Daily Prompt: At My Worst

What is your worst quality?

Well, that’s a loaded question for this overweight, middle-aged woman who has spent a lifetime battling self-esteem issues. Do I really have to narrow it down to just one?

I could talk about my inability to trust or my poor impulse control; I could really dig deep into my tendency to bend the truth when I don’t want to face reality in bad situations.

But the truth is, my worst quality would have to be my utter lack of follow-through.

It has plagued me through my career over the years, whether it meant neglecting to mail out thank-you cards to new clients or procrastinating about filing client records. I would set aside projects and then forget about them when something more interesting came along. I wasn’t incompetent in any of my jobs, but I never reached the potential I could have hit if only I had ever followed through on some of the great ideas and plans I came up with.

It’s been a problem in my personal life as well. I have wonderful ideas for redecorating my home, great plans for the vegetable garden I want to plant, baskets of clean laundry that never make it to a dresser drawer. I have Rubbermaid totes full of half-finished cross-stitch pictures and intricate quilt tops that will never be finished.

I start diets and exercise plans every few months, but the food scale and low-fat cookbooks are as dusty as the treadmill and Gazelle.

My lack of follow-through has had the biggest impact on my dream of writing. I was four years old when I realized that this is what I want to do, what I want to be; that has never changed. While I may lack confidence in many areas, I have no doubts about my writing talent. I have the potential to be really good. I believe that I write well enough to publish my novel and be successful.

But I haven’t written the damn thing.

Life has presented me with an opportunity to sit down and write full-time. When I broke my neck and lost my career, I got the gift of time to do that one thing I have always dreamed of: write a book. No need to shut off the computer and go to work, no boss to argue with when I needed a moment to scribble down an idea. But it’s so much easier to let the computer distract me with Facebook and Listia and Fanfiction.Net rather than follow through and actually write.

My book is half-written and completely planned. It’s also good enough to earn me a spot as a finalist in this year’s Launching a Star contest. One of the first-round judges wrote on the critique that she was “sad when I came to the end of this entry”. But instead of celebrating this huge accomplishment, I am in a state of flat-out panic at the realization that this may lead to a full manuscript request.

Holy crap, what am I going to do if an editor wants to see the rest of it? I might have to actually finish what I started.

My Big Five

If I could be the average of the five people I spend the most time with, I would surround myself with people who know how to laugh, who persevere, and who are good-hearted. Some of the people on my list are no longer on this Earth, and some are celebrities I will probably never meet, but it’s my fantasy list. I can manipulate reality all I like.

The first person I would choose would be my father, because of his sense of humor. Dad lived a hard life, and I’m sure he had a few regrets at different times, but he always seemed to bounce back from life’s hardest hits with a smile and a joke. The jokes weren’t always funny, but he always made the effort to laugh – and to make those around him laugh, too.

If I’m lucky, I’ve inherited at least a portion of his ability to see the funny side of every situation, no matter how horrible.

I would choose my big sister next, because she has all of the organization and initiative that is so lacking in my life. She never misses appointments or forgets to return a phone call; she sends birthday cards on time; she works an incredibly high-stress job and runs her household and still makes time to read and improve herself every day.

She’s Super Girl – but still human and likeable.

She’s . . . a Big Sister, even if she has told me repeatedly that we are the same age now that we are over thirty.

Christopher Reeve would have a place on my list, too. Really, he should be on everyone’s list. I’m sure he had moments of despair after his accident, but the other moments were stronger. The moments when he faced the facts about his paralysis and went forward with his life anyway. The moments when he moved forward help others with spinal injuries.

Next on my list is Nancy Gideon, one of my favorite authors. She writes her books while working full-time and raising her children. She also makes time to help aspiring authors any way she can. If I could just gain the tiniest bit of her motivation and ability to follow through and finish things, I might actually be published.

Comedian Mark Lowry is the final person on my list of five. Once again, I could benefit from spending time with a person who is able to see the funny side of every situation. But Lowry also has a deep faith in God and family; his unique way of explaining God’s word has helped me through many situations when I was full of questions and short on belief.

Lowry has also dealt with ADHD, and many of his routines are about the impact this condition has on adults and children. Whenever I get frustrated because my train of thought has left the station for points unknown, his comedy routines help me remember that my ADHD also gives me the gift of creativity and makes me who I am.

Dad, Big Sis, Christopher Reeve, Nancy Gideon and Mark Lowry. What a group.

Six Degrees of Brian Dennehy

Maybe it’s because of my ADHD, but I have a tendency to throw wrong words into a conversation for no discernible reason.   I know what I want to say, and to the best of my knowledge the right words are speeding on their way to my mouth – and then my brain jumps ahead to a different thought while my mouth is still wrapping up the first one.

And I end up saying things like, “That sale ends tomorrow, so your father and I are going to get up early to go dancing.”

Now, I’m not thinking about dancing.  I may be thinking about any of a variety of subjects, but I can guarantee that dancing is not one of them.  The word just pops out of nowhere.

I’ve always done this, but it has definitely gotten worse with age.   “Mommy brain” is part of it, and so is stress, but sometimes there is just no explanation for what I say.  At work, I once told a client I’d start her haircut as soon as I got some forks out of the sanitizer.  The irritating part is that I didn’t realize it as I continued to substitute fork for comb through the entire service.

I guess it’s not all that difficult to understand why that particular client went to a different stylist after that.

My kids and husband have learned to translate for me.  “Has anybody seen my goulash?”  I’ll say.

“Purse?”

“Coat?”

“Keys?”

By which point I have probably already found my gloves.

My Dad did the same thing, but we blamed it on beer or his general absentmindedness.  In his case, the part of his brain that threw in random words was also the part of his brain that resided firmly in the gutter.  On one memorable visit to my sister at college, he regaled the roomful of girls with a fascinating story about a co-worker who had broken his sternum in an accident.

“Can you imagine the pain of a broken sternum?”  He asked.  “I mean, the sternum is right there in your core.   You can’t really move without having an effect on your sternum.  Yessir, a broken sternum’s got to be just about the most painful thing you can have.  I sure would hate to have anything happen to my sternum.”

Now, go back and read that again, but this time substitute scrotum for sternum.  Every single time.  He honestly had no idea he was saying it.  Loud, proud, and several times.

Dad also had a knack for not remembering the names of the celebrities he wanted to talk about.  He could remember the most intricate details of their careers, who they were married to, and so on, but names were details he just couldn’t grasp.

“You know that one actor,”  he would begin, and my sisters and I would roll our eyes and get ready for the ride; “that one guy who was in the movie with that other guy who was married to the girl who did that priest movie with the guy from the doctor show?  Not the doctor show with the guy who sold coffeepots, or the doctor show with the firemen and that Indian that you girls always had a crush on, but the other doctor show?  You know the guy I’m talking about, right?”

The answer, by the way, was always Brian Dennehy.

Just this morning, I had almost that exact conversation with my husband about a DVD I want for Christmas.  “It’s the remake,” I told him.  “The one with that one actress.  You know, the one whose dad was married to the woman from movie where the robots take over?  It had that bald guy that my mom thought was sexy, the guy who was in the musical with the lady from that movie with the guy that did all the Hitchcock movies.”

“Honey, you’re doing it again,” the Big Guy said gently.

I just hope he figures out that I want “Emma” with Gwyneth Paltrow.

After School Special

I have always said that working part-time was the best of both worlds.  I got to have my career and contribute financially to my family, and I got to spend time with my kids as a stay-home mom three days per week.  But since the car accidentn in 2011 made it impossible for me to work, I have become a full-time stay-home mom.  Of course, I don’t have any stay-home kids this year.  Even the youngest is in full-day preschool four days per week.

I’ve heard other stay-home moms say that the best part of the day is when their kids arrive home at the end of the day.  Either those women are lying through their teeth or else their kids are nothing like mine.

Let me give an example of a typical after-school assault at my house.

Child #Two hurtles through the door at precisely 3:36 and informs me that Child #Three is crying in the driveway.

“Why is he crying?”  I ask.  Foolish question, I know.

“He’s mad because I ran ahead of him.”

I feel one eyebrow go up.  “You ran?”

“Yeah.”

“You ran?”  He’s lying.   He hasn’t run since early 2008.

“I . . . had to pee.”

The boy hasn’t urinated indoors since he discovered the joys of peeing in the yard.  I feel my other eyebrow climbing as high as the first one.

At this point, Child #One dances through the door and also reports that her youngest brother is still crying in the driveway.  “He’s going to get kidnapped or run over or something, Mom.   You have to get him.”  I can see him through the window, throwing pine cones for the dog.  No sign of rampaging kidnappers or out of control vehicles in the driveway.

By this point, Two has shoved my dinner preparation materials out of the way and is microwaving an enormous plate of last night’s  leftovers.

“I’m making supper!”  I protest.

“But I’m starving.  I’m a growing boy.”

“Do we have any salad?”  One asks.  “Don’t we ever have anything healthy to eat in this house?”

“I’m hungry,” the youngest announces, having given up on the pine cones and joined us inside.

“Crybaby.”

“Am not!”

“No vegetables at all, Mother?  We are so unhealthy.  When I grow up and get an apartment with my bestie, we are going to have fresh, healthy stuff around all the time.”

“I want string cheese.”

“Too bad—I just ate the last one!  Ha!”

“Mo-o-m!”

And then the starving horde is gone, moving on to the living room to fight over TV shows.    I can hear indignant squeals and howls as the youngest tries to steal the remote from his siblings who are determined to watch a zombie movie.  Which will give him nightmares so severe that he ends up sleeping between The Big Guy and me for the next week.

My blood runs cold with the realization that they will descend upon my kitchen again in about an hour for supper, and again sometime between supper and bedtime.

Erotica 101

writing

I’ve been struggling all day today to write one of those scenes for my romance novel.  Yes, one of those.   I thought this would be the fun part of writing romantic fiction.  Fun and easy.   After all, I’ve been married for nearly seventeen years and I have three children; it’s safe to say that yes, I’ve had sex.  I know how it works, which parts go where, what makes the good stuff happen.

Write what you know, they tell me.  Well, I’m no sex therapist, but I’m far from being a blushing virgin.

I got this.

So I’m baffled as to why I spent most of the day staring at my computer and blushing myself into a Rosacea flare-up.  I have finally come to the conclusion that I am going to have to write a squeaky clean romance novel, where the sex takes place behind closed doors.  Either that or I’ll end up writing a novel that contains “real” sex scenes.

And that will never get published.

In romance novels, characters say passionate things to each other during the act.  “No man has ever made me feel this way!”  the heroine shrieks at a key moment, and the hero tells her things like, “I’ve wanted to do this to you from the first time our eyes met across the room at that party.”    “I’ll love you forever,” she whispers as they roll over and start again right away.

Conversations like that just don’t happen during real sex.  If there’s any talking at all, it’s usually along the lines of “shhh, don’t wake the kids” or “ow, ow, ow, elbows!”   On a really special night, someone may utter a throaty “No, my left” but there’s no calling out of names or frantic declarations of undying love in the midst of things.  Frankly, there’s just not always enough air in one’s lungs to do all that talking while everything else is going on.

Sort of like jogging and carrying on a conversation at the same time.

Besides, I don’t know about the romantic heroines in those novels, but I just can’t focus on that many things at one time.  Forming words takes thought processes that I may not have right then.  If I stop everything to try to form intelligible words at crucial moments, I’m likely to forget what’s going on and simply end up in a conversation.  I’m easily distracted.

Real people have conversations before and after.  Not during.

Sex in those novels is always so pretty.  Bodies fit perfectly with no fat parts making slap-slap noises against other fat parts.  Nobody ever gets an inner-thigh leg cramp or whacks their head against the headboard, and God forbid those perfect bodies emit any juicy squelching sounds when parts start working in tandem.

In romance novels, the sheets have always just been changed.  Hotel bedding never has bedbugs.  Couples can romp on a beach in the pounding surf without making mental comparisons to sandpaper grades.  Sex can last for hours and hours, moving from the kitchen table to the bedroom floor to the shower stall and then finish up in the neighbor’s begonias, after which they just happen to have the right ingredients on hand for one of them to whip up a five-course gourmet breakfast while the other showers.

Seriously, don’t these people ever have to get up for work in the morning?

I’m not trying to criticize the entire genre of romantic fiction.  On the contrary, I love reading romance novels and I’m doing my best to write them.  But I have to wonder:  am I the only one who reads them for the love story and not the naughty bits?  Or am I like the man who claims to buy Playboy for the articles?

Filtration

I am a blurter.  I admit it.   Clever things have a way of popping into my head and shooting out my mouth before I have time to realize that they really aren’t all that clever.

I’ve been told it’s part of my ADHD, which apparently causes problems with impulse control.  To me,  “impulse control” sounds like a problem with overspending or  kleptomania, not about saying idiotic things I have no business saying.

It has more to do with the fact that I can’t stand silence when there are other people around.  Silence is uncomfortable and awkward, and I feel like it’s my inherent responsibility to fill that silence with words.  Unfortunately, I don’t seem to feel that same inherent responsibility toward thinking about what those words should be before I blurt them out.

When I was a hairdresser, clients loved it.  They thought I was saying outrageous things to earn better tips.  “My husband won’t let me cut my hair,” a woman would say.  “Tell him to sleep with a wig,” I’d retort.  “Does this make me look sexy?”  Another would ask.  “I’d do you myself,” I’d assure her.

I talk about my sex life or my husband’s annoying habits or the most recent argument with one of my kids.   Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because the reality of something I said earlier in the day has just hit me, and I can’t go back to sleep until I’ve confirmed it with my husband.

“Did I really tell the neighbor she’s nagging the hell out of me?”  I’ll demand, shaking him awake.

“Not in those exact words.”

“What were my ‘exact words’?”

“Something along the lines of ‘I’ve got a set of anal beads that haven’t been as far up my ass as you are right now.”

Basically, it boils down to a problem with filters:  I don’t have any.  I’ve been told that most people are able to think an idea through, turn it over in their brain a time or two, and then speak.  If that’s true, I really envy those people.  For me, by the time I think about saying something, it’s already out there.

My doctors say it’s because of the head injury that I suffered when the tree landed on me, but my family members all know I was like this before that night.    Kind of like the short-term memory issues and difficulty focusing.  If they want to blame our friendly neighborhood maple tree, they can, but my family and friends know I’ve always been like this.

It can be summed up by sharing the conversation that took place in the recovery room after the neurosurgeon rebuilt my spine the next day.   I remember waking up feeling grumpy and scared and sore and when a visitor leaned in a little too close, I let her have it with every bit of pent-up anger and bad feelings I had ever felt toward her.

“Oh, God,” my husband said; “Her filters aren’t working.”

My sister looked at him in surprise and asked,  “She has filters?”

Bring It

It’s 10:30 on Day Six of my resolution to post something here every day.  I’m tired and my brain is absolutely empty.  And I’ve taken a painkiller for my neck pain, so it’s anybody’s guess what I’m going to come up with.

The Big Guy and I cleaned out the shed today, with lots of help from out four-year-old.  We hauled out bikes and scooters and sleds and snowboards and camping gear until I started wondering if some other, more active family has been storing their things in our shed witout our knowledge.  For a few crazed moments, I thought that perhaps we had discovered some Midwestern version of Dr Who’s TARDIS, but it finally sunk in that no, we are just a family of pack-rats.

We found three high chairs, two strollers and a crib mattress, which is odd because we gave away all of our baby things long ago.  I specifically remember giving the older kids’ things to a needy family after a housefire in our neighborhood.  The Big Guy and I argued about it because he thought we should hold onto all of it but I swore we would never need it again.

Since I found out I was pregnant less than two weeks after that, he likes to say the he won that argument.

We gave all of that baby’s things away last summer.  He had turned four and graduated to a Big Boy Bed and a bike with training wheels, so the crib and stroller went to a cousin with a new baby.  There was no argument this time; tubes have been tied and we both agree that we are done.  So done.   With a four year-old, fourteen year-old and fifteen year-old, we had better be done.

So the baby gear in the shed is confusing.

But apparently the older two had a lot more outdoorsy fun than I remember them having.  I can’t wait for snow this year so we can play outside together on all of those sleds!  My eight year-old nephew has just moved here from Florida and this will be his first real winter; I can just imagine his squeals of delight riding one of those sleds down our hill!

I called his mother today to reserve him for the first snowfall.

So my brain is empty and my shed is well organized.   And I’m going to bed soon with dreams of sledding and snowball fights.  My big kids may be too old for that sort of thing, but life has given me my bonus baby and my little nephew, and we are going to have a great winter.

Bring on the cocoa and marshmallows, Old Man Winter.  I’m ready for your worst.

Paperback Writer

Is it a bad thing to admit that I write romance novels?

I’ve read the classics.  I majored in English and have studied the works of everyone from Aristophanes to Baudelaire to Whitman and Tennyson.  I struggled through Hardy and Lawrence and earned a grudging respect for Hawthorne’s ability to fill multiple pages with one endless sentence that somehow remained grammatically correct (see how I did that?).  I can discuss Twain and Poe the way some people talk about this week’s bargains at Wal-Mart.

But sometimes . . .  I just want to feel good.

Romance novels are all about the guaranteed happy ending.  Real life can be a little short on those. Romance in the real world is less about roses and moonlit escapades, and more about figuring out whose turn it is to pick up the kids after school.  Real life marriages deal with adultery and abuse, debt and divorce.  Seriously, when was the last time anyone jetted off to Greece for a weekend of passionate sex on a warm sandy beach?

I don’t want to read about people like me.  I have enough of my own unsolvable problems without reading about someone else’s.  Sometimes I just want to escape into a tidy 50,000-word universe where everyone’s troubles are wrapped up by the power of true love.  I know it’s not realistic.  I also know it’s not realistic to think I’ll ever fit into size 14 jeans again, but that doesn’t stop me from keeping a pair in my drawer.

When I was hurt in 2011, I had months to do nothing but read.  I vowed to keep my mind alert by tackling some of the biggies I hadn’t attempted yet, like Tolstoy.  I also devoured modern classics by authors like Piccoult and Lehane.  I even read some of the oldies-but-goodies I had somehow missed:  Anne of Green GablesPollyannaSalmon of a Doubt.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed most of them.  I don’t regret the time spent reading them.

But as I sat there in a brace from stem to stern, realizing every day just how much of my life I was never going to get back, I lost my desire to read things that were good for me.  I just wanted to go somewhere else for a while.  Somewhere that could make me forget all of the things I will never do again.  Somewhere that constant pain becomes a nagging afterthought rather than a primary focus.   A place where people recover from car accidents and go on to lead a better, fuller life thanks to the perfect love of that one special person.

Sometimes real life drops a maple tree on your car and your romantic hero sits by your hospital bed or brings you stool softeners instead of flowers.  He reads warning labels on your prescriptions rather than love poems in your honor.  Instead of donning an elegant gown and flitting off to some gala ball, you wear a hospital gown and celebrate taking three steps with a walker.  You swallow Norco and Flexeril, not champagne and strawberries.  And you figure out ways to make love despite broken necks and exhaustion and fear and the sheer ugliness of real life.

I understand that romance novels don’t reflect real life, and that every escape into one must involve a return to reality.  But so what?  I could drink to escape; I could abuse my pain meds.  I could lose myself in a wallow of self pity and chocolate.  Instead, I choose to escape temporarily into a world where everyone gets what they want and the good guys always win.

What’s so bad about that?