Dreaming I’m Naked at School (again)!

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1557540_282521591894983_1026699579_nThis dream that I’m naked at school is one that has haunted me off and on for years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I experienced one of those “nightmare come true” type of things.  Like everyone, I have a recurrent dream about high school.  I am in the halls, between classes, and utterly lost.  I’m not sure where I am supposed to be, which class is next, or what books I need to wedge out of my locker.  In fact, I don’t even remember which locker is mine.  When my favorite teacher Mrs Goodwin suddenly appears, I feel a bit of relief.  I credit her with herding me through the hallways when I was physically there, I know I can count on her in a dream.

BJ Goodwin was a feisty little women.  She kept a pair of old lady spectacles perched on the tip of her nose. If displeased, a spontaneous twitch would make the reading glasses hop. This in turn caused the dangling chain to flash like an angry snake’s warning.  Kids at my school were sure she was older than God Himself and had schooled him on the whole “wrath” thing.

Her knowledge of grammar and punctuation was above reproach.  After just one semester in her writing mechanics class, if she didn’t fail you for fun, one could fight to the death, certain of victory, over the uses of there, they’re and their respectively. Good old Mrs. Goodwin was the stern mistress of the Language Arts wing.  I concurrently adored her and feared her.

Meanwhile in my reliable dream:  I notice I’m missing more than my schedule, I’ve forgotten my clothes too.  Yeh, that’s right~ Mom is naked in the school hallway!

That’s where I usually wake up gasping in panic.  Phew! Just a dream~I check the clock to tether myself to reality and then I roll over and call it a night…until the next time

On June 23rd my nakedness nightmare crossed lines and came fully into the realm of the real world.   My silly-naughty-mess-method writing style was inadvertently put on display right here in the (virtual) school hallway.  It was as mortifying as any episodic public nakedness could be.  Both me and the oft-dreamt-of Mrs Goodwin were rightfully appalled.

I had a deadline...A couple of months ago I signed up for a tantalizing peer review workshop for new manuscripts. When I received notice that the session was full and that I would be wait-listed, frankly I just forgot about it.  I promptly put my fledgling novel aside and went on with Mom-life as usual.  On Sunday, three days before the beginnig of class I was notified that a seat had become open.  Along with my $135 fee, all I had to send in was the first 10,000 words of my work. Oh Crap.

With no time to waste, I was flying on the keyboard.  When I say flying, I mean that I was using barely coherent language, purely phonetic spelling and shards of sentences.Sequences of letters encrypted in a code only decipherable by me and fully lacking any graces of the English language…that’s the track I was on.  The ideas in the story were coming faster than the words could land onto the screen.  I had to get 10,000 spectacular words out of my head and into a readable format to be able to participate in the coveted workshop. And messy as it was, it was at least working until~

A nagging question and answer vignette with Mrs G began playing in my head:

Me:  Ugh~ why do you assign us  homework if you aren’t having a test? Why do I have to do all of this writing, no one is ever going to see it? What difference does a gerund make in my life? …and on and on

Mrs G: Because it’s for your own good…If you slack off and fall short of your potential  you’re only cheating yourself…  Homework isn’t for me, it’s for you…I may be able to push you to greatness but, I am sure as hell not willing to drag you there!

Yes, she would say stuff like this, she cussed in class.  Scandalous and titillating! This was, after all, in 1970’s rural Indiana…we didn’t have HBO yet.  Mrs Goodwin is still roaming about in my head to this day. I recall the slavish due diligence she demanded for a simple five paragraph essay…outline, topic sentence, thesis sentence and on and on.  Her rants were epic and known far and wide across the Language Arts hallway of our school.  Most famously she used to lecture us: Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell em, Tell ‘em, and THEN tell ‘em what you told ‘em…  Just thinking about those classroom bouts of deconstruction and cadence unnerves and exhausts me still.

And grading scale?  Well, if you were lucky, she didn’t like you.  If she didn’t like you, she deemed you unworthy of her time and countenance  (recall that she was old like Moses).  So, that meant that you could fly under the radar with nice solid papers written to mirror the rubric.  However, if she liked you…Katy bar the door!…turning in a paper was like leaning headlong into a shark tank.  My papers came back with grades like C- and D+ on generous days.   She decorated each assignment with red pen remarks like “pedestrian effort” or “the library has a thesaurus to lend.

In all fairness though, the grades she entered onto my report card and transcript were all A’s.

You see, Mrs Goodwin operated on two grading scales. There was the one for assigned classwork and the one that she set for individual ability.  She liked to mess with your head if she saw promise in your writing.  She loved my writing and abhorred my sloth-y attitude so it went pretty ugly most days in class.

The perfectionism of BJ Goodwin stayed with me for years.  My school essays were spot-on “A” winners every time. Often those essays got me in to places that my GPA wouldn’t have allowed. However, to sit down and try to write as I do today was unthinkable agony. Family stories have too many captions and side-notes to fit the formula for five perfect paragraphs.  So, for the longest time, I found the task so overwhelming that I would spend weeks grinding away at a single story to share on a special occasion, or give up without really starting.

Enter: NaNoWriMo

A few years ago, I took a leap of faith and tried my hand at the November writers’ ritual. In order to stay up to speed with the rigors of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) I had to let go of writing so “rigidly.” The best description I have for the method I slid into is that it’s sort of like writing War and Peace during a slow motion train wreck. It’s really simplistic and frankly a lot of fun.

I just write.

The first time I wrote “all crazy” like this, I understood how Brooke Shields felt in her Calvin Kleins….wow!  I do no punctuation, no tense checking, and pay no mind to pesky stuff like spell check flags.  I just type or scribble. I often catch myself figuratively talking Mrs Goodwin off of the ledge… I’m sure she would find the whole concept regressive and obscene.

The initial work I produce isn’t even remotely well written.  It feels raw and naughty! My only goal is to move the general idea of out of my head and onto the tablet (old school or electronic…I use both equally). Once one of these creative episodes I call “tantrums” has passed, I review the words I have gathered. I salvage a train of thought.  Most of the time it works out. Sometimes, even I have no idea where I was headed.

Mom note: Could this explain those ” I’m Naked at School” dreams?   Hmmm…

Personally my biggest writing challenge is keeping the subject train on the tracks. With my gnat-like attention span I can flit off into the sunset at any moment. So this “wilding” style of rough copy writing I have come to habituate works really well for me. What does happen consistently from this messy-writing thing I’ve adopted is this~ I end up with an edited piece that I can label as a story.  I also generally net at least one or two more “side stories” that can be brainstormed and fleshed out as well. Mostly I think it works out for me because I know nobody is looking.

Which rounds the corner to the point that I started out with…the “June 23rd incident of shame”

And so it happened that late last month while my fingers were having a happy party on the laptop– a slip occurred. I was really excited and on a roll.  I just knew I could get my pages wrapped up and polished before the Wednesday class.   After hours of writing, I decided I would have one last go at a character sketch before bed.  I opened the trusty Chromebook, took a deep breath, arranged the tails of my robe “just so” and went at it.

Silly, naughty, messy me… I didn’t notice that I had opened WordPress, not Google Docs.  With one fatal keystroke I inboxed a few hundred blog subscribers one of the most disjointed, random, ungroomed paragraphs ever seen by mankind.  I went to bed and waited for Mrs Goodwin to rise up from her grave and slap me with a big red F-

sigh…

life goes on

Here’s an excerpt from the whole mess (before I fixed it for my workshop of course):

So othat daywhen Annie Thomlinson pronounced my weiner dog Brut too fat, and further announced that for this and many other insufferable transgressions made by me by mere virtue of myexistence, all now valid reasons, that she could nolonger be my friend, the rest of the world went about their busiiness. The whole world, Inncluding Cindy , Sandy and for the most.part Zelda too.

And my belated apologies to those who were subjected to it.  By the time it got to peer review, it was kinda stellar.  If you found it in your inbox, sorry, my bad, it was a little shy of coherent.

So how about you?  What are your writing secrets?  Do you hold back by self-imposed perfection (I call that my inner Mrs G) or do you run loose and free and pick up the pieces later (my silly naughty mess method).  Do you simmer ideas and words somewhere in between?  Does your method serve you well…or do you need to try something new and daring? Most importantly …are you getting the stories of your loved ones and predecessors written down?

Come stand naked in the school hallway with Mom…Tell me ~what’s YOUR secret for getting the words onto the page?

Cures for Headlice and Other Maladies

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           PD_0056

           Ew yuck~ There I said it~ Lice !

Recently my husband came home and confessed that he had let a coworker in on my secret removal method.  I was stunned!

I couldn’t believe that:

1. he had admitted that it had ever happened in our house… and

2. that he really remembered something I’d done about 20 years ago.

I have a huge abiding love of old books.  I am especially drawn to Etiquette and “Women’s issues” titles.  I believe the oldest in my collection is from the 1830s, which isn’t ” but a wee youngster” compared to lots of my Euro-reader’s own family bookshelves…but when you consider that most of them were received as gifts or rooted out at tag sales…I’m living pretty large antiquarian- biblio-wise.

One of my absolute favorites is called

  The Science of Women 

Mulierology 

for the Maiden, Wife, and Mother

Mom Note:  This was,  as far as I can tell, a compilation put out by AB Gehman in 1888.  A man by the name of Thomas William Herringshaw claims to be the founder of this “Science of Women” that he named Mulierology, but as far as I have been able to discover, it is pretty much a made-up word, and there’s a little controversy over who it really is attributable to.

Modern in it’s time, Mulierology  gave advice to females in any condition, age or marital state.  A lengthy chapter describes the birthing of babies and the wise use of a heavy packing of goose grease to the traumatized tissues both on the interior and outer surfaces of the mother after birth.  Ew.  No wonder women died so frequently of  postpartum infections.  What genius conjured up goose grease as a “healing salve” for peritoneal tearing?  TW Herringshaw do you really want to take credit for that one?

There’s also a pretty hilarious discussion of birth control at the end of the volume.  I am especially fond of the description of the withdrawal method.  It is described as a leisurely paddle down the river, and then a gentle drifting and going only along as the surface takes the canoe, gently ebbing on its way in its own time.  The book goes on to caution though ~  This method is easily spoiled by turbulent thrusts and raging action against the current until one goes over the falls.  Mom is paraphrasing, I start laughing so hard everytime I read this, my eyes tear up and I can’t see well enough for an exact quote.

Not even kidding.

The “itches” as head lice (or probably any other creepy crawler living where it should not be) acording to Mulierology is to be relieved by frequent and hot suds baths followed by application of a sulfur paste to any immediately affected area.  All bedding, clothing and head wear must also be taken into clear air and sunlight, swept vigorously and then all brushes and combs treated with a sulfur powder.  This can also be mixed with water and taken internally in extreme cases

PD_0165.

Nice to know

Fortunately (?) for my kids, I had no patience to sit around grinding up match tips to glean sulfur (I don’t know of a good 1800’s apothecary here in the Midwest).  So after weeks and weeks of waging war on these nuclear-bomb resistant pests, I devised my own method inspired by stories (tales of horror actually about dirty buggy families of my childhood).  No, I didn’t douse the kids in kerosine or gas.  But I sort of thought along those lines. Using a big box fan to blow the fumes away from their little faces and with towels held in place to protect their eyes, unloaded a whole bottle of hand sanitizer on each one’s itchy head.  I slapped a shower cap over each little noggin, waited a good half hour and then combed out the dead critters and their grossly engorged triple-sized swollen egg nits right out of all those blonde curls.  Honestly, do not try this at home.  I don’t think the kids remember the itching, but they sure remember the stinky fan treatment to “get the mice outta their heads.”

Like I said, that was years ago.  I figured the statute of limitations had run out on that Mommy Dearest moment.  Then home comes Daddy, feeling quite proud of himself for sharing the true and absolute “Mom Method for Removing Mice from Heads”  I think I’ll write a book and call it “DeMicerology : the Science of a Mom who Snapped after Weeks of Ineffective Lice Treatments”

I’m sure my kids are huddled together right now whispering…Maybe someone should write that down…

In Other Words…When Writer’s Block Comes Knockin’

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Where do these whispers come from?  You know, the ones that scamper and gnaw around in our heads.  Something someone said, or implied, or an unsettled way they made us feel. That’s what I call the ‘other words’ of a life.  The stuff that we haven’t thought up ourselves, but somehow  we’re pretty sure that others around us have thought about us.

………..Clear as mud?  It’s rather serendipitous that blogger “The Daily Post” asked a question like this 7 days after this post.  He called them “Head Turners” I call them “Whispers”  (see it at http://wp.me/p23sd-neE)

Think about this one…I recently interviewed author Dan Conway about his interesting book written as an anecdotal/ semi-memoir / love letter to his departed family members. How’s that for genre bending?  The premise of the book was fictional~ he awakes in a hospital bed unable to move or speak after hitting a deer on the highway.  What happens from there is a series of out of body semi-lucid “visitations” from deceased loved ones as he lies helplessly drifting. These visitors are real people from the author’s life who have passed away. Each encounter has its own filmy purpose as readers experience the message along with Dan, the poor guy in the hospital bed.  And each time we all think that maybe we “get it” the apparition fades and we are left to work the rest out on our own.  Just like life.  Annoying, and yet we can never quite get enough.

I am myself a skilled car buying negotiator.  My husband stands back and turns me loose on the unfortunate targeted salesmen.  I get this “gift” I am told from my Grandpa George Farmer.  One of his many nick names was Wheeler Dealer.  So then, the whisper that dusts through my head is this…I’m just like George.  Does that mean then, that I am also brash, loud, bossy and generally insufferable and overbearing? Will I live well into my 90’s too? I catch myself wondering those things when I’m around certain cousins and old neighbors.  Am I laughing too loud, monopolizing the conversation, appearing restless when others speak?  Are they whispering about me and my George-ness?

Another quality of mine that has been attributed to the family gene-pool is my overall coloring.  I describe it as a stick of Doublemint chewing gum.  My eyes are the mixed shades of green like the wrapper, and my hair color basically matches the gumstick itself.  Being a uniquely indescribable non-color,it tends to be much darker when wet than when it’s dry.  I get this unusual coloring (and the freckles that come with it) from Kate the Wildcat Whipper’s mom Maggie.  Everyone says so.  Since Maggie died about 55 years before I came along, I have to assume that I am being told the truth.  Apparently I also have her hands and toes.  Unfortunately I know very little about her manner and disposition so I am left to assume that if Maggie were living today we would probably be pretty chummy like twins. But since Maggie went to her reward at the age of 37, at least I know that we are differently engineered in at least the longevity way.   Who knows?  By now, all of the “everyones” who said we were so alike, have all passed on too.  Only the whispers remain to speak about my minty fresh eyes.

I enjoyed the perspective of Dan’s book because it is written from just an unusual and different view-point.  He is describing himself and his life as if he weren’t exactly on the pages or in the room.  He speaks to and about himself as if his whispers we all have romping and knocking around too were suddenly let out to play one day.  It’s a fascinating spin and well worth considering especially if you find yourself at an impasse.

Impasse, that dirty, nasty word writers use when they don’t want to admit they’ve hit a wall and are in the early stages of “Writer’s Block”–every author’s most base and crippling  fear

We have all had a moment where what we felt about an ancestor stood in the way of what story needed to be conveyed.  I wondered if using the “Dan method” would help to free up some of those deadlocked situations? I tried this “what they say when they think I can’t hear them” premise recently and it worked really well.  I had tried to write about a certain cousin many times, but just couldn’t find the right words to tell her story.  Her mother and my Great Uncle Ed were “involved.”  It was one of those scandals that sticks to a few generations.

People and families can be really complicated.  We can feel so many different ways about the same person depending on the context.  There is the opinion / gut reaction to memories of Uncle Ed when the picture in my head is from my childhood. Then there is the startled surprise of emotion when I found the letter to his mother and learned what the “family secret” was all about.  Same man, two very different characters in my head and in my life.

 There is the “part of the family” Ed who always ate all of the potato salad.  Then there is the “guy who did that Ed” who made a lot of jaws hit the floor in disbelief. I would guess also with near certainty there are probably another couple of “Eds” somewhere in between or off to the side of both those possibilities.  They are all arguably the “real” Ed.  They are all undeniably my Uncle Ed, who had a fling with his brother’s wife…but still came to Sunday dinners to eat all the potato salad for years afterward.

No one is ever living in only one dimension; having no other “side.” That’s probably my biggest fascination with all this family history stuff.  I have always known that I am a different person when I am among my family than I am “in public.” But I think most of us don’t readily accept that others also have this sort of dual set of behavioral standards.

So Uncle Ed’s story makes writing about Nellie a bit tough.  She always had a great and generalized dislike of Uncle Ed.  I always thought he was hilarious.  I liked that he would sit with us at the Children’s table with his long neck beer and his table-side antics.  He would mix all of the food on his plate together until we had all sufficiently “ewed” in disgust.  Then he would spoon it into his mouth with a great show of disdain for manners. We’d laugh and slap the table with delight, challenging him to “have some more!”  Everybody except for Nellie.  She would roll her eyes and finish her plate quickly.

 Her mother, she once confided to me, said Ed ate like a pig because he was one!

We kids all thought that Nellie and her parents were just a bit more uppity than the rest of us.  And so, for years I only knew of the the uppity Nellie who didn’t know a good table show when she saw one.  To this day, I don’t believe she ever knew why her mom gave her a dislike of old Ed.  I often wonder if she ever knew that I knew…or whether she ever in fact “knew” at all?

 Tricky stuff…

… Family stuff…

… People stuff.

I would recommend reading Dan’s book if you are facing a similar conundrum in your story telling.  Could the folks involved tell the stories themselves and let you off of the hook?  It may be worth a try!

For me, I started with the letter I had found which detailed the transgressions of the affair and near divorce.  I also added in that I wondered if that had been the cause of the iced curtain that fell between certain factions of the family at Sunday Dinner.  Until my adulthood, I never really noticed that Ed was never in the same end of the house or same general conversation as either Aunt Rita or his brother Uncle James. Finding that letter made it reasonably clear why Uncle Ed sat with the kids and avoided the big people table.  He probably wasn’t exactly welcomed.  He even, as I recall, always made sure his back was to the adults seated at the big table.  We kids assumed that he sat that way to block the view to his plate and the messy but laugh-out-loud funny eating show he put on for us.

I’ll be letting Nellie’s story keep whispering until her parentage will no longer cause pain.

 

Dan Conway’s book A Communion of Saints is available through Amazon

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