My husband reminded me of this after I bemoaned the increasing number personal elements that seem to be creeping their way into the short story I’m handing in for my Fiction Writing class. About an hour ago, I finished my third draft and had so much of my own self and struggles leaking through my fingers into the keyboard that I literally started to cry.
No, I screamed at me in my head. No, you can’t do this. You know why? Because what if they hate it? What if they say, “people don’t really do that” or “this scenario is so unrealistic” or “why is she so upset about something so minor?” You know you’ll just run from the room sobbing. You could barely control your emotions BEFORE pregnancy. Now? Now you cry when Han Solo says, “I know.”
It’s like when that quiet girl from the back of the classroom stumbles in late to Intro to Creative Writing with a tearstained copy of her latest poem:
Weep, weep, weep
Weep on my unrelenting river of tears
Stream that red, red, red
from the bloody bleeding heart he left behind.
My bosom is heavy with an empty chasm for a heart
Tears, tears, tears
I’m such a miserable fool.
Suck or not, who has the heart to tell her to trash it when you can barely hear her read it over her piteous wails. I mean, look at her bloodshot eyes! Do you really think she slept last night? *The moon shakes it’s head, for it has born witness to her lonely howling.*
Granted, my story isn’t so overt, and thank God I’ve not been told I must read it aloud, but I’m in there. I’m screaming through the characters mouths. I’m laying curled up beside the abandoned child, grasping and clutching at that empty pocket of warmth left behind in the blankets. And it’s scary to be so seen in such an unseen way. No one in my class knows me. No one will see me there in those words. Nothing will hold back their “this sucks” or “what the *&%$ is this #$%@?” That’s good in a way. I mean, the truth needs to be told to me, or I’ll never improve as a writer. But even as healthy as the truth is, it can also be terrifying and humiliating.
Maybe that’s why I hated this story so much when I started, because I always knew it would turn into something more.
Come Friday I’ll have to let it go; I’ll have to watch it fall from my fingers into the hands of 15 strangers who will be reading between the lines of my life armed with a red pen.
This is terror. This is bravery. This, I guess, is art.
While my pregnancy was a planned pregnancy, it was still a shock to me. I just figured it wouldn’t happen when it did, and while it’s still overwhelming at times, it’s become just another one of those times in my life where I can see how perfect God’s plans are when we submit to his will.
First: My Crazy First Trimester
I mean, I was sick for my first pregnancy, but all these people kept saying to me that what I was feeling “wasn’t normal.” Since they never specified what part of it was so abnormal, I guess I just assumed that a heathy baby would be less horrible to carry. As wrong as I was, the miracle of it all was the impeccable timing of my bedridden stage. My morning sickness began the week of finals, but most of my finals were papers I’d already drafted and merely needed to hand in. After that I had the entirety of winter break to do nothing but rest and vomit.
Second: Returning to school
The oncoming spring semester was looming in the background like the malevolent flaming eye of Sauron. Every day that I spent laying in bed, incapable of anything more than watching Shawn the Sheep, the soft voice of anxiety whispered, “And how do you think you’re going to manage that?”
My early religious education emphasized the idea that once you’re a wife or mother the Bible allows for you to be nothing else. I’ve come to believe this as not accurate Biblical teaching, but I wrestled with what I was supposed to do next. Was God trying to tell me through illness that being a wife and mother was all he wanted from me?
No longer wishing to blindly follow the teaching from my youth, I prayed that God would make it clear what he wanted from me: finish my degree or quit for the baby. Maybe he’d let me finish my degree later, who knew? Only Him, and I just needed to know clearly what step to take next, one semester at a time.
There were so many times when I was leaning over the toilet bowl with Tim rubbing my back when I’d gasp out the words, “I think I should drop all my classes.” Tim, ever patient, ever wise, always said, “Just wait and see. There’s still time. Just wait.”
I waited. I saw. God provided me just the right amount of miraculous strength I needed to get to every class. Even the week before my first day I was too sick to go, but despite the fact I was still throwing up to and from school, and napping on a foam mattress between my classes, I have remained on my 15 credit class schedule.
And Tim? Well, who could expect him to be anything but my guardian angel. He walked me to all my classes, carried my books, and for several weeks sat right outside the door to my class in case I needed any help, even though it made his butt fall asleep. Speaking of blessings from God, let’s not forget the man I wake up next to every morning. Him. Always. ❤
Third: The Due Date
The baby is due August 18, 2017. Even if I go late, I will still give birth this summer, before classes can start for next semester.
Fourth: Online Classes
One night, just out of curiosity, I looked over my degree evaluation at WPU to see what else I needed to graduate on time. The idea of returning to school with a two week old infant in tow is daunting, even if your husband doesn’t mind looking after him while you’re in class. I worried if it would even be healthy for the little one.
As I looked through what I needed to graduate, I saw a lot of online courses being offered. I grabbed a notepad and began to jot down courses. Soon, I had over 7 online course options I could take in the fall, all of which were perfect for keeping me on track to graduate Spring of 2018. I now fully believe that God will allow me to take most if not all of my courses online for my first semester after giving birth. My heart nearly burst with thanksgiving for this.
Fifth: Our Living Situation
I’ve never really been in close contact to infants before, except for bits of exposure during my time working the nursery at church. Basically, I’m terrified, and given my penchant for panic attacks and overreacting due to my struggle with anxiety disorder, I know that I’ll be as neurotic as any three new mothers locked in a dark tight space for 48 hours.
First on the emergency contact list will (of course) be my dear husband, eldest of 7 and widely recognized “baby hog.” His relatives know that when they bring their little one into the room, my husband will make puppy eyes at whomever is holding the baby until somebody lets him settle down with the little one so he can snuggle and play with it.
But if even he should fail to calm me and the infant (both of us probably screaming), we will still be living with his mother, grandmother of my child and veteran parent of 7 children. Honestly, watching my husband’s parents raise the two little ones at home (6yrs and 10yrs) has grown me tremendously. Their grace and patience is something I pray I’ll have in my parenting, and it is truly a privilege to watch. If I could be half the mother Mrs. Svendsen is, my children will never suffer for love and acceptance, the two things I found most lacking in my own childhood.
I will have one full year under her roof, blessed by her wisdom and tutelage before my husband and I pack up and move across the country for him to complete his seminary training.
There is too much perfection in all the timing of this baby for me not to step back, look up and say, “Thank you Lord. Thank you so much.” ❤
It still does some days, but I’ve gotten enough of a lift to feel like my body is on the mend. My husband and I have gone out to dinner and taken a trip to Ikea in the past few weeks, something that would have been unthinkable a week before.
It wasn’t long after seeing those two blue lines that I began to develop aversions to smells, tastes, and sights. I was already vomiting once a day before I even missed my period. I still had this romantic idea that if I just boiled carrots until they mushed when you looked at them or ate saltines with a little bit of avocado, I could be gentle on my stomach while still getting solid nutrients into my body. *looks over shoulder at naive past self and laughs mockingly*
I lost about 20 lbs.
My first and foremost aversion was butter, one that still has not entirely abated. Quickly, anything associated with butter became partner in it’s evil salty oily fatness. That list begins with pasta, toast, rice, and potatoes, and ends somewhere with anything else that vaguely resembles butter in either its liquid or solid state. In fact, the aversion became so severe that when I started reading Tana French’s In the Woods, I ended up putting it aside to vomit because she had the audacity to use the word “butter” inside the first paragraph. I had to hide the book, because even looking at the cover put me at risk for another surge of nausea.
With how easily my nausea was triggered over one aversion, it won’t surprise you when I say that eating anything at all was a battle. Add to that, I developed an aversion to water, and then I was battling fluid intake. My only hope for keeping anything down (and me out of the hospital) was to lay flat. I was absolutely freaked out by all the changes in my body. I fought my desire to shower twice a day, but lost the battle with my clothes which I changed frequently throughout the day, leaving mounds of laundry in my wake. I spent days in bed, hating every moment I was awake. I said to my husband, “This had better be the cutest damn baby in the whole world.” I also said, “I think this is by far the worst experience of my life, and it’s not even half over.”
Honestly, I couldn’t have done any of it without my husband. He was the ultimate caregiver. He cleaned up after my sick, did the laundry, straightened the room, made numerous runs to stores to get me food or medicine, and kissed away my tears. I hated seeing him working so hard with absolutely no help from me. It made it harder to rest in bed.
Whenever I expressed this frustration to my husband, he would always say, “You’re building a baby. You’re working hard.” Then he’d kiss my forehead and tell me to rest.
I’m excited for the reward at the end of this mess called pregnancy, though I still worry about my ability to be the kind of mother I want to be. Perfection is out of the question, obviously, but will I be enough? Loving enough, affirming enough, and enough of a guide to them that they will have the equipment to take flight into adulthood, wise and very curious. I doubt myself, but I never doubt that my husband is going to be the best father ever. Patient, wise, kind, affectionate, and fun? What more could a little baby want in a Daddy?
I recently read Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” for the first time. I expected to be made uncomfortable, because facing the real life horrors of American slavery should make everyone uncomfortable. What I didn’t expect was a tangible reminder of why I love reading and writing as an art form.
I had previously read about the horrific treatment of black slaves and been sickened by it. I had read before about the desperation of runaways on the underground railroad. I have read about segregation, seen its modern day equivalents, and lamented how long it is taking us to truly love and treat one another as equals. But as far as the past goes, I always kept those things separate. There was slavery in the South and freedom in the North. “Beloved” opened my eyes.
The quote below comes directly from Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece. The character speaking is Baby Suggs, a freed slave living among other free blacks in the free state of Ohio. In the face of all that “freedom”, she still says this:
“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in the grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream out of it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver — love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”
I read this passage twice before I had to take a break and absorb the meaning of what I had just read. Most of the book took place in Ohio, and still the blacks were only given low level jobs, denied education, made to wait outside the store until the white customers left and forced to walk on the opposite side of the street when white pedestrians passed. This was their reality. They escaped slavery but the self-righteous-anti-slavery northerners still treated them like lesser beings. Essentially, they left worse for bad. I closed this book with my eyes and heart opened a little wider.
This is why I love to read. This is why I love to write. This art form, like many others, is not just about entertainment, it’s about pulling back the curtain to show truth, making people stop to consider their beliefs or actions, leaving behind people with eyes, minds, and hearts opened a little wider.
Thank you Toni Morrison, and not just for prose that smelled like poetry, but for writing something that made me uncomfortable, that made me think, and, ultimately, changed me forever.
Quote from Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” published by Alfred Knopf Publishing in 1987
Everyone has a favorite place, a spot they go when they need to remember how to breathe. Mine was two miles away. It smelled like dust and paper. The silence inside echoed with the occasional interruptions of crinkled pages or fingers tapping on a keyboard. It was my library.
But it’s not mine anymore.
My husband lost his job. He was a music teacher and the only one in his department not tenured, so when cutbacks came, it had to be him. In the surreal fallout of the crashing words, “I don’t have a job next year,” God took hold. The dust is settling now, and the change I’d craved has found my husband in seminary and us moved in with my in-laws.
I was surprised at first how little I cared about it all. I’d been aching and struggling for months leading up to this and the whole event released a lot of pent up anxiety about life. We majorly downsized, getting rid of excess clothing, furniture, and possessions. Even books! Can you believe that? We unloaded nearly 150 books to the free shelf at the library. I kept wondering if the librarians would say something to me. I went in once a week with a bag full of books and loaded up their shelves. It may have been my overly self conscious nature, but I swear they were eyeing me maliciously after the first four bag loads.
I brought good stuff though, not your typical 50 cent paperback romances. I brought Shakespeare and Dickens and poetry anthologies. The kind of stuff that I used to greedily snatch up and drool/gloat over on social media. Some of my favorite finds were “Stardust” by Neil Gaiman, “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, and “Joyland” by Stephen King. I always stifled a joyous squeal when there were classics and, more often then not, they landed cosily into my bag.
My new library doesn’t have a paperback exchange. It doesn’t have a lot of things.
It doesn’t have the same librarians. The faces that I recognize, that recognize me and call me by my first name. I used to work with some of them. I used to shelve books there (600s, 800s, biographies, and occasionally fiction) which, let me tell you, is a book lovers dream job. The bottom shelf of my cart began empty, and by the time I left work would contain a hefty stack of books for me to check out and take home. They know me. They know what I read. They watched me take out all those wedding books and congratulated me when I came in and changed my last name in the system. I know them. I can tell when they’re having an off day, or tired, or sick. I know when they move the furniture from one day to the next.
I took my last trip there about a week ago. My last trip with my last bag full of books for the free shelf. They got a new lady about a month ago and she was the only one at the counter. She doesn’t know me, if she had, I would have said goodbye.
I had no more books to return, I could not justify taking anything out, so I just left. I walked out of the atrium, making sure to hold the door for strangers walking in, a habit I’d taken to over years of patronage. It always gives me a satisfying split second of interaction with other locals who I felt a natural kinship for because we were there for the same purpose.
My feet hit the new cement sidewalk. They just fixed it. The brick walkway they put in when they remodeled shimmied and settled into a barely navigable minefield, dangerous to both the handicapped and clumsy. I looked over at the outside seating area with its four backless benches. I could close my eyes and see it, just a few months ago, when I sat there with a child’s picture book. Spring had just blossomed and flower petals dripped over the pages while the tree above me read over my shoulder. I blew them off before I turned the page. The pink raindrops fluttered to the ground into the sea of their fallen brethren, covering the sidewalk until it was invisible.
I’m a sickeningly sentimental person, but honestly, it’s a short list of things I’ll miss about where I used to live. Perhaps the list is so short because this place looms so large on my heart. It has been my haven for over 20 years. Those were my books, my librarians, my children’s room, my corner desk beside the floor to ceiling windows, where I would sit and write for hours. My scents. My sounds. My memories.
As I pulled out, I took one last look back at the stone edifice, at the metal outline of Hunterdon County screwed into the side, at the trees, sidewalk, and parking lot. And, just between you and me, I cried.
Why, you may ask me, would I take a picture of a port-o-potty? That is an excellent question. I’m not much of a photographer, but normally I confine my photo snapping to people and nature, not Tardis shaped bathrooms. No, the reason I took this photo was because the little sign on the door amused me. Here, I’ll make it bigger so you don’t have to grab your reading glasses.
Since Facebook’s popularity boomed, it has become “the thing” that every business, organization, or aspiring so and so, have a Facebook page to advertise themselves. This does not bother me, I mean it’s free advertising so it totally makes sense, but I couldn’t help but snort back a loud mocking laugh at this little sign. I myself have a Facebook page. It receives minimal traffic, but I was advised to start one as part of “building my author platform” and I did so.
I decided out of curiosity, to look up their page and see how many likes they have. I smirked indulgently at their neat little pile of 117 likes.
Then, a little later, I realized to my shame that I have only 36 likes on my Facebook page. I’m not sure if I just need more exposure, or if the world of Facebookians are trying to gently inform me that they like portable toilets better than me.
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Autocorrect. Spellcheck. Tab stops. Cut and paste. These are a few of the little things in word processing that are a mixed bag of blessings and curses. They may help us if we perpetually misspell “disease” but sometimes they may cause us to accidentally send a text to our mother to inform her that Dad’s hysterectomy went smoothly. I do most of my writing on my computer, and make regular notes on my iPhone, so I am constantly in a tussle with some smart technological device or other.
This includes the “Find and Replace” feature.
I only used this nugget of blessing once or twice in high school. I wasn’t very computer savvy, so most of my editing was accomplished with a printed copy, pencil, and eraser. Even now, I don’t have the feature quite figured out, except that I know it’s a tricky devil.
When I was working on Immortal Bond, my first novel, I spent the first few drafts trying to think of a decent name for the capital city and country of my setting. Until I decided on one, I just had the words “The Capital” as a place holder. Once I decided on “Cathair,” I opened up the Find and Replace box and found and replaced. This box has a deceptively helpful looking button labeled, “Replace All”. (Beware the Replace All button people. Beware!) I smiled benevolently at it. How sweet, I thought. Some programmer is saving me time. I clicked. I printed.
Somehow, every time “The Capital” was replaced with “Cathair” there was now an odd spacing issue. A sentence that once might have said: “Father, I can’t wait to get to The Capital!”, now said: “Father I cant wait to get toCathair !” I scratched my head, and manually fixed every single one.
Since then I’ve been more cautious.
So the other night when I changed a character’s name for the third, and hopefully final, time I was sweating.
This character suspiciously looks and acts very much like a friend of mine. In my first drafts, this character even, veeeeery suspiciously, had the same name. Obviously this would not do, so I changed his name to Don. It didn’t work for me at all. So my husband and I have been trying to rename him. Last night I decided to try Nick on for size. When I opened the find and replace box, I groaned. There was over 350.
I whined to my husband, “This is going to take forever.”
He shrugged and took the laptop from me. “Just do this.” The mouse hovered ominously over the “replace all” button. I squealed like a wild boar and slapped his hand away.
“Are you MAD?” I snapped. “D-O-N is in all kinds of words! It’ll turn all my ‘donuts’ to ‘Nickuts.’”
“Ooooh,” he mouthed and began to play with the box. A few seconds later he smiled at me. “Just do this!” He clicked a little checkbox that said, “whole words.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What will that do?”
“Watch.” He refreshed the box and the word count dropped by over 150. I turned my skeptical gaze to him.
“You sure that worked?”
“Of course.” His confidence eased my mind. I let him hit the “replace all” button then kissed him affectionately.
“You’re amazing!” I said, then skipped off to shower while he set it up to print.
Shortly thereafter, I was holding the first printed copy of my second novel in my hands. Giddy as toddler with a mini drum set, I sat down to play with my second child. I flipped open to a random page. My face fell.
“TIMOTHY YOU NINNY-FOPPER!”
Yes I did yell that for real. This is normal for me, for these are the names I call my husband. He did not respond. He was in the basement doing laundry. (See! How can I yell cuss names at a husband who does laundry without me even asking?)
He came up the stairs humming. I waited, patiently scowling at the door, until he stepped inside the bedroom. He saw my face and cocked his head at me.
“You are a Ninny-fopper,” I repeated, softer and with additional menace.
I motioned to him with one finger. He sat down beside me on the bed. I lifted my laptop onto my lap and opened the find and replace box. I typed the word “Nick’t” into the find section and got a little grey notification that said “167 found”.
Every “don’t” in my story was now “Nick’t”.
Timothy proceeded to hug me and say “I’m sorry” while simultaneously giggling. I changed all my “Nick’t”s back to “don’t”s in my document, but I refuse to print another copy. Save the trees and all that.