Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: career

On Getting the Job (A.K.A. Falling in Love with a New Job)

I feel like I’ve just left an abusive, toxic relationship and fallen straight into a healthy, functional one.

Does this happen?

Is this how people work?

What the hell?

***

This kills me because I actually truly LOVED teaching.

Okay, not all the lesson planning, assessment making, grading, and tracking. The stacks of books on other books, the Post-It lists that never seem to be completed crossed off. And then all the micromanaging from above to point out all the times that I didn’t keep a few of the 10,000 things straight.

So like I said, what I truly loved was the TEACHING. (Advising was a close second.)

I loved the relationship building: the conversations, the jokes, the stories, the updates. So really, it was the people. Both the students and my colleagues. And the fact that I was providing a service that was helping others. Bonus points for the fact that I was helping a vulnerable population. It truly checked (most) of the boxes that I needed in a job to be fulfilling.

I just dealt with the mountains of work that came with it.

***

Let’s go back to the interview for the job that I landed, just months after being turned down for a corporate job at an educational technology company.

It started out great.

Looking through the windshield of a car and seeing a line of cars, all stopped behind a stalled train at railroad tracks.

Yes, that was me: Stuck in a line of cars at a railroad crossing. When a friend wished me luck on the interview by text, I sent him this picture to let him know how the day was going so far.

No big deal, right? I still had 40 minutes until the interview and I was only 12 minutes away.

But this was the first time in my ENTIRE life that the train moved forward a bit… and then back a bit… then forward a bit… and back a bit… see-sawing along the track with no apparent end in sight.

So I called the contact person, and she assured me it was no problem at all.

I ultimately arrived at about 9:10.

The interview was with three people on the team. They took me to the Green Room.

“Is this actually a Green Room?” I asked.

Yes, it was. This was where they might help someone get ready for filming.

They had a list of questions, and they were all good ones. A lot of them were questions I had anticipated and planned for. A few of them were unanticipated and I thought I rallied well in answering them. They told me more about the job: It would be in the production department of eLearning, so I would be assisting with filming shoots and doing things like writing scripts for videos and helping with sound editing. I would be trained to do a lot of different aspects of create high-quality videos that would be used to supplement face-to-face instruction.

My first thought was:

Shit. This is way over my head. When they figure out that I don’t have much experience in any of this kind of stuff, they’ll ghost me.

My second thought was:

You totally have experience for this job! You’ve done video and sound editing! You’ve written scripts for videos! You are well-versed in all things higher education! HUSTLE, GIRL!

So I hustled. I talked about the projects that I had done, the software that I used, books that I had read, and my understanding of living out learner-centered teaching. The things that I said were very similar to what I had said in a previous interview.

Which was a problem at times because when the conversation would veer toward my background and why I was looking to change careers, I kept thinking, Don’t say that! That might have been the reason you didn’t get the last job! You were too honest! Button it up! They don’t have know the level of dysfunction that you’re coming from! Why can’t you just say that you’re looking for a better opportunity?!?! SHUT UP!

But honest, I was. Albeit tactful.

It felt like a good interview. I thought I did great.

But then I thought I did great at the last interview…

***

On my first day of work, I walked into the office and my name was already on the door.

Swoon.

In half-a-second, this job had already made me feel more included than my last one, which “welcomed” me as a full-time instructor by sticking me at the other end of the building because they just couldn’t figure out how to add another cubicle in either of the two offices where the other teachers had desks. And, yes, there was plenty of room. (True story.)

This was my new office and office-mate. And there was my desk. With TWO computer monitors?!?!

And would you mind reading this email that I’m about to send to the division to make sure that I represent you well?, my new boss asked.

Um…. I wondered, Is this somehow a trap?

Then my new boss walked me across campus to orientation rather than setting me loose with a campus map.

And on my second day of work, he gave me a full campus tour of all the buildings. We spent an hour and a half just walking around, him introducing me to administrative assistants and random people in the hallway that he knew.

And apparently I’m getting paid for this?

Wait, what?

I don’t have to be actively teaching or grading or creating something every moment of every day?

Sometimes, I would find myself in a conversation with my new co-workers and I would realize 40 minutes had passed. Sometimes the boss would keep the conversation going.

Of course, we would go back to work. But no one seemed to feel guilty about taking time to talk to each other. There was no feeling that we had just squandered 40 minutes and now WE WERE EVEN MORE BEHIND!!!

Is this what some people do at work? It’s okay to sometimes spend 40 minutes talking?

Could it be that there are jobs where the pace doesn’t consistently move at 100 miles per hour, exhausting you to the point that when you finally do have a chunk of time off, all you want to do is wall yourself off from people for a solid week, just to recover from the emotional and mental drain of simply fulfilling the requirements of your job? (Which, by the way, are totally industry-standard, so it’s not like you have any reason to complain. I mean, everyone in your field is overworked and underpaid.)

Have I just been a white-collar factory worker for the last thirteen years?

Every moment of the day carefully portioned and allocated to the endless tasks that encompass teaching.

I repeat: Is this what some people do at work?

To be clear, it’s not just days and days of talking. Some days have been filled with meetings, filming, and writing. I like those days. Others have been more low-key. And on those days, I find plenty of ways to continue to grow and learn. (Hey, did you know that there are jobs that will allow you to do professional development and trainings during your work day? Wonder of wonders!)

I think that’s what is different: the fluctuations in pace. The pace of this new job is like drinking from a water fountain with variable pressure: You’re always able to drink, but at different speeds.

And this is shocking to me, having spent the last 13 years drinking from a firehose, turned on to full power for eight-weeks straight, five times per year. Each time someone turned the hose off, I was so water-drunk, exhausted, and disoriented that I couldn’t do anything for days when a break mercifully presented itself.

***

This week before Christmas has typically been a time when I haven’t had to work.

I would use this week to delve into creative projects that had been on the back burner for months while I paddled along through life.

I would probably watch The Family Stone (my sappy, no-one-wants-to-watch-with-me Christmas movie). I’d get Christmas shopping done, address the cards, and bake cinnamon rolls.

Then, I’d brace for the impact of doing all the Christmas stuff with kid or kids in tow.

But this year, I do not miss taking this week off at all. Not one bit.

My husband has told me for years that he thought I’d be happier at a job with a slower pace, but with less time off. Maybe you wouldn’t burn yourself out so quickly, he said.

Wise words. Though I didn’t recognize them at the time.

This one’s for you, BG.

On Not Getting the Job (A.K.A. Why It was Clearly for the Best, Part 1)

A few months ago, I got into my car after having a great series of interviews with a potential future employer. It was for a position related to instructional design, a field which I don’t have a degree in, but whose skillset is similar to my current job. With all the additional professional development and coursework that I’ve taken in integrating technology into the classroom, I’m more than qualified for the position.

The words mentioned to describe the company culture were exactly what I was looking for: creative, collaborative, candid, future-focused, problem-solving. All in the service to creating educational materials that are learner-focused.

The benefits were good: health insurance, PTO, sick days, tuition assistance, flexible hours. Written into the job description was the expectation that I would continue to learn and attend conferences about trends in educational technology.

The interviews–all four of them–were fantastic. The questions they asked me felt like softballs coming in slow motion. I knew my way backward and forward through topics like adult learning theories, learner-centered instruction, educational digital technologies, and transformative education. I quoted books I read. I mentioned real life examples. I made connections between different disciplines. I talked about my successes, my shortcomings, my research, and my goals.

So I felt good about the whole thing.

Why would they go through so many interviews with me if they weren’t serious about me?

Before I left, the director gave me a business card with her contact info. I turned it over in my hand and ran my fingers over the large quote:

Confidence is success remembered.

I felt good about the whole thing.

And yet.

There was that voice in the back of my mind… (I think we all have one)

Someone else is better than you. You don’t have the credentials they want to see. You’re too risky. If they wanted you, they would have offered you a job today. They didn’t even want to talk about start dates. 

But I was going to be positive. For once, I was going to believe that I could get this job based just on my resume and good interviewing skills. Even if I didn’t know anyone at this company, I knew that I was competent. And qualified.

So I needed to be confident.

Confidence is success remembered.

You got this, I told myself.

Isn’t that what everyone tells you these days? No matter what your chances are, no matter how bleak the outlook, there’s always someone out there in the Facebook Universe who cheerfully memes at you: You Got This!

Until, you don’t.

empty chairs around a table

Thank you for meeting with the team. Unfortunately, at this time, we have decided to go with another candidate.

Really?

Seriously?

Master’s degree. 13 years teaching experience in higher education. Frequent professional presenter. Strong communication and collaboration skills. Self-starter. Lifelong learner.

You’re going to pass on me? 

Seriously?

And then, from the back of my mind, the voice speaks up.

Of course they passed on you. You don’t have a degree in instructional design. Someone else did. And that one manager you talked to didn’t seem to really like what you said about resolving conflict. Didn’t you notice that? She made a face. You know she did. What did you say? What did you do wrong?

What did you do?

What did you say?

What is wrong with you?

If you were such a catch, they would have found a way to hire you.

It’s a huge company. They have tons of money. It’s not that you were qualified and they didn’t have the budget.

They. Just. Didn’t. Want. You.

You.

You were four years older than one of managers that interviewed you. Remember when she found out that you both graduated from Miami, but then apologized when she realized that it was four years after you did? You missed your window there. Everyone your age at that company is in management, and you don’t have management experience. That’s kind of what people mean when they say stuff like, “she wasn’t a good fit.” It’s a cover for reasons that shouldn’t be stated in a rationale for not hiring someone. Like she’s too young, too old, too educated, or not educated enough. (At least compared to who we currently have on staff.)

Shit. When was I supposed to become a manager? How? There were never any opportunities to become a manager at my current employer.

Shit. I should have left by now. When? When was I supposed to leave?

After I had the first baby? When I had a toddler? When I had the second baby? When I had two small kids?

I stayed because I needed something that I could handle while I was out of my mind being a parent to young kids.

I stayed because of the students. Even though I was underpaid by $30,000. Even as my autonomy shrank and shrank and shrank.

I stayed because I loved what I did. Because I believed that I was making a difference.

Shit.

Shit.

Shit.

This is what happens when you keep putting others before yourself.

Shit.

How can you feel so sad about losing something that, apparently, you never had?

Time passed.

I applied for and interviewed for other jobs.

In my search, I noticed just shortly after I was turned down from the job I wanted that they had re-posted almost the exact same position.

W. T. F.

What does that even mean? I wondered. Did the person quit already? Did they just not hire anyone and re-open the search?

So I did something I wouldn’t have done ten years ago. I emailed the same director that I had originally reached out to and told her I was going to re-apply. I truly thought, in my gut, that she had been impressed with me. But that maybe I was interviewing against some candidates that had degrees in instructional design.

She responded. She said that they did have another position open up, but they already had some “highly qualified candidates” for it. However, she would still like to “get to know me outside of an interview situation.”

That sounded promising. Maybe she did see my talent and creativity. Maybe she really was impressed with me. Maybe she had read some of my posts on LinkedIn that highlighted articles that I had just published. Maybe we could talk about how my particular area of expertise could help out her company. I came with some ideas. I didn’t over-plan. But I prepared some ideas.

After all… She wants to get to know me, I thought.

When I finally sat down with her weeks later, we started with some small talk and I mentioned that I was still interviewing for other jobs (which was true) and that I thought it was going well.

And then, her truth started coming out.

It turns out, she thought I didn’t interview well.

She thought that my training and education were lacking because I didn’t mention the word “objectives” when I answered her question about how I would design an online course.

Sitting here now, I recall that I talked about conducting a needs assessment and considering how learners would interact with content, with each other, and with their teacher, and how the course would progress from beginning to end, and how I would incorporate interactive and engaging content using learning apps to deepen knowledge connections.

But I didn’t mention the word “objectives.”

She wasn’t sure I knew what objectives were. She wasn’t sure that I actually knew how to design and implement a class.

What words can I use to describe how I felt in that moment?

Oh, yes.

Utterly shocked, comes to mind.

She thinks I’m not competent, I thought, my fingers digging into my coffee cup, my expression freezing on my face.

Wait, what?

SHE THINKS I’M NOT COMPETENT!?!?!

I clarified that yes, it’s possible I didn’t mention the word “objectives,” but that I thought that given the fact that I have a Master’s degree in teaching and that I’ve been teaching for 13 years, that I could assume she knew that I knew what objectives were. I told her that I chose to focus on the more interesting parts of the online class that would show where I really shine.

My mistake. Because, in her view, you cannot rely on a person who has been a teacher to know what objectives were.

Which is actually a pretty good representation of how American society sees teachers.

Thanks for that, America.

But fine. Point taken.

And then I understood the problem: I made assumptions. And she did not.

She interviewed for the lowest common denominator. And I thought I was having a conversation with a fellow professional in the field.

In her view, as a person who didn’t know me, I had to start from the basics.

My mistake.

I gripped my coffee cup and nodded continuously, being respectful. Because that is what you do when you are talking to someone in a powerful position who might be able to offer you a job someday. You don’t tell them that their measures of assessment are incredibly archaic, not to mention ineffective. And you don’t say, You know, I actually do know what objectives are! Because that seems incredibly inauthentic, and who would actually believe you now, after you had been told of your error?

She just wanted to share this information with me because as a woman, she has been feeling more empowered recently to help other women out who are in difficult positions. She was just like me, trying to break into another field, and she wished that someone would have told her what it was that kept her from getting a job.

So there it was: She was saving me.

This White, affluent, high-level corporate executive who had “made it” was sharing her wisdom with someone less fortunate. She drove 20 minutes from work to meet me at a coffee shop, during her busy Friday, to let me know that the reason I didn’t get the job wasn’t because I didn’t have a stellar resume.

It was because I didn’t say the words that she wanted to hear.

Completely, obliviously unaware that she was participating in the same esoteric practices that keep good potential employees from breaking into new career paths. The lack of self-awareness involved in the conversation was truly difficult to process.

Just wanted to let you know, she explained. Because I’d want someone to do the same for me.

Well, then.

To this day, that same job has been re-posted and re-posted several more times. What floors me about this whole process is how she doesn’t realize that I’m not the one who lost.

I have the skills, the knowledge, the creativity, the experience, and the drive that she should want in a candidate.

What kept me from getting the job was her strict adherence to the old-school interviewing techniques of not asking many follow-up questions. It was her reticence to engage with me as a colleague, and her assumptions that I couldn’t be trusted to know certain fundamental knowledge. It was her disregard for the meaning of what it means to have a Master’s degree.

In any case, I didn’t get the job.

And it was clearly for the best.

Why would I ever want to work for someone who saw me through those kind of eyes?

Without a Name: When a Parent has Bipolar Depression

I knew something was seriously wrong when my mother told me that she had woken up late one night to find my father sitting in the living room, talking to some pennies that he had been collecting.

To be fair, there were a lot of other signs before this that made us think, What the hell is going on?

Like when he ominously thanked my mother for all she had done before slowly sinking to the bottom of my brother’s pool. (He eventually came back up.)

Like when he spent that one family reunion handing out tiny envelopes, each carefully labeled with a person’s name and their birth year. Each holding a penny stamped with that year.

Like when he suddenly became completely comatose for a week, refusing to eat or talk, but the doctor said that it wasn’t a stroke, and he should be fully aware of his surroundings.

Like when he insisted that my mother not talk in the house–because it was bugged and the FBI was listening to their every word.

We called it paranoia. We called it depression.

It all started with a sudden change in his career that catapulted him into a future where he could not see his identity.

Although he was still a husband. Although he was still a father. Although he was still, still, still. Once he lost his professional identity, the great unraveling began.

***

I remember walking into the room in our house where Dad had set up his laptop on a cheap table and called it his “office.” Our border collie, Gator, dutifully lay beside his feet. He said, “Sharon, I don’t know what I’m going to do. If I can’t do the bakery business… I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

It was 2006. For twenty-five years, he had been a bakery specialist for SuperValu grocery stores. But faced with increased competition, SuperValu pivoted its marketing strategy towards a higher-end retail model and launched a new produce company, W. Newell & Co.

His boss told him that he could also pivot in his career. He could abandon his twenty-five years of experience in bakery marketing for SuperValu and embrace a new career in produce marketing for W. Newell & Co…. Or…

“Well, you don’t want to know the other option… That’s what my boss told me. Those exact words, Sharon,” he pointed an accusative finger at me, the only person there who was listening.

I don’t remember what I said. Probably something like, “It will be okay. Maybe it’s a good opportunity to learn something new.”

But he just kept saying,

“I’m not a produce man. I’m a bakery man. Always been one. I don’t know what to do.”

Dad_2005

***

Looking back now, I can track my dad’s slow descent into madness. I can see how he withdrew and surrendered, year after year after year. I can see a constellation of strange interactions and responses.

I remember him walking up to an empty cash register at Wal-Mart and suddenly screaming, “I NEED HELP!!! HELP ME DOWN HERE!!!”

I remember my brother telling me that they barely got back into the country after a trip to Jamaica because Dad was “making a fuss” at the airport.

We didn’t know what to call it, so we called it moodinessWe called it angry old man syndrome.

When he started to walk with a strange gait, when he started to lose his facial expressions, when he started to go days without speaking, we began to understand that something else was going on.

The doctors called it Parkinson’s disease.

But we all knew that wasn’t enough.

More doctors added that it was bipolar depression.

It seemed fitting, but we still wondered: What is causing what? Will we find out there’s a third monster, just waiting in the wings? Why now? Why haven’t we seen this until now? Has he always had this and we just didn’t realize it?

Could losing his career really push this precariously balanced snowball down the cliff of his mind?

Or would he always have disintegrated this way, regardless of the stressors in his life?

***

In his last years of life, stranger things started to happen.

He called the sheriff on himself, insisting that he be arrested. He was convinced that the government was going to come and arrest him for not paying taxes on some Parent Plus loans that he had taken out for my sister (He had just received a notice that the loans had been forgiven because of his disability).

The government was coming for him. He just knew it. They would hunt him down–and he deserved it.

But when the sheriff arrived, he said that he couldn’t arrest my dad.

To which my dad screamed, “What does a guy have to DO to get ARRESTED around here?”

“You have to be a danger to yourself or others,” he explained.

“Well, I AM! I’m a dangerous person!”

“Are you going to hurt yourself?” the sheriff asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“If you were going to hurt yourself, what would you use?” he asked.

“A gun.”

My mother interrupted, “You don’t have a gun.”

“Then, a knife! I’d use a knife!”

God bless this sheriff, who mercifully took my mother aside and asked her if she wanted him to take him to a nearby psychiatric hospital. She said yes.

***

My mother. Oh, my mother.

The things this woman has plowed through. The pain that she’s endured over and over again.

Sometimes, there are no words.

***

Last summer, she passed out in a grocery store while shopping because her doctor had her on medication that caused extremely low blood pressure. I sat with her in the emergency room while they checked her out, making sure she was okay.

We told stories to pass the time. It was coming up on the one year anniversary of my father’s death, and she asked me how I was doing. The conversation stalled for a moment and she started laughing.

“What are you laughing about?” I asked.

She told me of a time she needed to drive my dad back to this psychiatric hospital, on one of his particularly manic days. It was mid-February in Minnesota, the high for the day averaging a balmy five degrees below zero.

My father was growing frustrated that they hadn’t already arrived at the hospital, so he started banging the dashboard of the car.

“Quit that!” my mother yelled at him. “You’ll set off the airbags.”

He hit the dashboard harder.

Then, God knows why, he rolled the window down and started making bird calls.

My mother cranked up the radio to drown out the sound of his bird calls. With the windows rolled down, freezing air pouring in, she could see strangers peering curiously into the chaotic scene of their small Ford Focus wagon.

Sitting in that emergency room, two years later, we laughed about this.

“How did you get through all of that?” I joked with her.

She smiled. “What else was there to do? I could cry about it or laugh. So I laughed about it. It was the only way to get through it.”

***

How do you love your father when he makes your mother miserable?

Where do you place the blame when you know it’s not his fault?

There were times when my mother would open up and tell me how bad it had gotten and I would hang up the phone and think, What if she leaves him? What will happen? Who will take care of him? 

Truth be told, part of me wanted her to leave him. Because he was that heavy stone, pulling her down in the dark, suffocating depths of psychosis. And my mother didn’t deserve that. Couldn’t she be released of her marriage vows if the partnership threatened her very well-being? Wasn’t marriage about bringing out the best in each other?

But then… who would take care of him?

Who?

I try to fathom what it was like for my mother to have been caught in this conflict every day.

To be married to someone who had become so completely different than the man she fell in love with.

To be caught in the tension between her love for his past self and her anger toward his present self.

To run through the narrow list of options every day and still come to the same conclusion:

I promised in sickness or in health.

For me, I couldn’t choose to end my connection to my father. He is half of my DNA. He is my nose, my chin, my dark features. He is my stubbornness, my sarcasm, my sentimentality, my impeccable memory, and my gift for storytelling. We are ISFJs, the practical workers who work with their “noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel” (as Dad would put it) and then quietly revel in a job well done.  

But it was different for my mother.

For my mother in those last years, showing love for my father was a painstaking, daily decision. One in which my father rarely even acknowledged and, on a bad day, even resented. She could have chosen to walk away after thirty-four years of marriage, chalking up their connection to nothing more than years and years of shared memories.

But she didn’t.

And that is how my mother has schooled me.

She showed me that love is more than fortifying the ship as it sails along on smooth winds. She showed me that love is also grabbing his hand when the ship crashes and refusing to let go when you see him sinking. Even as something dark and terrifying grabs hold of him and takes him down.

Sometimes, your love for your partner cannot be returned.

And when it can’t, your love needs to be strong enough to hold the both of you.

SCN_0046

***

It took me time to understand how sick my father really was. That’s the way it is with illnesses that alter behaviors, emotions, and moods. I think it would have been easier for our family to understand and adjust if some visible growth had invaded his body rather than this invisible force that laid waste to his mind.

We could have understood earlier that he wasn’t just “being difficult” or “acting funny.” We could have understood that a bad exchange with him wasn’t because we said something wrong or because he was suddenly a terrible person.

But it took years to diagnose him with bipolar depression. And without a name to call it, we just called it “Dad.” And for me, this is what hurt the most.

Because this wasn’t my dad.

***

I didn’t see my father many times in the last years of his life. They lived in Texas for a few years, and then, they moved to Minnesota. I lived in Ohio.

I wish I had known that 2006-2011 would be the last years that I could still have semi-normal conversations with him. Ones in which he would at least say something after I said something, even if it didn’t quite respond to what I said.

I wish there had been some kind of map at the beginning of his descent into mental illness. Some kind of markers along the way that read,

This is your last chance to tell your father you love him–and have him believe it.

Or This is the last time that you’ll see him smile without being prompted.

Or This is the last time that he’ll make a joke with you about politics.

But there were no markers. No maps.

There were just moments upon moments when we decided to draw close to each other or to move away.

To move away.

To move away.

Until he was gone.

***

I don’t tend to be a mystical person. But sometimes, I wonder.

This past March, I was making some cookies for St. Patrick’s Day with my daughter. We were using mint chips instead of chocolate chips and adding green food coloring. As I transferred each piping hot cookie from the sheet to the cooling rack, I could almost hear my dad crooning one of his favorite sayings as he would rub his hands together excitedly.

You’ve got to have the patience of Job, he would say, as if he were advising himself from giving in to his childlike temptations.

Baking was his life and I smiled as I thought, He would love to have seen this.

And then this song came up on Pandora:

Remember when our songs were just like prayers

Like gospel hymns that you called in the air

Come down, come down sweet reverence

Unto my simple house and ring… and ring…

It was Gregory Alan Isakov’s “Stable Song,” the same song that I used for the video that I created for my dad’s funeral.

I looked out into the kitchen, partially expecting to see him standing there. It was just a millisecond, I’m sure, but for that millisecond, I really had the expectation that he would be there when I turned around.

I would see him inching his way toward one of my cookies with his sneaky smile. I would tell him, Hands off!

But he would grab one anyway, shove it in his mouth, and then say, Heh? What was that? Did you say something?

Then I would laugh and poke him in his belly.

Then his hands, already in motion to grab a second cookie, would instinctively curl up to protect his middle, only to arrive too late, leaving me free to poke him mercilessly until he would twirl out of the kitchen, hands clutched around his belly.

For that moment, he was not only alive, but fully restored. There was no anger or paranoia. No delusions or mania. Instead, he was funny, charming, and tender. He was the man I always knew him to be.

And that was how I was caught in one of the paradoxes of grief: the simultaneous desire to laugh and cry.

Then the hurt all over again. Wishing that I had the superhuman ability to push into another dimension, where we are not caught between these two fundamental dichotomies of human biology and physics. Alive or dead. The past or the present.

I pray to God that this is true—that there is another possible reality, one in which life and time are suspended so that there can be no more loss or illness or deviation.

Only wholeness.

 

 

Traveling

flying-traveling-travelling-airplane.jpg

Take your life and put it away

Take what you need and pack a bag

Two for free, one for pay

Park your car and take a plane

You’ve carved out some time, that’s great

I know it’s hard to get away

One day, a mother, now you’ve changed

You’re teacher, colleague, just some new face

Your mind is in this room, this place

But your heart is still three states away

Yes, feel guilty. No, it’s okay.

Can you call at least three times a day?

She needs your voice. She needs your face.

She asks for you when there’s too much space.

Miss you, too, but I’m okay.

I’ll be back soon. I’m being safe.

Night-night, honey. Be good. Love you.

I’ll see you soon.

I promise.

You too.

Walking Through the Fear

I love writing. Love, love, love writing.

But I hate networking for writing. I loathe it.

It’s not that I hate people. On the contrary, I find a lot of satisfaction in connecting with others.

What I hate about networking in the field of writing is that it forces me to move beyond my moments of paralyzing insecurity. It pushes me into the uncertainty of interacting in an arena where I am still relatively inexperienced and unknown.

I can network with teachers and mothers all day long. I slip as easily into those roles as I do my favorite pair of Ryka running shoes.

But networking with writers challenges me to fly a flag of a country where I’m not sure I’ve earned citizenship.

I don’t have a degree that attests to my skills as a writer.

I don’t have a traditionally published book that agents and publishers have agreed is worthy of publication.

But at this year’s Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop, I decided that I was going to take the next step in my journey to own the identity of writer.

***

The first night. A Thursday night. Sitting in my car, taking deep breaths. One. Two. Three.

It’s fear, I told myself. You’re afraid, but you shouldn’t be. No one is going to throw you out because you self-published your book. No one is going to laugh at you. Hell, you might even sell a book!

I walked toward the hotel lobby where the roar of several hundred people filled the room. Laughing. Hugging. Squealing.

I stopped at the registration table and picked up my badge. It was a nothing but a thin piece of paper and plastic, but when I hung it around my neck, it became my own magic feather. I looked at my name and reminded myself:

Own this identity.

You belong. You can do this.

***

Owning the identity of writer is different than owning my other identities.

As a teacher, I could fall back on the magic feather of my two degrees. I deserve to be called teacher. I’ve earned it. And two universities agree that I am one.

As a mother, I could fall back on the magic feather of my own body. I deserve to be called mother. I’ve earned it. And everyone is calling me one.

But if I’m really being honest, I know that the degrees didn’t make me a teacher. I didn’t truly know how to be a teacher until I started teaching. And although I navigated the new and murky waters of pregnancy and childbirth, I didn’t really know how to be a mother until I started mothering.

But calling myself a writer forces me to acknowledge the truth that I have no degrees in writing. I have no university saying that I’m qualified to do this. And, most of all, not many people know me as a writer. I’m more likely to be seen as the teacher who also writes on the side. Or the mom who has a writing hobby.

Owning the identity of writer requires me to truly believe in my own worth.

Without the magic feathers.

***

During the first dinner at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop, they played this video.

In this video, Erma confesses her own disbelief in her identity as a writer. It wasn’t until her literature professor acknowledges her gift that she truly starts to see herself differently.

What did her professor say?

“You can write.”

I take comfort in this video. That even Erma Bombeck, a truly great writer, needed someone else to call her a writer before she was willing to believe it. She needed someone already in the community to invite her to the other side.

***

The journey of self-publishing Becoming Mother has forced me to wrestle with a lot of my own demons of worthiness. Not only did I have to believe that I had a message to tell and the talent to bring it to the world, I had to also believe that I had the right to do so.

Without the degree.

Without the title.

I had to believe that I had the right.

But as I move into this unfamiliar space of networking with writers, I realize that I’m still wrestling with these same demons–only now, I’m doing it in public. My private battles of worthiness are now being reenacted in real time with real consequences that cannot be rehearsed and tamed from all sides. If I succumb to crippling self-doubt and turn into an incoherent mess as I try to talk about my writing, that encounter cannot be undone. And I have to learn how to just live with it.

And move the hell on.

***

With my drink in hand, a knot forming in my throat, I looked around for a group to join in the sea of networking writers.

Maybe I’ll hang my coat up first, I thought.

“Excuse me,” I smiled at three women as I placed my drink on their table for a moment. I crawled out of my coat and readjusted my bag over my shoulder. When I turned back around, I realized that I now had a place at the table.

They made room for me.

They made room for me.

I met columnists Betsy Bitner, from Albany, New York and Christy Heitger-Ewing, from Bloomington, Indiana along with aspiring writer, Mary Hennigan from Cincinnati. We talked about our jobs and I put on my comfortable hat of ESL teacher, which can procure about twenty minutes of material if my audience is interested.

But then it was time to bridge into why I was really there.

“Well,” I said, “I actually wrote a book last year and I’m here to get some inspiration to push forward to my next book.”

“What was your book about?” Christy asked.

I gave my pitch.

“Do you have copies?” she asked.

What? Really?

My hand slipped into my bag, but I knew there was nothing but a padfolio and a folder. I was hoping to fish out at least a business card with my name on it, anything for this willing audience to not forget me as soon as I walked away.

I had one card.

I could talk easily about being a mother, so I did. I wore that comfortable hat to get my bearings and my confidence back.

And no one criticized me.

No one questioned me.

They just said, “Good for you.”

***

On the final day of the workshop, Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, authors of Queen of Your Own Life, shared a keynote address in which they touched on the topic of fear. Kathy shared these words (my paraphrase as I took notes):

I had to make the decision to walk through my fear. Yeah, I was afraid, but that was also okay. I mean, so what? We’re all afraid. But if you can learn to walk through that fear, you can free yourself.

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Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, authors of Queen of Your Own Life, April 2, 2016

Someday, I hope to fully embrace the freedom to call myself a writer, as I have with the name teacher and mother.

But like everything else, becoming a writer is a process. A lot of it is done in the dark, without cheering or even polite acknowledgement. It will take time for me to grow into this role. I still have much to learn about the craft of writing, especially if I want to grow as a fiction writer. (And thank you to Anna Lefler, Susan Pohlman, and Katrina Kittle for giving me some much-needed guidance on the craft of writing fiction!)

But I must also acknowledge that cultivating an identity as a writer requires that I build relationships with others who see me in that light. I can’t just skip this hard part.

I need to walk through my own anxiety and self-doubt because it’s my only path into this new country of writers.

The good news is… They love immigrants.

And three of them even bought my book.

 

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