I remember Mom

5

Rota, Spain, circa 1985

I remember drawing fruit pictures as “presents” for Mom when she was in the military. (Watermelon wedges were my favorite.)

I remember making Mom ashtrays out of the black bases of 2-liter Coke bottles.

I remember Mom & me walking across the street to the Majik Market when we lived on Malibu to get a Nestle Alpine White candy bar.  

I remember reading Encyclopedia Brown with Mom at the Summerdale outdoor flea market, where she & Dad sold lamps & lampshades for Grandma & Grandpa York. We would stay in the LaQuinta Inn on Saturday nights, so we wouldn’t have to drive all the way back to Pensacola & all the way back to Summerdale the next day.

I remember getting bubble gum in my hair & Mom using peanut butter to comb it out.  

I also remember the smell of “No More Tangles” that Mom would use to comb through my stringy hair which she always insisted be curled for school pictures.

I remember when there was a dust-up at my high school because of an issue I had with one of my teachers. When my principal, Mr. Bill Slayton, wouldn’t listen, that’s when Mom banged her hand on the desk (I heard this secondhand) & said, “My taxes pay your damn salary!”

I remember being so annoyed when Mom & Dad would be watching a football game & suddenly scream, “Get him! Get him!” at the TV. 

I remember when the outlet went out in Mom & Dad’s room, & Mom watched TV “long-distance” (as the power in the other bedroom across the hall worked).

I remember the time we were on a mini-vacation when Mom & I were in cahoots to get Dad to wake up at a reasonable time (like before afternoon), & I set all the clocks forward three hours. It wasn’t until we were at Publix later in the day that Dad happened to see the clock & made a face, saying, “Hey, that isn’t right.” I couldn’t help myself & burst out giggling, confessing my deception.  

I remember Mom always complaining that Dad & I were on the same wavelength. (Especially when it came to food, & we wanted to go out for Mexican.)

I remember Mom telling me that you never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they get.

I remember Mom wishing she’d gotten a picture of Sharon before she was buried.

I remember Mom telling me that Grandma & Grandpa Booker had always treated her just like a daughter.

I remember Mom saying how embarrassing it was when Grandpa Booker hung her underwear on the line.

I remember when Mom & I went to a Mitt Romney rally & Jon Voight approached us from behind. (He actually touched her shoulder!) Mom & I were stunned speechless (it seemed our brains had temporarily shut down). And we’d made fun of Lucy for years for being starstruck!

I remember how Mom would send Dad out for Cokes, cigarettes, or thin crust Pizza Hut pizza with beef & onion right after he got home from work.

I remember Mom getting really pissed whenever Dad would take the entire bag of chips to work instead of putting what he would consume into a separate container.

I remember one of the few times Mom cooked, & she put sweetened condensed milk in the mashed potatoes.

I remember Mom telling me that she told Dad before she married him that she didn’t cook or clean, so he couldn’t complain.

I don’t remember Mom ever getting her own cup of ice.

I remember I always had to have a Coke for Mom whenever she came over.

I remember Mom & I always trying to get Bernadean to make her chocolate rolls.

I remember Mom saying she didn’t believe in whipping because that had been her parents’ answer to everything.

I remember Mom wearing her zebra-pattered bathrobe & house shoes that she stepped on the backs of in the car with me praying we wouldn’t get stopped.

I remember Mom & me sharing Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown, & Lisa Jackson books. 

I remember how much Mom hated “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song.

I remember how much Mom loved Hank Williams, Elvis, & The Beatles.

I remember all of Mom’s unfinished projects (like the sewing machine she never used), as well as her endurance for all of Dad’s random research projects.

I remember when Mom & I went to a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting, & I was about to doze off from boredom.

I remember Mom’s patriotism.

I remember Mom always getting on to me for not driving with both hands on the wheel.

I remember when we went to Jerry’s Cajun Café, & Mom made such a big deal out of my softshell crabs looking like a tick, I couldn’t eat them anymore.

I remember Mom flipping out whenever cheese was on her sandwich or yelling from the passenger seat, “Tell them hot fries!” (or “thick shake” for thick milkshake), whenever Dad was in the drive-through (which would get him all flustered).  

I remember when Mom & I joined the Mormon Church, & we would have the missionaries over for dinner appointments. 

I remember Mom & me driving around Cantonment to spy on Sister Wade (who monopolized the missionaries).

I remember how much Mom didn’t like Relief Society because it was so domestic. (How to fold fitted sheets really took the wedding cake.)

I remember giving Mom my novel, “Because of Mindy Wiley,” to read on the Greyhound bus on the way back from Sidney, Montana, where I nannied for 3 girls.

I remember Mom & I were always declaring that Jeffrey Hunter was the best-looking man ever—with Dad arguing that it was Tyrone Power.

I remember when our cat, Brie, had kittens on Mom’s stomach.

I remember Mom keeping vigil over Brie (who suffered peritonitis), comforting her till she died.

I remember when Punky, our dog, was dying; Punky wouldn’t come in out of the cold, so Mom put a blanket on her & sat with her for a while.

I remember Mom always dreamed of moving to Wyoming.

I remember Mom & I were always quick to let Dad know when he was wrong about something; I’d immediately ask Google to prove our case—if nothing more than to remove that smug look off his face.

I remember Mom sending Dad & me to Albertson’s to buy Bit-o-Honey because she had an addictive personality & would get on “kicks.” She also really got into watermelon & popcorn.

I remember how thrilled Mom was when she knew I was going to have a girl & name her Hannah.

I remember Mom was always so excited to see Hannah, calling her “Hannah B!”

I remember Mom coming to my house on Heirloom Drive immediately when I was freaking out because Hannah would not stop crying.

I remember all the times Mom would come by my house on Heirloom & hang out before picking up Dad; we’d talk & enjoy Hannah, maybe even watch a couple of episodes of “Wings.”

I remember Mom getting Hannah started on the “Smack Quackers” routine.

I remember Mom sitting with me in the hospital when I was so ill & couldn’t stop throwing up.

I remember all the times Mom took me to school & work when she was tired & didn’t feel like it.

I remember Mom weaseling her way out of most of the driving when we went up to Uncle Bill’s funeral.

I remember Mom often joked that her funeral better be held in the afternoon, so Dad would come; I know she knows better now.

I remember Mom.

I remember . . . 

Hugs from friends, yes; handshakes from strangers, no: Being an introvert in self-isolation

FlowersI have been in self-isolation since March 15th—the day before my seventh wedding anniversary. Except for picking up a 10-year-old webcam from a friend (which turned out to be incompatible with my 9-year-old PC), dropping Easter dinner off to my dad and grandmother, and a couple of other instances, I’ve been home, not being bored. My husband is the one who goes to the store to get supplies (doesn’t that phrase sound apocalyptic?). He always takes hand sanitizer with him and wears a bandana for a mask, the latter of which I had originally bought for my daughter’s Halloween hobo costume.

Homeschooling a 6-year-old, taking university-level classes that weren’t structured to be online classes, and working full-time (including trying to learn all the ins and outs of Zoom for my college writing tutoring job), on top of trying to ensure I get outside time (I’d go batty without a backyard), working on my “Great American Short Story” (for this year’s Saturday Evening Post’s “Great American Short Story contest”), and binge-watching The Mary Tyler Moore show on Hulu before our free trial runs out has been my life.

I enjoy not having to drive out to University twice a week, trying to find a place to park, lugging an umbrella around, spending money on lunch out, and being stuck there 5 hours (even though my classes are only 2 1/2 hours combined). My writing workshop class isn’t the same, but now that it’s almost over, I realize I could’ve been drinking during class (instant extroversion), but I’m not really a wine person at 11 in the a.m. (That’s what mimosas are for.)

Even though I’m an introvert, I like people—I just don’t like being around them all the time—but being on lockdown means I am in lockdown with my husband and daughter, who are home all the time. Such has been an adjustment, but we’ve adapted. I’m glad that I no longer feel overscheduled as that takes time away from just being (doing all the time gets tiresome).    

I do (not overdo) social media, so I keep in touch with friends and acquaintances. Though it’s not quite the same (and it never will be), it’s something to keep us connected and sharing stories (not just COVID ones), photos, funny memes, random thoughts, and Instagram poems. I thought staying home would be harder than it was, but I’ve realized I need more time in green or blue spaces—more natural therapy than the retail kind. I’ve also learned that when I order things online, it’s a more deliberate choice than when I’m filling up my cart at Target. As for the beach, I don’t love it like I used to. It’s a real drag having to lug an umbrella, chairs, and cooler a quarter-mile trudging through sand. However, if there were no people or waves (and I already lived on it), I would like it more.

Yes, I miss exercising in the pool at the Y, going out with friends (as rare as that is, considering my closest friends are students, have kids, jobs, etc.), browsing the big-box bookstores (where I can read the children’s books to see if they’re good before I buy them), walking around the craft store to get ideas, and even grocery shopping, but those things will be there when this pandemic ends.  

Knowing that makes all this easier.

Though I dig the social distancing (I dislike crowds, not people), I’m not making new connections, and I realized I wouldn’t have the friends I do had I not met them in person first. Though I miss making new friends (or trying to, anyway), I keep in mind this song:

Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver,
And the other, gold.

Brownie points if you figure that one out.

The Yellow Walls

Bed

A shabby chic bedspread of cabbage roses—
part of her “hopeful chest” before it became
part of her “hopeless case”—
lays over her bed like a garden planted in neat rows,
the paisley sheets forming a strange sort of soil—
the ashen color of cremation.
A headboard and footboard frames
this nocturnal resting place
with its pewter-hued, iron curlicues—
prison bars so prettily coiled.

A white shag rests in peace on the HER side of the floor,
a Victorian-era lamp on the white nightstand
provides the pink light by which she can only read
when she is alone,
for all light and sound disturb him.
She is not lonely when she has a book;
rather, she is alone while her husband sleeps,
and she lies in the darkness—
the shadows, the souls of his dreams,
the echoes of his snores,
their screams.

A fancy side chair has become “The Laundry Chair”—
the hallmark of a careless and forgetful housewife—
the type who leaves her nylon stockings
in the door of the car
or her brassiere hanging on the coat rack
for guests to pretend to ignore.

There are no robes
but flip-flops for slippers,
and a mouth guard with dried spit—
an opaque curiosity for the little child who often wanders in.

The change jar on the highboy is always empty—
pessimistic, transparent.
Jewelry trees,
like headless mannequins with wires for limbs,
look like something out of a Tim Burton movie,
holding up cameos like dismembered heads.
Stacks of unfinished scrapbooks sit on this highboy
like guest logs for visitors of a wake.

Twin stacks of library books are on the nightstand—
three by the same author—
under the lamp,
waiting to be read.

Pictures of who she and her husband used to be scatter the surfaces—
a reminder that they were young and thin once.
They ask themselves,
“Whatever happened to those people?”

A suitcase,
bought for the day when they would one day vacation
in Iceland, Australia, or New Zealand—
is often haphazardly filled after her husband’s vanishing acts,
when he would gamble their future on kings and queens.
The case,
in mint condition,
stands in the closet
that is always open—
just like his drawers.

Soundtrack on Repeat

Hippos

19 miles till Empty with my 27 teeth—
no pearly-whites of wisdom;
born tongue-tied with a wooden spoon in my mouth.
Sarah with an h (like Anne with an e),
middle name Lea, not Leah—
who would do that anyway?
Just brown hair, blond roots, & split-end decisions—
double major leaguer of my own destiny.
Livin’ above my means ‘cause I got no means—
drivin’ on an unglazed donut,
just livin’ this dream in the Redneck Riviera,
though I don’t know what kind of dream is being
a creative white peg in a corporate black hole,
comin’ home to more work—
Wheel of Fortune & Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Don’t you know that letter’s already been called,
& I already lost all my marbles.
If arts are liberal, is science conservative?
Slim Jims aren’t just gas station snacks,
& I’m no longer a Wag hag
but still get 2 earplugs for the price of 1.
If you’re a lackey & you know it,
clap your hands
& don’t be modest like the Mormons
with their fireproof underwear.
Wrote The Solar Express,
but no one cared.
Drink coffee out of rebellion
but have to pee first thing
then see “Live, Laugh, Love” stock art/wall filler
on shelves at Target which
gets a visceral reaction from me
like people who say fur babies
‘cause you don’t need no epidural
& alphabet tracing sheets.
Do it the hard way ‘cause that’s the only way I know.
Ablaut reduplication is not being redundant;
say wakey-wakey for left eye & right eye.
Concrete poetry I can draw chalk lines around
& walk all over like the rolled-up weapon
with the fake news called horoscopes
& maybe columnists.
Still driving on E . . . 

A Light-Year of a Dark Mile

Shamrocke

When the world changed
from 6 degrees of separation
to 6 feet,
the longer this change
became a way of life,
the more that distance began to be
measured by time apart.
Children seemed to disappear
like caterpillars
into the cocoons of their homes,
their siblings their only friends;
but for the only child,
Mom & Dad
became their whole world,
other children,
a voice & a face on a screen.
FaceTiming with the grandparents,
whose hugs had become something dreamlike—
the spicy scent of Grandpa’s Clove gum
& wiry whiskers that felt like pine needles,
the intoxicating scent of Grandma’s Charly perfume
& powdery, rouged cheeks that left their mark—
began to fade into something indescribable.

7 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Going to Graduate School

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It’s extremely expensive and not necessarily a guarantee for the type of employment I would be suited for (writing, editing, and tutoring). I can’t afford it, so I would have to work a full-time job outside the home and study and conduct research on top of that. I’m ready to move on from the world of academia as a student. I’ve had a fine time of it—a great run.  

I want to take art classes instead. I want to learn how to illustrate my children’s nursery rhymes and create images (and take better photographs) for my blog posts. I also want to learn how to design my book covers; I’d rather spend $300 for an art class and DIY it than pay someone $300 to design a single cover.

I do not wish to pursue academic writing. I’m tired of writing papers I have to cite sources for, and I find the idea of writing a thesis or dissertation unappealing. The only type of nonfiction I want to write is creative nonfiction or journalism puff pieces (like humor columns, where I don’t have to transcribe any audio, which is a ginormous pain in the ass). I may be educated and a lifelong learner, but I am not an intellectual and never will be.

I want more time with family and friends. I want more tacos downtown and drinks uptown. I want more field trips with my daughter and quiet nights at home with my husband. I want to learn how to make sushi and macarons. I want to find an exercise routine I will stick with. I want to binge-watch Big Love.  I want to read every story that ever made it in The Saturday Evening Post. I want to decode the formula for writing a Harlequin Heartwarming novel. I want to teach my daughter how to read Green Eggs and Ham. I want date nights with my husband that includes more than just going out to dinner without the munchkin. 

I don’t need it to be a successful writer. If I spend another six or eight years in school, those are years I’m not focusing exclusively on my writing (or attending writers’ conferences or taking writing classes for fun). I want to get that novel published, sell my short stories, and explore other writing opportunities. If I’m working and studying all the time, I won’t have the time (or the cognitive energy) for anything else.

I am not grad school material. I am smart enough to admit that. I realized this while taking an American Literature class this spring (it’s midterm time, and I’m aiming for a B but praying for a C) because I don’t want to analyze texts that do not interest me. If I find a 4000 level class this hard, how much more demanding will a higher level class be? Besides, I just know that the whole time I’d be doing graduate school work, I’d be longing to write my words that were not based on anyone else’s. (I know there’s a lot of research involved in grad school.) 

I just don’t have the cognitive energy for the rigors of grad school. Also, by the time I get my bachelor’s, I will have been in school for seven or eight years (including a gap semester), what with working multiple jobs and being a wife and mom (and making the time to read and write in the midst of it all). I’m tired and ready to realize the fullness of my writing dreams. 

From Writer’s Digest to Harlequin Romance: Finding my online writing community

Damask rose

“If you want to make money as a writer, write romance novels,” my Creative Writing teacher said, even suggesting we could write under a pen name.  As for me, if I’m going through all the trouble of writing a novel, my name is going to be on the thing.

So, why doesn’t romance get any respect?  Is it because some of it can be labeled as purple prose, the genre is predominantly written by women, or both?  I’ll just pull a Nicholas Sparks and call mine love stories.

As much as I enjoy the poetic form, it is more something I publish on my blog for fun to build name recognition.  Though there is a huge market for poetry, I’ve found that the kind of poetry I like to write (and read) often isn’t the kind being published, which is far too abstract for my taste.  This is what I like:  Saturday Evening Post Limerick Contest.

In all the poetry I’ve submitted, I’ve sold one poem: (Seven Wonders in Every Wonder), and it was published in a magazine (Bella Grace) that I enjoy reading from cover to cover.  Too often, I’ve read poetry journals, wondering what the hell some of it even meant.  I have much better luck with short stories and creative nonfiction (which take me a lot more time to write). 

That’s not to say I’m eschewing writing poetry to submit for publication altogether—I’m just reassessing what I spend my time writing for publications other than my own.

~

Now, I’ve gone and joined the Harlequin Writing Community Facebook page.  What’s great about this group is how supportive they are (men are welcome, too!).  They have  flash-type (400-word) writing challenges every couple of weeks or so, with some pretty stiff stipulations (which only makes it more challenging); moreover, they only give you a couple of days to write them.  The only two I’ve written so far have been historical (maybe they’re looking for a historical fiction writer?), for which I set my scenes in Ancient Greece and in South Carolina during the Civil War.  The best thing is that you get feedback on what you wrote—and not just comments from other writers but actual feedback from editors—like the type I get from my Creative Writing teacher.  I never got this with Writer’s Digest, so if you’re interested in writing romance, check it out:  So You Think You Can Write.

As for the Facebook page, I feel that I’m a better fit for that community.  I’m not just writing for a hobby—I want to make it my career.  Many of us are in the process of writing a book to submit to Harlequin.  I’m not there yet because I don’t have time for a large project (70K words), though I am in the stages of outlining it. 

~

Though I miss writing book reviews, I don’t have time to write a full-length one anymore, especially with as much as I read; I also quit the university newspaper, as half the articles I wrote never got published.  Though I respect the editor’s decision not to print (or rather, post them), I spent too much time conducting interviews and transcribing audio for them not to get published.  I was graciously invited by the adviser to submit an opinion piece, so that is something I may consider after I finish this American Lit class that’s kicking my keister. 

Rather, I’m making the push to write more short stories (I’ve been reading everything Shirley Jackson has written and rewatching most of The Twilight Zone series—the legit one with Rod Serling; however, if the episode is about Nazis, boxing, or set in the Wild West, I skip it).  I got too hung up on writing novels (with short stories, you get paid once; with novels, you get royalties), but some stories just aren’t novel length.  This realization has opened up a whole world of possibilities for many of my ideas, which have remained dormant for years.  I’d been writing poetry and working on my novel (Because of Mindy Wiley) for so long that I’d forgotten how great short fiction (and creative nonfiction) can be. 

For now, I do expository writing for the Medium publishing platform: Medium/Sarah Richards, in addition to reposting my best blog posts.  I still have a couple of other accounts where I post short works that will eventually end up on my blog (I am planning an ebook on the writing craft, but I need to become more published to have credibility; I am also planning a book of short poetry for people who don’t like poetry), so it’s a two for the price of one deal.  I feel like I’ve finally found my writing niche, as well as future homes for my writing. 

Taking a college-level Creative Writing class, joining the Harlequin community, and letting go of some other things that were no longer paying off (but were, nevertheless, part of the process), has helped me reach this point.