slice and dice and kill words down to 600ish or until that warm, This is It feeling glows in my gut. Or I imagine it does.
Sigh heavily, hold back vomit and file copy thinking, “Crap I’m going to get fired, this sucks. I’m a hack. I’m a hacky-wanna-be. They are going to see I am a hack, this screams ‘SUCKAGE’! Hello unemployment, Hacky McHackerson!”
Read piece when it runs a week later and think, “Hey, this isn’t too bad.”
Repeat.

A Lesson From Other Susan

When I was 16 she was born. I didn’t know it, our paths wouldn’t cross for another 30 years. She lived in one of those middle states that New England kids like me always messed up identifying on geography tests. I grew up divided between life on the ocean and life in a small town; she grew up in a small town that was not really like the small town I was in.

Life is funny like that–even when things sound similar on paper, they are very different.

map of us dotted

Despite our very different upbringing, somehow we both developed (or were perhaps born with, but that is a debate for another day) a deep affinity for the water. Not, ” Oh hey, yeah, the beach is nice,” but a deep attraction to water in any form- rivers, lakes ocean- the more mysterious the better. Magnetic. A magnetic attraction that makes us want to be in it, on it, near it.

Life is funny like that–even when people are raised differently they grow up not very different at all.

I went to college, had a career, got married, moved around a lot, had three kids and, seven years before our paths would cross,I landed in a small town in the same middle state where she had always lived. She went to work, got married, had a baby, then another in a small town an hour from mine.

I played around on a computer when kids were sleeping and I didn’t want to clean; she played around on a computer when kids were…well, I  never asked but based on knowing her, her chores were finished and a loaf of  homemade bread was cooling on the counter.

One day, both of us were playing around on our computers when we landed on the same message board at the same time. Hidden behind our own masks of avatars and screen names we knew nothing about eachother except that we were both moms.

Life has taught me that even when people share a title or job that involves very similar actions, those people are often very different.

But different doesn’t mean bad, it just means not the same. We were very different people with different lives who shared a few things including motherhood and the same first name. To differentiate between us I got to keep our shared name, she put “Other” in front of it.

Other Susan. OS for short.

Our differences were still there but – and this really doesn’t always happen with me- I never thought about them. I never thought that she was younger, that we had different educations and different life experiences- I just loved her in that way women love eachother in slowly built friendships. That way we know we can be our honest, differing selves and be loved in return.

Sometimes it’s those differences that give us insight we never would see on our own.

Three years after we met Susan taught me something very important. She isn’t a writer, she’s a do-er. She’s one of those people who says, “I need an electrical outlet here,” and puts it in herself; who thinks, “that should be welded on,” and welds it; that takes a pile of fabric and creates a beautiful quilt in less time than it takes me to stitch a pair of curtains.

But I am a writer and in 2011 I was freaking out about it. I was about to start my column, filling a space previously held by a woman I admire a great deal, and I was terrified. Should I try to be funny like she was? Should I be sentimental? Should I write with a message or entertain with a story? I didn’t feel like I was up for the job (although I already had it) and terrified of failure and public ridicule.

Other Susan told me: Stop trying to fit yourself into a nice, neat little box! You don’t want to be be in a box. You want to be a giant ball of awesome that can bounce around and be whatever writer you want to be.

I know her exact words because I wrote them down, printed them out and taped them to a file box I looked at every day.

Five years later they are still on that box, right where I can see them each and every day. In those same five years I have watched her bounce around and be a giant ball of awesome in her own life which is very different than mine.

Bouncing around being her own ball of awesome

Bouncing around being her own ball of awesome

Today, in my own way, I am celebrating her birth sixteen years after mine. I’m raising a figurative glass to honor the years she has lived, the woman she has become and the friend that I am blessed with.

And I’m sharing with you one of many lessons that she has taught me.

Happy birthday, Other Susan!

ball of awesome quote redo

 

 

 

Hey, what’s up?

I’ve been around these blog parts long enough to know that when people post UPDATE pieces what they are saying is, “Life has gotten in the way and this site has dropped low on my priority list.”

They then describe all the fabulous and/or tragic stuff that has taken them away from their blog; away from you, the reader.

This post is a little different.

Oh yeah, life has gotten in the way and this site has dropped low on my priority list

BUT

nothing fabulous or tragic has taken me away. Exactly the opposite.

I’m in a boring phase. I have a hard enough time coming up with column topics each week, coming up with blog posts, too? Too much work with not enough material and one of them helps pay the bills–guess where the idea goes?

Oh, sure fabulous stuff has happened, but you could read about it elsewhere. Like how our podcast, The History Chicks, is now part of the Panoply Network which is basically saying, “This show rocks enough to be included in this amazing line-up, you should totally listen.”* With that we upped our show production from once a month…ish whenever we were ready, to twice a month on a schedule. Day jobs can not be dispensed with as yet and the level of research and post production we do for each episode is a HUGE time commitment especially if we want our show to rock even more with each episode.

HistoryChicks w. Panoply.1400

And sad stuff has happened, my family is still missing the smiling, comforting, lovable face of my father who passed away last spring.  The huge hole in my heart isn’t ever going to be filled in, but the raw edges are smoothing out just a bit. On a lessor level my voice paralysis is permanent (there was a 50% chance of it self-correcting in a year- it’s been a year this month)-I’m back in voice therapy to help retrain my breathing and strengthen what I do have so the podcast doesn’t suffer.

But the rest? Boring. Kids, sports, oldest started college, youngest played fall baseball and basketball, and middle played football (although I do have a LOT of posts in me about THAT, but I promised him I wouldn’t send them into public until he graduates next year).

This kid loves this sport. Loves it.

This kid loves this sport. Loves it and I love watching him play it.

#50 loves this sport, I do not.

#50 loves this sport, I do not.

My very messy, unstaged desk where I sit a lot and make clickity sounds with my keyboard.

My very messy, unstaged desk where I sit a lot and make clickity sounds with my keyboard.

 

So by saying UPDATE! I mean that I care about this space far too much to slap crappy  writing on it and I haven’t had the pull to do so as life got in the way of late… but I miss it.

Happy New Year, I don’t want to piss on the parade of people who loved 2015 but from where I sit I am asking 2015 to kiss my fanny and 2016 to be better.

Not full of fabulous.

Not void of tragic.

Simply better.

Susan

2015 six

 

 

*Felicia Day agrees that it rocks.

Totally not gonna brag but we made it to an recommended segment on The Flog.

Totally not gonna brag but we made it to an recommended segment on The Flog.

 

 

A Love Story in Three Parts

These three columns ran in The Kansas City Star over the course of three years and tell a story of life, loss and love. They are special to me and non-fiction. If you read only one thing that I have ever written, I would like it to be this.

Dahlia logo

Part One: March, 2012

“When do I get to meet you?” was the message that greeted me on my Facebook page.

“Oh, I don’t know.” I typed back, “That might ruin the mystique. I’m not very interesting in person.”

That was the answer I gave Chris. It’s the answer that I give a lot of people.  Sometimes a flip answer like that keeps one more thing off of my To-do list.

Chris lived an hour away. I’ve spent a good deal of time with his wife- she’s one of my best friends. We are in contact, usually written, every day; once a year we go on a Chick Weekend with other friends. But if I got Nicole, Chris got the kids.

Last year, Chris and Nicole threw a New Year’s Eve party and invited my family. But the long round-trip drive on that particular night held little appeal to me. It held less to my husband who wasn’t thrilled about spending a late night with people he didn’t know.

Right. Didn’t know. He didn’t know one of my best friends or her husband. But we all do that, right?  Brian has his circle of people and I have mine. Sometimes, in a real life Venn diagram, those circles intersect-most of the time they don’t.  It’s a fact of modern life.

But Chris and I were connected through another fact of modern life: social media. I got to know him through the things he shared.  Always funny, always smart- I was often in awe of the depth of his faith and the quickness of his wit; I admired how Nicole and Chris parented as a team. I got that all through his posts, I didn’t have to be in the same room with him to know him.

Finally, six months ago, I did get to be in the same room as Chris. He was dressed in a nice suit, sharing with anyone who would look a picture that his six-year-old daughter drew.  Chris’ whole family was there, all five kids and Nicole, of course. When I walked into the room I went to her and hugged her hard- the physical contact so much more rewarding and personal than any phone conversation, text or Facebook message.

I walked over to Chris, “Never thought I would meet you like this,” I whispered.

He lay still. Hands holding a picture of Daddy in heaven.

Days before, Chris had set off to work like any day. He had kissed Nicole good-bye like he did every day, got in his car and drove the same route that he drove every day.

But that day, Chris met a man in another car who was traveling at highway speeds in the wrong direction.  The death was quick, which is a little comfort to Nicole and the kids.  The other driver survived. He is still surviving, still available to his own family.

I can’t attempt to understand the legalities of the accident- why justice seems so slow.

I can’t attempt to feel Nicole’s grief.  I can hear the raw emotions in her voice; I can see the pain in her eyes, in her words as I listen and learn more about Chris. Not just the stories that are sharable to anyone who reads his Facebook page, but the private Chris. Nicole’s Chris.

The Chris I would have met if I had made the effort.

I have yet to give my flip, “we don’t need to meet” answer to anyone. I doubt I ever will. Chris taught me that. I don’t care if I’m not interesting – I have to assume that they are interesting enough for both of us.

Just like Chris was.

Part Two: September, 2013

Everyone would change that day. They would insist on a longer breakfast, block the road, tell the drivers not to get behind the wheel.

If anyone had any power to stop it, they would have.

But it happened.

I shared this story awhile back, but, in a nutshell:

I learned the hard way never to make excuses and put off meeting people thinking that there is always time.

There isn’t always time.

My friend Nicole’s husband, on an ordinary drive on an ordinary day had the non-ordinary happen when he met a wrong-way driver.

Chris’ life ended and the path that no one would want for anyone began for Nicole, their five children and everyone who knew and cared for the family.

Grief. How do you handle grief like that? Sure, there are well published stages and steps, there are counselors who can guide a family through them but the family has to make the journey.

Nicole embarked on the journey. She had no choice; her kids had no choice.

Watching Nicole for the last year and a half has been heartbreaking. People surrounded them, blanketed them with love and casseroles- but there was nothing that anyone could do other than be there, as an ear, a hug, a meal, a drink, a laugh.

Nicole did what a lot of people do when faced with a loss of this magnitude: they wrote it out.

She began a blog.

She started it to work-out her feelings, have tangible evidence of her journey and, maybe, to offer hope to others who will go through something similar.

Most of the entries were obviously painful to write, they were painful to read. She was lost, hurt…alone. She admitted her failures; confronted and explored her feelings and turned to her faith as a guide. She found mentors in other women who had been on this journey before. She sought help for her family.

I have always admired her personality but her words revealed not only raw and vulnerable emotions, but true character- true strength.

She didn’t rush through each phase of grief, although I’m sure she wanted to, but she worked at it. She faced the pain and rode it through to the day when she could admit that the pain was just a little, tiny bit less.

One day she said that maybe, someday, she might like to date.

But she wasn’t ready and she knew it.

Death is a natural part of life. The journey of Nicole and her family isn’t unusual- but that doesn’t mean it’s any less life affecting. Being a common human experience doesn’t mean that it feels common when it happens to you, or to someone you love.

Nicole did what anyone would do when someone we love dies: use the tools that we have available to get our changed and confusing days to become ordinary ones. Ordinary days filled with familiar challenges- familiar ups and downs.

Old lives morph into new ones. People are the same, certain elements are the same, but it’s like they got broken up into a kaleidoscope and turned. Changed.

Then one day becomes a day that no one would ever change.

“I met someone and he’s special.”

Then she used the word “love”.

Nicole’s journey has taught me that happily ever after really is a myth. Every day is full of happy, sad, angry, delighted- a spinning color wheel of emotion that can’t be stopped.

But when it wheels past the special color, the cherished emotions- it’s happily right now.

And that is a moment we should never change and never, ever forget.

Part Three:July, 2015

Eight weddings. The year that I was 26 I attended eight weddings. It was a personal record that still stands.  By that age– three years, two jobs and four apartment moves since college– I got very good at the wedding guest routine: mail RSVP card, get gifts, buy dress and matching shoes, attend stuffy-fluffy bridal shower, fret over finding a Plus One, act like a grown-up at wedding, repeat.

Next wedding, same routine different dress.

When I was 26 I had a fairly steady beau. While he was not the steady beau that was my date to my own wedding, he was an excellent Plus One. He cleaned up nicely and was faking being an adult about as well as I was.

When I was 26 I took weddings for granted. They sort of ran together: another special day for a party; another beautiful friend who I was delighted for but quite happy that it wasn’t me.

After I did my own turn down the aisle, I understood the whole story. While armed with that newfound perspective, most of my friends were already married and wedding invitations dwindled. There have been a lot of non-wedding years since I was 26.

There have also been a lot of changes in weddings since then. For one wedding this past month I RSVP’d on Facebook and the bridal shower was less Stuffy-Fluffy and more Girls’ Night on the Deck.

I wore a dress that I already had in my closet.

I didn’t fret that my entire family was busy that day and I had no Plus One.

I didn’t have to pretend to be grown-up, although I had to remind myself of it several times when I was carried away with the joy of the day and the comfortable happiness of sharing it with a group of close friends.

The best change since I was 26 is that I possess empathetic involvement not only in the wedding, but in marriage. This particular couple’s journey to the alter was twisted like an emotional kaleidoscope. It wasn’t a special day for a party, it was a special day with a party. Accent on special.

And this one was very special.

It wasn’t simply that the bride was beautiful, the groom was beaming and the day shone bright and perfect; it wasn’t that they were surrounded by people who loved and cared for and about them.

It was more.

As the preacher began I looked around the chapel. I had never seen half of the people before, but the other half I had.

The last time that I had seen them I was sitting with the same group of friends.

The last time I had seen that collection of familiar and vaguely familiar faces it was at a church not too far by distance, but a million miles of experiences away.

“I, Nicole, take you Paul,” my friend repeated her vows…sickness, health, richer, poorer…I had heard the same vows eight times the year I was 26; I had heard them a hundred times since and I had said them once myself. But they never meant what they did that day.

“…until death separates us.”

The last time the vaguely familiar faces and this particular group of friends and I met in a church, we were there because death had separated Nicole from her first groom.

The most important change in weddings since I was 26 is that I now know that every couple has a story, every celebration unique. Every wedding is special. The ceremony and party may seem like the same old routine, but it’s not.

It’s the celebration of something new.

Something to cherish.

Nicole and I at her wedding.  Yes, I selfied in the receiving line.

Nicole and I at her wedding. (Yes, I selfied in the receiving line.)

Nicole’s (excellent, painful, raw, honest, well written)blog can be found here, My Ways Not Your Ways. I’ve linked you to the very beginning.