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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fright Night? Pfft, Try Fear Year

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

This week’s topic was my idea.  In honor of Halloween, I asked the group to discuss facing a fear. Here’s my take:
                  Okay, I’ll say it:  2012 kicked my ass.  From start to finish, bad things happened.  The awful began in March with the death of a much-loved aunt, followed shortly thereafter by the death of an uncle and, in a blink, another wonderful uncle.  (By year’s end, all said, I’d have buried two aunts and three uncles.) 
                  Then in June, one of my kids got sick.  Really sick; like in-and-out-of-the-hospital-for-a-month sick.  Once she was out of crisis, I breathed for about a week before yet another doctor told me that one of my other kids needed some testing for yet another medical issue.  Her diagnosis wasn’t life threatening, but it was life changing.  And terrifying.
                  Needless to say, I felt scared.  No, I felt absolutely, completely petrified. 
                  Somehow, even weighed down with all of my fear, I made it through the remainder of the year, mainly just by coasting on automatic pilot.  I felt like I’d spent the entire twelve months either in a funeral home, a hospital, or a clinic.  I never quite seemed rested; my eyes burned and my hair smelled of grief and antiseptic and whatever makes funeral homes smell the way they do (I don’t want to know).  I cried more tears than I thought I could produce.  I began dreading phone calls and emails, as they seemed to bear only bad news.  All of 2012 had scared the pants off of me.
                  I wanted to hide under the covers and stay there until someone, anyone, sounded the “all clear.”  I found myself wondering what else could go wrong – and then running scenario after scenario of scary possibilities.  Fear consumed me.  It absolutely took me over in whole. 
                  But fear is a funny thing.  Sure, it steals your breath and disrupts your sleep and makes you feel like every nerve ending in your body is on fire.  But fear has a flip side.  Fear also motivates.  It shakes those rosy glasses right off your face, forcing you to look at life a bit differently.  Fear moves you.
                  Yes, funny thing, fear:  after a full year of it, after wishing and praying it would go away and leave me unafraid, it motivated me to do something that absolutely terrified me. 
                  It made me start writing. 
                  I mean, I’d always written.  My whole life, in one way or another, I was always putting something down on paper:  short stories and unbelievably sappy poems as a child; news stories and witty feature articles as a college and then professional journalist; dry legal briefs and motions as an attorney.  I’d even begun this blog, but I rarely updated it.  I blamed it on work, claimed that writing legalese for a decade had messed with my creative writer’s voice, and left it at that.
                  But I knew better.  I knew I’d stopped writing because I was afraid.
                  Writing takes a leap of faith.  It’s one thing to put the words on the paper in the privacy of your home, but it’s completely another to show that paper to the world.  That’s what tripped me up, that’s what terrified me.  I tried to break it down; what exactly was I so afraid of?  Of course, I feared failure.  I feared rejection.  I feared that my writing was no good and that I wasn’t the writer I’d always fancied myself to be.  Failure meant loss of control, which meant I feared powerlessness and who wouldn't fear that?  Once I put my writing out there – even on my blog – I opened myself up to criticism and the interpretations of my readers.  That scared me silly.
                  And yet.
                  When 2012 blissfully ended and January finally arrived, I did something I’d never done before:  I loaded my pink overnight bag into my Jeep and drove to St. Louis to attend a writing workshop run by one of my all-time favorite writers, Wade Rouse.  I spent eight hours in a book store, seated at a square of tables, surrounded by people much like me, people who wrote but not for a living, people who wanted to write more, who wanted other people to read what they wrote.  (Well, maybe.)
                  We all came to the tables with a book idea.  Some had pages, some had chapters, all had a story.  I’d been writing mine for a few years, on and off.  I’d start and stop and then start again.  I told myself I didn’t care if I finished or if it was published, but there I was, 300 miles from home in a strange city at a workshop for writers hoping to be published.  Of course I cared; of course I was too afraid to admit it.
                  The night after the workshop, I returned to my hotel room and I proceeded to write for five hours.  And then I went home and I wrote some more.  I signed up for the second part of the writing workshop to be held in June in Michigan, and by the time I threw my pink bag in the car for that trip, my book was complete.
                  But my fear remained. 
                  I can list out all of the scary specifics running through my brain; the nagging questions that again invade my sleep:  What if no one likes the book?  What if no one wants to publish it?  Or read it?  What if people think it’s stupid?  Or that I’m stupid?  Or that I’m a poseur and not really a writer after all?
                  I still carry those fears with me, and I feel them each time I hit “publish” on my blog and each time I show my manuscript to someone. 
                  But, like I said, fear is a funny thing.  The only way to make it go away is to face it.  Otherwise, it just festers and grows.
                  I don’t know why I chose 2013 as the year to tackle my writing fear.  I can only assume that the death and loss and fear that filled 2012 snapped something in my brain, some reminder that life is short – and that fear is relative.
                  Sure, part of me fears writing and all of the little terrors it involves, but an even bigger part of me fears not writing.  Because this much I know:  the only way to be a writer is to write . . . and to be read.  Scary, yes, but not nearly as terrifying as the alternative, which I also know:  if I don’t write, I’m not a writer.  And then my biggest fear comes true. 
                  And that?  Terrifies me.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Coming Out of the Closet

I'm super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

This week's topic comes from Froggie, who asked us to consider an outfit we've had in our closet for a long time – and why.  Here's my take:

It may seem strange, but I just don’t own “that” outfit.  You know the one: the dress you were wearing when you went on that perfect date.  Or the suit that gave you the confidence to nail a key interview.  Or the T-shirt and jeans from the concert where you and your best friend had the greatest time ev-er.  Take my word for it, I have plenty of clothes in my closet (and in my daughter’s closet, and in my dresser . . . ), but, perhaps strangely, I don’t have any special outfits. 

That’s probably because, instead of outfits, I possess a wardrobe built of uniforms. 

And for that, I blame the nuns, Madonna, and whoever invented Preppies.

Starting in first grade, my parents enrolled me in Catholic school, where I remained until I graduated high school . . . eleven years later.  I was required to wear a uniform every single one of those years.  I spent my entire adolescence ensconced in polyester.  The first eight, the uniform did not vary by a single stitch:  plaid brown and white skirt, brown vest, white polyester blouse, white socks.  Every.  Single.  Day.  The high school uniforms didn’t change much; throw in the option of a brown sweater and slacks (only in the winter months), and you have the next four years.

The nun-mandated uniformity left me unable to assemble even the most basic outfit.  Not that I really needed to; I mean, when would I wear it?  To mass on Sunday?  To Girl Scouts – where I wore yet another polyester uniform?  On weekends, I threw on jeans and a T-shirt and didn’t really give much thought to whether they looked good, or even whether they matched.  Of course they matched; what doesn’t go with denim?

To complicate matters, I came of age in the ‘80s, something that sounds cool if you came of age in the ‘90s or later, but something which has rendered me wholly fashion impaired.  Female children of the ‘80s had three style options:  copying Madonna and/or Cyndi Lauper; emulating Jon Bon Jovi; or following the tenets of The Preppy Handbook.  Here’s a shocker:  I opted to go all hair band (and I have the cruel, cruel photos to prove it).  I thought the Madonna thing a little slutty, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to wear plaid and penny loafers and madras headbands and turned-up collars like all of the other girls at my high school.  I took the seemingly most rebellious – and comfortable – path.  I puffed my hair as high as God and Aqua Net would allow and bought boots and a leather-and-faux-leopard skin jean jacket and matching jean skirt.  I added some blue frosted eye shadow and big gold earrings and called it fashion.  I didn’t realize it then, but I can now see that my attempt at style was actually just another uniform:  the costume of the rocker girl.

If you culled through my clothes today, you’d find all sorts of stuff (and most of it would make a stylist cry).  Much of it, I don’t wear.  Even though the rack is full, I tend to dress in the same pieces over and over.  Yes, once again, I’ve inadvertently reduced my wardrobe to uniforms.  In the summer, I don my “warm-weather uniform” consisting of one of my five or so plaid shirts on top and second-hand denim cut-offs on the bottom.  Come cold weather, I pull out the “winter uniform,” rotating between three North Face fleeces pulled over old T-shirts or a thermal coupled with one of my three pairs of Gap jeans.  I also own two good suits saved for court appearances or meetings; those share space with a small array of business casual blouses, slacks, and cardigan sweaters:  my “work uniform.”

I’d like to think someday I will learn to mix and match clothes, that I will stock my shelves not with comfortable fallbacks but instead with fashionable, flattering pieces I love and that hold meaning to me.  But it seems unlikely.  Heck, with few exceptions, I can’t even remember what I was wearing at major life events.  My wedding, sure (two piece polka-dot Ann Taylor blouse and skirt, which my husband later shrank when he accidentally threw it in the dryer).  The day I was sworn in as an attorney?  No idea (though I’d venture to guess it was a dark suit – a safe bet).  I remember the dress I wore under my gown when I graduated law school, but I didn't keep it (I actually sold it at a garage sale).  Clothes just don't matter to me on an emotional level.  They never have.  I doubt they ever will.  

Funny enough, as I searched my closet and dressers this week, I realized that the outfit I’ve owned the longest is my grammar school uniform.  It’s not up on a shelf or in a drawer but instead stuffed in a box in the garage.  I don’t know why I keep it, other than nostalgia, or maybe a good laugh. 

It’s not like I need it; my closet is filled to the brim with new uniforms.

Thanks a lot, Madonna.