Two Days In The Life Of An American Voter

Dear Readers,

100I’m excited to announce that this is my 100th post! I couldn’t have come this far without your readership, comments, and support. I cherish each and every one of you. THANK YOU!!!

Now, on to more serious topics. I’m bypassing my usual mid-week quote to share with you my two-day experience on this wild, historic, American presidential election ride.

November 8, 2016: Election Day
I arrive at the polling station (a local elementary school) in the morning to perform my civic duty. Regardless of whether or not you like the presidential candidates, it’s always a good idea to vote for your state and local representatives.

 

After sneaking on to the Internet all day at work to get election updates, I finally head home, where I cook dinner and then plant my rear end on the sofa, armed with a glass of wine and a romance novel, to watch history unfold.

 

By 1:00 AM, it’s clear that Trump’s going to win. I go to bed.

November 9, 2016: Day after election

 

My work schedule is too busy to call out. In the class I teach, we ditch the lesson plan because the students want to talk. Some of the females cry. They don’t want a president who brags about grabbing female private parts. The males are more subdued, except one, who vows to learn as much as he can about civics. In the afternoon, a student-led anti-Trump rally is held on campus. Some students boo it.

Is it me, or does this kind of remind you of The Hunger Games?

The Empire State Building, NYC, lit up with Trump. Is it me, or does this kind of remind you of The Hunger Games?

 

Two students, a male and female, watched Hillary's concession speech in my office with me. The female was crying; the male was stoic.

Hillary Clinton doing her civic duty. Two students, a male and female, watch her concession speech in my office. The female cries; the male is silent.

Until today, I’ve avoided posting anything on Facebook about the election. I didn’t comment on any Trump or Clinton bashing posts by “friends”, despite all of the mean-spirited rants, memes, articles, etc. about both candidates. Today, though, I finally cave in and write this:

voting-12

The post incites the wrath of my aunt. She lives in another state, has no idea who I voted for, or if I even voted for a presidential candidate at all, yet she makes lots of assumptions. She assumes this post has something to do with the Clintons, brings up Bill’s intern scandal, and demands I tell her if Hillary has ever volunteered in a soup kitchen when cameras weren’t watching. All of this is happening while I’m out to dinner with my husband and son, trying to relax and forget all about this election. Well, what did I expect when I posted this, right?

This post has nothing whatsoever to do with the Clintons, I say. I am merely looking to hold our next president accountable for some things I noticed during his campaign. But since she brought it up, both Bill’s and Trump’s behavior toward women is disgusting and unacceptable. Another Facebook “friend” adds that Clinton was rightfully impeached for it; Trump was elected president in spite of it. I refrain from commenting on this. As for the soup kitchen, I don’t know, Aunty, just as I don’t know if Trump has or not. Your guy won. Be glad. I hope he does a good job.

I truly hope, for our country’s sake, that he does a good job. And I’m so glad this election is over.

Advertisements

Hanging Chads and Election Silliness

With another U.S. presidential election only days away, I thought it might be fun to bring a new definition to the term “hanging chad”. Remember those from the 2000 presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore? Officials were trying to determine if the partially punched out holes on some ballets were votes or not. Some chads were hanging, others were pregnant, and America and the world were shaking their heads. Ultimately, the Supreme Court made the final decision, which goes to show you that Mark Twain’s quote, “If voting mattered they wouldn’t let you do it” is spot on. I hope you get a chuckle, and may we all survive this year’s election. PEACE!

 

What a Dumb Thing to Say

My nine year old son started school recently and, as usual, I took the day off from work. First day of school is a half day. I like to pick him up after school and spend the afternoon with him, to help with the transition back.  It’s our little tradition.

After I dropped him off in the morning, I headed to the gym for the first time in a month. As I worked out my legs, a man I hadn’t seen in a while approached me. He’s one of those guys you try to avoid because he loves to talk your ear off. Before you know it, a half hour has gone by and you’ve done nothing but listen to him ramble on when you should have been working out. However, given the fact that I had three hours to spare before I needed to pick up my son, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to be friendly.

That was my first mistake.

At one point in the mostly one-sided conversation, he asked me how old I was. I told him, and watched his eyes widen with what I like to think was disbelief, but the truth is he appeared to recoil from me, as if I’d just told him I had leprosy. Then he said the dumbest thing imaginable, Well, you don’t look as good as you used to. I mean, you don’t need to lose weight, but you could use some toning up. Your skin’s not bad, though, no crow’s feet or anything.

I sat in stunned silence, before making my second mistake. I told him I’d lost close to 15 pounds since last year. To which he responded with the even dumber, I can’t believe you let yourself go like that.

dumb-things-2

What a dumb ass. That’s what I wanted to say to him. That’s what I wanted to title this post, but decided against it. This guy knew nothing about me or why I’d gained the weight, during a stressful period in life while I was working full-time, pursuing a master’s degree, and dealing with some major family issues. (And yes, numbing myself with cheese and crackers and wine too many nights, and not exercising, but what business is that of his?) Yet he had the audacity to think he could comment on my appearance, on my body!

Instead, I politely said that I had to pick up my son soon from school and needed to get on with my workout. He left me and went to accost another unsuspecting female. If only I’d had the courage to tell him what I thought of his dumb remarks, though it probably wouldn’t have mattered. I doubt he would have fully understood how dumb they really were.

How do you handle it when someone says something dumb or inappropriate to you?

A Love Experiment

I’m doing a little love experiment while on vacation at my mother’s beach house. I want to see if the arborvitae on the left will show signs of more growth than the one on the right if I give it love and attention each day.

Arbervidy

I love whispering sweet nothings to this beauty on the left.

My mother was lamenting that the arborvitaes she planted two summers ago have hardly grown. In fact, she thinks her landscaper may have trimmed the tops because they look shorter than last year. This is a problem because she planted them specifically to block out having to see the neighbor’s house behind her. She and the woman who lives there used to be friends, but they had a spat and haven’t spoken since.

The issue was the woman and her husband invited my mother’s ex-boyfriend, whom my mother introduced to them, and his new girlfriend over for dinner on their deck one evening, knowing full well that my mother wasn’t completely over him. The sight of the two couples laughing and having a grand time while she was trying to relax in her back yard was more than my mother could bear. When confronted, her so-called friend brushed it off, telling my mother that she needed to get over it and get on with her life. My mother did, without the mean bitch.

Back to my experiment. It involves spending a few minutes each morning hugging the bush, saying things to it like “How are you today, lovely?” and “You’re so beautiful!”, and sending it Reiki. I’ve been at it for three days now. I swear it’s starting to look forward to my visits. It knows that I see it.

My family thinks I’m kind of crazy, but that’s nothing new. I can only imagine what the neighbors on either side of us think if they’ve happened to look over and see me hugging a bush and talking to it.  One is a single woman who makes a living tending roses at several mansions throughout town, and has award winning roses in her yard. She herself is a little crazy, so she probably gets it. The college girls from Ireland living in the attic on the other side may not be awake early enough to see my loving gestures.

Even if they are, I don’t care. Plants are people, too. Sort of. I mean, they’re alive. They grow. And I believe they thrive more with love, as we all do.

Sunshine Blogger Award, Baby!

Sunshine Blogger AWardI’m honored to have been nominated last week for the Sunshine Blogger Award by talented fellow blogger Shelly Ray. The award is given by bloggers to bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere. Thank you so much, Shelly! I accept your nomination.

Here are the nomination rules; nominees that accept must:

  • Thank the person who nominated them in a blog post and link back to her/his blog.
  • Answer the eleven questions posed by the nominator.
  • Nominate eleven blogs to receive the award and write them eleven new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog.

Here are the eleven questions Shelly came up with and my answers:

1. What is your main goal for your blog?

I have multiple goals for my blog, but if I have to pick one I’d say it’s simply to express myself creatively, with the hope that by doing so, I inspire others to express themselves, as well.

2. What are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the fact that despite having been a teenage mother, I have gone on to earn multiple college degrees and create a good life for my children and myself. Only about 4% of teenage mothers earn a bachelor’s degree, and I have a master’s! When I got pregnant at age 16, the message I received from so many people was that my life was ruined. I never believed this. I’ve learned that it’s vital to listen to your own truth and create your own reality.

3. Who is your current favorite singer, and/or what is your current favorite song?

I thought and thought and I can’t pin down just one. I mainly listen to the radio and don’t know half of the names of the artists they’re playing. Sorry, don’t mean to cop out!

4. What do you do when you need to de-stress/relax?

I sit in my favorite cushy chair with a good book and a glass of wine. Other times I have dinner with a good friend or my mom, usually at one of our houses, or go out to dinner with my husband.

5. If you won the lottery, what would you buy?

This is an easy one! I’d buy a condo in Florida and a beach house in New England. I’d buy plane tickets to Europe for my entire family. I’d buy a new kitchen!

6. Where do you feel most at home/what is your “happy place”?

My happy place is Newport, RI. I’m blessed that my mother has a cottage there and that she generously shares it with her family. I have many wonderful memories of spending weeks there in the summer with my (now 17 year old) son when he was little, before I started working full-time.

7. What is one skill you wish you were better at?

I wish I knew how to do web design from scratch. I do a lot of content writing for our website at work and I can design websites through WordPress, but I wish I knew HTML and the inner workings. I’d love to be able to do freelance web design and content writing from home. I suppose I could learn!

8. What are three words you’d use to describe yourself?

Creative, hard-worker, learner.

9. Which city/country do you most want to visit some day?

Germany. I was born there, on a U.S. naval base, and lived there the first two years of my life. My dream is to go back one day, hopefully with my mother.

10. What do you do to overcome writer’s block?

I read, go do something else, and don’t stress about it.

11. What is your greatest strength?

I’m always learning. I love to learn. I feel absolutely stagnate if I’m not. Two years ago I took a StrengthsQuest inventory, and Learner was my top strength, which didn’t surprise me.

Now, for my nominees (drum roll please):

Muddling Through My Middle Age
I love reading Ann’s often humorous and always insightful essays on aging and life.
The Off Key of Life
George’s blog is always a great place to find inspiration and have a good laugh.
Donkey Bytes
Tales from the farm with adorable photos of farm animals to go with them.
Fonz and Cancer
Absolutely inspirational. Fonz’s journey battling and winning over cancer will move and inspire you.
Book Club Mom
I appreciate the time and care this blogger puts into each of the book reviews and author interviews.
Aging Abundantly
This blog reminds us that growing older is a journey and one we shouldn’t dread, but embrace.
A Day in the Life
A daily dose of inspiring photographs.
A Hundred Years Ago
Probably one of the coolest ideas for a blog; 100 year old recipes, advertisements for food products, etc.
Posiworld’s Blog
A great place to stop for inspirational quotes.
Miss Maps
The photographs from all over the world, featured travelers, and details about various countries will inspire anyone to travel.
Monochrome Nightmares
Dark poetry might seem like it doesn’t jive with a sunshine blog award, but A.J. O’Brien’s poems inspire so many people and bring darkness to light that I had to include his blog.

My 11 questions for the nominees:

1. What inspired you to start your blog?
2. What do you find most challenging about having a blog? Most rewarding?
3. What advice do you have for anyone thinking of starting a blog?
4. What is one fun fact about you?
5. What is your favorite book and why?
6. What movie could you watch over and over?
7. What is your favorite quote?
8. List three items on your bucket list that you have yet to do.
9. Who inspired you the most when you were growing up?
10. What do you hope to be remembered for?
11. What is your proudest accomplishment thus far?

Note to nominees: Accepting this nomination is admittedly time consuming. I hope you’re able to find the time, but if not, I completely understand. Either way, please know that I think your blog is awesome!

What Makes a Writer?

You are a writerOne of the most poignant essays on writing I’ve ever read is Pat Schneider’s “You Are Already A Writer” (read excerpt here). In it she discusses the epiphany she had when her uneducated, homeless, alcoholic brother showed up on her doorstep one day and handed her a crumpled piece of paper. On it he’d written about motorcycles from hell chasing him, a metaphor for his alcoholism. In that moment, she realized that writing, and being an artist in general, is about having the courage to share your truth in your own voice.  There were artists everywhere whose stories and ideas were powerful, but the world would never know it because they lacked the technical skills to present them in a compelling way.  This experience inspired Schneider to found the Amherst Writers and Artists workshops.

Schneider’s essay transformed my notion of what it means to be a writer. It gave me permission to explore creative self-expression without worrying about perfect writing. I started to consciously practice completing short pieces from start to finish exactly as they poured out of me, not as I felt they should be presented to others.  This meant no editing the first draft as I wrote it, no agonizing over every word. If I got stuck on how to articulate something, I closed my eyes and emptied my mind until the right words came. I realized that the soul of writing is the story being told. The technicalities are secondary and can be learned or, in some cases, unlearned.

When an opportunity arose for me to teach a one-credit “passion” course to college freshmen through a First Year Experience program, I decided on Writing Our Stories. I’d taken a creative nonfiction graduate course at Wesleyan University with author Rachel Basch that changed my life. It gave me the confidence and validation I so desperately wanted and needed as a fledgling writer. I wanted to offer my students a similar experience. I wanted to give them an outlet for expressing themselves by sharing their personal stories.

I modeled the course after the one at Wesleyan, scaling it down considerably for undergraduate freshmen. I started it off by having them read short creative nonfiction pieces and discussing them, practicing techniques through writing exercises, and eventually they worked their way up to writing their own short stories and workshopping them. Their first reading assignment was Schneider’s essay. I wanted them to know from the start that this wasn’t going to be anything like freshmen English.

The course went better than I could have hoped or imagined. The students wrote their hearts out. Their valiant attempts at using dialogue, showing through scene versus telling, experimenting with humor, and using imagery to tell their stories made my own heart sing. I wanted to wrap my arms around each and every one of them when they shared excerpts of their personal stories with each other. This was a class that laughed and cried together, encouraged one another, supported each other’s efforts, talents, joys, and sorrows.

The course improved the second year because I had time to reflect and make adjustments. I broke the students into small literature circles. They had to read each other’s stories ahead of time for homework. Each circle had two discussion facilitators, two passage finders, whose role was to select a few passages that resonated with them, two critiquers, whose job was to offer constructive criticism in a kind way, and the person whose story was being workshopped. The roles changed up to give students a chance to experience each one, and to have his or her story shared.

This process gave the students complete ownership of the experience. My role was simply to move from circle to circle and listen, and offer occasional feedback. We’d discussed in detail beforehand what workshopping was, what the ground rules were, what each role entailed, and did a few practice rounds so that the students had a good sense of the type of language to use in each role.

I was geared up to teach a third year when the university faculty curriculum committee decided it was time to review the courses being offered by First Year Programs. Specifically, they wanted to know the credentials of who was teaching them. These specific “passion” courses were supposed to be faculty-led, but few faculty signed up to teach them, and those that did expected to be paid for their trouble. First Year Programs had a tight budget. They’d never make it if they had to pay all of the instructors. This is why mostly professional staff was teaching them on a volunteer basis, myself included. Without a master’s degree at the time, or any publications to my name, save a poem featured in a college literary magazine, I was deemed unqualified to teach. There would be no more Writing Our Stories.

Fucking faculty curriculum committee. They had no understanding that this course wasn’t about me and my credentials. It was about the students, and giving them the opportunity to engage in creative self-expression and personal growth through writing and sharing their stories. It was about helping them gain confidence as writers. It was about introducing them to and giving them practice incorporating elements of fiction writing into their nonfiction works. It was about giving them a voice. I understood that universities needed standards, but not one member of the committee asked to speak to me about the course or view the syllabus. They didn’t bother to ask for the course evaluations, which were overwhelmingly positive. All they did was look at my resume, see its lack of advanced degree and publications, and deem me unworthy.

Feeling bitter and dejected, I responded to an advertisement seeking a freelance correspondent for a community newspaper. I spent the next year writing news stories on everything from stargazing to hiking to the college financial aid process. I loved meeting new people all the time, going to events I wouldn’t normally have attended, and coming up with a story angle. The problem was that by the time I did all this and wrote the story, I was making about $5 an hour for my trouble. I had to give it up. I decided it was time to finally get a master’s degree, so I enrolled in a graduate English program.

Two years later, with a master’s degree in hand, graduate coursework in teaching writing, numerous published news stories under my belt, and a capstone paper that my thesis advisor felt was publishable, I didn’t feel any more qualified to teach Writing Our Stories than I had before. That’s because you don’t learn to teach by studying it in school or getting a degree, you learn to teach by teaching.

It’s the same with writing. You can take courses in the craft, and even earn a degree in it, but ultimately it’s the writing that makes you a writer. It’s the day in and day out practice, the trials and errors, the failures you learn from, the crap you write that you hope no one ever sees, the showing up on the page, never giving up, and those magic moments when the writing flows out of you like a gift from beyond – this is what makes a writer. At the center of it all is the story.

You have a voice. You have a story. You are already a writer. You have every right to express yourself exactly as you please. If your technical skills need improvement, take a course, but don’t let anyone convince you that what you are offering to the world through  your unique brand of creative self-expression is unworthy — especially if that someone is a pontiff at the podium who thinks his shit doesn’t stink.

Watermelon Gin and Tonic

Watermelon Drink

Warning: This cocktail is so tasty and refreshing it may go down far too quickly.

Happy fourth of July! I’m not usually a hard liquor drinker (wine being my adult beverage of choice), but with the holiday here and my husband not liking wine, I decided to buy gin and lemonade and experiment a bit yesterday. The result was this refreshing cocktail.

Ingredients (per drink):
Gin (I used Tanqueray)
Lemonade (I used Newman’s Own Virgin Lemonade)
A few pieces of cut watermelon
Lime wedge
Few sprigs of mint
One basil leaf

Muddle together the watermelon, lime, mint, and basil in a cocktail glass until watermelon is mostly mushed liquid. Add ice cubes to taste (I added three). Add amount of gin you want. Fill remainder of glass with lemonade. Stir and enjoy!