Musings

Birthday musings

Today is my birthday.  I am now old enough to add an Amtrak discount to those at the local movie theater and Denny’s. I am old enough that I haven’t been carded in two decades.  I am old enough to wake up with stiff hands and a knee that clicks as I head down the stairs to the kitchen. I am old enough to find myself in the middle of a room with no idea why I went there or what I went there to get.

I am still young enough to marvel at sunsets and to have my heart lift at the narcissus and forsythia blooming in the neighborhood this week. I am young enough to dream about what I want to be and to believe in the power of one person to change the world.

I will always root for the underdog, cry at commercials with baby humans or animals, and sing when I’m alone. I will always have the shy, misfit four-year-old in my brain, sharing space with the depressed, sarcastic teenager, and the nerdy graduate student who outlined a short story with characters speaking Anglo-Saxon.

I am old enough to take fewer things for granted, to spend less time on things I cannot change. I am old enough to feel less like a misfit,  not to voice the sarcastic thoughts I have when it is not helpful or appropriate. I’m old enough to realize that education does not make a person better, and sometimes not even smarter.

Despite all my decades, I’m still learning and evolving.  Here’s to learning more in the next year.  

Garden of Steel Magnolias, WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday Christine the child

Flipping to another WIP, a novella based on the life of Christine de Pizan (1364-1431), the first woman in France to make a living as an author. I give you 18 sentences, adding 9+10, and well, minus 1, because that’s where the piece stops.

If you want to join in, post a snippet from a current WIP that has some connection to the date, and link to the blog hop here. It is hosted by K L Schwengel–thank you!

“Christine, please pay attention to your spinning. It is a disaster, yet you refuse to learn. You must use both your hands in concert.” Christine thought, Synchronicity, like Papa explained about the celestial spheres.

Her mother continued her rant, “Look at the lumps in your wool! Your father thinks he can make you into a scholar, stuffing your head full of Latin and science. It’s not right for a woman to know how to write. How we will ever find a husband for you, I do not know!”

I’ll find my own husband, Christine thought. Stifling a yawn at the perennial argument, she searched through her Latin in a familiar game. Oscitate, yes, that’s yawning, she smiled to herself. Out loud, she said dutifully, “Yes, maman, I will try harder.” She picked up more roving to bear out her promise.

She loved her maman, but she wanted more than her mother’s life.  Christine yearned to be a scientist like her father, famous at the French court for his knowledge of astrology and the humours of the body.   She wanted to discover whether the pestilence that had ravaged the world was due to the conjunction of three planets, as some thought, or from a miasma, a mala aria in her native Italian. She would be as famous as her father, some day, and not for her spinning. She would be a new sort of woman.

EM

 

Misfit Magic, World Sexual Health Day

Eyes and heart wide open at the Second Annual World Sexual Health Day

In the wee hours of Friday morning, September 5th, I arrived home from an inspiring and liberating trip to New York City for the Second Annual World Sexual Health Day celebration.  The day, in all its components, was bigger than one blog post, and the telling of it will take much reflection. I discovered a refreshing look at sexual health and well-being; an event full of laughter, support, and an emphasis on the health/well-being/psychological side of the picture which was surprising, liberating, and comforting beyond words.

Wrapped around the celebration were good food and good friends in an almost medieval celebration of travel in company. I enjoy the vibrancy and speed of New York City, reveling in the rush of humanity, the eddies at narrow points that remind me of rivers going under bridges, splashing at the pillars that block their path. I prize eavesdropping on the languages I know, trying to identify those I don’t, and catching up on the latest fashions which will never grace my form.  My love of the city is somewhat new, as a recent transplant to upstate, which gave showing my finds to my companions an extra elation. The venue for the celebration, The Cutting Room, was a comfortable red, bronze, and wood room with a matching ambience, a new discovery filed in my memory.

In total disclosure, I had no idea what the evening was going to be.  I’d signed up to go for utterly selfish reasons: to meet August McLaughlin of #GirlBoner fame, whom I’ve known online for a couple of years now, to see New York, and slightly less selfishly, to accompany Shan Jeniah as tour guide to the big city. What I found was altering in some deep ways I have not completely processed yet.

In her opening statement, Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh did not discount the disease or dysfunction side of things, but added the missing celebratory piece, pointing out a Google search for sexual health would provide more than enough information about dysfunction and disease.  Her statement turned my historical focus on that aspect of sexuality on its head. Dysfunction and disease, or fear thereof, has punctuated my adult life from the beginning. From August’s introductory meditation on the color of our sexuality–deepest, royal purple, thank you–to Dr. Sara’s final compassionate plea for understanding those in differing cultures and beliefs, I felt such lightness of heart.

All the artistic pieces, from the stunningly beautiful photography in the bar to the acroyoga to the lovely tangos played by a cello and bandoneon duet found crannies in my heart, and I plan to post about them as well.  Right now, however, I’d like to detail the theatre pieces punctuating the evening and striking a harmonic resonance in my inner misfit.  Jeffrey Solomon and Emily Joy Weiner played the roles in Houses on the Moon, three vignettes, touching, gentle statements about the difficulties faced by those not on the exact center of the sexual spectrum.   The first, an allegorical piece about anchovy pizza, displayed the insensitive and invasive questions posed to humans on the left or right of center in that spectrum.  The transgendered roommate snafu portrayed further the quest for understanding and acceptance. The final piece, the teenage best friends confronted with the differing sexes of their heartthrobs, crystallized that need for understanding from those closest as well as the passing stranger. The pieces touched me, making me evaluate whether I was as sensitive in real life as I had imagined.

I encourage all of you to enjoy the streaming video, and celebrate sexuality in some small way.  Sign up on the World Sexual Health Day Facebook page, and follow the hashtag #WSHD on Twitter, so you can join us next year, or, if the trip is not feasible, to stay apprised of next year’s event and join us virtually.

EM

 

 

WIPpet Wednesday

WIPPet Wednesday Memoir The Good Girl

More from my memoir.  Thanks to KL Schwengel, who hosts WIPpet Wednesday.  If you want to join, post an excerpt that has something to do with the date and add it to the linky here. My math is 9+3=12+2=14+4-=18 for 18 sentences today.

After dropping out of high school, I went  to a very small women’s college, where I first breathed free as a scholar.  I did not have to hide away so that men might be interested in me, as there were none in my classes. While younger than most of my class, I was not the youngest in the crowd, and quickly acclimated to the ivied halls. My professors treated me as an adult, and I responded, flourishing in the life of the mind.  None of them saw the yawning gap in my psyche where a person was supposed to dwell. My personhood was stitched together like the B movie monster with a transplanted brain, my mind and body unconnected, striving against each other at every decision.

My sophomore year in high school, I dated a young man who ended up being the only one who asked me out more than once. After what I felt was a suitable period, and feeling that no one else would ever be interested in me, I married him at the beginning of my junior year of college. My relationship with him, and thus, my marriage, worked on exactly the same lines as all other aspects of my personal life:  do whatever I was told, never question authority, never rock the boat, never stand out in any way.  My ex-husband, also very young, did not know any better. He constructed and maintained the box in which my soul and personality was locked away.  I became a chameleon, without opinions of my own. With some empathic ability, I quickly mastered ascertaining others’ opinions and preferences, and reflected them as faithfully as a mirror, with no distortions or additions of my own.

When I went to graduate school, and began to find my professors expected me to be an adult, my husband left me for a college friend, saying that he found my ambition to get a Ph.D. distasteful.  Left entirely on my own for the first time in 23 years, I realized that I did not know what music I liked, what books I enjoyed reading, or what foods I liked to eat. I had never done grocery shopping alone, I had never written a check, and I had never lived alone. I knew how to be a scholar, but I had no idea how to be a person.

WIPpet Wednesday

WIPpet Wednesday Lost love

This scene occurs when my protagonist has made the “noble sacrifice” of sending away the woman he loves in order to protect her. Nine sentences for the ninth day of July.

I’m not liking the purple prose right now, so any help would be appreciated!

I find myself strong enough not to try to see her, or talk to her, but so weak as to wander by the gate, hoping to see her from a distance, standing in the midst of my memories as if addled. I can feel her in my arms, conjured by my longing. I indulge myself by recreating that evening in precise, jewel-like detail—the feel of the back of her neck under my fingers, which slip slightly in her silken hair; her breasts pressed so close to my chest I can feel her heartbeat. I hold the memory of her blue eyes full of love and acceptance like a candle in a dark, moonless night, knowing I will never see them thus again. Sweet Jesus, that way lies madness. I force myself away, refusing to acknowledge the scent of her which I swear on my soul lingers in the air. I leave some part of myself there; nothing so neat as a heart, all limned in lace and flowers. I drag myself away, leaving skin and blood and bone behind; when I see myself in the mirror of my room at the Stag (delicious irony), I feel shock that my skin is intact.

EM

 

Creativity

My Writing Process

The lovely and supportive writer S.J. Maylee tagged me in a writing process blog hop.  I have four questions to answer, so let’s get started!

What am I working on?

My day job involves a fair amount of writing, but I won’t go into that.  The work closest to my heart is a novel set in 14th century France about the struggles of a young widow who runs a publishing concern.

A few days ago, I set this novel aside because I am so dissatisfied with my fiction writing. I have a novella simmering about a British WWII war bride, but I’m having trouble breathing her in right now.  I have therefore returned to a memoir I started writing as a NaNo rebel last November, but shelved in December.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My narrative non-fiction is more poetic or evocative than most, since I am allowed some of the little darlings that are edited out of fiction when they do not advance the plot or character arc.

My historical fiction is heavier on history, and tends more toward literary fiction, than that which leans to historical romance.

Why do I write what I do?

What else am I going to do with my graduate degrees in medieval literature? Seriously, I enjoy exploring the lives of strong women in a culture that was legally and socially set against them.

How does my writing process work?

I’m a plotter, although I often have characters who decide to take over, so I leave some flexibility in the outline.

I’m also an inveterate editor, so it’s hard to chain my infernal internal editor in the closet to let me write.  I often write a zero draft, then run through it, editing lightly as well as expanding and contracting where needed.  Then come the substantive edits.

In other words, lots of wash, rinse, repeat.

Thank you, S.J., for tagging me.  Who wants to carry on the torch?  If you want to post these questions and answers, let me know, and I’ll be happy to link to you.

Garden of Steel Magnolias

BOAW The most beautiful woman I ever met

Closeup decorative grunge vintage woman with beautiful long hair

This year I am taking part in August McLaughlin‘s Beauty of A Woman BlogFest.  She will list links to all of the blogs participating in the fest on her blog. Stop by for fun, inspiration, laughs and more. You may also win one of two $50 gift cards, so go on over—after you’ve read this post.

Among her topics, August suggested the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met.  I met that woman, whom I will call Kathryn, when I was a sophomore in college, at a small women’s college in the South.  I had gone to college a year early, and felt a bit like a misfit, so when I noticed Kathryn sitting alone in the dining hall, I asked if I could sit with her.  When Kathryn looked up at me, I realized in part why others were avoiding her. Her face was oddly misshapen, with a very small jaw, and her hands were knotted as though arthritic.  Although several women stared covertly at her, no one was obvious, and all were well-mannered enough not to say anything mean to her.  However, it was clear from the space everyone left around her that they were uncomfortable.  While I noticed this difference about Kathryn, I am drawn to people’s eyes.  Her eyes were clear and beautiful.  My mother always said the eyes were windows to the soul, and that old canard was true in Kathryn’s case.  There were depths of pain and wisdom in them, but her wit and kindness also shone through them, pure and blue as the sky after a snowstorm.

Kathryn smiled and invited me to sit at the table.  I learned that she was several years younger than most freshman, which created a further bond between us.  Intelligent and quick-witted, she seemed to ignore the combined avoidances and sideways glances of the women around us.  We found several areas of common interest and similar backgrounds during that meal and many others that followed. We came to be friends, although several of my other friends continued to avoid her.  There was always a space around her, a sort of benign neglect zone that moved with her.  Despite this reaction, Kathryn never felt anyone was unkind, saying she realized how different she looked and it was normal for people to shy away from her.

After a few weeks, she told me that she suffered from Progeria, which is a rare, rapid-aging disease.  Most people with the disease do not live beyond their teens, which is why she had gone to college early.  When I replied that I couldn’t imagine bothering with college in her case, she shrugged and said she had nothing better to do. In the time I knew her, she never complained about her pain, never felt sorry for herself, never felt slighted.

Instead of feeling sorry for herself, Kathryn concentrated on doing whatever she could for her small group of friends.  At the end of that year,  an acquaintance asked me in private how I could stand to look at her.  I was stunned, because I had truly forgotten Kathryn didn’t look like the rest of the freshmen. I saw Kathryn, not what her disease had done to her. She  was the kindest soul I ever met, and a far better person than I could ever be.  She taught me volumes about self-confidence, acceptance, and striving for one’s goals.  She was hands down the most beautiful woman I have ever met.

Misfit Magic

Song for the New Year

Yes, I know we are 2/3rds through January.  I am only beginning to fight free of the monochrome world, so forgive my lateness. I have so many favorite lines in this Kelly Clarkson song, but I suppose the best lines are “Here’s to the damned, the lost, and forgotten / Hard to get high when you’re living on the bottom / Misfits living in a world on fire.”

Do you ever feel like a misfit?  Or do you always feel like one?  Here’s to the people like us!