I just did a google search to see how much I’ve blogged about my gray hair in the past. Turns out, I’ve done it quite a bit! (One post reminded me that once, while I was growing out my gray, a coworker said when I asked what she thought about it, “Oh, I thought you were just being lazy. You’re not kidding? You’re doing that on purpose?“)
People. We have to talk.
Right now there is no gray except the inch of white I’m rocking out of laziness, because even though I grew out my gray five years ago, I only kept it up for about a year. Some days I felt amazing! A young person, flying her white! Some days I felt awful. I looked older. I felt older.
I broke one day and dyed the underneath bits red, and I loved that phase. That was fun.
(This is how much white I am — all the color you see is from a bottle, the white is real. I’ve been gray since I was about thirty.)
But the upkeep was hard, dyeing the underneath but keeping the white out of the dye and the white strip got smaller and smaller as I screwed it up. And one day I broke again because the white made my hair look SO thin. You could see my scalp, and it freaked me out. I dyed it all over and since then, I’ve been a bottle gal.
I’m tired of it. I’m seeing my hair stylist tomorrow and I think I’ll get a new cut and go lilac and let it grow out naturally and see what happens.
But I’m worried because of this: my hair has thinned SO MUCH MORE since surgical menopause at 39 (I’m life-threateningly allergic to synthetic and plant-based estrogens, so no HRT for me). Four years ago, when that photo was taken at 39, I had thin hair. Now it’s even thinner. I’m worried it will look terrible. I’m worried I’m making the wrong choice.
So why not just keep dyeing my hair? I do it at home, it costs $6/month, and it takes half an hour, total. What’s the big deal?
I don’t know, really.
It feels like it’s about authenticity, although I judge no one for dyeing their hair, not even myself.
I just want to look like me. Like myself. Honestly.
I don’t want to look older, but I am older. I’m 43 now, and guess what? Every day I stay on this side of the grass, I’m getting older. So are you. Snaps for that! Good on you, you getting-older-you!
Why on earth am I still trying to fit in with American beauty ideals? Why on earth do I still want (on a lizard-brain level) to compete with twenty-one year old starlets in bikinis? Let me be clear: I don’t want to compete with them for attention. I do not, actually, give one little tiny rat’s ass. In the front of my mind, I would be THRILLED to wear a shapeless caftan and Birkenstocks and let my hair grow wild and white for the rest of myself (but I keep my lipstick because mama needs red). Caftans rock for real.
But in the back of my brain, when I see fit women–younger women with no belly, older women with thin necks, women my age with natural(looking) chestnut hair–I despair in my lizard-brain that no caveman will pick me to protect when the apocalypse comes.
It’s so dumb. And it’s made worse in the time of Photoshop and Instagram fake-perfection. I’m guilty of it. I post pictures in which my best side is caught, in which my belly is in-sucked and my neck out-turtled.
I love myself. Honestly, I do. I feel sexy and smart and fun most of the time, which is awesome. But I want to love my body for real, too, and I want the mirror to be my actual friend, not some Judgy McJudgerson of Judging Pants.
I don’t want to wince when I see crow’s feet. They’re marks that signal my face made it here and laughed a lot along the way. I don’t want to wish I were thinner. This body of mine is stunningly strong and ridiculously stubborn. I don’t want to hate my thin, gray hair. It proves that just as I’m early to gray, I’m early to the wisdom conferred by it.
Here. Me this very second.
My wonky lazy eye is listing inward, and I have no makeup on except tired lipstick from this morning, and I’m shiny and I could go on.
But I won’t. I’m gonna love THAT lady. That one. The one resting her laptop on top of her strong, not-thin thighs. Just as she is.
I get to be bitter: I don’t have a mother anymore, and I really had a good one, so that sucks. I don’t have kids, and I don’t believe that any of my pets are my fur children because no. Just no.
I do have women in my life who are like mothers to me in many ways. I love you, darlings. And I do love a lot of mothers, so if you are one, and the day feels good to you then happy mother’s day to you! This missive is not for you, my lovies. Collect your sticky kisses and lopsided waffles and enjoy your day.
The rest of you: let’s kvetch a moment, shall we?
Did you know that Mother’s Day, the one we celebrate now, was established in 1908 by a woman celebrating her own deceased mother?
Anna Jarvis told a reporter she was sorry she’d ever started Mother’s Day.
Celebrating her mother’s work, Anna Jarvis pushed hard for a day of recognition. She quit her job at Fidelity Mutual in Philadelphia in 1912, where she’d been the first female editor, in order to work full time on her mission. She worked tirelessly, sending thousands of letters. Finally, in 1914, President Wilson declared it a national holiday.
Anna Jarvis selected carnations to be the flower of Mother’s Day, saying, “The carnation does not drop its petals, but hugs them to its heart as it dies, and so, too, mothers hug their children to their hearts, their mother love never dying. When I selected this flower, I was remembering my mother’s bed of white pinks.”
Then things skidded off the rails.
The flower, card, and candy companies grabbed the idea and ran. To sell more flowers, they promoted red carnations to honor mothers still alive, white ones to honor dead ones. The price of carnations went up thirty-fold in the first six years of the holiday.
Anna said clearly, “As the founder of Mother’s Day, I demand that it cease … Mother’s Day was not intended to be a source of commercial profit.”
Reportedly, she brought at least 33 lawsuits against entities profiteering on Mother’s Day, even threatening to sue Eleanor Roosevelt who sponsored a fund for needy children and mothers, saying Roosevelt’s fund trespassed against Jarvis’s idea of honoring motherhood.
Did it work?
Well, in 2014, it was reported that Americans spent twenty billion dollars on Mother’s Day gifts.
I like flowers, myself. I like sending them. Cards are easy, and cards can transmit difficult feelings. But as Joel Oliphint says in this great article about Anna Jarvis, “Those sappy cards seem harmless, even helpful. But the trickle-down effect of their trite sayings and inflated prices is sneakier than one might imagine. Perhaps Jarvis knew this. It was a losing battle, but maybe she could see the future more clearly than her contemporaries. Maybe she could see that the Hallmarkification of Mother’s Day would actually make it harder, not easier, to communicate a true, deep, and loving appreciation of mothers.”
I guess that’s what this post is about. It’s hard to be honest about this day. How can I be bitter and angry, when over on Facebook so many of my friends are delighting in being a mother, something which is incredibly worthy of delight? How can I be angry at a day honoring women?
But I miss my mom. I’m jealous of people who still have theirs, even people who have trying or impossible relationships with them. I’m heartbroken for one of my best friends in the world who lost her only child twelve days ago. I’m pissed off that she’d already lost a good mom, and now this Hallmark holiday will always serve to stab her right in the heart, twisting the knife, year after year.
Sisters, friends and I have an unofficial uncelebration most years of gathering to raise a glass to our moms. Dead Mother’s Day, we’ve aggrievedly dubbed it, and the bartender at The Alley expects us to be in. We’re not holding it this year—2016 is already too sad to make it sadder. But the next time we do? We’ll raise a glass to Anna Jarvis, a stubborn, childless woman who fought bitterly until the day she died penniless in a sanitarium to honor the memory of her beloved mother and to get others to honor their own in a non-commodified way.
I guess this is my way of honoring my own. Definitely non-commodified — I’m pretty sure I’ll actually lose some readers with this rant.
So let me change the tone here at the end.
Dead Mother’s Day Celebration:
In a spirit of nothing but love, I want to tell you three things about my mother that I adored with all my heart. Then you share some with me about yours, okay?
1. I loved the fact that my little mama unconsciously whistled harmonies to songs in fourths. Not thirds, not fifths. Strangely, fourths. I spent half my life thinking she was tone-deaf before I figured this out.
2. I loved the way she got pink and giggly on two glasses of wine.
3. I loved her battered, callused, dirty, and always barefoot feet. My feet are turning into hers, and sometimes I marvel at their ugliness at the same time I’m impressed with their sheer stubborn sturdiness.
Tell me three things about your dead mother that you loved? (If your mother’s not dead, for the love of god, don’t tell us. Tell her.)
I adore reading books about women’s friendships, but I don’t like reading treacly-everything-is-actually-perfect books. I want to read books about women who are like the women I know, for whom life is hard and glorious and completely impossible and totally worth it.
My friends are beyond important to me. They laugh with me. They challenge me. They give me hugs when I need them, and kicks up the backside when I need those, too. They know my faultsand love me anyway, and they love me hard.
I wrote this book because I wanted to read it. And I’m hoping you want to read it, too.
This is why you want to read The Ones Who Matter Most:
Abby is affluent and underemployed—she has time to “play” with her life—but Fern is a single mother supporting a family of four on her meager bus-driver’s salary who’s irritated with the very idea of free time. This is the story of their friendship.
It’s has knitting in it. Also a very wee pattern. (Surprise! I couldn’t keep out the yarn!)
It’s about the story of our lives—about our friends, the women who help make us who we are meant to be.
Library Journal made it an Editor’s Spring Pick (along with the musical Hamilton—I just about died). “Abby and Fern are strong women, fiercely so, and they never fail to surprise and challenge each other and reader’s expectations.”
Would you like a sample? There’s an excerpt of the first chapter HERE.
Breaking news! In about a month, after you’ve read the book, I’ll be hosting a real-time book group on Facebook for those of you who’d like to chat about it May 7th, at 10am PST. It’ll be a live video, and you can ask real-time questions (anything goes!). Sign up here to be notified.
What if I can’t purchase it just yet but still want to support you?
Believe me, I know about the budget and what goes in and what gets tossed out for another day. I often get questions about how my readers can help spread the word, even if they can’t buy the book just yet. There are so many ways, and I’m glad you asked!
Ask your local library to order it. They will, and you’ll get to read it first!
Ask your local bookstore to order it (for when you can buy it). Gawd, I love me an independent bookstore. Go visit the book. Thumb its pages. Sniff. (It smells great.)
Grab this graphic and Tweet it up! Or Facebook it for your friends to see! Or slap it on Pinterest with a link to the Buy page!
(Actually, I’m prewriting this. so as I type I haven’t actually done it. And I can’t believe I might. That I will. I’m trying not to hyperventilate, and that’s not hyperbolic. If this post goes live, I did it.)
I’ve been answering 911 for seventeen years, ever since I got my master’s degree in writing. I’ve loved dispatching. I’ve been honored to do it, so honored to be able to help others. But my fire/EMS agency is taking over a police agency, and I left police dispatching many years ago, so I’m hanging up the headset for good. Dispatchers have to start at the bottom with police work before earning their way to fire/medical. Hard and thankless and depressing, police 911 is a job I’ve seen break too many people. I myself was getting broken—I was turning into a sour, jaded Eeyore who hated everyone—when I managed to shift jobs and promote to fire/medical dispatching. I love giving CPR instructions and managing fire traffic. I hate listening to people swear at me because they’re furious about the ugly broken-down old Civic parked in front of their home, and I really hate being told the person sitting in that Civic doesn’t belong because he’s the wrong color (which happens every. damn. day). I’ve been proud to wear a fire badge for eleven years, and I just can’t bear to go back to wearing a police one. And truthfully, I believe there’s too much wrong in the American policing system today. There are good men and women in the police industry. I’ve known many of them, and I still count many as good, true friends. I believe a strong, righteous police system is necessary—criminals will always be criminalling, y’know? I know the police agency I would be working for if I stayed is probably a great one. But if you’ve been watching the news at all, it’s obvious that (along with many other things) the current American legal system is super broken, systemically racist, and chasing its own tail, and I don’t want to be slotted back inside it.
We’re not rich. We are not poor, but every dollar has a job, and we’re more frugal than most.
We don’t have big savings. To be clear, our savings are small. Very small. Like you-might-make-it-three-months small.
However, we are (finally) debt-free, except for the house.
Going down to one full-time job instead of the two full-time jobs I’ve held for ten years means that we’ll be eating rice and beans, literally.
Lala’s job is mostly stable (fingers crossed?) but it can’t support us both.
This feels reckless. I do not DO reckless things. Ever. I do wacky! I do crazy! I do ballsy! But I do safe, and this is NOT safe.
This is a leap so big that even if the fog cleared, I could not see the other side.
I don’t feel worthy. Even with so many published books (buy one, Jayzus, please buy one), I still feel like I don’t deserve to be a full-time writer. I’m not good enough. I haven’t worked hard enough. (These are untrue statements, but my brain keeps saying them.)
I feel guilt–so much of it–for pursuing this dream. For leaping. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.
In three months, we may run out of savings, and I’ll have to get a new job and I have NO OTHER SKILLS besides dispatching, writing, and making rice (I can cook the HELL out of rice, though, I swear to you).
But this: A close, very dear family member is very sick. It’s a cliche, but something like this does make you think about how you spend your time.
Right now, I routinely work 90+ hours a week (56 hours at the day job is our contracted minimum work week, plus all writing hours in my off time). My migraines have been getting worse again, and they’re now mainly triggered by lack of sleep. Even with daily yoga, VERY few processed foods, no alcohol, and very little sugar (except ice cream!), my cholesterol/triglyceride levels are those of an obese, diabetic, 70-year-old, midwestern cattle-farming, heavy-drinking, heavy-smoking man who can’t climb stairs.
I’m choosing life over money, and I’m terrified.
I’m not sure this is the right thing to do. My gut tells me it’s the right thing while my brain screams that I’m an idiot who deserves what she gets. My heart wanders between the two, wringing its fatty little ventricular hands, trying to keep the peace.
Leaping, with no net.
Building wings on my way down.
(And hey, if you’ve been wondering whether or not to support my Patreon essays on living your creative life, now would be a FANTASTIC time to shoot a dollar or two my way per essay.)
And Mama’s still writing her hands off! March will roar in like a lion and out like a lion and in between the 1st and the 31st, I believe I’ll be stuck in its roaring jowls, and that’s okay. I can write from the belly of a lion, see if I can’t.
More soon, loveys. In the meantime, enjoy this Carol parody (lovely movie, see if if you can):
Sometimes I forget to tell you the obvious. I’m a writer. I write books. You might like them! If that’s the case, check out this sweet bribe:
The Darling Songbirds, my new romance which I’m super excited about (funny, sweet, small-town singing sisters, long estranged, coming back to town), is available for preorder right NOW (it comes out in a week!).
If you preorder a copy, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a chance at winning a signed advance reader’s copy of The Ones Who Matter Most(a whole month early!)
I honestly think that if you like my other romances, you’ll love this one (and it’s the start of a new trilogy!)
ALSO – Early reviews of The Ones Who Matter Most are so awesome, you guys!
Library Journal gave it a Spring Editor’s Pick (!! ALONG WITH HAMILTON, YO !!) and said, “Abby and Fern are strong women, fiercely so, and they never fail to surprise and challenge each other and reader’s expectations.” And RT Book Reviews says, “A heartfelt and honest novel about love, loss, and the true meaning of family. This thoughtful, beautiful novel leaves readers with a sense of peace long after the last page is read.”
A sense of peace! Fierce women! DUDE. Those are my favorite things!
Just leave a comment saying you’ve preordered The Darling Songbirds (buy links above), or drop me an email saying you did. I’ll draw a winner on March 2nd and I’ll put the ARC in the mail that day.
I’m thinking about pain a lot recently after triggering a couple of migraines, one that was possibly the worst one of my life. I have been doing a lot better! Lots! I’m averaging one every six weeks or so, which is so much better! But two 96-hour work weeks at the day job plus finishing a book to deadline makes a girl tired. You know?
So I’ve had a lot of time to sit with this particular pain and observe it. I got to the end of my medicinal arsenal with the bad one, and when the pain meds bottom out, there’s nothing to do BUT to sit with the pain (and by sit I mean lie perfectly still in the dark).
And this is what I did (when I could):
Watched the pain
Didn’t resist it
Actively accepted it, without trying to hide from it
And THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED! (Seriously tempted to slap a click-bait title on this: You Won’t Believe The Fourth Thing on This List About Pain!)
Dude, the pain changed. For the first time in my life, I was able to make my brain do a sideways flip, and the pain literally turned into pleasure.
That sounds like some crazy BDSM whacky-slappy, right? IT WAS NOT THAT. But it freaked me right out, I tell you what.
You remember the dress? Yeah, I must have stared at this thing twenty times over the time of the furor it caused, only ever seeing blue and black. Then, on my phone, the image flipped and went white/gold, while my eyes were open and I was looking at it. The page did not reload. It was the same image.
I could literally feel the shift, a little click, in my brain.
Making the pain go from bad to good was like that. It felt, when I could hang on to it, as if I were scratching my itchy brain against something.
And then I could make the pain go all the way away. Well, to be clear, the pain was still there, but it didn’t feel good or bad, it just was. (This one I’ve actually been able to do for a while during migraines.)
Now, I’m no jedi (WHERE IS MY LIGHT SABER?). I could only do both of these things for maybe ten seconds at a time, at the very outside. Usually it was more like two or three seconds at a time. But I kept doing it, off and on, until I was out of migraine the next day.
And somehow, to know that by focusing I could get there did two things:
It kept me interested.
It kept me from despair.
Know what I attribute this ability to? Mindfulness. YEP THERE IT IS, THE HIPPIE SH*T YOU KNEW WAS COMING.
Creative Commons: Mark Nozel
Blah meditation blah, the stuff works. I’ve touted Headspace before. I don’t use the app anymore, but it’s a great place to learn how (it’s pretty damn easy, actually, once the mystery is taken out and it’s just a how-to). The more I know how to focus (a gentle focus, like staring into the distance but knowing the clouds are moving) the better I get at it.
That’s a powerful motivator to keep practicing, I tell you what.
On Periscope today, Sonya Philip talked about mistakes and failures being problems to be solved and that they are not personal failings. (Of course, we’re talking about creativity here. If you critique poor old Aunt Helga’s fishnets in her hearing, that might be a mistake of gossip-location-choosing and maybe a failure to be compassionate. We’re talking about doing and learning your art.)
If you sew your dress together in the wrong order so that you can’t sew the shoulder seams, sure, that might be a technical failure, maybe. But it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, or even that you’re a bad seamstress. It means you’re working. Learning. Getting better.
If you write a book and fail to put in conflict (HELLO, MY SECOND NOVEL DRAFTS ONE THROUGH FIVE) it doesn’t make you a bad person or a failed writer. It just means you’re working.
A listener of Sonya’s Periscope mentioned that students love seeing instructors’ mistakes.
Now. You know I talk a big game about how utterly terrible my first drafts are. Every writer says that. I’ve seen other writers’ first drafts and they may have typos, but they’re fine, but I AM NOT LIKE THEM, MY DRAFTS ARE NOT FINE.
I’m going to prove it. I’m going to plop down a piece of writing here to show you what a working, professional, well-reviewed writer’s early draft might look like.
Matty, eleven years old, boards the city bus his mother drives:
Today, Matty stuck his fist out, though, and that was nice. The fistbump. It was almost the same as a kiss, Fern thought. At least on these streets, it was. Matty had picked it up at school, and she’d liked it.
“How was your day?”
“Fine,” he said.
Matty always said fine. Even when his eyes were tired, even when they got that hunted look that meant someone had been picking on him at recess NOT THAT SMART NOT THAT GOOD AT ANYTHING BUT LIKES PLANTS? , he still said it was fine. He swung himself into the seat that Fern always kept for him by putting her coat over it. Funny, how there was obviously no one in the seat.
HOLY CATBOX – SOMEONE TAKE MY PEN AWAY I DON’T DESERVE TO HOLD IT
“Hey, kiddo. You didn’t answer. Only twelve stops left. Wanna get pizza with me?” So I can break your perfect hopeful heart. While keeping her eyes on the road and her left hand on the wheel, Fern stuck her right fist out behind her.
“Okay.” Matty leaned forward and fist-bumped her. He’d picked it up from Fern’s brother, Diego, and on these streets, it was as good as a kiss. Matty, her baby boy who wasn’t a baby anymore. He was eleven, and someday he’d be a man, and he’d want to go by “Matias” instead of “darling Matty” or “mijo,” and then he probably wouldn’t let her kiss him good night, but Fern had this idea that she’d sneak up into his house on a ladder like the mother in I’ll Love You Forever and kiss him good night. Grown-up Matias would never know she’d been there, but maybe he’d sleep better because she had.
But all she had right now was this minute, and that’s just about all she had, so with her boy tucked safely in his corner seat, Fern made her coach dance.
Yep. That’s my voice. It takes me wandering through a quagmire of dreck, pushing through a draft just to get to my truck draft (the one that could be published if I got hit by a truck).
We keep going. YOU keep going. And we get, there, eventually, because we screw up. Not in spite of it. Fail harder, my friends.
Innovation is just someone getting tired of doing something one way and doing it another. – Sonya Philip
Thanks, y’all, for playing along in the win-a-Romi book! Drum roll, please…. The randomly drawn winner is Grace who liked the Bright Moments cardigan! Grace, you’ve been emailed!
And Happy New Year to everyone! I’d do a recap, but you know what? For once I don’t want to. 2015 was a bit of a slog. I’m not sad to boot it out the door. I’m already feeling a tingling in my toes that says 2016 will do things worth dancing about.
Without making resolutions (because come on, the only reason to make one is to break one), I’ve actually been able to journal every day this year so far. It’s the one thing I’d really like to make into a habit, so I’m keeping it light. Just a paragraph or two, entered in a Word document on my computer. I’m so tired of trying to figure out how to store my old journals, and while I write a lot in my paper journal (with my Livescribe pen! Which is awesome but honestly not that practical for my lifestyle, I have to admit) it’s mostly lists and illegible scrawls.
I’ve been so inspired by reading The Folded Clock: A Diary by Hedi Julavits.* It’s a collection of journal snippets that read as somehow more than just that. Eula Bliss says of it: “This diary is a record of the interior weather of an adept thinker.” Exactly so. And I adore the idea of keeping a journal that holds actual, concrete memories–short, but well described moments in time. I thought to myself it was as if she sat down every night and fictionalized a moment in her day. My next thought was I could do that.
I’m a writer, after all.
Sometimes that thought still gives me thrills. Okay, it often gives me thrills, not just sometimes. I am a writer. I just finished a draft of my first Patreon essay, and I’m happy with it. I got to a (real) point and unraveled something I truly believe within its pages, and that’s where I love writing best–when I can dive down deep and get confused and talk to myself and come up with something real. It’s twenty-two pages! It’s about liars and thieves, and how artists are both, but benevolently so, and I’m terrified about it. Dude, I swear I catch imposter syndrome like it’s airborne. (Speaking of that, I abandoned the lovely Station Eleven — god, for some of you, Alzheimer’s is your greatest fear, and for that, I apologize for Splinters of Light. But pandemic is one of my greatest fears, and while all of you were right — the book is not about that, not really — the plot is so closely and inextricably related to pandemic that even after my sister told me the ending, I’m still having nightmares a week later. Sensitive flower alert. It’s so good! But not for me.)
Anyway. Back to more polishing and then I’ll be sending it out today or tomorrow. (There’s still time to get your own copy by pledging a tip of your choice per essay, or you can read it in the collection next year.)
And to you: I wish you only resolutions that say things like, “Sleep more” and “Hug people” and if you want to break those, too, then I give you absolution *makes the sign of a chocolate croissant over your head*
* Affiliate link because mama needs a yard or two more yarn