Room at the Top

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This past week before the fall semester began, I gazed out the window of my office, watching the groundskeepers cut down the bahia grass, sprucing up for the incoming freshmen. The campus, as if it had been in hibernation for the summer, awakened with the earthy tang of fresh-cut grass. Pine straw spread around the trees are like sun-browned nests in a field of green. Moms accompanied their high school grads, the younger siblings tagging along, the air full of humidity and expectation.

The scene made me think of the movie, Liberal Arts, set in an unnamed community college in Ohio. The main character is everyman Jesse Fisher—a thirty-something college admissions counselor who returns to his alma mater to speak at an old professor’s retirement celebration.

My favorite conversation was in the dining hall, when Jesse is sitting across from a moody, brilliant kid he’s unofficially mentoring—a kid who asks him why he liked his time at this college so much, when he just wishes it would all be over, to which Jesse replies, “It’s the only time you get to do this, you know? You get to sit around and read books all day, have really great conversations about ideas…You could go up to everyone here and say, ‘I’m a poet,’ and no one will punch you in the face.”

*

When I got promoted to a higher position in the office I worked in, I had the opportunity to create a flier advertising an essay writing workshop, for which I was able to implement my creative talents (i.e. my wordsmithery and penchant for puns). I never thought I’d be interested in graphic design (as I’ve always hated my computer classes), save for the books I create on Shutterfly, but I enjoyed this project.

Every semester, I am learning more about what I enjoy doing, and could enjoy doing for a vocation.

*

My college’s motto is “Go here. Get there,” but it’s feeling more like “Go here. Stay here”—at least until I can find my niche in the medical field, hopefully, writing newsletters or press releases or something along those lines (pardon the pun).

Even though I will be taking all my classes online, college will be my home away from home, as all four of my jobs will be on campus.

Four years ago, while trying not to nod off in Health Care Law class, listening to a monotone professor read off PowerPoints from an overhead projector, I never envisioned I would be holding two supervisory positions, much less feel capable of doing so.

Despite this, and taking three classes (maybe two), I am undaunted, for, as my dad would say, “the wind is at my back.” I will not have to struggle through any more math classes this last semester before I graduate with my A.A. and my A.S.

The best math professor I ever had said something like “Just love it enough to get through it and then you can go back to hating it.”

I don’t even hate it now; I just hated doing it.

That’s progress.

*

A good friend told me it isn’t the happiness that makes you happy, but the pursuit of it. I pursued security through education, but the process made me happy, for it connected me to people who will become lifelong friends and helped me become my best.

As I’ve learned more, I’ve found myself teaching my daughter things I might not have otherwise thought about—like how the Big Bang was more like the Big Whisper, that Big Toe’s real name is Hallux, and that zero is really the first number. (She will also know how to spell Pi before Pie—that whole i before e thing, you know.)

So even though I know it’s going to be a busy semester, I look forward to all my classes—learning another language (which I like to say is like getting a brand-new set of colors you didn’t know existed), the intricate workings of the human mind (what writer wouldn’t love that?), and humanities in the arts (I predict a chapbook of ekphrastic poetry coming).

Furthermore, I will be writing, editing, tutoring, mentoring, creating, training, collaborating, and doing the kind of office work that frees my mind to brainstorm about the next “Great American Short Story.”

Maybe one day that story will be my own.

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What I Learned from Writing for the College Newspaper

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When I wrote a book review,
I learned how much I enjoyed doing so,
for reading it and writing about it
was like getting two for the price of one.

When I wrote a review on a vegan café,
I tried something new.

When I wrote a series of articles on volunteer opportunities,
I found out that skills and talent—
not just time and money—
were also needed.

When I wrote an article on college internships,
I learned that investing in yourself
always requires you to invest your time.

When I wrote a movie review,
I learned how to write movie reviews;
I also learned that I much preferred writing book reviews.

When I wrote an article about Toastmasters,
it led to Phi Theta Kappa
becoming involved with the organization.

When I wrote about clubs on campus,
I found out that worthwhile clubs don’t just meet,
but serve their local community.

When I wrote a story on one night of my life,
I found my journalistic niche.

When I wrote a mock syllabus,
I began to explore more forms of hybrid writing.

When I wrote about art on campus,
my interest in art and making it increased.

When I wrote a story on what I had learned from math,
I learned that it wasn’t math I learned (or at least remembered)—
it was that I could do difficult things,
and that math,
for non-math majors,
wasn’t just about solving equations,
but sharpening that attention to detail
that solving those equations required.

When I covered the literati and amateur nights on campus,
I learned how to gather quotes the introvert’s way.

When I wrote a story about professors switching careers,
I learned that it was never too late to change your mind—
that no education was ever wasted,
for it all led to our beautiful present.

When I wrote about editing a literary journal,
I learned that the process could be as interesting as the product.

When I wrote about a beloved professor who had passed away,
I learned that art wasn’t just good,
but it could be used to do good.

Through writing for my college newspaper,
I learned that I would never want to be a teacher—
save to my very own—
but I could be a tutor,
a mentor—
I could help others become better.

What I learned through doing,
I learned through writing—
in ways I never would have imagined.

But most of all,
I learned that there is a place for creativity in every vocation.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #443: Free

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The Navy Veteran’s Daughter

One day she’d hoped to be like her mom,
joining the Navy and serving her country.
When she found out, many years later,
that was not an option,
she realized that no mother could ever have it all,
because she couldn’t do it all.
As she worked her way through technical school,
writing her little stories in her free time,
she sacrificed her priceless time,
so that the time her family
would someday have with her
would be better time.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-443

Childhood Memories: A Father’s Day Message

(top left):  1981:  My dad and mom, with a new me.  (top right):  1953:  My grandfather, Joseph York, with my mom.  I always thought Joe looked just like Billy Graham.  (middle right):  Circa early 1970’s:  A trio of Booker dads:  My dad, Phil (Phillip Wayne), his dad, Paul Whitaker, and my uncle Bill (Paul William).  It had been Grandma’s idea to give them all the initials P.W.  (bottom):  The father of my child, on the night she was born.

This morning, as I let my daughter press the button on our coffee machine, I was reminded of all the times when I was about her age, growing up in Rota, Spain, when my dad would let me press the button on the bean grinder (ground being unavailable). Maybe that’s why java’s lusty aroma always makes me smile.

I never knew why the grinder was always on the floor (near a self-portrait of Albrecht Durer framed in “gold,” leaning against a closet), but now I know that it was so I could be a part of the process (if not a consumer of the product).

And that’s partly what parenthood–be it motherhood or fatherhood–is all about:  Taking the time with your children.

*
When I found out I was going to have a baby, it took me a while to realize that my parents’ example had given me all the tools I needed to be a good mom, for we learn how to parent from our parents (whether good or bad), just as they learned from theirs.

A man learns how to be a father from having one.

*
From my dad, I learned that you can survive horrendous cooking (so long as it errs on the side of overcooked), that you can put up with a lot of crap from another person because they put up with a lot of crap from you, and that good acting isn’t using four-letter words and taking your clothes off.

But the greatest lesson learned was that I was just as valuable for being born a girl as my brother was for being a born a boy.

*

As for the father of my child, I can do what I do (go to school to better myself so that I can better our financial situation) because he does what he does (be a stay-at-home dad)—just as my dad supported my mom when she decided to join the military.

That’s what being a husband is sometimes: Not “letting” your wife do whatever she wants but supporting her so that she can feel good about doing what she needs.

 

Why I Tell My Daughter She’s Beautiful

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When I mentioned to someone I trusted that my daughter was getting genetically tested, I explained, “To find out why she is the way she is.”

It was never to “figure out what’s wrong with her,” because I don’t see anything wrong.  She isn’t broken, in need of fixing, but rather, in need of additional guidance and patience to help her be the best person she can be.  Just like I needed math tutors last semester.

All test results were normal, though I’ve been asked by many people (all health professionals) if she was autistic.  She is definitely somewhere on the spectrum, but on the high-functioning end.

When my mother was alive, all she saw was her specialness, not her special needs.  “That’s just who she is,” she would say, because for her, and for me, and for all who love her, it was that whole unique and wonderfully-made thing.

*

My child has the most incredible memory, whereas mine is pretty crappy.  Sometimes I ask my husband if he remembers if I ate anything for breakfast.  I feel like Kelly Bundy from “Married With Children” in that episode where she loses a fact every time she gains a fact, because there’s only so much space in her airhead; she forgets on a game show a football trivia question about her father–something about these things called touchdowns.

However, a memory like my daughter’s has its challenges.  It took me forever to get her to unlearn “shit,” after my parents thought it was freaking hilarious when she tipped out of her Minnie Mouse chair and said, “Awww, shit!”  When they told me about it, I couldn’t help but laugh, even though I admonished her later that young ladies don’t use that word.

That’s said, salty language and an overabundance of sweet snacks are truly the stuff of grandparents.

*

My daughter also has an incredible ear for sounds–she actually corrected the teacher on the difference between a helicopter and an airplane.  As much as I would love for her thing to be words, I believe it will be music.

*

When a “neurologist” (I’m not even sure what she was, she didn’t even bother introducing herself or familiarizing herself with my child’s medical record before her appointment) said that our daughter’s face had a trace of dysmorphia, my husband got pissed while I got so upset, I started crying.

On the way home, I kept looking back for some trace of what this woman saw, but all I saw was this stunningly beautiful little girl with perfectly symmetrical features and enviable blue eyes.  I like to joke with my dad that all other kids looked like dogs after I had mine (not really, but parents are biased).

*

I know it’s a Thing for girls to want to be superheroes over princesses, to major in STEM, and for their parents to praise their strength rather than their beauty, and I get some of that, but there will be plenty of people in my daughter’s life who will say something unkind.  It is my job–my calling–as her mother, to build her up without tearing others down.

My mom grew up thinking she was ugly because her mom never told her she was pretty (and she was!), and so my mom always told me I was–even when I was going through this hideous awkward stage where I looked like the female (and brunette) version of that bully in A Christmas Story.  (At least I did in one of my school pictures.)  Of course, I believed Mom only said that because she was my mother, but I know she meant it, too.

That said, my mom always told me that her grandmother told her that “Pretty is as pretty does.”  I let my daughter know when she is being ugly, just as I tell her that she is strong and smart and all those other things.

*

I’m not blind to my daughter’s quirks, but it rubbed me the wrong way when the people at the center seemed like they were trying to push us into “family planning” (like to have another one like the one I have would be so horrible).  I don’t even like the way “family planning” sounds,  and I don’t practice it.  I don’t feel that way because a man in the Vatican or a bunch of men in Salt Lake don’t believe in it (Jesus died for me, they didn’t), but it’s my personal, spiritual belief.  (I will, however, concede that I would probably feel differently if I had more than half a dozen.)

Sometimes you just want to say someone, “Let they who are without imperfection be the first to cast the first birth control pill,” because we’re not talking Tay-Sachs or Huntington’s chorea here.  My daughter isn’t suffering–she is one of the happiest kids I know.  She’s never even thrown a tantrum.  She’s gotten upset and frustrated, but she’s never been one of those little horrors you see on that British nanny show.

*

My daughter has shown me that we are more than our genes, our chromosomes, our cells, for they only tell part of the story of who we are, and what amazing things we can become.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #437: Graduation

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Twelve Credits Remaining

All those months ago,
she’d wondered if she would be able to pass the math—
not because she wasn’t a hard worker,
but because remembering was a struggle and
because numbers mixed with letters spelled chaos for her.
At thirty-seven,
she would be a first-time college graduate—
twenty years since she had graduated from high school and
twenty years she had spent learning
not what she wanted to do,
but what she didn’t want to do.
She had started her college journey for the money,
but had stayed the course for something more.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-437

 

I’ll Take Two of Everything

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I hadn’t planned on getting two degrees when I decided to go to community college for my Health Information Technology degree, but with the Allied Health classes being hard to get into, to make up for what I thought at the time was wasted time (time spent learning something worthwhile is never wasted), I started taking writing and literature classes so I would still qualify as a full-time student and be eligible for all the scholarships I had already applied for.

I hate to say that such classes boost my G.P.A., and it’s not that they’re easy, they’re just fun for me.  They require work, sometimes a lot of work, but it’s fun work.  I try not to inwardly roll my eyes when people talk about their 3.9999999 G.P.A.s when they majored in English or History, because I might have much closer to that if I hadn’t had to take Pathophysiology and harder math classes (okay, hard for me).

But maybe I’m just whining.

So would I go back and change my major if I could?  No, because I need job security, and the healthcare field is where it’s at, but the journey has taken a lot longer than I thought it would, and a lot longer than it should have.  I won’t say that I’m a professional college student (a la Diane Chambers), but rather, a lifelong learner.  (I will graduate no later than spring of next year, one healthcare class, of course, being the hold-up).

Life is funny in ways.  It was because I could only get into one class in my major one semester that I ended up taking Creative Writing.

It was because I was one credit hour short of being a full-time student (the medical internships/practicums being only two credit hours) that I ended up in the one-credit hour College Publications course, which turned out to be the The Corsair student newspaper class.

And taking those classes led me to taking other classes, some of which led to scholarship awards, which enabled me to take even more classes, so I was building toward an A.A. before I realized I wanted one.

So circumstance kept pulling me in a direction that I knew wasn’t the most profitable, but led to the richest experiences. I didn’t become something else, I became more me. It was a creating as much as it was an uncovering.  I could write, but I needed focus and polish, and my college experience has given that tremendous gift to me.

I am incredibly blessed.

*

When I took two maths this last semester, it made me realize that I had no desire to build onto my A.S., but an A.A. Life was too short to spend in the math lab (clocked in 80 hours last semester, btw).  I will never be a scientist or a mathematician, but simply, a writer.  Creative writing won’t pay the bills (at least not anytime soon), but technical writing will (or working for myself as a writing tutor).

Sure, women in STEM is a Thing now–it’s all about breaking glass ceilings, but I don’t care about breaking class ceilings, only my own records. That’s what makes me happy.  That’s what some women who broke glass ceilings fought for–for women to have a choice in what they wanted to do with their lives, and writing is what I want to do with mine.

*

This semester, I am preparing to be the Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper (promoted from copy editor), as well as a student editor of the college’s annual literary journal, Hurricane Review (which I did last year).  I’ve been prepping stories and materials for the fall paper, as well coming up with posts for the Review’s Facebook page and designing the website (https://pschurricanereview.wordpress.com/).  It’s still in its infancy stages, but I’m hoping to learn some graphic design skills in the meantime.

I was reticent about becoming the EIC, but a part of me wanted to give back what I knew I could bring to it.  I really am Sarah Eagle-Eye when it comes to proofreading other people’s work, and, to a certain degree, my own.

What a way to end my community college journey, doing what I love.