life

Gratitude Part II

After writing about some of my family last week, I wanted to express my gratitude to some other family members: my aunt, my brother, and my sister. I am very grateful that my aunt found time to spend with her niece, and that my brother and sister have endeavored to stay connected with me despite the centrifugal force that characterises my family.

My mother’s sister was nine years older than my mother, with no intervening children; my mother always looked upon her as a mother, and I saw her more as a grandmother.  A big believer in idle hands leading to devil’s work, my aunt taught me how to knit, crochet, embroider, and tat when I was very young.  She was teaching my oldest sister, and I hung around like a pest and learned as well. She came to see us every month or so; we were always glad to see her, because she knew all sorts of stories and could bake the best pies and cookies I’d ever had.

Even though she always made me keep my hands busy with knitting or tatting while we talked, I looked forward to her visits.  I felt as though she could see me, when very few other grownups could.  She despaired when I became a perpetual student, often shaking her head at my explanations of why I studied all these things.  When I finally got married and settled down with my instant family, you would have thought she had been the matchmaker, she was so proud.  And when we added more children, she was ecstatic that I had given her more children to love.

Two days before my youngest son was born, Aunt Ellene felt ill, somewhat like indigestion, but worse.  The hospital gave her heartburn medication and sent her home.  Three hours later, she passed away from a massive heart attack.  My mother debated delaying her planned trip to help me with the baby, but she came the day he came home from the hospital, missing her sister’s funeral, because that was what my aunt would have wanted. My son is eighteen now, and I still miss talking with Aunt Ellene over our knitting or embroidery.

My brother didn’t become a human being until I was 11 and he went to college.  He actually corresponded with me; when he was home on vacation, he still acted like a jerk sometimes, but that behavior diminished through the years.  He married into one of those huge families that gets together for birthdays and holidays and weddings; I have never asked him directly, but I suspect he felt the same kind of attraction/curiosity at the concept that I did when I first saw this unaccustomed behavior.  No matter, he threw himself into it wholeheartedly, leaving my father to shake his head in consternation at how he and his wife travel cross country to see their kids and grandkids.  I stand back in admiration.

Last year, my brother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and had one lung removed.  I had not realized until that point how much I thought my siblings were immortal, nor how hard it would hit me.  He is still fighting, but it is a long path through the woods.  He cannot fly anymore, but he and his wife pack up the car and still travel hundreds of miles to see their families. I am so grateful that he has tried valiantly to establish the sort of relationship with me that his wife has with her siblings. I am thankful to them both for showing me that it could work when I was still young enough to do for my own family.

One of my sisters is four years older than I am; reportedly she told my father that I was not the fun kind of baby doll, and would he please take me back.  No luck, sorry!  After this bumpy start, my sister and I started to bond her senior year in high school.  I stopped being the “fairy child” who did not seem connected to the world, and started being able to see her.  During her college years, we shared hopes and dreams, despite long periods where one or the other of us would pull away to nurse our wounds in private–she, an abusive marriage; me, an early failed marriage, the abyss of graduate school.  Even now, she calls me regularly; I promise to call her, and forget (I am a very bad sister).  She and I are so different in so many of our world views, but we get each other, especially given the history of our family.  I am grateful that she continues to knock on my door and pull me out of my little world now and again.

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In my last Gratitude post I included a partial list of the people who follow my blog, as some small measure of thanks.  I’m continuing that list with this post; I’ve included some information about their blogs, if they have one.

http://thewriteproject.wordpress.com/ blogs about getting back into the practice of writing

http://studyingparent.wordpress.com/ chronicles the “learning journey” of a midwife who has gone to graduate school to study literature

C. M. Cipriani is an author who blogs about several topics:
http://onesmallpiece.wordpress.com/ is her blog about raising her autistic son
http://theoutlandishavocado.wordpress.com/ is her writing blog
http://theprimaltribe.wordpress.com is her blog about moving her family onto a paleo diet

Susan A. writes about books she has read and liked, as well as musing about life and writing: http://mistressofthedarkpath.wordpress.com/

Jennifer M. Eaton, author of Hidden in Plain Sight, writes about the lessons she has learned about writing: http://jennifermeaton.com/

Jillian Dodd, author of That Boy, has the tag line: glitter, bliss, and utter chaos.  The first two sum up her blog well, but I’ve never noticed any chaos. http://jilliandodd.wordpress.com/

Alex Laybourne, author of Highway to Hell, writes about helpful tools, writing, and general musings on life at: http://alexlaybourne.com/

Raelyn Barclay writes about Tarot cards and their use in writing; other writing lessons, and book reviews: http://raelynbarclay.wordpress.com/

Sharon Howard writes about mental health in a open and informative manner: http://showard76.wordpress.com/

Heather Ponzer shares stories about places she has lived and people she has met at: http://darcywords.wordpress.com/

Conformity, Education, life

The Professional Good Girl: Early Life and Training

For several years, I have followed Blogenspiel, written by Another Damned Medievalist, whom I will call ADM.  Many of you know that I am also a medievalist. A couple months ago, ADM wrote this heartfelt postabout why so many academics, especially women, put up with second-class citizenship, musing that we female academics were PGGs, Professional Good Girls.In one those wonderful serendipitous events, Lena Corazon wrote a wonderfully sensitive post  earlier this week, on her loneliness growing up and why finding the online writing community was such a tall drink of water to a parched throat.  I have only known Lena since July when we both joined Round Three of the Round of Words in 80 Days, but she and I connected quickly.  We are both academics who have written creative works for years, but have only recently gone public as creative writers.

The two posts struck chords: Lena’s stirring memories of my early schooling through graduate school, and ADM’s describing both graduate school and work life. ADM posits that Professional Good Girls had a common trait of not finding love and acceptance at home, but rather at school. I certainly fit that model.

I was the youngest child in my family, the “oops” child.  Although only recently diagnosed, my mother has suffered from depression since before I was born.  My earliest memories are of her sleeping on the couch all day while my father was at work and my siblings at school.  My father had a very difficult childhood and did not know how to react to children, so although he was there in the evenings, he was distant and withdrawn.  I spent most of my time alone, as my siblings were several years older.  My sister who is nearest in age has described me as a faery child, who lived in her own imagined world.

I found the yearned-for approbation and love at school among my teachers, although my creative efforts got me in trouble throughout school.  I made up fantastic stories in first grade; my teacher called my parents to tell them I needed a psychiatrist. I wrote a story for a creative writing course in sophomore year of high school; my English teacher called me parents to tell them that I needed a psychiatrist.  My parents didn’t believe in psychiatry; I have often wondered if I would have been better off if they had.

As long as I followed the rules, my teachers liked me, so I learned quickly to conform, to be a Good Girl. I was not so lucky with my fellow students.  I was a very small, sickly child, so I could not run, skip rope, or play the games that were popular in the early grades. n fourth grade, I had a strep infection that attacked my kidneys, so I was out of school for the entire spring, which made me more of a cypher to my classmates.  Although my teachers liked me, their attention made me more a target at times. My first-grade teacher found I could already read, so she had me read to the class while she went to the teachers’ lounge.  Her actions led to my being threatened with beatings on the playground.  My sixth-grade teacher announced my IQ to the class, making me more unwelcome among my peers than I had already managed to make myself.  After that time, I took a blanket and a book to school, reading on the grass alone in a far corner of the playground during lunchtime.

High school, with all its concomitant social machinations, was sheer hell.  Although I was an attractive girl, no one dated the brain.  At best, the boys saw me as someone to help with homework, or worse, to offer advice on how to get the girls they liked to go out with them. I was beneath the notice of the popular girls; my one friend and I spent all our time together, in the unbreakable bubble that surrounded us. When my friend found a boyfriend t the end of sophomore year and abandoned me for him, as often happened in those situations, I was bereft. I did continue to receive love and approbation from most of my teachers, and put my lonely nights and weekends to learning even more.  Actually, my loneliness helped me to leave high school early, as I took enough courses to have all my requirements for college by the end of my junior year.

I went to a very small college, where I really bloomed as a scholar.  My personal life was not going as well.  After my sophomore year, I had dated perhaps 6 or 7 young men; only one had ever asked me out more than once. Feeling that no one else would ever be interested in me, I married him.  My marriage worked on exactly the same lines as being a Professional Good Girl:  do whatever I was told, never question authority, never rock the boat, never stand out in anyway.  My ex-husband was also very young; he did not know any better, so he constructed and maintained the box in which my soul and personality was locked away.  I became a chameleon, without opinions of my own.  I mastered quickly the ability to find out others’ thoughts and reflected them.

When we divorced four years later, I realized that I did not know what music I liked, what books I enjoyed reading, or what foods I liked to eat.  I knew how to be a scholar, but I had to learn how to be a person.

All of this training made me the perfect candidate to became a Professional Good Girl; I will give you my thoughts on graduate school and my work life in another post.

life

Veterans’ Day

For Veterans’ Day (U.S.), or Armistice Day, or whatever it may be called in your part of the world, I want to thank everyone who is serving, or has served, to protect all of us at home. I have a poppy decorating my purse, since one doesn’t wear coats in November in Florida, and a poppy on my avatar in Twitter, to honor all veterans and those currently serving.Both my own family and the one I married into are full of veterans.  One of my uncles was involved in D-Day and in the Pacific theater. My father was in the Army Air Forces in WWII, my brother in the Navy in Vietnam, and one of his sons is in Iraq now. My brother-in-law was in the Navy during Vietnam; one of his sons was in the Navy during Desert Storm, and one of my nephew’s daughters is in the Navy in Japan.

I cannot do any better than this post on Blogenspiel, and so I urge you to go read the full poem by John McCrae.  I will quote one stanza from it here:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

I am writing this at 11:11 EST, in the two minutes of silence for all those fallen in the service of their countries, as part of my remembrance.  I thank you:  Uncle Eddie, Daddy,  Allan, Chris, Tom, Jim, and Theresa for your service.