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Last time I Checked…

I was a first year grad student. Then I blinked. All of a sudden, I’ve got a Master’s in English. I’m also divorced, have a third and first grader, and my daughter started Kindergarten. Oh, yes, and I’ve just finished my first semester of my PhD while teaching 50 undergrads Children’s Lit. My, my, when did all of this happen?

It’s funny how we learn to adapt. Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine my life the way it is now. Twenty years ago? I’d have told you I didn’t expect to live this long, let alone be enrolled in a prestigious University teaching kids who look up to me like I’ve got all the answers. And you know what? I don’t have one answer. I’ve got several:

Fight for it. Want it. Don’t quit it. Dream it. Live it. Reach for it. Love with all you are, feel with all of your heart, and don’t ever lose sight of who you are.

For those of you who are reading me for the first time, read my past posts to understand my old fear of changing who I was. For those of you who know me, I’ve come to terms with who I am, where I’m from, and where I’m meant to be. Don’t fight it. Roll with the changes.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Life

 

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Stranger in a Foreign Land

Have you ever felt like you’re speaking an entirely different language than those around you?  Have you ever read a book and didn’t quite get it, heard something explained and still didn’t quite understand it?   Have you ever felt like a stranger in a foreign country, desperately clinging to your traveler’s dictionary? 

A month ago, I started graduate classes in the English department at Binghamton University.  It was a big fucking deal to my friends, family, and me.  I’m the first one in my family with an undergrad degree, let alone to attend graduate school.  I’ve had my name in print a few times, another BFD.  I was just named a semi-finalist in the Mailer College Poetry competition.  How’s that for a BFD?

So with all of these accomplishments behind me, I was excited to mingle with students who actually wanted to study English and Writing, instead of being forced to take them as core requirements.  I was excited to share ideas, and dive right into my studies.  Until I hit the concrete floor my first day.  Yeah, someone drained all the damn water right out of the pool.  Could have been when I was changing diapers, potty training, doing laundry or maybe it was dishes.  Hell, I’m lucky if I know what day of the week it is, let alone what Derrida said on page one million of his long-winded essay on removing the center of the subject.  Even with no water in the pool, I’m still drowning in Modern Theory.

I don’t have time to learn to swim; I’ve been thrown into the deep end and I’m dog-paddling for my life in a pool with no water and a concrete bottom. How’s that for a paradox? (Maybe I could be a theorist! Sarcastic humor there.)  So I’m sitting there in my first class thinking, Shit, what the hell just happened?  Suddenly, I realized that I don’t speak the language. I need a book to understand the book.  The Penguin Anthology of Literary Terms and Criticism has become a permanent attachment to my right hand. It’s got just enough dumb-it-down strategies to qualify for a life raft. In classes, my hands are shoved under the desk, and I furtively look up words my professor and fellow students use in the dictionary I downloaded on my phone. I’m a literary tourist, the one the natives point at and laugh, cruelly telling me to go back to my own country. The temporality of my situation is tenuous… (Again, sarcasm here.)

Graduate school has forced me to yet again reevaluate myself and my capabilities.  One thing I’ve always known about myself is that I’m a concrete person who does not grasp the abstract.  I never did. Show me the practicality of a subject, or a real life application and I’m all about it.  I’m also an extremely busy person who doesn’t have time to dwell in thought for hours at a time.  I couldn’t attend famous universities with killer English programs, and spent so much time trying to read all of the authors on the reading list a kind professor gave me in undergrad to prepare me, that I’ve never read Melville, Murakami, Fante, or Freud.  I’ve never studied Surrealism, Semiotics, Absurdism, or Realism. The only way I recognize a great book is by the way it makes me feel when I’m done reading it.  I’m also a genre fiction junkie, and somehow I’m ashamed to admit that.

Again, I’m the odd man out.  I expected that in undergrad classes, maybe even liked it, despite the constant desire to tell the kids I attended school with to suck it up when they whined about homework and no sleep.  Before one graduate class, I heard my fellow students complaining about getting carded at the bar: “I’m 23 for God’s sake!”  I wanted to slink into a corner and die.  I’m certainly not the oldest person in any of my classes by any means.  There are a few that rival me for that title.  However, I am the only one with little kids.  I’m not the only blue-collar person straight off the farm; I’ve admired several pairs of boots from my fellow farm countrymen (women too!), but somehow my expectations of graduate school get skewed when these same people looked at me like I’ve got three heads when I admitted that I don’t have an English degree.  My Comm degree somehow offends them, as does my plain and simple language and my penchant for needing concrete examples.

There’s no question that I love literature and writing, and there is no way that I am giving up on something that I want so badly, no matter how out-of-place I feel. But what to do?  Do I learn the foreign language, embrace it whole-heartedly?  Do I adapt my entire way of thinking until I am no longer Trish, holey jeans, genre fiction, heavy metal loving, curse when you’re angry Trish, but Patricia, khaki pants wearing, five hundred-dollar word using, classic book loving, Patricia?  Do I lose the core of me to gain the key to some other element of me?  Do I stick it out, gut my way through without changing who I am?

Maybe I should marry the two worlds together in my life until I become bi-lingual.  Yes, maybe that’s the way to do this.  It could possibly be the only way to do this.  I have to relax my prejudice against the natives, adopt a few of their customs without giving up my own core values. I can be true to myself while learning something else, something different but not exactly distasteful. Still, I don’t think I’ll be giving up my dictionary or my tourist visa anytime soon!

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in Life

 

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What Could I Say? Been There, Done That!

Yesterday, I was sitting on the front porch, enjoying the peace.  For once, no one was in my face whining that they wanted a drink, or food, or crying because they had a bruise from rough play.  The kids were actually getting along. Their brother had just gotten a new bed, and they were breaking it in. Their laughter was ringing through the open front door like an old favorite song.  Suddenly, I heard my husband yell, “Stop jumping on the bed!”  Their was fun interrupted, the giggles stopped, and silence rang through the house.

He walked onto the porch, looking offended, and asked me, “Do you know what they were doing?”  I couldn’t help it; I started to laugh the kind of laugh that starts deep down in your belly, the kind of laugh that tickles your chest and makes your body shake and tears fall from your eyes.  He stood looking at me, confusion plain in his face.  When I finally thought I had it under control, I tried to say, “What do you expect? Lucas just got a new bed,” but somehow, I just couldn’t get it out.  I started to laugh again.

What could I really say?  Jumping on your bed is like the ultimate childhood past-time.  Of course, these days, we have trampolines and Wii’s, and all kinds of virtual games, but then?  We had our beds.  I remember having the best kind of bed for jumping on.  The box spring was super stiff, with a firm mattress.  Man, did I ever get air on that bed!  Sometimes, I’d come close to hitting my head on the ceiling, and my stomach would get that wobbly ticklish feeling you get from a good laugh. My mom used to yell at me: “Tricia, stop jumping on the bed!”  So I’d stop for a few minutes, and then start all over again, especially if I heard her go outside for a few minutes.

It was even better jumping with a friend. One time, my cousin Lesia and I jumped on my bed for hours while my mom wasn’t home.  There was the double bounce, where we’d jump at the same time, and the uneven bounce, where we’d offset our jumps.  Really, I’m surprised we didn’t end up breaking the damn bed.  God, we laughed and laughed.  Suddenly, there was my mom in the doorway.  “What are you doing?!”  We immediately sat on our butts, looking sorry. “We were making the bed softer, Mom.  See, it’s already more comfortable,” I told her.  She shook her head, and said,  “Pretty soon, you’ll be sleeping on the floor!”  She stormed out of the room and we burst into giggles.  Is there any better feeling?

What was I supposed to say to my kids when I knew full well that they were jumping on the bed?  Was I supposed to yell at them and tell them not to?  Was I supposed to pretend to be angry that they were enjoying a wonderful past time, and making memories together?  Perhaps I should have been a good parent and encouraged them to go jump on the trampoline out in the yard, but somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.  I couldn’t bring myself to be a hypocrite, when in my heart, I was on that bed, flying up into the air with them.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Parenting

 

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Missing

Last night, I experienced every parent’s worst nightmare: a missing child.  My five-year-old son walked out of the house around 10:30 p.m. while everyone was in bed.  Our bedrooms are literally back-to-back, and we had just spoken with him about turning the TV off.  When we checked on him five minutes later, his light was on and his room was empty…

We raced through the house calling for him.  My husband noticed the garage door unlocked, and partially closed.  My mind shut off, while I raced around the yard in a t-shirt and bare feet, calling his name.  Chuck jumped in the truck, and drove down the driveway to the neighbors where Whalen’s little friend lives.  He was no where to be found.  We live in a rural area, literally in the middle of the woods, where bears and other wildlife make their homes.  I was strangely calm while I searched the backyard and surrounding woods, looking in the tent, the hot tub, even checking the chest freezer in the garage.  He was nowhere to be found.

Chuck called his sister and his parents while he was driving around the immediate area.  My sister-in-law and her kids, my father-in-law, and my niece all showed up at the house, ready to search for him.  As I was getting ready to call the police, my telephone rang.  My mother-in-law, who lives a mile and half away, said he walked in the front door about twenty seconds after my father-in-law left.  He said, “Hi, Nanny!  I walked here in the dark-time!”  When I heard those words, “I’ve got Whalen,”  I broke into little tiny pieces.  I couldn’t breathe.  Extreme thoughts raced through my mind, more so when I saw him come through our front door in shorts, a t-shirt, and bare feet.  I still have no idea how he made it over there so fast with his little legs, no shoes, and no flashlight.

My five-year-old was missing for fifteen minutes that felt like five years.  As I think about it rationally, now that he’s safe and sound, I can’t help but be angry.  Yes, angry.  See, Whalen’s not your typical child.  He’s got problems.  The doctors claim it’s ADHD, which seems like a catch-all category these days.  Maybe it is ADHD, but guess what kids, there’s something else going on here!  However, God forbid you should give your opinion as a parent to the caregiver… The answer I get: “Here’s (insert stimulant name here).  Let’s give this drug a try.  I’ll see you in a month.”

Excuse me, did I hear you correctly?  I’m in your office crying about the behavior, the sleepless nights, the shit smeared on my walls and his hands daily, and the fears that he will hurt himself or someone else, but all you can offer me is an experiment?  Here’s a pill, let’s go a month and see if it works?  And it’s not just one doctor.  This child has seen a multitude of specialists, all of whom, even the God of Neurodevelopment who interned at the Mayo Clinic, have released him from care, stating, “I can’t help you anymore.”  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

What does it take to get someone to care?  Does my child have to kill someone, or injure himself so severely that he needs hospitalization before we’ll step up?  I am doing my job as a parent.  Six out of seven nights a week, I’m sleeping on our lumpy couch during his four a.m. forays into the kitchen.  My steak knives are put up and away.  I won’t allow a gun in my house.  I clean his shit up off of my walls and floors everyday without complaint, although there have been tears.  Why can’t the professionals step up and do their job?  Why must I beat my head against a brick wall?

I don’t have the answers.  I apologize for the rant, but I am completely open to comments, or suggestions!  One more thing:  My son was missing for fifteen minutes, and I felt like the world would end.  I cannot imagine what parents go through when their child is missing and there is no happy ending.  My heart goes out to those parents and children.

 

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2012 in Parenting

 

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The Magic of a Mentor

For some reason, this morning I woke up thinking about my eighth grade science teacher, Mr. Eastman.  Maybe it was triggered during the gab sessions with my best friend who came in from Nashville two weeks ago.  We talked a lot about high school, reminiscing the good and bad times. Both she and I have similar backgrounds, parental problems, and trust issues. It doesn’t surprise people that we’re still close friends. Anyway, I remember being rather candid with her, saying, “I wouldn’t have survived high school without Mr. Eastman.”

The first time I saw him, I was sitting in the front row of my eighth grade homeroom.  He came bumbling in the door, with a shuffling walk and huge feet that reminded me of a clown.  His shaggy brown hair hung down into his eyes, and he constantly shook his head like a dog to see better.  He introduced himself to the class as our homeroom teacher, and also our Earth Science instructor.  In the rinky-dink Elk Lake Jr/Sr High School, he stuck out like a horse in a herd of goats.  We all immediately recognized the fact that he was a new teacher; in fact, he admitted to us that it was his first year teaching.  Some of the nastier kids smelled blood, and tortured him thoroughly for the entire year, even going as far as spraying foul smelling liquid onto him as he walked by.  I don’t know how he put up with the blatant disrespect.

Before morning announcements, I would sit at my desk with headphones, rocking out to 80’s hair bands and death metal, while reading a book to calm the rage that was a constant companion in those days.  Music and literature were my escape from life: parents who flip-flopped back and forth between overbearing and absenteeism, sexual abuse at the hands of someone I trusted, and the depression that kept me on the edge of the cliff, about to step off at any moment.  Not to mention the normal teenage anxiety about appearance, weight, and where the next insult was coming from.

So there I was, thirteen years old, with my own year of torture behind me from the seventh grade.  I’d developed a bad attitude, and believe me, I wasn’t afraid to use it.  I barely spoke, but if I did, it came out as a snarl, like a dog that had been starved for years and suddenly offered food.   I sat silently in his class for a few weeks, responding only when spoken to in my typical hostile way.  One day, I had been particularly rude, and was asked to stay after class.

Instead of giving me the lecture or referral to the principal that I probably deserved, Mr. Eastman simply talked with me as though I were a real human being.  I wasn’t used to that sort of thing, and it made me uneasy.  I remember looking everywhere but at him. Then, I happened to catch a glimpse of the cover art from Def Leppard’s Hysteria.  That album was, and still is, one of my absolute favorite albums.  Back then, it was one of the most important collections of songs that helped me survive.  Now, it is simply a great album with both good and bad connections to my past.  I made a passing mention of it being a great album.  My jaw dropped when he told me he saw them live when they toured for the album.  Suddenly, a connection was made.  We spent the rest of that year blabbing through homeroom about great albums and songs, and talking about Greek mythology while he taught us the science of constellations.

After my eighth grade year, I made it a point to stop by his classroom every once it a while to shoot the breeze about a new album that had come out, or a novel I had just read. Eventually, we started talking about things that were more personal, like when I met my dad for the first time the summer after eighth grade. Life was still really bad at home, but by the time I hit eleventh grade, things had spiraled out of control.

I remember going on an after-school trip to a college fair my junior year.  Mr. Eastman was one of the chaperones, and I spent the entire ride home talking about colleges with him while my friends made out with their boyfriends, or talked about where the next party was going to be.  I confessed to him that I was scared of never being anything, of always being insignificant.  He told me, “Trish, you’ll make it. Get out of here.  Go away to school and never look back.”  Later, I remember how he went to bat for me, making it possible for me to stay in the district during my senior year when I got into a serious bind for skipping school, and how he fought to get me into the National Honor Society, even though I was into some trouble.  He also steered me through the mysteries of college application essays, and financial aid paperwork.

At the time, I appreciated him as a friend, but that appreciation is nothing compared to how I feel now that I’ve accomplished a lot of things that I set out to a long time ago, even with a few bumps in the road.  I realize that what I had was magical for an unlucky kid in the sticks.  I had a mentor.  These are the people that foster and encourage growth, hold our hands when we’re down, and point us in the right direction on the road up.  They reach out to someone in need, forge a connection, and expect nothing in return.  They are truly heroes.  As I  move on, accomplishing new goals that I’ve set for myself, and keep reaching up for those constellations in the sky, I’ll keep that in mind.  Maybe the best way that I can repay Mr. Eastman is to follow his example, and reach out to others in need.  Maybe if we all did, this world would be a little more kind.  Who couldn’t use a little kindness?

Did you have a mentor?  How do you feel about them now?

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Life

 

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Summer Reading List

I’m feeling guilty for neglecting this blog for so long.  Really, with everything I’ve had going on, it was necessary, but I’ve got this quirk about keeping up with things I’ve started.  Last night, I finished another book.  I’ve probably read a dozen or so since graduating. I mentioned yesterday that I haven’t been able to write. I once had a creative writing teacher tell me that if I couldn’t write, at least read. So, I’ve been reading a lot.  The other day in the bookstore, I was browsing aimlessly without a plan in mind. I picked up a book, Light in August by William Faulkner, and read the back.  The story interested me, but I was more struck by the quote on the back.

“Read, read, read.  Read everything-trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.  Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master.  Read!  You’ll absorb it.  Then write.  If it is good, you’ll find out.  If it’s not, throw it out the window.”  -Faulkner

I love to read, and I love books.  The smell, the texture, the words, the stories, characters, and settings.  I am a book junkie.  Modern, classics, pop-fiction, literary fiction, teen fiction, fantasy, I’ll read them all.  So I decided to share my summer reading list-the stories I’ve read, and the novels on my to-read list.  Pick up a book and enjoy!

Some Novels I’ve Read in the Last Month

Firefly Lane-Kristin Hannah –  Reminds me of Summer Sisters by Judy Blume.  An excellent characterization of the friendship between two women.  Be warned, it’s a tear-jerker!

Shadow of a Quarter Moon-Eileen Clymer Schwab – Historical fiction.  The story of a runaway quadroon and her experiences in both the white and African-American community.  Her interactions with characters in the Underground Railroad are very entertaining and pretty accurate.

The House of Spirits-Isabel Allende – I was seriously impressed with this book.  At first, I had a hard time getting into the characters, but I stuck with it and absolutely fell in love with some of them.  The political overtones were wonderfully done, and really captured the essence of an oppressed people.

American Poet-Jeff Vande Zande – A great coming of age story about a college graduate with a degree in poetry who comes home to find that his degree is pretty much worthless in a town that cares nothing for the arts.  Denver Hoptner is a character that seriously reminds me of Holden Caufield with his sarcastic outlook.  Very awesome read.

The Penelopiad-Margaret Atwood – I have to say I was a little disappointed in this novel.  It’s basically the story of The Odyssey, told from the point of view of Penelope.  I found her character very shallow and whiney in this story, and I don’t think this is one of Atwood’s best novels.  I highly recommend Oryx and Crake though!

Water for Elephants-Sara Gruen – I loved, loved, loved this story!  From the first page, I was invested in the characters.  The settings were very well written, and nothing felt contrived about this tale.  The ending made me sad only because I wanted the story to continue.

My To-Read List

You Can’t Go Home Again-Thomas Wolfe – I’m 100 pages in.  So far, I am enjoying this story.  Wolfe has a poetic structure to his sentences that makes them seem easy to read.

In the Lake of the Woods – Tim O’Brien

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway – I’ve attempted to read this several times, but I seriously hate Hemingway. (I WILL FINISH THIS BOOK IF IT KILLS ME!)

On the Road – Jack Kerouac

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy-E.L. James

Through Wolf’s Eyes-Jane Lindskold

And finally, any other book that I pick up that looks interesting 🙂

Happy reading!!

 

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Life

 

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Dry Summer

No, I’m not talking about the weather.  Have you ever felt that the well is dry and any amount of pounding will not produce water?  The well of creativity that is.  For the last month or so, I haven’t written anything new.  Sure, I’ve jotted down some lines, written some paragraphs, even madly typed three pages of what could turn into a novel.  But, I don’t feel satisfied with any of these pieces, finished or unfinished.  I’ve been flat, and my writing is flat.

In my opinion, writing is personal.  Even if the subject isn’t personal, the writing is.  Human beings have emotions, and I believe it is impossible to separate them from our work.  We may not be writing about ourselves, but pieces of us still enter into the work.  For example, I have a strong dislike of vegetables.  You’d never find one of my characters eating a plate of green beans.  My hatred is that intense.  I know that this is a silly example, but it’s true.  I don’t know that it’s vanity when writers put pieces of ourselves into our work.  I just think it’s the subconscious connection between our emotions and our work.  It’s a very personal connection.

Lately, there’s been this huge withdraw of emotion from my work.  I really can’t say why.  Maybe it’s the question of, what’s next for me?  It could be the anxiety of starting a new school in the fall.  Maybe it’s the constant on-the-go mentality of three exuberant kids under seven.  Maybe it’s any and all of these things.   Maybe it’s the pressure that I place on myself to be successful instead of writing for the sheer love of it.  I think that could be why I chose not to apply to an MFA program when I looked at graduate schools.  Sure, they have wonderful results.  The problem for me is that they focus too much on getting published, and writing what will sell.

Do I like my work published?  Absolutely!  I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t. I have two poems coming out in separate journals over the summer: “Curfew” in Yes, Poetry, and “Resurrection” in Adanna Literary Journal.  It’s thrilling to see your work in print, or online, especially when someone comments on how much they enjoyed it.  But, sometimes I wonder if some of us (I’ve been guilty of this as well) focus too much on what a journal will like or want, versus what we really want, or NEED to say.  For me, writing is a need.  I have to write, or explode with all of the thoughts, words, and ideas that run through my mind like wild horses in an open field.

So, I’ve decided to forget about what is “literary” or “correct” in my writing.  I will write what I want to say, and go from there.  I will flood the emotion back into my work, and then revise accordingly.  If I come up with something journal-worthy, I will send it out.  Otherwise, I will write for the sheer joy of expressing my ideas.  I will feel, and feel, and feel some more, until I have to pour those feelings onto the page.

If you disagree, or maybe think writers don’t put emotion into their work, I urge you to listen to Patricia Smith read her poetry sometime, or pick up a work by Tim O’Brien or Sherman Alexie, and then tell me writers don’t feel.  In order for the audience to feel any emotion, the writer must first put it there.  Keep on writing!

 

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Writing

 

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