Poem-a-Day Writer’s Digest Challenge #21. Theme: Strange

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I am a Strange One:

A Self-Portrait in Writing

I turn my clock backwards
before I go to sleep.
I am a strange one.

I don’t like to sleep on pillows,
but rather between two of them.
I am a strange one.

I set my clock ahead five minutes,
for 7:00 a.m. is too close to 6:59.
I am a strange one.

I am studying to work in the healthcare profession,
but the sight of blood makes me faint.
I am a strange one.

I love to read crime thrillers,
but I love to write children’s nursery rhymes.
I am a strange one.

I read the dictionary for fun,
Hemingway for school.
I am a strange one.

I am a maximumist when it comes to books,
a minimalist when it comes to DVDs.
I am a strange one.

I love foreign films with subtitles,
but close captioning drives me crazy.
I am a strange one.

I love and appreciate fine art,
but have a hologram of a tree hanging in my house.
I am a strange one.

I watch Fox and read the HuffPost.
I love the Shopaholic series, but am a fan of Dave Ramsey.
I am a strange one.

I have seven Rubbermaid Tupperware containers,
and seven Rubbermaid lids.
I am a strange one.

I like Coca Cola from Mexico,
but I would never drink the water there.
I am a strange one.

I don’t love to cook,
but I love to watch cooking shows.
I am a strange one.

I’d much rather “meet my meat”
than cook it.
I am a strange one.

I buy a new fruit or vegetable first,
then try to figure out what to do with it later.
I am a strange one.

I love most everything fried,
but I prefer my fries baked.
I am a strange one.

I don’t like bananas,
but I love banana cream pie.
I am a strange one.

I love the beach and water aerobics,
but I never learned to swim.
I am a strange one.

My dream vacation is in Iceland,
but I hate the cold.
I am a strange one.

I love cat jokes,
but will probably never have a cat.
I am a strange one.

I like to make bars of soap,
but I prefer to use body wash.
I am a strange one.

I am a night owl,
but I hate when it gets dark early.
I am a strange one.

I hate cold weather,
but I love to be able to wear nylons and sweaters.
I am a strange one.

I like to wear socks inside the house,
but not outside the house (with shoes).
I am a strange one.

I find brassieres uncomfortable,
but not bikini tops.
I am a strange one.

I prefer skirts and mittens
over pants and gloves,
because I like my parts to touch.

I don’t like beards,
but I like a man who can grow one.
I am a strange one.

I like a man who wears cologne,
but I don’t wear perfume.
I am a strange one.

I don’t mind loading washers and dishwashers,
but I hate emptying them.
I am a strange one.

I love shopping for clothes,
but I hate trying them on.
I am a strange one.

I live in the Deep South,
but I don’t say y’all.
I am a strange one.

I don’t have a single tattoo or piercing,
yet I love chandelier earrings.
I am a strange one.

I am an introvert,
but I wait tables for a living.
I am a strange one.

My truths may be strange,
but they are not stranger than fiction.
We are all contradictory,
and, at times, just a little bit OCD,
in our own way.

But at least I don’t go to a seafood restaurant
and order a hamburger.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #312, Theme: Dead

 

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Dead Air

It was when the world went dark,
silent, but not still,
like the holding of a breath
during a home invasion,
seven something years ago,
that I was on my way to work,
listening to Dave talk about debt.

It was a day like any other,
but aren’t they always?
I listened to dead air
for thousands of seconds
before I turned it off,
so used to the voices was I–
the voices that made me feel
like I was a part of something more
than just my own life.
I was sharing in the joy of another young couple
paying off more debt than I could make in ten years.

It was August in Florida,
and when I got out of the car,
I felt like I was walking through a steam bath.
I used my cell phone to call my husband,
but there was no signal.
I picked up our landline,
but there was no dial tone.

I turned on the television.
Nothing.
I turned on my computer,
but again,
nothing.
No connection.
Communication was lost.

It was like “The Birds”,
this absence of technology–
like some kind of fog had flown over our town,
creating this quiet chaos.
Without constant communication,
it was like we were asleep,
like in “The Village of the Damned”.

The world as I knew it,
died that day,
but I wouldn’t know it for hours.
I suddenly felt very afraid,
for always before, anyone I loved
was just a phone call away.

When you came home,
you told me there would be no more
electronic communication for a long time,
if ever.
I thought of all my friends on Facebook–
some I couldn’t even remember where they lived,
and I felt they were lost to me forever.
It had been a long time since I’d ever really had to remember anything–
an address,
a phone number,
the meaning of a word.

The newspapers still managed to run,
but gone were the talking heads,
telling me how to think about what I heard.
I think I saw things as they really were for the first time.
Like the veil that we pass through when we’re born,
so that we forget from whence we came,
the veil of instant communication was parted that day,
and then disappeared like the mist.

Neighbors began to meet for coffee,
and there was a resurgence of books and poetry.
I saw teenagers playing outside,
and I rushed inside to grab my camera
to capture that perfect moment.
We began to relearn things we thought we had forgotten:
counting back change, cursive writing,
reaching out first in person without the screen-to-screen icebreaker.

The information superhighway was a pile of virtual rubble.
The news sites were replaced with newspapers,
the e-mail, with a handwritten letter,
for it seemed pointless to sit at a computer,
talking to no one.
I had to ask my husband where to put the addresses,
where to find the stamps.
I spent time looking across to the neighbor’s yard,
and saw children playing—
teenagers, no less.

Suddenly, the world which had seemed so small,
seemed so very large.
The other side of the world was like a dream
I could no longer imagine.
My children have never known a world like the one I had,
and I’m not sure they ever will.
Communication with a text,
a tweet,
is gone.

We speak now with our eyes,
our words,
our gestures;
not in memes,
or in 140 characters or less.
Characters.
It means what it used to mean.
I write a letter now,
the imprint of third-grade cursive
still engraved in my memory;
then I go to dust off the dictionary
to look up a word,
and I see not just the word I searched,
but the next word,
and the next,
until I have gone through all the C’s.

Somehow, a friend of mine found me,
and we managed to locate some of the rest.
Not all of us exchanged letters,
and even those that did began to feel so very far away.

The world I once knew is gone,
but this other world,
where the old has become new again,
is otherworldly.
I try to think when it was I stopped waiting,
hoping for the old way of life to return,
but I can’t remember;
I only know that it isn’t as bad as I would have thought,
for we humans are resilient.
We adjust,
we adapt,
we persevere.

Reality TV, and The Reality of the American Economy

I am not a fan of reality television, with two exceptions:  I love “Shark Tank” and “MasterChef”.  I consider most news programs (on any channel–network or cable) reality TV, since news is more talking heads, opinion, and speculation rather than facts.

I used to watch “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” (a guilty pleasure that left me as unsatisfied as a box of Little Debbies–the commentary on realitysteve.com was far more entertaining).  I even used to miss a favorite yoga class to watch it with my mom (not before the days of DVR, but we’re always behind the times about ten years when it comes to technology).

I enjoy “MasterChef” because I like to cook.  I love “SharkTank” because I love the entrepreneurial spirit–I hope to one day invent a product that makes me a millionaire.  Not sure about starting a business, though.  According to the Sharks, you should spend 16-20 hours a day on your business.  If I didn’t get at least seven hours of sleep a day, I can’t think clearly.  When Mark Cuban talks about how he used to eat ketchup and mustard sandwiches, well, all I can say is, “Really?!”

I don’t think you have to starve yourself or go without sleep to be successful.  I think you just have to be focused, work hard, and it does help to start small.  I am amazed at the number of people who go on there and they’ve mortgaged their house and went deep into debt.  I know what Dave Ramsey would say about that, but I also know he doesn’t believe you should go into debt to go to college (which I disagree with, to a certain extent–if you’re getting a degree in Art History, yes, but engineering, no).  I look at college as an investment in one’s future.

There was one lady who started her business with two hundred dollars–money she’d made one summer from cashing in aluminum from old windows her husband took out (he was some kind of contractor).  She even taught herself to sew (which I can’t even fathom because that was one of two classes I flunked in high school, that and geometry).

Now that admission segues me into talking about the product I’ve created.  However, I not only have to learn how to sew to make this work, but I would have to secure a patent (which would be very expensive).  I’ve made a very crude prototype (there’s a word I learned from the show) for myself that works great.  I think there is a market for it.  However, the uncertainty scares me.  I may not be too big to fail, but I am too poor to fail.  I am not a salesperson–I am an inventor.  Just like I love the creative part of writing, I hate the marketing/business part.  I would be totally fine with receiving a royalty off of every sale–just make me money!  I don’t want the headache of running a business.  I really don’t.  I believe in simplifying life, not complicating it.

That said, I know I would have to agree to have my product manufactured overseas to cut costs.  I am okay with that.  I’d prefer to have the label “Made in America”, but it just isn’t feasible when you’re just starting out.  There was a man who pitched his idea of some kind of pick-up truck add-on, but he was adamant about it being made in the USA to help bring jobs to his impoverished town.  I get that, but until you become big, you can’t afford to do that.  He made zero profit.  If you can’t help yourself, you can’t help anyone else.

The reality is that we’re a global economy.  Ninety-nine percent of people just aren’t willing to pay more for something of the exact same quality, just to get that “Made in America” label.  Most of them can’t afford to.

I’d love for all our goods to be made here, but I don’t think that’ll ever happen.  We’re a consumerist society, a service-based economy.

Right now, I am focused on trying to make more money, to help give my family a better quality of life.  Sometimes, in order to achieve the American Dream, one must be flexible doing business beyond her borders.

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Boredom wastes time

Greg Gutfeld says there’s no excuse for boredom in this era of instant gratification.  I tend to agree (however, constant boredom can be a sign of depression).

I have worked boring jobs (being a teller at a bank was one of them), but I believe the writer (and the reader) in me keeps boredom at bay.  I am always brainstorming, which makes it hard for my mind to shut down when it is time to go to sleep.

Another WordPress blogger, Matt Walsh, said something that struck me.  He said there is always work to be done.  Perhaps boredom is a sign that we have too much free time–time we allow ourselves to be caught up in our own boredom.  I’m sure boredom was the least of our ancestors’ problems (though I will take it over the hardships they had to deal with).

I’ve heard that many retirees don’t live long after retirement–they work all their lives so they won’t have to, only to find that they’re lonely and/or bored when they finally don’t.  One reason (I think) the Japanese have such a long lifespan is that their lives never cease to have purpose.  They stay busy.

Years ago, I read a story that stuck with me.  I don’t remember any of the names of the characters, or even the title.  It was about a ruler in Japan who became an evil dictator, who ordered all the old people to be put to death.  One of the young men or women secretly put their mother/father/grandmother/grandfather up far away on a mountaintop.  Meanwhile, a terrible plague came to the village below.  The dictator offered a reward to anyone who could figure out a way to drive the plague out.  This person who saved their family member in secret went up to where their old relative was; whatever solution this old relative came up with freed the village from the plague.  When the ruler found out, from then on, all the elderly were revered for their wisdom, rather than reviled for their age.

I think if our life has a purpose, we cease to be bored.  Sometimes we don’t know what our purpose is, but we can find it, or at least make our life more purposeful.

Though my daughter is still a baby and depends on my husband and me for constant care, her life has purpose as it is right now.  She has taught me to be more patient, less selfish.  Reading to her has helped me read better aloud, or at least be more comfortable reading to the local writer’s group I am a member of.  Singing to her helps me relax (not easy for this type-A personality).  It’s nice to have someone to sing to (even though I’m no Patti Page).  To borrow a line from one of the former bachelors, I’ve learned to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.  She has inspired me in so many ways she doesn’t even know.

Billy Graham says one of the greatest problems facing young people today is boredom.  I didn’t stay in college because I found many of the classes boring, and I let that keep me from getting my degree.  Sometimes, a little boredom comes with the territory.  I love to cook, but I hate the cleanup afterwards.  However, the tedium of doing the dishes is worth it.  We can’t expect our lives to be fun and exciting all the time.  That expectation that every job is supposed to be like that is why (I think) so many young people are clockwatchers and have so little enthusiasm for their jobs.

Dave Ramsey encourages us to pursue our passions.  I work with a lady who was an insurance processor for twenty-five years, to which I said, “You must have loved your job”, to which she replied, “No, I hated it.”  This is not the first time I’ve encountered someone who worked for years at a job they had no passion for, or even hated.  You do what you have to do, but always keep working towards what you want to do.

I let myself get sucked into retail for several years, but I told myself as long as it paid the bills so I could write in my off-time, it was okay.  Since marrying and starting a family, I want more now, because it isn’t just about me anymore.  It isn’t always greedy to want more, not when you’re willing to work for it.

Don’t be bored.  There is always something new to learn, a book to read, a story to tell–there is always work to be done.

Wishing I’d paid for the big shovel

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I liked Dave Ramsey’s Facebook page awhile back.  I still like Dave Ramsey.  I tend to agree with him, if what he says can be done by everyone.  I admit, I don’t care to watch Internet videos (I don’t have the patience–I’d much rather scan an article), but he posted a clip of him telling one of his callers that student loans/college debt is stupid.  This is the video, in case you’re interested:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_OPSYwZveM

I agree, if your degree is in philosophy or gender studies or art history.  I agree even if your degree is in something that will give you the skills needed to make real money, unless you’re going to medical school (which costs a fortune) and you don’t have time to work (med. school is very demanding); I want anyone who is wanting to become a doctor to go to school, but still have time to study and sleep.  Not everyone can work their way through school, but if you can, you should.

Scholarships are always mentioned, but most of them are so specific, they only apply to a select few.  You’re better off waiting tables (if you have the time).  If you qualify for a pell grant, go for it.  The quicker you can start making a living wage, the better, and Uncle Sam will get all that money he (i.e. the American taxpayers) put up for your education back in the taxes you will pay.

Had I chosen to go into debt for college (which I consider an investment in oneself), I would be making a lot more money.  My friends, who went into debt to go to school, are in much better shape financially (and well into their careers) than I am (granted, they’re in their mid-thirties and still paying off their student loans, though I attribute that to not having that “gazelle intensity” Dave talks about).  I just know they’re in a better position than me.  I’ve never been good at selling myself (I was taught one should never have to beat their drum, if they were good), but at least my friends have something to sell.

Though I only have a couple grand in student loan debt (from when I thought I wanted to be a chef), I’d trade that small debt for a sizable one with a career to pay it off.  Listening to Dave’s show, I’ve been convinced that one is better off in deep debt, but with a big shovel to dig themselves out, than with no debt, but barely scraping by.  Our little shovel (more like a teaspoon) is just enough to pay the bills and enjoy some of the niceties of life (a meal out, a new book, etc.).

My parents didn’t encourage higher education, as they believed all you had to do to get ahead was to work hard.  Years ago, when people worked for the same company for forty-two years (as my grandfather did with Union Pacific Railroad), that was true, but not anymore.  You have to have that piece of paper now to even be given a chance at the not so low hanging fruit.  I’ve seen total bozos get jobs that weren’t related to their degree in any way, but because they had that piece of paper, they were given opportunities beyond entry level–they did not have to work their way up.

Going back to my comments about medical school…if one had to pay out of pocket for that, they’d be working minimum wage (practically) for years to save up that kind of money.  Dave’s advice is best for most people, but isn’t practical for everyone.

The Millionaires’ Club

I am a fan of Dave Ramsey.  Most of his advice I agree with, but just because he’s a millionaire, doesn’t mean that if we disagree on something, that makes us wrong (even if we’re not millionaires…yet).  He recently published a piece on millionaires that I found too cherry-picked:  http://www.daveramsey.com/blog/recognize-a-millionaire.

First on the list is Hilary Swank, who clips coupons.  I don’t clip coupons out of the newspaper, I print them off the computer.  It costs you either way, whether you factor in the price of the newspaper or the ink and paper one uses to print.  I prefer the convenience of the latter.  Hilary Swank doesn’t think of herself as wealthy (as the article claims), but just because she doesn’t think she is doesn’t mean than she’s not.  I don’t see how this mindset has factored into her being (and remaining) wealthy, because there are plenty of people who are filthy rich and know it, and they stay rich.  I do think clipping coupons (and sometimes, not buying something at all) isn’t a way to get rich, but rather a way to get a good deal and save money.  I use coupons, but I end up spending what I’m saving on something else.  I just get more bang for my buck.

I think Dave Ramsey is under the false impression that a lot of people spend money to impress people they don’t like.  I admit, I like having a nice house to have friends over, but I also like having nice things for my own pleasure.  I enjoy decorating my home and making it a place that is comfortable and functional.  The main thing for me is keeping it clutter-free.

Next on Dave’s list is Dave Cheriton, a Google investor.  This guy is a billionaire.  He saves half of all his restaurant meals for the next day.  One could say, why eat in restaurants at all?  Why not just brown bag it?  I’ve heard that most restaurant meals (when you factor in appetizers, free bread and the dessert) would feed a family of four in most third world countries, but if I did what Mr. Cheriton did, the food wouldn’t taste as good the second time and I’d still be hungry upon leaving the restaurant.  This just seems like the equivalent of a millionaire not upsizing his fast food order every time.

However, I do think Warren Buffet was worth mentioning.  He lives in the same, paid-for home he bought fifty years ago.  If my husband and I didn’t have to pay for housing, we’d be sittin’ in butter.

Now this segues into one of the few things I disagree with Dave Ramsey about.  I don’t think it’s necessary to rent until you can buy a home outright (especially if you don’t make the kind of money most of his callers do).  After all, the rent my husband and I are paying is paying for our landlady’s mortgage.  That’s like paying interest right there.  What’s more, when you rent, your landlord can raise your rent every year, but if you had a fixed house payment, there wouldn’t be that worry.  I hear all this claptrap about don’t buy homes you can’t afford (one might have been able to afford it when they bought it), but you still have to live somewhere, and sometimes mortgage payments are cheaper than rent payments.  I do think, if possible, one should save up to buy a house, but for us working class folks, that might take us twenty years, and in twenty years of mortgaging, we might be able to have a paid-for house, because what we used to pay in rent, we apply to the mortgage.

My husband and I live in a rental house, and after just one year, we’re going to have to move, because our landlady can’t afford to stay in the house she’s in (talk about the sins of the landlords trickling down to the second generation of tenants).  I don’t understand why anyone would want to have two house payments.  That is no way to live!

Now the bit about Mitt Romney (I don’t care how you feel about him–this is not a political blog) shopping for blue light specials on golf clubs at K-Mart, that’s great.  Why spend more for something you can get for less?  However, the man does own several homes, but that was after he became a millionaire, so that brings me full circle to the title of my post.  Some thrifty habits one keeps, even after they become millionaires, but as for owning several homes, unless he got a really sweet deal on them, I think that sort of dwarfs the money he saved on the golf clubs.  I just think if I ever became that rich, I’d prefer to put spend my money on vacations and classes–experiences rather than things.  Of course, one can have a pretty nice experience in a vacation home.

Balancing Acts

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Beginning in March, my life will be a stay-at-home mom by day, student by night, and employee by/on(?) weekends.  I just got hired at a food co-op, an industry I actually care about (natural and organic foods).  I’m one of those people who always has about seven different projects going on at once, just as my mind is like having seven tabs on the computer open at the same time.  I won’t have as much time for writing as I do now; l miss that extra time already.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve been burning the two a.m. oil every night this week, trying to make up for time I haven’t spent yet.

I have a novel (“The Rise and Fall of Alfred Bomber”) that, after eleven years in the can, I’m going to finish editing and submit to Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Contest; the book is about a Mormon missionary who returns to his hometown of Sidney, Montana (where I was a live-in nanny for nine months about a decade ago) to find that his brother has come out of the closet.  There is also the subplot of the mysterious and elusive “Summertime Rapist” who haunts the tween girls of the town, as he only attacks after the final thaw.

Then there are the three novelettes (see the Sarah Lea Sales page) I am editing for submission to Amazon for digital publication, as there isn’t much of a market for novelettes.

I am also querying and entering as many contests as I can.  My goal, once I start this full-plated schedule, it to submit at least one piece a week, while producing at least one piece or chapter of a longer work in that same time frame.

Since becoming a wife and mother, no longer living solely for myself, I’ve learned to manage my time better.  I think that [time management] is the key to prosperity (see Dave Ramsey’s list, “20 Things the Rich Do Every Day”).  I simply don’t have the time to accomplish all I want to if I spend too much of it watching TV.  I’ve since learned to be choosier with what programs I spend time watching.

I discussed the list with my parents, who interpreted it in an entirely different way than I did.  They saw the list as effects breeds the cause, whereas I saw it as the opposite.  The reason the poor watch so much reality TV, they said, is because that’s all they can afford to do.  They can’t afford to go to plays and to the opera and such.

I saw it as if you don’t spend too much time watching reality TV, but doing (not watching) something more productive, you’re more likely to be successful.  I’m not saying everyone who watches reality TV is a cretin (Megyn Kelly watches “The Bachelor”), but I know television watching has taken the place of book reading for many as the preferred form of entertainment.  When one watches a television program, they don’t have to use their imaginations, but when one reads a book, their imaginations have to fill in the blanks.  One of the preschool teachers at my and my husband’s church said that it wasn’t unheard of for one of her students to inform her that there weren’t any books in their house.  Some didn’t even know how to use a crayon!

What many people don’t understand is that kids don’t have to be entertained all the time.  They may whine at first about wanting to watch TV, and parents let them because it assuages their guilt (that’s my armchair diagnosis), but they’ll get over it and find something else to do.  I think all kids have imaginations–they just need to be given the opportunity to use them.  Maybe kids just don’t have enough work to do anymore to keep them busy.  I told my husband if Hannah ever says she’s bored, she’ll be given something to do that won’t be fun.  That is one sentence I am not going to put up with hearing in my house.

It seemed to bother one of my friends quite a bit when her young daughter said their house was boring.  A few of us told her to give the girl some chores.  What kids need to realize is that life isn’t going to be exciting all the time.  Sometimes it’s routine and mundane, and that’s okay.  There is a time for everything.

I’m no fan of Dr. Phil, but I did agree with him when he said bored people were boring.  I have to say, though I find some things boring, I, myself, am never bored.  I’m not a workaholic (I’m a big believer in having a work-life balance), but I do believe staying busy keeps us happy, as long as we make time for our family and friends.

If we have too much on our plate, we put too much stress on our body, but if we have too little, it leaves us feeling unsatisfied.  As long as we’re always working to achieve that balance, we can live full, happy lives.