My Kid Has Lost His Mother to a Sleep Number Bed

First, the history: I have slept on the floors of friends’ apartments where smells of cats past were strikingly fresh. I have slept on hotel room floors (I’m gagging thinking about it now) and pull-out couches (those springs can hurt like a mother dog) and non-pull-out-couches (there’s a joke in there somewhere) and even, once, a blow-up pool raft (tequila helped). I have slept on the cold, hard, bumpy ground in Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park and a few hundred other campsites from Central Texas to Montana. And for the last nearly 20 years, in my own home, I’ve slept on a mattress that was so old and misshapen that it required special gymnast moves just to get out of it in the mornings. True story. But I didn’t really mind all that much. Gymnast moves keep you young.

But then I hit the mid-40s. And my body became sore from things like, say, unpacking groceries.

I started to make those legit moaning sounds when I would get up from sitting on the floor after playing Hot Wheels with the kid for a long time. I began to hear unnatural creaking sounds in joint areas where I’m pretty sure there should be cartilage. And then, after 14 years of manual snow removal without one injury to my name, I hurt my lower back tossing a big shovel-full of heavy snow over our deck railing. As in, “ummm … holy hell, I may not be able to walk now, or ever again” kind of hurt. And then, several days later, during an epic snowball fight (turns out I could walk again – hallelujah!), I landed smack-dab on my hip, on a bank of concrete-ice.

Suddenly, what I slept on kind of mattered.

And suddenly, the evil advertising gods told me that Sleep Number was having a sale.

And then, I found myself strolling unknowingly into a Sleep Number store to test out their product and witness my body’s pressure points with their whole heat-sensor technology thing.

I was a goner once that remote hit 55.

I’m still a little worried about what that salesman was thinking when I let out a When Harry Met Sally-kind of reaction. (You know the scene.)

Granted, in the week between purchase and delivery, I mourned the impending loss of my dilapidated BeautyRest. After all, I brought my baby home to that bed, and we did the whole family bed thing until he was 4 years old, like the good hippies we aspired to be. I’ve snuggled with hoodlum puppies and held aging, sick old dogs next to me in that bed. My husband and I have had some pretty fun times in that bed (reading and talking and laughing, of course! What were you thinking?). I wrote a lot of my second novel propped up in that bed, writing by the light of the laptop. That bed has spent many a night dragged in front of the woodstove in our log-cabin great room when the power went out for days and we needed to sleep near the flickering warmth. And that bed was where I spent a lot of time last year recovering from some seriously bad flu/pneumonia/liver and kidney failure juju. That bed served me well.

But now, the Sleep Number P5 has entered my life.

I have changed.

I used to make the family pancakes or migas or biscuits and gravy on the weekends. Now, the kiddo’s eating cold cereal and, most probably, Cheetos. I don’t really know because I’m still in bed.

I used to lay down with him in his bed as he fell asleep each evening. Now, I tend to just yell “good night!” from the comfort of my Sleep Number.

I used to get up early to take the dogs for sunrise walks. Now they’re constantly giving me these accusatory looks, as if they are puppy-mill-level neglected.

I used to read in the great room, near my family as they did other things. Now, they can usually find me curled into that P5 like a kangaroo baby in a mama’s pouch.

My husband and I actually joke that we may never, errrr, talk and laugh in bed again because once you sink into the glory of this new mattress, you don’t really want to move unless the house is on fire or something.

In fact, when the dogs go bark-shit crazy (I’m trademarking that phrase) at 3 a.m., instead of going to reassure them and get them settled down to avert internal damage to our home, we nudge each other, then ignore each other, and then simply hope they don’t tear down the back door to get to the mountain lion before morning.

I’m sure one day I’ll reclaim the life I was once led. My son will get his mother back. My dogs will get another sunrise walk.

Until then, I plan to celebrate a lower back that doesn’t ache, a once-injured hip that feels young again, and the fact that I no longer need professional climbing gear to remove myself from the prone position each day.

P.S. Sleep Number didn’t pay me jack-anything for writing this. Which only proves I’m not smart enough to figure out how to ask them. #blogfail #bigmoneyfail

 

This is a Sleep Number bed. It is not my Sleep Number bed because taking a picture of my bed would be weird.

This is a Sleep Number bed. It is not my Sleep Number bed because taking a picture of my bed would be weird.

One of the Lucky Ones

sleetintexasI wrote this for my mom’s birthday and am a day late in posting. I have a kick-ass Texas mom. What’s yours like?

100-Percent Chance of … Mom

The clouds were already gathering that morning, hanging low and moody in the South Texas sky. As we sat around the breakfast table before school, we listened to the weather forecaster out of San Antonio, broadcasting on our rural, small-town radio station. He was predicting sleet overnight — a rare thing in our part of the state, even for January.

A possibility of sleet or a bona fide ice storm was exciting, I had to admit. But even more so was the fact that the first game of our junior high girls’ basketball tournament was set to begin that evening in a town about 50 miles from ours.

The tournament was a big deal. We were dominating this season, and if we could win this first game against our toughest competitor, we’d likely win the whole tournament. We’d solidify our rank as the best in the region. There was even a pep rally planned for us that afternoon. (A pep rally for any type of girls’ sport in Texas in the 1980s was a reason to check to make sure you hadn’t been abducted by aliens and placed in an alternate universe.)

Basketball, though, hadn’t always been important to me. In fact, this was only the first year I’d played.

Let’s just say I wasn’t known for my athleticism. I was not lean and mean. I fell more in the chubby and uncoordinated camp. I was a full-on, straight-A, teacher’s-pet nerd. Spelling bee champ, science competition winner. Trying out for the basketball team had been my way of trying to break out of that mold. I wanted to fit in with the cool kids for once. I wanted to wear those sweet uniforms and high-top sneakers.

And it was working. I not only made the team, I was a starter on defense. (Turns out, you really only need height and brains to play some positions in life.) The cheerleaders even knew my nickname: “Special K.” (The positive connotation of special, not the other one. I think.)

I was living the dream, as much as you can when you’re 13.

And then came that game day.

The predicted cold front slipped right through the county, dropping temperatures into the mid-30s by noon. It was raining buckets when I reported to the gym after school to meet up with the rest of the team. As we waited for the school bus that would take us to the game, we huddled together, giggling like even cool, athletic girls do, excited about the game, jumping up and down to stay warm in our official team sweatshirts.

That’s when I saw her. She was marching toward us, small red umbrella overhead. Dark, thick hair to her shoulders. Sunglasses on, even in the gray. Her camel-colored long coat pulled tightly around her curves and whipping around her knees. Her car keys still in one hand. Her lips pressed into a painted-on, don’t-mess-with-me smile. She looked like a force even a 50 mile-per-hour northern wind couldn’t reckon with.

My stomach dropped. I knew that look well. She was determined to do battle of some kind, and I understood by then it had everything to do with me.

She walked up to our coach, who was looking down, checking things off on a clipboard. Poor innocent soul.

My mother began to explain, politely at first, that under no condition would her daughter — the one trying desperately to shrink into the shadows — go anywhere on a run-down, hick-town, bald-tired, rat-trap of a school bus when the back country roads we’d be traveling would most certainly be a sheet of ice within an hour or two.

We heard the coach attempt to reassure her that all would be well. That the school district and the tournament managers agreed there was no reason to cancel the game. That she was, perhaps, overreacting.

She took that coach down with just a few quick, choice words. Then she walked over and pointed me in the direction of her faded maroon Lincoln town car, parked right where the aforementioned bus would soon be.

The unfairness of it all was incomprehensible to me. Everyone else was getting to go!

As we drove away, I saw my teammates nudging each other. I was sure they now considered me an overprotected baby, not cut out for the tough life of an athlete. With a mother who was quite possibly a hair shy of crazy.

That evening, I ate Mom’s warm grilled cheese sandwiches and beef stew in silence. And then I watched the sleet begin to come down. I watched the county road in front of our house turn into a skating rink. Conditions got treacherous in a hurry.

Luckily, my team made it home safely, although it had taken three hours to go those 50 miles home after the game. We’d won, and we would end up advancing and winning the tournament. I played in the rest of the tournament, but not as a starter. The coach made me run additional laps in practice on Monday for letting down my team, as if I’d had a choice in the matter. My teammates made fun of me often and for the rest of the season.

Back then, I’d wished she could just be like all the other moms, who didn’t seem to mind that their kids were heading out onto slick roads. I’d wished that she hadn’t made a scene. But now, I’m a mama myself.

Now I see I was the lucky one.

Some parents might have simply taken the school district’s word for it all, bowed down to authorities who are perceived to know more than we as parents do. But my mother has never been one to let others make decisions for her or to automatically assume people in positions of power can’t be challenged. She’d done her own research that day. She knew she was right, and nothing was going to stand in her way when it came to keeping me safe.

That day and so many times since, she has taught me that sometimes it takes courage to be a parent in ways no one tells you about. That it’s not okay for someone else to put my son in danger, and that I have every right to step in and protect him. It’s something one particular school administrator has already learned about me after seeing no reason to keep the back door to the after-school care classroom locked in the evenings before parent pickup.

Even though I’m at the age she was when I was in junior high, I remain so thankful that I still have my mom on my side. Because I know, even though she’s in her early 70s now, she’ll fight for me, always willing to hand out another dose of her take-charge-now, ask-for-forgiveness-later attitude if I need it.

And besides, I’m pretty sure there may still be some icy roads in my forecast.

How Do You Define Home?

photoWe’ve settled back into mountain life now after about two months. The weather has been a beautiful summer mix of cloudless blue skies and 75 degrees, and cool mountain rain that rolls in from the West in the afternoons.

It’s been an especially good wildflower season. Even as September approaches, there are still carpets of white, yellow and lavender mountain daises and large swaths of bright purple fireweed. The sweet scent of pink and violet clover fills the air on our walks.

The monsoon moisture has also kept the forest floors thick with green, and the meadows are thigh-high in bunchgrasses and cattails. Trout are jumping out of the crystal-clear mountain lakes, daring us to try to reel them in.

And in just our short time back, we’ve already seen an abundance of wildlife, including moose, black bears, foxes, coyotes, a mountain lion, rabbits, and beavers — not to mention the plethora of birds and chipmunks and squirrels who keep the forest humming.

It’s a bit like living in a nature photographer’s dream. And, honestly, it’s where I feel the most alive.

But is it home?

Obviously, I haven’t always lived in the mountains. I grew up in the flatlands of South Texas. And I love those flatlands.

I love the people, the stories, the food, the history, the music, the Texas sky. The smell of mesquite-smoked barbecue. The feel of crisp, dried grass under your bare feet on a hot summer day. The mixing of Mexican, German, Czech and other cultures. The homemade tamales. The kolaches. The sound of polka music on the local radio station. The click-click-buzz-pop of grasshoppers flicking about and attaching themselves to the porch screen door.

I love all the little idiosyncrasies that make that place special. The small-town courthouses and main streets. The Lone Star beer, the dancehalls, the oil wells, the old churches, the Stetsons and belt buckles and boots, the cattle and horses lazing under hundred-year-old oak trees.

Did I mention the food?

And of course, most importantly, all of my family members, including my Mom and Dad — whom I cherish — still live there. In the house I grew up in.

But is that home?

I’ve always thought of “home” as a place where you feel most comfortable. Where you can wrap yourself in familiarity and know that someone always has your back. A place you know like the back of your hand.

And in those terms, South Texas is all that and more.

Yet.

Here feels right for me, and it has for a long time. Like in a good novel, this particular cabin and mountain have become the physical place where the narrative arc of my life moves forward. It’s as much a part of my story as my friends, my job, my writing, my dogs, and even my son and husband. I think that’s why I felt so lost when we moved away for a couple of years.

If you don’t count those years we spent in the foothills, we’ve lived on this mountain now for 11 years or so. That’s long enough to feel that sense of familiarity and comfort, right? Instead, here, I find myself wrapped in something much different.

A kind of wildness maybe? A feeling that there are systems in place in this world that are much larger than myself? A feeling of wanting to uncover all the things I don’t know yet?

Yes, all of those things.

Some people say home is wherever their spouse or children are, that just being with them is all it takes. But I’ve learned from experience that even though you are in the presence of people you love more than anything in the world, there can still be a hole … a missing piece of the puzzle.

So what does define home?

Is it the place that warms your threadbare soul, like my mama’s chili on a rare cool day in South Texas? A place that knows who’ve you’ve always been?

Or is it a place that pushes you, like a rippling and rushing mountain creek full to its banks from spring runoff? A place that knows who you’re still becoming?

I don’t have the answer. But I’d love to hear your thoughts, too. Meanwhile, I have firewood to chop. Snow’s in the forecast.

 

PS: This is one of the themes explored in my novel, Blue Straggler. I keep hoping that, through writing, I’ll figure some of this stuff out.

colorado moose

Recycling

We’re moving again, back to our home at the top of a mountain in Colorado, after two years in the Denver foothills. It’s been a short experiment, and there have been some good things about it. But mostly, I can’t wait to get back home to my cabin.

With this move, though, I’m dedicated to a minimalistic approach to what we bring with us. I want a fresh start in my old home, and I want to leave behind things that are dragging me down, and ones that no longer serve a purpose in my life.

Jeans from 2008 that don’t fit anymore? Donated. A desk that I never actually use for writing at? Gone. Bowls that are chipped and stained and oh by the way I didn’t really like to begin with? Off to Goodwill.

I also just sold an antique hutch I bought right after a life-changing breakup. It had been a project that took me several weekends to finish back then, nearly 20 years ago. I remember working on it in the Texas summer heat, sweat dripping into my eyes. It had kept my mind off how badly I was falling apart inside, and it gave me something to put all of that hurt into. And it gave me a sense of pride that I could tackle refinishing the piece on my own, without him. I brought the hutch with me when I moved to Colorado — just me and my dogs — partly because I needed a reminder almost every day that I was strong and capable.

But I have other reminders of that now. I don’t need the hutch anymore. And it doesn’t need me.

I also took a huge step and recycled about 30 years’ worth of my feelings and thoughts (and bad poetry). I started journaling when I was in 3rd grade and stopped only during the college years. (Possibly due to not wanting any evidence to exist of what may or may not have happened at the Dixie Chicken in College Station, Texas.)

Recently, I flipped through all those journals, one by one. I could feel the pain dripping from the pages of my adolescent and teen years, when I felt so alone and so terribly ugly. And I caught my breath reading through the years of clinical depression, the years of fighting unexplained infertility, the years of losing my grandparents and saying good riddance to friends I thought would never let me down.

I suppose I’d held onto these journals, thinking they would inspire my writing at some point, thinking they might hold important insights some day. But all they are now are reminders of darkness when all I want to feel is light. So I ripped them into millions of pieces and threw them into the recycling bins.

I did choose to keep a few journals … the ones documenting my decision to move to Colorado, the ones reminding me how and why I fell in love, against my strongest judgment (I wasn’t interested in marriage!), with my husband. And the ones filled with the limitless joy and amazement when our son came into our lives.

It feels good to let go. It feels really, really good.

Losing Your Hair Sucks Worse Than My Six-Year-Old Walmart Vacuum

mama triedHere’s something I’ve learned in the past two weeks: When your body suffers through a brutal illness and you nearly die, your hair can decide, weeks later, to give up the ship, too. And while I am super-thrilled to be alive and all,* I’m a little bummed to be dealing with rapid (and I mean as rapid as a cat with its tail on fire) hair loss.

It began about two weeks ago. I woke up in the morning to find my Snoopy pillow (don’t judge) covered in strands of hair. As in hundreds of strands of hair. As in horror-movie, something-has-gone-horribly-wrong strands of hair.

After my first reaction that involved the word, “mother” followed by one that rhymes with “trucker,” I decided it was surely a one-time kind of thing. Maybe a reaction to a new shampoo? A new medication? Karma for saying that one (tiny, rarely ever happens) mean thing to my husband last week?

But sadly, by the end of that day, I was literally holding huge clumps of my hair in my hands every time I touched my head. There may have been audible whimpering.

Can I mention right now that when you hail from the Land of Big Texas Hair, this is a High-Alert Crisis Situation?

You see, my hair is the one beauty trait I could always count on. I may have been ass-ugly at times from the neck up, or fatter than a Lone Star tick on a cow dog from the neck down, but hey, I had good hair. Healthy, shiny, dark hair, just like my mama. It didn’t frizz, even in Houston in June. It didn’t need straightening or perming (at least not since the 1980s). I hadn’t even thought about coloring any gray yet. It was damn good hair, people.

But now, after only two weeks, there’s not a lot of it left. I have actual bald spots. I have a legit comb-over. (Daddy, I understand now.)

The only options I have these days, since it’s too thin to be styled in any way, shape or form, are to push it all back with a headband like I used to when I was 12 and in love with Scott Baio, or wear a ball cap or beanie ski hat. All the time.

Luckily, the ball cap/ski hat thing works well enough in Colorado; women wear them everywhere here. And by everywhere I mean Target, REI and bike trails. (Headbands work better for the office, though, since a “Mama Tried,” stained cap doesn’t go that well with black palazzo pants and a fancy blouse.**)

I’m working with my doctor to turn this hair loss thing around, but she said it could take months for things to rebound. In the meantime, I’m going to try to picture myself as I remember my Granny when she’d wear her old faded John Deere cap, out in the sun, working cattle or planting okra: One tough broad you didn’t want to mess with before she had her second cup of straight-up black coffee.

Also, at this point in time, I’d like to apologize in writing to every one of my friends who has ever had to go through chemo. Remember how I used to advise you not to worry about losing your hair? How I said it was just hair?

I was wrong and you can slap me next time you see my balding head.

 

* Thank you, Little Baby Jesus.
** Who am I kidding? I wear jeans and boots to work most days.

 

PS:  Are you offended by the word, “sucks?” Don’t be! Here’s why.

 

7 Things People Don’t Tell You About Pneumonia

While many of you might’ve thought I have been on a hiatus due to winning the lottery and spending the past month enjoying my new home in Italy, I’ve actually just been sick. Really, really sick. How sick, you ask? So sick that I couldn’t even read. THAT sick.

You see, I went home to Texas for a quick, early Christmas visit with family in mid-December and came back with the worst gift ever: H1N1 flu. (That’s the swine one, in case you didn’t know.)

It’s an evil, evil virus, folks. As in fetal position for six days. And then for me, it quickly turned into pneumonia, with a side of kidney and liver failure. I spent many days in the hospital. Christmas and New Year’s never happened, really.

Basically, you know those stories you read in the newspaper about previously healthy people who get the flu and die unexpectedly? Well, that was ALMOST me. I was one of the lucky ones who pulled through. (And for inquiring minds, I didn’t get my flu shot. I usually do, but I kept putting it off because our whole household had been sick with one thing or another since Halloween. I was waiting until my immune system had rebounded. Big, huge mistake.)

It’s been two weeks since I got out of the hospital now, and I’m still on oxygen. Which makes me feel about 90 years old, and is something that I never dreamed I’d need in my 40s.

Here are a few other things that no one ever told me about pneumonia. (Disclaimer: This is not any kind of medical advice and is based on my singular experience.)

1. When you are in the throes of pneumonia, before the antibiotics start to kick in, every time you cough, you will feel as though someone is reaching down through your lungs and pulling out your soul. And the sound will be violent. Horribly violent.

2. If you have pneumonia but don’t know it yet, the whole not-being-able-to-breath thing can catch you off-guard. At one point, my lips and fingernails turned blue from not enough oxygen. I didn’t know it though because I was lying in the dark, clutching my chest and stomach. When my husband did realize it, that’s when we called the ambulance.

3. Once your lungs fill up with bacteria-laced fluid, it takes a long, long time to get them back to normal. I thought once I’d completed the high-powered antibiotic regimen, I’d be home free. Nope. It can take weeks and sometimes months for you to get a clear chest x-ray. I’m still waiting for mine.

4. In addition to your lungs, it takes a long time for your whole body to get over pneumonia. I didn’t believe that at first. When the doctors told me I’d need another two to three weeks off of work, at least, to recover, I scoffed. I now take back my scoffing.

5. Pneumonia is as much about fatigue as it is about fluid on your lungs. And when I say fatigue, I mean bone-tired fatigue. It’s the kind of fatigue where, in the beginning, taking a shower takes every ounce of energy you have. The kind of fatigue where, I promise you, you will not have what it takes to shave your legs for weeks. Because it’s just too much.

6. Pneumonia jacks up your sleep patterns. You see, you spend so much time in the beginning coughing your head off that you can’t sleep. Not a wink. Then, if you end up in the hospital, too, there’s no sleeping there, either, because they’re busy taking your blood and your vitals and changing your IV 24 hours a day. So you end up going home, an exhausted insomniac who takes a few short naps during the day and stares at the ceiling, pondering the meaning of life all night.

7. Pneumonia can bring you and your spouse closer together. You wouldn’t think this would be true. After all, odds are he has now seen you at your complete and utter worst. He may or may not have had to wash your hair when you didn’t have the energy. He may or may not have had to clean up bio-hazmat things and help you on and off the toilet when you were at your most frail. And let’s face it, there is no way to rock an oxygen tube in your nose. But for us, we’re closer. Because I am usually always in control. And now I wasn’t. He had to step up and take care of me at a very basic and raw level. I couldn’t have made it through this without him. And he almost lost me forever. These kinds of things create a different bond than we had before. And so far, it’s a good one.

Have you ever had H1N1 and/or pneumonia? What’s been your experience?

 

Memories Like Soup

Tip: Do not search for soup images while you are hungry.

Tip: Do not search for soup images while you are hungry.

Isn’t it interesting the memories that your brain’s cerebrum chooses to hold on tight to well into adulthood?

I mean, sure, there are the obvious high points, like the night of your high school graduation. (I still remember what I wore under my black gown, do you?) There are the low points, like the first time you experienced the loss of a childhood cherished pet. (Oh Champ, I still mourn you. Such a good, good dog.)

But there are also those weird little memories that, in the big scheme of life, tend to seemingly have no meaning. Yet, they emerge when you least expect it and become symbolic somehow.

I had one of those memories pop up this weekend.

My son wasn’t feeling great, and we were snuggling together on the couch, reading, in the early evening, having just eaten supper, most of which he didn’t touch. And then for whatever reason, I began to remember being really sick on a rare cool and rainy fall Sunday in South Texas when I was maybe 9 or 10. I remembered being curled up on the living room couch, coughing, with my Snoopy pillow against my cheek, while my dad watched the Houston Oilers in his recliner and snacked on peanuts.

But mostly, I remembered my mom in the kitchen (not unusual, as she spends most of her waking moments there still to this day), making my favorite creamy potato soup. We’re talking smooth, rich, perfectly homemade potato soup. Soup that’ll smooth the rough edges off your soul with just a cupful. No lie.

I swear, I could smell it simmering. I could hear the spoon against the stainless-steel side of the soup pan as she stirred it. I don’t remember actually eating the soup that Sunday, and I don’t recall any of the conversations that might have gone on around me. But I do vividly remember Mom making that soup … for me.

So, here in Colorado, I handed the Stinkbug over to his dad, who was also watching football on TV, in a recliner. And I quickly drove the 20 miles to the grocery store for ingredients. Then I came home, and at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, I began to make my son’s favorite homemade chicken noodle soup.

I could say that I did it because I want a Mom of the Year award. (Do they give those out? Because that’d be cool.) Or I could say I did it because I knew he’d likely be even sicker tomorrow, and the soup would comfort him. (Prediction verified, darnit.)

But somewhere inside, I know the real reason I made that soup. It’s because some day, I’d love for him to be holding his own sniffling kiddo on a cool fall Sunday (maybe they’ll be watching football)  – and I hope, in that moment, he’ll think of me and smile.

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PS: Thanks, Mama, for making that soup that day. Just in case I didn’t tell you because I was a snot-nosed, smart-ass preteen. Which is unlikely, right? But just in case.

Hemingway. Barbie. Therapy. Mother Teresa. You Know You Want to Read This.

* Special promotional note: I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because proofreading my own work is for sissies. Kidding. Kinda.  

* Special non-promotional note: This article first appeared in the awesome The Write Life magazine earlier this year. Reprinted here with permission. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend this cutting-edge, digital publication.

Now, on to the actual post. I wrote this in response to the question:  Why do you write?

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This is Ernest Hemingway. (public domain photo)
This is Ernest Hemingway. (public domain photo)

 Ernest Hemingway once said that there’s nothing to writing; all you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. E.B. White was quoted as saying that writing is not only hard work, but also fairly bad for your health.

And even though Hemingway was likely drunk when he was quoted and White can’t really be trusted because of the whole talking pig thing, there is some truth to their words.

As a professional writer with 25 years of experience (obviously, I began writing in utero), I agree that writing can be a soul-wrenching thing. After all, writing means staying up until 3 a.m. to finish a chapter you’re working on, even when you have to get up at 6 a.m. for Real Life. It’s revising and revising until your corneas get angry at you. It’s putting your words out into the universe only to have one reader simply comment, “Meh,” in a one-star review on Amazon.

So why would any sane person do it? Why do we writers continue to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard when we could be watching Downtown Abbey or Duck Dynasty instead?

For some of my writer friends, the need to write is like the need to breathe air. Others say they write mostly because they love to tell a good story, and the world needs more good stories.

Me? Well, I think it comes down to three factors.

1)  I write because it’s not socially acceptable for me to play with Barbie dolls anymore. Even though I was a tomboy in every other way possible growing up in a ranching family in South Texas — with the scars to prove it — there was one “girly” thing I loved. And while the feminist in me today reels at the thought, here it is: I loved to play with Barbie. And Skipper and Ken. Only I renamed them Cherry, Hayley and Holden, respectively.

This is Barbie. (photo from Mattel)

This is a headless Barbie.

That’s right. I played with plastic girls with sparkly tube-tops and unrealistic 38-18-34 measurements. But unlike a lot of Barbie fans, I didn’t care what she looked like, or what dresses she wore. I didn’t envy her twist-n-turn hips, blonde hair or blue eyes.

To me, Barbie was a mere tool for my vivid (and probably not quite normal) imagination. I put those dolls in situations no doll in the history of dolls would ever want to be in. They were probably praying every night for Mattel to come and put them out of their misery.

The stories I created were soap-opera-level in intensity. There was illicit activity going on in the broken elevator shaft in the Dream House. It wasn’t unusual for miniature furniture to be thrown in anger from the penthouse. There was a scene involving beautifully crocheted clothes (made by my unsuspecting grandmother) being torn off in passion. (Note to Mom: I watched Showtime when you weren’t looking.)

Now that I’m a grownup — or at least pretend to be one — I still have the same crazy imagination, and stories still pop into my head all the time. Only now, I pour the drama into short stories, novels and other types of writing.

I think Cherry, Hayley and Holden would be pleased.

2)  I write because I can’t afford therapy. Most writers I know aren’t necessarily rolling in the dough. Yet we tend to have varying degrees of tormented inner lives that make us great candidates for therapy. So for me, writing is a great, zero-percent-down alternative.

In all seriousness, writing is how I try to make sense of the world. It’s how I deal with my constant restlessness. It’s how I delve into my past and figure out my place in the here and now. It’s how I deal with the ugliness and goodness out there, and inside.

Through placing characters at tough crossroads, I can consider how I would react in that same circumstance. Through placing characters in situations I have actually been in before, I can work through what I could’ve done differently, and how that would’ve played out. And I can help those characters find strength and courage and humor when life becomes one hot mess.

This is therapy.

This is therapy.

I can even face my fears — and write my way through it all until I see light at the end of tunnel, or at least until I can get it ALL OUT and move on.

Sure, I could spend months in a therapist’s office and come to all the same conclusions. But you’re not allowed to drink copious amounts of vodka at a counseling appointment, are you? Plus, writing doesn’t demand a copay.

3) I write because I want to make a difference. (Cue the We Are the World music now.) Throughout my childhood and in college, I always believed I would one day do something important that would help make the world a better place. Basically, I wanted to be a kick-ass combination of Susan B. Anthony, Mother Teresa and Ann Richards.

This is Mother Teresa.

This is Mother Teresa.

After college, I took up causes. I was knee-deep in political campaigns and volunteering for activist organizations. I was working at animal shelters and marching for better elder care.

And I was frustrated.

I felt like I was scratching on a well-trodden, muddy surface, and any difference I’d made was quickly gone when the next rain hit.

Today, I still do some of those activism things. But I also understand that through the effective use of language and storytelling, I can sometimes reach readers in a pretty darn deep place — a place where thoughts and ideas linger long enough for questions to be raised, and a search for answers to begin.

In fact, when a reader tells me that my work has touched them somehow, and made them think about something a little bit longer than they would have otherwise, that’s when I know that what I’m doing with my life — this whole writing thing — does matter.

After all, books and stories and poems have been known to change lives, you know. And if my work can trigger just one little change in just one person, then, well, it’s worth it.

* The following words are registered trademarks: Amazon, Downtown Abbey, Duck Dynasty, Barbie, Mattel, Showtime, and probably some others I’m failing to mention. Please don’t sue me. Refer to #2 above.

THIS Is 40, or You Are the Wind Beneath my Bat Wings

There are a lot of things people never tell you about hitting age 40 and beyond.

A blog just isn’t legitimate until there’s a picture of the Ropers in it.

Sure, I knew about the wrinkles and gray hair coming my way. I knew my eyesight would begin to worsen and I’d be shopping for Mrs. Roper-style-hanging-around-my-neck drugstore glasses at some point. And my doctor kept warning me about the “belly roll” that would collect and be hard to get rid of in my 40s. (Can’t they come up with another term for it? Like Lower Abdomen Memory Foam?)

But here’s what they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that the pimples of your high school years will start coming back and your chin is gonna start to look like your freshman yearbook picture. For no apparent reason. They don’t tell you that your joints will start making sounds reminiscent of old, haunted-house hardwood floors. And it’s scary. Really scary.

This is what came up in an image search on Google for a “complicated outfit.”

They don’t tell you that those ads you used to laugh at that targeted women with a “sudden urge to urinate” might one day not be so funny, especially when you happen to be wearing an awesome, complicated outfit that, well, takes a while to remove.

And yes, they may have told me that my skin would one day fight back from the years of baby-oil tanning, but they sure as hell did not tell me that the fight would include having strange-looking skin tags frozen off my body in a dermatologist office once a year. Seriously, no one EVER mentioned the freezing machine. That thing burns like a mother.

But mostly, they didn’t tell me about bat wings.

Listen, I’ve never been especially proud of my arms, but they weren’t hideous before. A few scars and red scales, but fairly firm, I would say. After all, I can hold my own tossing cattle feed bags and I’m a master snow-shoveler. We’re talking heavy, wet spring mountain snow, too. Not any of this dry powdery two-inch stuff down here in the foothills. (Mountain snob alert.)

These are not my bat wings. Mine are way sexier.

Regardless, something has changed. I now have a layer of bonafide flab hanging down on each arm, flapping in the wind like sheets on a clothes line. And as sexy as that sounds, it’s upsetting.

The first time I noticed them I was putting my hair in a ponytail in front of a mirror and actually looked behind me to see if someone else was possibly standing there with their own bat wings. No such luck.

Of course, my first course of action was to look online to see if I was the only one that this was happening to so early in life. I mean, I thought bat wings were for women in their 60s. Turns out, they indeed start in your 40s, as “middle-aged skin is like cotton with less snap,” causing sagging.

First of all, WebMD, don’t call me middle-aged. And secondly, I want Spandex arms back.

Experts say you can do boot-camp-style tricep exercises to help, but not completely solve the problem. Which does not in any way sound encouraging or appealing. Plus, as Sweet Brown says, ain’t nobody got time for that.

You can also have upper-arm liposuction. But if I’m not going under the knife for the aforementioned lower abdomen memory foam, I’m not risking my life for my breeze-making upper arms.

I tell my son that I love my muffin top (which he so generously pointed out to me after seeing a weight-loss commercial one day. It’s a good thing he’s cute.). I tell him that it’s a souvenir from lots of good food and good times. But these bat wings? I don’t know that they represent anything but old age and the lack of funds and courage to hire Jillian Michaels to yell at me.

By the way (ATTENTION: stop reading here if you are easily offended!) when I googled “bat wings” during my research, I came upon a horrible discovery. Apparently, according to Urban Dictionary, there are other slang definitions for bat wings that have nothing to do with arms. They include but are not limited to:

  •  A woman’s large vaginal skin
  • The spreading and sticking of a man’s testicles to his inner thigh. This usually happens at random in summer and is caused by perspiration and must be physically unstuck.
  • When a female neglects grooming in the pubic region and wears a bikini.
  • One that I just cannot bring myself to type right now.

Nothing like a little Urban Dictionary to make you 1) gag and 2) feel even older than 40. You’re welcome.

And …. now … I don’t feel so bad about my arms for some reason. Maybe I’ll just buy me some Mrs. Roper tunics. You know you want some, too.