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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Writer’s Block

Write-Better-Blog-PostsThis week marks an anniversary; it’s been one year since I began blogging.

I’ve always enjoyed writing. In high school, English papers and other compositions were no problem. At Southwestern University, I majored in English and, while my classmates griped about all the papers due, I survived because of them. It was Math and Science that nearly took me down. My favorite professor was Dr. Walt Herbert, a distinguished, soft-spoken gentleman who was widely admired & respected across campus. He’d graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard, received his doctorate in English literature from Princeton, and held a prestigious endowed chair at the university. I took as many of his classes as I could and considered him a trusted mentor. When he gave my papers high marks, I felt I’d been paid the highest honor. So, in the spring of my senior year, I asked for a conference with Dr. H. I entered his office with sweaty palms and chokingly proclaimed, “I want to be a writer.” His answer was swift, brusque, and stifling. “A writer? Forget it. Go get a real job and write on the side. Very few people can make a living as a writer.”  I was too flabbergasted and embarrassed to reply, so I turned on my heels and fled as quickly as possible, avoiding eye contact with him for the remainder of my time on campus. How could I have been so stupid to misinterpret his compliments and good grades? The next few weeks were spent moping and feeling dejected, but I worried most about what to do with the rest of my life. Graduation was impending, like doom, and I would soon be handed a Bachelor of Arts degree. “Teach?” asked friends and family, trying to be helpful. I wasn’t prepared to teach; I hadn’t taken even one Education class, nor did I think I had what it took to be a good teacher. I thought about the experience I did have, and recalled enjoying working in my father’s law office in prior summers. I’d never done any real legal work, just secretarial tasks, but I liked working in a dark paneled office surrounded by books, and the respect shown my dad and his partner by everyone from clients to the other secretaries was appealing. So, I bought an LSAT study guide, took the test, and applied to every law school in Texas. Just when it looked like law would not supply my future income, I was accepted to St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. Things couldn’t have been more perfect! My boyfriend was there studying at the UT Health Science Center and was due to graduate in three years – the exact amount of time it would take me to finish law school! Eureka!

My parents, God bless ’em, weren’t exactly thrilled for me. They were surprised, as I’d never voiced an interest in law, nor had I taken any classes remotely related to the law. Mom kept tsk, tsking, asking if I didn’t want to be a court reporter. Really? No offense to the wonderful court reporters I’ve known and worked with, but while I had some decent typing skills, I didn’t fancy it as a career option. She just couldn’t comprehend how I could have any kind of a life, (i.e. a husband and children), while working full-time as an attorney. I understood that based on her experience as a loving wife and mother, she simply wanted that for me, but, I determinedly headed to St. Mary’s. I actually enjoyed law school and found that my previously honed writing skills came in handy. I was able to fill reams of blue books with my test answers, even when not exactly sure of the correct applicable legal premise. I always included an intro, a discussion of both sides of the argument, and a cogent conclusion. That proved sufficient and I was able to graduate in May, take the Bar exam in July and marry in August. Upon graduation, I accepted a job with a law firm that specialized in the defense of medical malpractice cases. It was interesting, sometimes fun, but mostly terrifying as I was thrown into depositions and courtroom hearings feeling very underprepared.  Motions for summary judgment became my forte, as I could apply my writing and persuasive skills to try to convince the judge that the Plaintiff’s case should be summarily dismissed. My longing to keep the case from getting to trial was most effective in bringing out the very best of my writing talent.

After practicing for 12 years, I was able to stay home for 12, then went back to work for 2 more. When the firm I worked for fell apart and I found myself at home again, I brooded over what to do next. Although I hadn’t written much at all, I’d always spoken to my children about my love of writing, often “editing” their school papers, much to their dismay. “Write a blog,” exclaimed my middle daughter who was in the social media/marketing business.  I hardly knew what she was talking about although I’d seen the movie “Julie and Julia,” and was mighty impressed with Julie’s successful blogging about her attempts at following Julia Child’s recipes. “Just get started and write,” my daughter kept saying as she walked me through the ins and outs of establishing a blog site. I came up with a title, “Nearly Empty-Nester,” to reflect the stage of life I inhabited, an Introduction, so that my readers (hopefully!) would get to know me, and slowly began writing a story about my daughters returning home after graduating from college. “All Roads Lead Home” was my first entry, published on January 23, 2013. Since then, I’ve posted 49 entries, acquired 72 followers, had over 5,000 views and received 250 comments, much to my surprised delight.

Writing is my therapy and I enjoy it everyday. I am flabbergasted, fascinated, and flattered that friends, acquaintances, and even some strangers, enjoy reading my entries. The feedback I’ve gotten motivates me to keep writing. Dr. Herbert’s advice was spot on, although he probably should have worked on his delivery. Though I stopped writing creatively for many years, I focused on a career that supported my family while my husband completed his medical education and training. And, while I will probably never be a “writer” who earns money for the craft, over the past year I have earned some peace of mind, confidence and great happiness while writing for fun.

Thanks for reading!

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2014

wwf1I still have an engagement calendar, one that is made of paper with a spiral backing into which I enter appointments, birthdays, and reminders by hand with a pen. Every year about this time I head to the calendar kiosk in the mall for their  50% off special, and return home with a clean, crisp calendar, wrapped in protective plastic, totally bare of any entries, a clean slate, full of promise for the future. The pickings are slim this time of year, but there is usually an Audubon or Mary Engelbreit still to be had. (I choose Audubon every time.) I begin by going through and circling all of the holidays, making mental notes of whether they’re later or earlier this year than last, and on what day Christmas happens to fall. Then, consulting last year’s daybook, I record the birthdays and anniversaries of family and friends. Next, I consult the academic calendars of the two schools attended by two of my daughters, and dutifully enter the dates of breaks, last days of class, finals, etc. After that, long-standing doctor and dentist appointments are recorded, and, finally, the few appointments I’ve made for the remainder of January, such as hair appointments, bunco and supper club dates. After that, I typically feel a little nervous thinking about all the blank days of all the weeks ahead.

This year, I followed the same routine, but just got around to opening up my new planner this morning, resulting in my overlooking my sweet niece’s birthday yesterday. (Apoligies, Addison!) I’ve done all of the above and am feeling a bit lost with so many empty spring dates compared to last year’s hastily scribbled notes on seemingly every page. In February, “Visit to Sewanee,” followed by “Last day to order cap and gown,” and “Deadline to turn in photos for Senior slideshow.” And, later, “Grad party,” “Grad luncheon,” “NCL Senior Recognition,” “Last Choir concert,” “Pick up grad announcements.” Wow. How will I possibly pass the time in the spring of 2014? I mark my daughter’s last day of college classes and realize that all I have to do this May is welcome her home. Again it becomes clear that my job here is done and my heart sinks a little. I flip through 2013’s weekly planner one last time before filing it away, and glance at some other entries, and the obvious becomes obvious – “Life Happens,” regardless of our well-executed plans. There was my mother’s death, at the beginning of last year, as well as entries reflecting my Dad’s numerous hospitalizations and rehab appointments mid-year. There was also a joyous family wedding in the fall, and the parties and celebrations associated with it. There were flight times and hotel confirmations noted, reminding me of some fun and exciting trips and excursions I didn’t know I’d be taking this time last year. There were a couple of baby showers, surprise parties, lunches and dinners with friends jotted down, along with a few unanticipated minor medical procedures for various members of our family. There were notations regarding volunteer obligations and opportunities that I hadn’t even thought about last January. Closing the book, I felt better, maybe even a little excited. Who knows what 2014 will bring, but without a doubt it will bring some fun, some trips, some excitement. It may also bring an unexpected illness, an accident, and/or a bit of sorrow, but, I resolve to try to remain calm and carry on, as the British so aptly proposed just before the start of World War II. After all, I have a hair appointment and a friend’s birthday celebration next week, and a bunco gathering to look forward to later in the month.

(By the way, I see that Thanksgiving is the same time as last year, so, please, let’s try to get a little Christmas shopping done before Turkey Day this year.)

Twelve Days of Christmas

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On Christmas Eve, after arriving at the church of my childhood, in my small hometown, and settling my 91-year old father and the rest of my family into a pew mere minutes before the beginning of the 5:00 p.m. Christmas vigil Mass, I took a deep breath and began praying. Actually, I began thanking God that all the list-making, catalog browsing, on-line, and up close and personal shopping was OVER. The gifts were wrapped, and, while not quite perfectly placed under the tree, they were plopped in piles in the living room, the stockings draped across chairs waiting to be hung. All the ingredients for the Christmas dinner side dishes and desserts that I’d signed up to bring were placed conveniently on the kitchen counter, and the fridge was stocked with plenty of butter, parsley, Shiner Holiday Cheer and several bottles of wine, both red and white. Finally, I could focus on the real meaning of this holiday. The organist began playing the old standard carols and I found myself singing. The tension in my neck and upper back began easing and I saw my brother and his family arrive, smiles and nods were exchanged as they found their seats in the ever-crowding church. I began noticing the beautiful poinsettias, the placid manger scene and the glowing candles. Altar servers, priests and deacons were scurrying about. Then, I heard the strains of “O Come, Little Children, O Come One and All,” from the back of the church. Pint-size angels with cardboard wings processed up the aisle, followed by elementary school shepherds carrying very large staffs (sticks.)  They found their places in front of the altar and acted out the familiar Christmas readings. A real infant was carried in by an angelic looking middle-schooler and placed in Mary’s arms. Miraculously, he slept quietly throughout the entire pageant. Following the readings, the parish priest gave the homily, reminding us that there are 12 days of Christmas, and that tomorrow, the 25th, was merely the first. He reminded us that Christmas wasn’t all the stuff that preceded it and made us anxious; rather, it began with the birth of Jesus. It didn’t end on the 25th – it was just beginning! He encouraged us all to spend the next few days sitting quietly by the tree glowing brightly in the living room, rather than taking it down and putting all the ornaments away as fast as possible. He asked us not to rush, anxiously, into the new year, but to spend the next 12 days appreciating the company of family and friends. What a great idea! I remembered as a kid feeling so sad on December 26. Nothing to look forward to for 12 months. Even as an adult, waking up on the 26th is a bit of a letdown. This year would be different, I told myself. I will celebrate the holiday for the next 12 days – to make up for the last 23 when my mood could be described as less than celebratory. I left the church exhilarated, listening to the choir’s attempt at the Hallelujah Chorus, then corralled all the family into the car, and back to Dad’s.

Today I find myself five days into the new year, celebrating the Feast of the Three Kings, the twelfth day of Christmas. When I wake up tomorrow, Christmas will officially be over. My tree is down, the ornaments are put away, and the last few crusty cookies and chocolates have been tossed. While a few decorations still twinkle on my street, and a few more linger on my shelves, they seem kind of sad and out of place. The holidays have definitely ended and we’re back home, settling into our everyday routines. I recall Father’s Christmas Eve message and am desperately trying to hold onto the joy of Christmas. But, I’m exhausted! I have been cooking, cleaning, planning, shopping and entertaining since the week of Thanksgiving. All three kids have been home; one caught the flu, my husband has been sick in bed with cedar fever, we’ve made three out of town trips, and attended a close friend’s wedding. I haven’t worked out in three weeks, and now my youngest has a friend visiting from college. The laundry is piled so high I can’t imagine seeing the floor before next weekend. But, I’m sitting here, thankful that we had a very merry time with all our family present. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  However, there’s moldy bread in the bread box and no coffee in the cabinet, so I’m off to the grocery store. Happy New Year!