Monthly Archives: December 2017

Same as It Ever Was, Sorta

I FaceTime with my 87-year-old mom nearly every Friday night. Pretty cool, right? Lately she’s been telling more stories from the past, some she hasn’t told me before. What struck me about some recent stories is how, at the core, they are similar to what people experience today, only back then there were a lot fewer resources to help.

Take job hunting. My mother talked about how hard it was for her to find a job in her early 20s. Sound familiar? It was the early 1950’s, so the economy was fine. Yes, she was a woman, so that was a strike against her. But she wasn’t looking for a career, she was just looking for a job. She was turned down at a little general store in town because she had the same last name as a cousin who’d been fired from the store for doing something bad. My mom wasn’t sure what. There were easily 20 or more cousins in town with the same last name, so that seems somewhat short-sighted, judging a whole family based on one bad apple. The fact that there was a high probability that there was more than one bad apple in that bunch is inconvenient to my story, and therefore irrelevant.

Also, it’s ironic because if they had bothered to get past my mom’s last name, they would have learned she had recently left the convent. What more validation of an honest person can you find? And, no, she wasn’t discharged because of rosary grand larceny or embezzlement of the priests’ sundry fund.

Of course, it was the convent thing that was really messing up her search. At that time there weren’t too many career counselors and coaches to help. Heck, there weren’t even resumes. Just my mom filling out applications and trying to explain where she’d been in the past several years. You’d think that the nun gig would have been a more common thing back then, especially in a town where there was a Catholic church for each of the town’s immigrant groups — St. Stanislaus, St. Anthony, St. Anne — you get the picture. But apparently employers found it just as weird as they probably would today. But today she’d have an army of online and in-person career coaches and websites telling her to emphasize her loyalty, passion, and commitment to her work. And how about “excellent ability to take direction”? She left the convent because she got very sick from the physically demanding chores of hand-washing priest vestments, praying for hours, sleeping very little, and Oliver Twist-like food. The first time she got sick, she returned home to recover and then went back. The second time she got sick, the Mother Superior told her it was a sign she was meant to do something else. She would have stayed if they had let her, so I think you could add “ability to follow through.”

She finally landed a job in the office of a car dealership, but then there were other male shenanigans to contend with. Here’s hoping the starts to change, 60 years later.

The convent thing of course followed her into the dating scene, but the few dates she told me about seemed a lot like the letters I read in a daily relationship column. There was the guy who took her out once, but when she was kind of clueless about the goodnight kiss thing, she never heard from him again. She connected with another guy on the 1950s version of eHarmony — a Catholic pen pal club. That helped make the ex-nun thing less of an issue. They wrote a number of letters back and forth and my mom got excited and thought things were going really well — until he told her he found someone. At least he didn’t ghost her.

So all as a way of saying, sometimes I like to think I  have it harder than others. But, I really don’t. Not only can I learn from those who came before me, I can Google “ex-nun resume tips” and “how to give a kiss.” And that’s pretty cool.

 

Writing Excavation

Before I get into my blog proper, I need to detour one second for this brilliant tweet from @DrAndrewThaler: “Folks, I think we need to start coming to terms with the idea that the rapture happened and only David Bowie and Prince made the cut.”

And now back to our regularly scheduled shenanigans: While packing and decluttering before I moved, I went through my filing box of writing. Oh what a treasure trove of the good, the bad, and the incomprehensible, masquerading as mastery. Here are some of the more interesting (humor me) highlights:

This one I like — I’m not a natural-born poet, brevity being rather foreign to me. However, I do have my moments. I used to take a bus to the train to get to a 7 am meeting in Boston. One thing writers are good at is turning an unpleasant obligation into art, or at least something more palatable.

Early spring bus ride, 6:20 am
The light is so nice
It’s the planet and the sun
We’re doing the tilt.

I found a lot of random notes about possible essays from when Lucas was little. Which either shows my unbridled optimism or delusional tendencies — I had no time or energy to write an essay, but as they say in yoga, intention counts. This one made me smile:

When Lucas was about 8, he played soccer. His coach Giuseppe was from Italy and had a pretty heavy accent. We used to laugh that his son who was also on the team and a great player was the ringer — the kid probably had been kicking a ball around before he could walk. The rest of Lucas’s team was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of rag-tag, half-hearted 8-year-olds. The better teams always thought they had the game in the bag until Giuseppe’s son started weaving his way around them as if they were standing still. I also loved the way Guiseppe told the kids that “practeeks” would help them win. Short of having a wine flask to help take the edge off sitting through 8 am practices in 35-degree fall weather, the Italian imported ringer and the practeeks got me through.

In an unmarked manila folder I found a thin, plastic see-through record, a 45 size, but a 33 rpm. If you are younger than 35, this sentence may make no sense to you. Kind of like this one makes no sense to me (randomly found on a celebrity gossip site): Javi and Briana rub their romance in Kailyn’s face. Who are these people?

Back to my see-through record. It does play on my record player. (Yes, I have one, read all about it here: Put the Needle on the Record). The record is called “Star Track: Stephen Saban’s Greatest Hits,” and has excerpts from interviews by the “hottest” 80s stars, with a slant toward comedians: Judy Tenuta, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Willis, Debbie Harry, Steven Wright, Emo Phillips, Lily Tomlin. I listened to it, and it’s pretty incomprehensible — there is no theme or organization, just famous people saying random things. It says “Details” at the top, which I think means it was from the hip, happening 80s magazine of the same name, which I did not subscribe to. So the mystery remains: why was this (presumably) in a magazine, who the hell is Stephen Saban, how did I get this weird thing, and for the love, why did I keep it? Was it one of those, “Oh, this will be worth a lot on eBay in the future!” moments? We may never know as I threw it away, but was fun to find.

There were many painful attempts at fiction and interview notes from when I spent a few months as a stringer for a weekly local newspaper. Neither genre is my forte, so that’s part of the pain. But it’s not a bad thing to be reminded that being a young writer is what it is — bombastic, obvious, overly earnest, and just plain bad. But I had to write all that stuff to get where I am now: bombastic, obvious, underly earnest, and less bad.

And I’ll leave you with a deliciously bad piece of writing. Here is the winner of the 2017 Best Unoriginal Sentence: Hers was a beauty that was best seen through drunken eyes.

Thank you very much.