A Memoir of Mother Goose

All I ever really needed to know, I learned long before kindergarten, from the adults who loved me.

Mother Goose was my first exposure to literature. I grew up with my dad reading it to me, and now I read it to my child. I’ve found that having a child is not like reliving my childhood, but enjoying, in a different way, the things I once did.

1991 (4).jpg

My dad, when I was a little girl.

For more than twenty years, I didn’t swing on a swing (just in porch swings, like my grandparents) or jumped on a trampoline. While my daughter colors with crayons or plays with Play-Doh—smells that bring back memories of burnt sienna and purple meatballs—I am not brought back, but rather, the past is brought to me.

That rhyme about the old woman in the shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do? I remember the mother kissing them all sweetly and sending them to bed, not “whipping them all soundly,” as I have since discovered was the original rhyme. The children were also going to bed hungry, with nothing but broth and no bread to soak it up.

I grew up on Disney and its sanitization of fairy tales.

In that way, I had a magical childhood, and that is what I strive to give to my daughter. There is time enough for her to learn the not-so-good things that exist in our fallen world.

Childhood is precious and fleeting, for when else do we get to be kids, to believe in Santa Claus and friendly animals and always-happy endings?

Whenever my dad read me “Little Boy Blue,” before he would get to the part about the boy crying (if awakened), I would beg him not to finish it. When you’re a kid, you never cry because you’re happy—that’s what laughter is for.

Now I can understand why “Little Boy Blue” would cry if someone woke him up, as I feel like crying when my alarm goes off in the morning.

Rub-a-dub-dub,
Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato.
Turn ‘em out, knaves all three.

When I was a “sack of potatoes,” as my dad called me, my uncle Bill would run me through the rhyme above, just to hear me say, after the first line, “Three foul balls in a tub.”

I’m sure he taught me that.

Bill.png

My uncle, as I knew him when I was a child.

This was the same guy, after all, who said there was a certain hair in your nose that was connected to your brain, which would kill you if you pulled it.

I think we do things for our parents because we want to please them, but in the case of my uncle, I think I liked the laughs.

Perhaps, even then, a funny seed was planted, and a funny bone was developed.

I just wouldn’t know it was there until many years later.

Hearts, like doors, will open with ease
To very, very little keys.
And don’t forget that two of these
Are “I thank you” and “if you please.”

Every summer, from ages nine to thirteen, I spent my summer vacations in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, with my grandma and grandpa.

My Grandma Booker, a mother of two boys, always told me roughhousing was for outside and to chew with your mouth closed. She showed me the only palatable way to eat peanut butter, which was drizzled (or, in my case, drenched) with Karo syrup. She taught me that a word was only a curse if God was in front of it, which I didn’t really understand, because my parents never used the Lord’s name in vain.

Grandma and Jacques

My grandma, as I knew her when I was a child, with their dog, Jacques.

Even though she also said drinking coffee would turn your feet black, and if you swallowed a watermelon seed, melons would grow out of your ears, she still possessed plenty of wisdom. Even though I wouldn’t understand everything I heard until adulthood, I did understand when she said the three most important phrases were “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”

It is from your elders that you learn your manners, which are the earliest form of soft skills.

When I was a nanny in Sidney, Montana, I was chastised for calling my boss “sir,” and he said something like, “I know in the South, you do all that sir and ma’am business, but we don’t do that around here.” That was the first time I had ever been criticized for my manners.

Since I was not comfortable calling him by his first name (even Alice called Mike and Carol Mr. and Mrs. Brady, and she was practically part of the family), I just didn’t call him anything.

Now, when someone calls me ma’am, like the math tutor who is technically young enough to be my son, it makes me feel old, but I don’t ask him not to call me that, because it is a sign of respect—just like holding the door open for people, regardless of gender, is having manners.

The two signs my daughter knows more than any other is “Thank you” and “Please.” (“You’re welcome” in American Sign Language is the same as “thank you.”) I still remind her to mind her manners.

A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

In high school, I was the Bashful Dwarf, but one of my fondest memories was during my sophomore year. I had a such huge crush on an Environmental Science teacher—a man who looked like a Ken doll (except heterosexual)—that I chose a zero over getting up in front of class. Public speaking always made me break out in hives.

That said, it was all worth it not to look like a fool in front of Mr. Bauer, for whom I would’ve learned to become a botanist.

High school graduation night at Mr. Manatee's

Me, May 1999, at my high school graduation celebratory dinner at Mr. Manatee’s restaurant, which is gone now.

Years later, I would learn it’s the smart people that listened more than they spoke. Maybe that was why the other kids always assumed I was the brilliant one.

Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had another, and didn’t love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.

When I graduated from high school nineteen years ago, I didn’t know it, but I was looking for a place to belong; I thought I’d found it in the Mormon Church.

The Mormons say that the glory of God is intelligence. I always thought it was love, but when you think about it, intelligence increases compassion. I think that was why Jesus was so compassionate; He could see into people’s souls.

He knew why they were broken.

It’s strange, but when I was a Mormon, and a college education was encouraged (whereas a career outside the home, for a woman, was not), I was more interested in finding a husband, for a woman’s worth was so tied into being a wife, and especially a mother. It wasn’t till years after I left the Church and had a husband and one-year-old daughter that I was ready for that college education and learned that a woman was no more selfish for having a career and a family than a man was.

Perfectionism is stressed to Latter-day Saints, and whereas men take it in stride, women take it to heart. The irony is that when I stopped trying to be perfect I was happier, made more progress, and even felt closer to the God they’d recreated in their image.

Hannah Bantry, in the pantry,
Gnawing at a mutton bone;
How she gnawed it,
How she clawed it,
When she found herself alone.

I was almost thirty-two when I had my first child. It took me three days to get used to the idea (I was three months along before I knew), for I’d grown up seeing women with young children looking harried and unkempt; I didn’t want to become that, but the first time I saw my Hannah Banana in the ultrasound, I was transfixed.

For me, teaching and nursing were callings, but motherhood was a sacred calling.
I couldn’t find my cell phone half the time, and every plant I had ever owned died (so much for a botany career), so I wasn’t sure about having to keep up with this little being all the time, but a mother’s instinct kicked in when I held her for the first time.

With Hannah, I got a little more than I was expecting, though I didn’t know she wasn’t perfect, for she was perfect to me.

She still is.

Pink bundle

Me, with baby Hannah, fresh from the hospital.

My daughter is a Tuesday child, “full of grace,” and Hannah literally means grace. Hannah Beth Richards is a quirky kid, or “on the spectrum,” as some would say; I say she is every color in it.

She was so curious and into everything—opening the dishwasher and standing on the door, crawling into closets to play, and getting into the pantry, chewing through the onions and potatoes. A refrain that could often be heard was, “Hannah, out of the pantry,” though she probably thought, “Dammit, Hannah!” was her name for a while.
Though we no longer have a pantry, we have cupboards, and now our refrain is “Hannah, out of the kitchen.”

Multiplication is vexation,
Division is as bad;
The rule of three perplexes me,
And practice drives me mad.

When Hannah was a year old, I decided to enroll at Pensacola State College as a Health Information Technology student. Though I was married (and still am), I knew I’d need to make more money—I had an extra responsibility now.

I’d let math scare me away from college—just because I wasn’t naturally good at it.
When I went back to school, I took all my other classes first, pushing the math till the end. It helped to have “the wind at my back,” as my dad would say, because it was that wind that pushed me forward.

In the spring of 2018, I took College Algebra and Elementary Statistics (which was anything but elementary), so I could still qualify as a work-study student. If there’s anything I hate more than math, it’s looking for a job.

So, I stressed out for sixteen weeks, spending eighty hours in the Math Lab, ending up with two B’s; I’d never been so proud of B’s in my life.

My uncle said his brother was the only one he ever knew who went to college to “get an education.” Apart from a little substitute teaching on the side and doing taxes during tax season, Dad never used his degree for money.

Had I gone to college for the same reason as my dad, I might not have sallied forth.

For Dad, education was its own reward.

For me, it was as much about the education as it was about the experience, and the most important lesson I learned was that I was smart enough for college after all.

A dillar, a dollar, a ten o’clock scholar!
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o’clock,
But now you come at noon.

241 (1)

Me, December 2018, at my college graduation.

An abridged version of this piece was published in The Kilgore Review (2019), having placed first in the nonfiction category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.

 

Sweet Little Nothings

procsimple

She went to beauty school
to learn how to be beautiful—
but only learned how to be vain.
She went to charm school
to learn how to be charming—
but only learned how to be fake.
She went to fashion school
to learn how to design clothes—
only to learn that 1991 had called her,
asking for their fashion back.
She went to law school
to learn the law–
but only learned how to be sneaky
with it.
She went to medical school
to learn how to diagnose others—
but only learned how to misdiagnose herself.
She went to music school,
to learn how to be a musician—
only to learn that she was tone-deaf & off-key.
She went to art school
to learn how to be an artist—
only to paint herself into the dunce corner.
She went to acting school
to learn how to become an actress—
only to learn that she was a terrible liar.
She went to trade school
to learn how to work with her hands—
only to almost lose one.
But when she went to liberal arts school,
she learned how to be herself,
for all the others were expensive versions
of the School of Hard Knocks.
She learned how to be everything
by being the 1 thing she was good at–
a hacker with a flair for the poetic.

Do what you love because you love doing it

Letter from our EIC

There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh. Did you know that’s all some people have? – Joel McCrea (as John Sullivan in Sullivan’s Travels).

My dream profession is to be a humor columnist or bestselling novelist.  I’m so glad that what I’m doing now is all writing-related, even if it’s just helping others with their writing (i.e., editing); however, I still make time for my own writing.  Every.  Day.  Writing keeps you creative; editing keeps your writing clean.   

A columnist position will be much heavier on writing and not on answering telephones (the latter of which is hard for someone who relies heavily on closed-captioning when watching movies); it will also be light on face-to-face customer service and autopilot office duties (e.g. filing and shredding).  The plummiest part about life as a columnist will be that I will not have to rely on other people to get quotes (opening the door for me to be accused of misquoting them) or grant me interviews (opening the door for me to be accused of misrepresenting their organization or not portraying it the way they would have).  This freedom is what makes the creative writing side of journalism much more attractive.  

Newspapers (not news) is dying, but I don’t blame the Internet (entirely).  What’s happening in Washington should be covered by the reporters in D.C.  When I open the local newspaper, I want to read about what’s going on in my town; I want to read about the people in my town.  D.C. will get covered no matter what.  After all, it’s lucrative political theatre—a 3-ring circus with elephants, donkeys, and a slew of other political animals slinging mud and eating each other up (like the gingham dog and the calico cat in Eugene Field’s poem, The Duel).  

If you’re thinking of pursuing a career in communications, you must be patient.  You might have to write about things that do not interest you (e.g. zoning, sewers, school board and city council meetings, etc.), but that’s okay, because that’s just more writing experience.  Every writing assignment I’ve ever been given I’ve treated like it was the most important story I was writing.  

Even though I enjoy writing for newspapers, I prefer more time to polish my pieces, which is why having a weekly column would bridge my fiction and nonfiction writing worlds.  Furthermore, a columnist position will not be so emotionally draining that by the time I get home, my well is too dry to work on my own writing (e.g. blog, novel, etc.).

For now, I am happily pursuing my B.A. in English (with a concentration in Creative Writing), knowing that the real money (and job security) is in technical and business writing—not in creative writing (unless you become the next Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, who are the exceptions rather than the rule), so I may go for the Technical Writing certification, as I’ve already taken Professional and Technical Writing, which I highly recommend, as an elective.

We shall see.  

2019: My Year in Review

2020.png

I feel like I’ve lived several lifetimes since last year.  I’m working nearly full-time from home as a proofreader/editor and am now in university, pursuing my B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing; I’m also back at the Writing Lab as a tutor—a great gig.

Several months ago, however, things weren’t so rosy.

When I got discharged from my full-time position at my alma mater, my first thought was “How am I going to pay the bills?”  But that thought was almost instantly replaced with an overwhelming feeling of relief. 

Three days before graduating with my A.A. and A.S., I was offered a full-time position as an administrative assistant (i.e., secretary/receptionist) for my alma mater’s foundation.  One of my interviewers had said they were “so inspired by my passion for the college” that they actually upgraded the position for me (full benefits and everything).  I like to say that the red carpet was rolled out for me, only for the rug to be pulled out from under me. Being given the boot after all that should’ve been a blow to my pride, but I’ve learned (the hard way) over the last few years that pride is way overrated.    

The story I’m about to tell, I wasn’t sure I was going to tell at all (at least in writing).  A very good friend of mine thought it should be told, so rather than change the names to protect the not-so innocent, I simply won’t mention them (they’re really not that important).

Here it is:

Every year, the foundation puts on a holiday gala for the big donors.  The year before last, it was at another campus, showcasing the healthcare program.  I was the Editor-in-Chief of the college newspaper and wanted to cover it, and my successor was taking photographs.  I thought my boss would be pleased (though that wasn’t the reason why I wanted to do it) that it would be getting some attention.  Plus, I was curious.  

Fancy affairs like this one was are generally not my thing, but there was something so cool, so insanely awesome, that I just had to tell about it:  a robotic mannequin that gave birth.  I captured the whole process on my phone and posted on to our newspaper’s Facebook page.  I think robots in general are cool, but this was just . . . WOW!

When the print edition of my story came out after I returned from winter break, a shitstorm hit.  The dean from the campus where the gala had been held came into the foundation office and talked to my boss, who went into a panic, asking where all the newspapers had been distributed, asking me to take down the video, etc.

So what happened?

The new Editor-in-Chief (the photographer that night) had replaced one of the photos at the last minute (she didn’t have a name for the caption, which is sort of a cardinal sin in the newspaper business) with a photo of the robotic mannequin giving birth (I’m not even sure if the fake genitalia was in view).  My boss informed me that because I worked for the foundation, certain things would be expected of me.  She didn’t even give me the chance to tell her that I had handed the reins over to the new EIC at the end of last year and had had nothing to do with the photograph (I guess donors don’t look at our Facebook page).  

As my grandma used to say, I was all worked up into a tizzy (even though I knew she couldn’t fire me for something over this), I walked outside and called the Editor-in-Chief, whose calm made me realize that I had done nothing wrong.    

My boss was so afraid of losing donors, referencing some anti-Trump art by a teacher (which had caused the school to lose donors), that she couldn’t see the bigger picture:  Donors don’t control the news.

What was even more insane was that donors were there that night and saw the whole thing.  I thought, if someone sees childbirth and thinks it pornographic, then they are the ones with the problem.  

My boss treated me with condescension (but never in front of people) after that, and it got to the point where I didn’t feel like I could do anything right, even take a simple telephone message; she even hung up on me when I was couldn’t find the information she was looking for fast enough.  What’s more, she acted like it was a great thing that I was losing my job because I didn’t belong there anyway, while trying to convince me that newspaper writing wasn’t that different from fundraising.  It had already gotten to the point where I was sick to my stomach whenever she came in.    

Those weeks I was unemployed I was filled with angst.  I hate looking for a job with a passion—the boring ass job applications, the endless cover letters that have to be specifically tailored to the position you are applying for (just look at my freaking resume), the interviewing (ahem, auditioning) phase, etc.  I interview well, but I hate feeling like I have to be a put-on.  The whole process is a real drag and takes a toll on your morale.  When my husband finally blew up and said he was tired of me being stressed out all the time, I broke down, finally admitting I hated her.  I think I must have said I hated her fifty times, for it felt so good to get it off my chest.  And then the most amazing thing happened:  All the anger and angst was gone.  I had been so angry with myself for allowing her to make me feel like I was a complete incompetent; never will I allow someone to have that power over me again.  

And that’s the story I never thought I’d have the courage to tell, out of fear that I would burn my bridges for a second chance at full-time employment in another department.  I also feared being judged harshly for publishing this, but this is the most honest piece I’ve ever written.  This was definitely not something that should’ve been written right after it happened (it would’ve been more of a rant), but with a little dust comes perspective.  Out of fear of losing my job (why it sucks being the breadwinner sometimes), I didn’t stand up for myself like I should have.  I regret that greatly.  I just didn’t feel I was in a position to be the least bit confrontational, for you see, the person who has the greater socio-economic status tends to be the one who gets the benefit of the doubt.  I also did not wish to diminish my good reputation or good name at the college that really had given me so much.  

If only I had known I was going to lose the job anyway, how different I might have handled things.  I hate feeling like someone got one over on me, but I love Frank Sinatra’s quote:  The best revenge is massive success.

And now that I make significantly more than I did there, I feel that I have achieved that “revenge” to some degree.  I also know that I was in the wrong place; being there at the wrong time helped me see that.  I’m glad that article came out when it did—that I got to see the mask come off.  I’m glad that I’m home when my daughter gets off the bus, that I’m able to pursue my writing degree, which I couldn’t have if I was still working there, as the university doesn’t offer all the online classes that the college does.  Because I would have put my family first, I would’ve put my degree on hold to keep the money coming in until I found something better.  

I would’ve hated to give up the benefits (two weeks paid time off for winter break, one week paid time off for spring break, and at least a week of other paid days off, as well as paid sick leave and personal leave), however, I sort of got all that anyway.  I figured out that I save 45 minutes of driving time a day, which equals to approximately 21 hours a month that I can be home with my family or working on my writing.  

Though I am happy scholastically and occupationally, my life hasn’t magically become perfect (I still have rent and car payments), but it’s better and I am so much better off than I was at this time last year.  Because I am not stressed out over work or school (no more math or science), I am happier at home.  I know I will never be able to avoid stress completely, but I am learning how to avoid unnecessary stress and better handle the stress I do have.  

My focus this year will be on finishing all my unfinished writing projects (I have a few novels), cleaning up my blog (I’ve almost ditched all the stock photography and am working on my own graphics), working on pieces for publication (besides what I publish on my blog and on Medium Daily Digest), organizing my entire flash drive, and learning how to create my own book covers to self-publish a few shorter pieces that I don’t envision being published by a traditional publisher.  

I also have goals for my daughter (reading!) but these are mine.  A Facebook friend was asking what our word was for 2019, and I said “actualization.”  When she asked how did I expect it to impact my life, I said, “It already has,” for it was this year that I realized I needed to do what I was made for.

As for my big takeaway from 2019?  Tell your story.  You own it.  

Happy New Year!

For Her

In Spain, surrounded by toys.jpg

For the child whose mother served her country
& whose dad served her burnt meals,
winning the genetic lottery
meant being born to parents who loved her.
For the young woman who retired early,
sleep was neither a waste of time nor a pastime—
it was what made wake time better.
For the gainfully unemployed,
work was not just about doing what she loved,
but about what she had to give to it.
For the artiste & poetess,
education wasn’t just STEM,
but about the humanities that humanized society—
the creativity & imagination that enhanced the earthly existence.
For the wife who was still in love with her husband,
a soul-mate wasn’t someone who always understood her,
but was someone who loved her
despite not always understanding her.
For the college mom who turned down the chance to study abroad,
children were blessings that did not come
without sacrificing a selfish part of themselves—
sacrifice that was without regret.
For the middle-aged widow staring at a stack of bills,
being rich meant having everything she needed,
& a little bit more.
For the elderly lady who was healed,
health was the most precious wealth,
for with vibrant health,
she had the wherewithal to do all things.

How to schedule posts ahead of time on your Facebook author/business page

This semester, I chose Professional and Technical Writing as one of my electives.

One of our assignments was to create a set of instructions.  Immediately, I thought of something I already knew how to do, which was how to schedule Facebook page posts ahead of time.  I spend about a day or two before a new semester starts, scheduling posts three days a week for the next four months.  (It helps to have plenty of content.)  I also have my Instagram set up to automatically post to my Facebook page.   

This instruction set got a 100% and some fab feedback, so I felt confident enough to share it.  🙂  Let me know how it works out for you in the comment box below.

Front page

Click here for the full instructions:  Resdesigned Facebook instructions

Stopping Something Old to Start Something New

Untitled

Sometimes you don’t know when the last time will be the last time, but as I was slogging through a group project for my Literacy for Emergent Learners class, inundated with texts and emails from group members, I realized that I needed to shift my focus.

When I saw the Writer’s Digest poetry prompt today, where I had to use 3 of 6 words in a list (one of my least favorite prompts, btw), I realized, after three years of participation, that it was time to retire “Writer’s Digest Wednesdays.”  November Poem-a-Day challenge will be coming soon; even though I feel I’ve mastered it, my focus needs to be on finishing school and building my (paying) writing career.  

I’ve always said that serious bloggers should blog at least twice a week, so #Micropoetry Mondays and #Fiction Fridays will be a mainstay, as those posts I can schedule in advance.  My work-school-life schedule has gotten too intense, and I’m ready for the shift to less timely writing projects. 

The time I’ve spent on my Wednesday blog installments has been well-spent—it’s instilled in me the power to meet 24-hour deadlines (which are a must in the incredibly shrinking newsroom), it’s helped me write a ton of poetry I wouldn’t have written otherwise, and it’s helped me cross over the 1000-post threshold—but I’m looking forward to working on longer form projects.  

I can finally work on editing my novel (for about the eighth time).

I will still post my short Instagram poems on weekends and writing tips on my Facebook page, but it’s time to do more “behind-the-scenes” writing on a regular basis.  I’ve already proven to myself that I can write something everyday; now, I want to work on projects that will take at least a week—projects I will actually take the time to edit.

I also want to learn how to illustrate my own work.

I enrolled in University, thinking I would be writing for the student newspaper regularly until I graduated, but I’m shifting focus to freelancing gigs.  I might still contribute an article if I happen to be attending an event that interests me, but creative writing will always be my first love (I don’t have to worry about transcribing audio or having to deal with flaky people whose information or interview I need to write my article).

I realize I’ve spent a lot of time writing for sure things—my blog, the college newspaper, etc.—instant gratification pieces. 

Now, it’s time to get serious and start writing those query letters.   

Me.jpg

Me, in one of my many offices, after a particularly trying day.