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Archive for September, 2014

I have a birthday next month. I’m dreading it. I have been dreading it for a while, years, in fact. The big 4-0 is creeping up on me and I don’t like it one bit. I’ve been trying to downplay it, especially when my family brings it up, but maybe if I type it out, it will become more comfortable for me. I’m willing to try anything at this point.

Thirty didn’t bother me too badly. In fact, thirty made me feel like I would be taken more seriously, that I would be seen as more of an adult than I was when I was in my twenties. Thirty held potential. Forty, however, is making me want to jump into bed and pull the covers up over my head.

It really shouldn’t bother me all that much. Forty is young these days! My husband and many of my friends are forty+ and they are active, young-feeling (and sometimes young-acting, in a good way.), vibrant people who I love to be around, but I just don’t want to cross that threshold. I feel like I’m running out of time, that I should have done something spectacular by now, that I should be closer to where I want to be in life than I am. I should have my Master’s, I should have the career that I want, I should, I should, I should, I should… No matter what, I feel like I don’t quite measure up to my age, like I haven’t done what I’m supposed to do, whatever that may be.

I don’t know why I feel this way. Some pretty cool things have happened in my life. I married my true love, we have some pretty awesome kids, I finally graduated from college, we both have steady jobs, and I’ve published a book on a small scale. Storms were weathered, obstacles overcome, wounds were healed. I should feel content, but I don’t.

I know that a lot of people see this age as full of possibility, but I’m scared. I’m scared that I’ll be stuck where I am for the next thirty years, that I’ll never accomplish any of my goals. I want to be a full-time writer and to live in London, but I’m so afraid that by the time I’m able to accomplish any of that, if I accomplish any of that, I’ll be too old to live it like I want to. I’m afraid that we won’t have what we need for the future. I don’t want to be seen as a frail old lady, dismissed and disrespected. I know I’m not there yet, contrary to what any siblings of mine say, but this birthday is bringing me closer to that inevitability.

Maybe this is my mid-life crisis, although that thought depresses me, too. Mid-life? Good Lord. It can’t be already, but yet it is. In another forty years, I’ll be eighty. Yikes. On the bright side, If this is my mid-life crisis, then hopefully it will soon pass and I can be done with this foolishness. I don’t want to fret away any time that I have left in this world. It’s a waste. I’m perfectly healthy, by the way, but we never know what surprises the future has in store. If my mind stays intact, I’d love to live to a ripe old age, but the helplessness of being an old person frightens me. I’m absolutely terrified of living with a mind that isn’t intact, like what happened with both of my grandmothers. I don’t want to dwell on that, but the thoughts creep in now and again, of being dependent on others, a burden to my kids, not in control of myself. I’m not ready to think about those things, yet they loom in the not-too-distant future as forty advances ever closer. I need to change my focus, to keep striving for those goals that I want so badly that I can taste them. I need to live in the present for my family, so usher my boys into the next stage of their increasingly independent lives and to begin looking forward to being alone with Marty when they’re gone.

On that bright note, I’ll sign off for tonight. I’m curious though, if any readers feel or felt the same way. Please share with me what you did or what you’re doing to combat those feelings. In the meantime, I’m going to quietly, very quietly, celebrate with Marty Man and my boys next month and I’m thinking of getting a new tattoo to mark the occasion. After all, one does crazy things in a mid-life crisis, yes?

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Tonight, I watched my two older boys play in their high school marching band show, as I have for the past few years. I usually only go once or twice a season. Football games, with the crowds and bad behavior, are not my cup of tea. I’m only there for the music, but, boy, am I happy to watch them.

The marching band was wonderful. I had seen them at the end of band camp in August, but watching them perform a medley of Beatles songs in their uniforms in front of an audience was soul-stirring, not just for the fact that the kids did a great job, which they did, but because it stirs up a plethora of memories for me.

I was a band geek in high school and I was proud of it. I still am. In the marching band, I found a community of quasi-misfits that welcomed me with open arms. I wasn’t a cheerleader, I wasn’t in student government, and while I wasn’t bullied, I certainly wasn’t a popular girl, but I fit right in with the band kids. In the summer of 1988, I went to my first band camp. I was absolutely terrified. Because the music program had been newly reinstalled only a few years earlier in our district, all three high schools shared a band. We were Tri-Union and although there was friendly smack-talk between schools, we were one cohesive unit. The only time I had ever been to any kind of camp before was when I had been in Girl Scouts and we went to weekend camp. It was wet and horrible and band camp didn’t appeal to me at first, but I loved playing the flute and decided to give it a try.

I went through initiation that freshman year. Back then, words like “hazing” didn’t really have the meaning they do today and as freshmen, we were subjected to things such as jumping off of the high dive (did it!), singing the school fight songs or “I’m a Little Teapot” in the dining hall, races of pushing pennies with our noses across the dining hall floor, and standing at attention during our free-time, monitored by upperclassmen. Each night, those who had committed transgressions such as forgetting to wear their class button or messing up during the many rehearsals were sentenced to marching into the lake at the close of evening’s rehearsal. The “Weenies” were made to march, in step, down to the lake and march in while the rest of the band came along to watch. Nothing horrible or serious ever happened and we went through it all with good attitudes.

On Friday night of that long, hot, tiring week, we were seated around the campfire with our “big brothers” and “big sisters” where we were blindfolded and given body parts of our respective mascots to eat (really cold noodles, grapes with syrup, and cashews) in order to truly become full members of the band. When it was done, we were all emotional with the work and sweat of the week as well as feelings of accomplishment. We had done it! We were in! And we really were. The band community is a welcoming one that protects its own and is fiercely loyal. If you weren’t an excellent musician, you may get ragged on in class or in rehearsal, but you were still a part of the group, always.I can still see that today in the band where my sons play. Most of their friends are fellow band (and/or theatre) members, mirroring my own experience more than twenty years ago.

The four years I spent in marching band were some of the happiest of my life. I can’t remember some of my high school teachers (okay, more than half of them), or who many of my other classmates were, but I can remember who the band seniors were when I was a freshman. Wayne Duperon and Renee Thompson were gods in my eyes back then and I knew from Day One that I wanted to be a drum major like them one day. I worked hard, won the “Best Sophomore” and “Best Junior” trophies and finally, my senior year, I made drum major with one of my best friends. I was a “big sister” to three freshmen and came back as a counselor after I graduated for four more years, even quitting a job in order to go to band camp. I had summer loves, best friends, and was challenged to push myself further than I ever thought I could. In my junior year, I auditioned and qualified to travel to Australia and Hawaii with the Michigan Lions All-State Band with my best friend, Jenny. We had a fabulous time, and learned the hard way that Honolulu does, indeed, have a red-light district. (A blog for another time…) For a kid who didn’t ever really think she would make anything of her life, music showed me that I could fly high, that I didn’t have to settle for anything, that I could achieve things through hard work and dedication. I didn’t feel like I had a place at home, but I had a place in the band. Band gave me the confidence I needed to fight through my abusive situation and to set goals in my life. Without it, I shudder to think of where I would be.

These things are what I remember when I watch my boys march across that field with their friends. Although I’ve encouraged them, I haven’t pushed them into this program. They both began in elementary school, followed it through into middle school, and were then swept away in high school, just like I was. Middle Son is in it mainly for the fun with the trumpet, but Oldest Son has amassed quite the collection of instruments, including my old flute and piccolo, which I heard loud, sweet, and clear on the field tonight, happy to be played again. I resisted letting him play it at first, selfish pride of ownership getting in the way, but I realized that it wasn’t meant to be hidden away. While there is a small sense of pride that they’re following in Mama’s footsteps, I’m more happy that they’ve found a place to shine and that they’ve found some amazing kids to be friends with, many of whom they will be friends with for the rest of their lives. Music and discipline do something to the soul that makes it swell with emotion, with possibility, and makes one feel things that they’ve never felt before. Music will help some kids find a place in a topsy-turvy world and will help others learn something new about themselves. Although I don’t feel like I was given a good academic education in my home district, the music program and my directors, Mr. Dale Olmstead and Mr. Dennis Winnie, made my high school years more than bearable.

Music is so important. It is love. May all of the bands keep playing. Thank you, marching band, for giving an old band geek some feels tonight.

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The time of year has come where it’s nearly impossible for me to write. By that, I mean school has begun. It’s not that I don’t feel like writing. I do. I would really love to just chuck all of my lesson plans and papers out the window with no regrets and sit at the computer all day in my fantasy world, but there’s a slight problem with that. I’m not exactly supporting the family with any writing. At least not at the moment,. I do receive royalties, albeit tiny, from the publisher of my first book, (That would be Put Up Your Hair; A Practical Manual to Nineteenth Century Hair Styles, available through www.heritagebooks.com and Amazon, if anyone is interested. I’m getting better at shameless plugs.) but since one can’t live on dreams, one must have a real job in order to survive. Especially if there are children to support. Big children who have big expenses and who are going to begin leaving for college next summer. Until I can earn a steady income from writing, I shall have to keep plugging away at the day job. This, in turn, inspires guilt about not being one of those teachers who lives for her job, but that’s a topic for another day.

The difficult part about that is finding the time to write. Heck, during the summer when I do, sort of, have time, there are people all over the house at all hours of the day. I feel like if I’m sitting and writing for a long time the house will implode without me there. Of course, I know I won’t. How arrogant of me. Nevertheless, with the family home, it is really hard for me to focus. Marty is excellent at monitoring everything that goes on, but we live in a small house and I hear everything from children arguing to them doing their normal, everyday things, such as having Nerf gun battles. I used to get a lot more productive writing done when I was a substitute teacher and didn’t get a call for the day. I could crank out 10-15 pages at a time when everyone else was gone at school, but those days are gone, at least for now.

I went to a book signing last year where the author talked about staying up late after her family went to bed in order to write her book. She had small children and could not write during the day. I thought about what a great idea that was until I remembered that after teaching all day and coming home to make dinner, running kids around, going to rehearsals, etc., I was exhausted by 10:00 pm. We’re up at 6:00 am and I’m the kind of person who just does not function very well on little sleep. That strategy was not going to work for me. Neither was getting up early to write. Getting myself and a middle-schooler out the door in the morning is a chore as it is. Besides, I find that I do my best writing in the afternoon, but that is generally frowned upon when I’m supposed to be giving a math lesson.

I think I would feel better about it all if I could actually get signed with an agent for the book I’m currently peddling, a middle grade children’s fantasy novel with the working title, Traveler. I had an offer from a subsidy publisher this past winter and have had a few nibbles, but after about two years, it’s still sitting unloved on my computer table. In search of beta-readers, I’ve read it to two of my classes who have both loved it. My last year’s third- and fourth- grade students who are now my fourth- and fifth-grade students want me to read it aloud again this year. In fact, they wanted another story about Tommy, the main character. I know that kids like it, I think it will sell, it’s just a matter of getting someone in the publishing world to agree with me.

I actually have two novels in progress right now. One is the next in the series to Traveler and the other is a historical fiction novel told from the perspective of Bessie Blount, the mistress to Henry VIII who had a son by him. It’s not a sexed-up tawdry thing like the HBO Tudor series; it’s realistic and as historically accurate as I can make it. (Okay, there’s a little bit of sex in it, but it’s historically accurate sex.) That one doesn’t have a title yet, but I’m further along in writing it than the other one. Bessie has been a fascination of mine ever since I found out about her and not much exists about her early life or about her feelings on things. I’m loving being able to give her a voice and establish her as a real person, not just a king’s plaything. Anyway, it’s a lot of fun to write and I’d really love to finish it before next summer.

As I said before, Marty Man is really supportive of my writing, so it’s really about me being proactive and finding a time where I have no choice but to stick to it. That’s the difficult part. I’m a creature of habit and it’s difficult for me to make time for new things, although I’m usually pleasantly surprised when I do. Like when I signed up for a hula class last winter, which I only did because I knew the teacher and I was confident that she wouldn’t laugh at me. At least not to my face. I loved that class! It challenged me, but that made me want to succeed even more. I think finding a writing time will be the same way. Now, I’m not going to be able to write for a significant time every day. Teaching takes an incredible amount of time that used to be free time in the evenings and on the weekends, but I do want to find at least a little time each day when I can add to things, or to blog. Right now, there’s a laundry basket full of clean clothes across from me that keeps calling out for attention, but I was determined to sit down and write tonight. It can wait. The dusting can wait. The dishes can wait. Being a full-time writer is what I really want to do and I need to find time to make that happen while still paying attention to my responsibilities. Right now, however, I need to wrap this up because the eleven-year-old tornado is finished with his shower and trying to stall before bedtime, one of my many, but lovable, distractions.

One idea that I have is to go to the library on the weekends for a couple of hours. We have three libraries in our city and one has quiet, sound-proof cubicles for working. That will be step one for next weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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During our summer off, Marty and I were able to indulge in one of our favorite hobbies: ancestry.com. We splurged on a membership a couple of years ago and when we have the time, we go searching for long-lost ancestors. In July, I splurged again and got the European membership as well. The basic membership only covers US records and while we haven’t exhausted our US ancestors, we wanted to follow the lines that we had traced back to Europe. It was a whole new world! England, in particular, has some fabulous records online: census documents, wills, birth records, probate, death records. It’s a virtual candy land for history/genealogy nerds such as ourselves. Although I’m now stuck in Italy and Prussia on a couple of family lines, I did find some very cool first names: Adelbertus, Feidhlimidh, Gormfhlaith, I love it! And it’s the gift that keeps on giving. While I’ve gotten back to the Middle Ages on some family lines, I’m never going to be able to completely map out the entire thing, so there will always be work to do on it. Yes, my geek flag is flying high and proud and I’m okay with that. Besides, it brings me to my next point, something that really sank in for me this summer.

Think of your ancestors, the people that came before you. Without them you would not be here. You would simply not be you. Just think of the odds of you happening. For you to be born, every single one of your ancestors had to, well, be feeling romantic, or at least have a sense of duty, on a particular day or night. At that particular time, they conceived a child. Not such an unusual thing, but then, that child had to be carried to term, be born, and then make it through the gauntlet of childhood before the age of medical school and vaccines, so small feat before our modern times, as many children died before the age of five. That child had to grow up and meet someone with whom they would have children, and so on, and so on. Let that sink in for a moment. If every single one of your direct ancestors had not felt the urge to procreate (Or at least to have sex. There, I said it, as creepy as it is to think about.) on that crucial night, you would eventually not have happened. Your particular combination of DNA, genes, dominant and recessive traits, nothing would have been the same combination and concentration as you have right now. Would our souls be the same? I don’t think so and here’s why.

Out of the many millions of reproductive cells that are produced by a single person, you are the end result of only one from each parent. The odds of winning the lottery seem to be much better in comparison. Even identical twins, which occur when one egg/sperm combo split and have identical DNA, are different. In some ways they are virtually impossible to tell apart. There was a set of twins in my high school that were remarkably identical in looks and participated in all the same activities, but they did have many differences, especially once you got to know them. They each had their own distinct personality, despite being genetically identical and being raised in the same family. If there had been a different combination of cells that united at the time of your conception, you wouldn’t be who you are today. Think of what a miracle that is! You probably share many of the same family characteristics that your siblings and cousins do, but you are unique to yourself. There is no one in this world exactly like you, nor has there ever been and never will be. Similar? Yes, but not exactly the same. You and your full siblings are different people even though you came from the same parents.

If that doesn’t seem remarkable, think of it this way. For every generation that you go back from yourself, your number of ancestors doubles. Every person on this earth, whether they know them or not, has two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen 2x great-grandparents, 32 3x great-grandparents, 64 4x great-grandparents, 128 5x great grandparents, 256 6x great-grandparents, and so on. It’s biological fact, even for test-tube babies. That mean that twelve generations ago, all 4096 of your 10x great-grandparents had to conceive a child that would live and go on to create more children. Fifteen generations ago, it would be all 32,768 of your grandparents. (Do you see how this will be a never-ending project?) You are a result of many thousands of generations of perfect timing, perfect biological circumstances, perfect combinations of moxie, events, and circumstances. You are a miracle.

Now there are some who will agree with my scanty-but-true science, but they will say that it is all a matter of chance, that there is nothing remarkable about it. That is their perspective and I’m not going to debate them. Every time I think about it, though, it amazes me, completely blows my mind. We plan out our lives to the smallest detail, yet we can’t control who our children will be. I can color my hair, gain or lose weight, get plastic surgery, and even change the color of my eyes with contact lenses, yet I can never change my DNA. Although science is moving in the direction of being able to choose our genes for us (a creepy thought: designer children), the fact remains that in most cases, parents get what they get. This is one of the many things in which I see the hand of God, proof of His existence. I don’t believe that we are here by accident, I believe that we are meant to be. We have a purpose, a reason to exist. Some of us, myself included, may not know what that purpose is, exactly, but there is a beauty to it. Some of us may not have been conceived in or born into ideal circumstances, but perhaps those circumstances teach us important skills or put us in a position to help others.

I can’t explain it all, I certainly don’t have the wisdom to see any kind of plan, but I do know that I am not an accident, no matter how many times I joke about it. You are no accident, either. You have a purpose, a destiny in life. It may not be a grand destiny. We can’t all be Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King Jr., but we can make this world a better place than it was when we got here. We may go through life content, but not being aware of a distinct purpose. Maybe you’re meant to be a good parent to a child who will need the security of that good upbringing later in life. Maybe you will do something that you will be famous for, but more likely, it will be something that the world would consider small. Think of a person who has been influential in your life. They’re probably not famous. In their own way, they gave you a clue as to how your life was supposed to be. A grandmother, a teacher in college, a mentor at work, a best friend. These are people who make the most difference, yet whose names will never be in the history books, and that’s okay. Fame doesn’t always make a good person. There are many examples of that!

The point of this is that each one of us is unique. We have a reason to be here, to be born when we were, to the family that we were born into. We sometimes treat life as if it was disposable, but each person, each baby, each unborn child is so full of potential that it is a shame to think that way. I would only hope that my life will be useful to someone even if I don’t know it. Wouldn’t you want your descendants, whether they’re directly from you or other family members, hundreds of years from now, to know that you did your best? You may come from humble beginnings, but you are one in a billion.

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