Am I Still Here? Yes. Sort of. I Think.

Well…it’s that time of the blog season: I’m writing that meta- piece about not writing on my blog. So let’s jump right in, shall we? I think some of my writing block stems from…ick, ahem…insecurities, which I figure are very de rigueur for the creative set, n’est pas? And doesn’t that sound much better with some foreign phrases thrown in to boot?

I created this blog and website, in part, to showcase some of my writing. I had just finished off a few professional profiles of businesses for a local publications, I was feeling a bit of a boost. Maybe I could role with it! Make a website! Feel current and active!

And then, as happens in this world of freelance publications…poof! Mysteriously, the assignments stopped rolling in.

I don’t think I did anything wrong; it appears the publication has reformatted. But does a “professional” writer feel like a “professional” when no paid work is filling their sails? I’ve considered ways I can re-boot and/or re-position, but to extend this sailing metaphor (in the messiest fashion possible), I feel like I’ve been some phobic, Vitamin C deficient sailor who has looked at the cold, dark, shark-infested waters, and said, “Garr…let’s just man the deck to drink wine and play cards until the good Lord fills our sails again and we hit some new land. Garr.” Like the extra “garr” there?

Seeing as I’m creating drunk pirate identities here, it seems evident I’m destroying any dream I had a creating an image of myself as a polished, professional, perfect person with flawless hair. Oh well. I just finished reading The Happiness Project, and while I agree with various of the one-star reviewers on amazon (there was a fair amount of fluff written by a very established–ahem, rich–woman), I still liked aspects of it. Like how she creates the rule “Be Gretchen.” Well, if I’m to similarly “Be Debbie,” then I guess I might as well admit I’m often more (or often feel more) drunken sailor than polished type-A yuppie gunner. I’m no less talented or capable for this.

With that all said, I’m reconsidered “re-branding” this blog…by returning to what I first called an earlier blog: What (a) Debbie Does. This earlier name seemed to give me breathing room to still grow and become something; aka, I don’t constantly have to feel like I have my shit together all the time.  ‘Cause I don’t.  And chances are, neither do you.

***

Are you still there? ‘Cause I’m still writing. I’d also like to add that I’m scaling back–or trying to scale back–on social media. I’m sure there’s nothing new to this. There are a few reasons, and maybe I’ll discuss in another post. You know, the one I write on the last day of summer, har har–arrrr.  (Still liking the pirate/sailor thing.)

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An Interview with Debbie

You know those celebrity interviews in fun magazines like “People” and “In Style,” where they interview celebrities at a little trendy bistro or in their own home, and describe them as if they are perhaps demi-gods, elegantly existing as half human (“she’s simply clad in jeans and a t-shirt”) and half divine (“yet she wears them with the lithe perfection of a professionally trained ballerina”)? Well, I thought I’d interview myself in that manner. So, here goes…

When Debbie answers the door, I’m stunned: who knew she’d even answer her own door, like some mere mortal? She apologizes for her appearance (“Yeah, that’s a round brush stuck in my head; blow-dryings a bitch!”), which further cements my impression that she might be insane: who pretends to answer the door for themselves in the afternoon? And why does it take her until 2 p.m. to take a shower?

“I’ve been painting our bedroom,” Debbie explains, as if she has to justify herself to herself. “Liberty Park, which is just a fancy name for a shade of green that your 7 year old thinks is kind of blah.” Debbie settles onto her couch, her middle-aged, I’ve-started-wearing-skinny-jeans-again legs kicking some errant stuffed orcas to the side. “We’ve recently returned from a vacation to SeaWorld, hence the orcas. I know, I know–most people call them killer whales, but they’re actually in the dolphin family.”

I look down at my notes to see where I should begin the interview, and I decide to go for the jugular, least we discuss sea creatures for the next hour.

“You turned 40 last year. How has this milestone been treating you?”

Debbie eyes me suspiciously. “Have I offered you anything to eat? Drink? Maybe you’d like coffee…or a Bloody Mary? Seriously, I had friends warn me about middle age spread, and while I hoped I’d suddenly think kale smoothies taste fabulous, I’d still prefer to freebase birthday cake. More seriously, I’ve been thinking of this as a transition year: my children have headed off to school during the day, and while snow days, doctors appointments, and some sense that I should volunteer for everything or let no errand go undone can still can eat up time, I definitely have some flexibility to pursue that whole “what’s next?” concept. On one hand, that’s great–now might be the perfect time to figure out why the career guidance aptitude test I took in the seventh grade indicated I should be a drama teacher–on the other hand, WTF, a drama teacher? Even in the seventh grade, I knew there was only, like, one spot for a drama teacher per state. Plus I’d never been in a play or taken a drama class in my life.”

“Have you been pursuing, err, stuff like drama?”

“Well, certainly not directly, because that would require my high-jacking my kids’ 529s so that I could do something mid-life-crises-y, and I don’t think I’m at a point in my life where I can do something quite so eat-pray-love-ish. But I have done a few improv classes, which are really fun and come in useful when you’re attempting to run a classroom game as room-mom and it’s all going down in flames. Pinterest is evil like that. I also made an attempt to stretch both my personal/professional network a few times by showing up at workshops or Chamber of Commerce meetings, but marketing one’s own self is the worst. I want my body of work as a writer to get deeper and broader–and actually paid for and published, pretty please!–but no one is just handing out assignments. I love doing the personal “mommy” essays, and my family will always remain important to me, but that can only go so far. Knowing other people who love the craft of writing and also recognize the challenges is great, but if you run into people who are way ahead of you in the game–well, combine that with the sometimes discouraging voice in your head, and that’s a recipe for wanting to pound them cupcakes.”

“What do you do when you get in those funks?”

“I line up back-to-back vacations, so I can ensure that I’m always busy catching up on laundry, packing, and unpacking. Also, I paint bedrooms.”

“Do you eat cupcakes?”

“Well, our recent Disney vacation included dessert after every meal, and even my kids were begging for vegetables by the end of it, so I swore I’d start working out and eating vegetables everyday when I got home. That lasted about two days, and then I saw Pepperidge  Farm cookies on sale at Kroger.”

“Did you just leave to check the spelling of ‘Pepperidge”, or to go eat a cookie?”

“Put a sock in it. Hey, speaking of socks, I don’t hear the dryer. Must be done. That means it’s time for me to fold laundry.”

“Nice. I bet you’re doing to download something on Netflix while you’re folding.”

“Stuff it. Pam Houghton became a famous journalist watching ‘Girls‘ and doing laundry. Plus, I just sat my butt down and actually wrote a blog post. What have you done recently?”

“Ditto, my friend. Ditto.”

 

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#BanBossy…(but what if you’re quiet?)

I logged onto my computer the other day, and there was Google’s little plug for the day: #BanBossy. This was part of the larger caption: Google supports #BanBossy from Lean In & the Girl Scouts. Encourage girls to lead.

I bit.

I googled #BanBossy. And I know I’m supposed to totally love the message I was hearing: girls shouldn’t be labeled “bossy”; we should encourage girls to speak up and speak out; we should encourage assertiveness. And I do support all these notions: we shouldn’t label girls “bossy”, especially when we praise those same qualities in boys; we should foster and encourage speaking up and assertiveness. But I’m also afraid something could end up missing in this whole assertiveness (for girls) movement.

Let me explain.

First, let me tell you that I find being assertive challenging. My mother wanted me to be more assertive, and she thought she could help me by signing me up to referee soccer. I hated it. It didn’t work well, at least if the object was to help me be more assertive. I quickly found it difficult, and hated being yelled at and second guessed by the parents on the sidelines. I supposed this is where I was supposed to magically become “assertive”, but it didn’t happen. Instead, I demoted myself to just refereeing kindergarteners, where off-sides didn’t exist, I could be gentle about touching-the-ball infractions, and mostly just watch the clock and try to keep the kids from bunching up around the ball.

Second—and after my soccer story, this will seem entirely out of left field—I’ve been semi-obsessed with Susan Cain’s book Quiet since I read it last winter.

Susan Cain’s book is about introverts, and the value they have—or at least, should have—in a society that praises what she calls the “extrovert ideal.” For those who know absolutely nothing about personality types or psychology, one main component of personality types is the introversion/extroversion model. I’ll try to give a nutshell, condensed description of the two, mostly drawn from Cain’s book. Extroverts are stimulated from being around people; Introverts draw their stimulation from being in solitude. Another street way of viewing them is this way: extroverts are out-going, life of the party, popular folks; introverts are shy, quiet, and prefer smaller groups of people.

It’s with Cain’s writing in mind—and my own experiences (I identify with much of the introversion qualities, although not all, and not in their most extreme versions)—that I question this whole “BanBossy” bit. Sure, it means well…but is it possible that we are encouraging girls to be assertive in a certain way, specifically in an extroverted way, in a way that alienates certain girls, certain personality types (to include boys), and certain qualities and styles? Turning it back to me (and why not be selfish and do this, ha ha!), maybe part of my challenge with being “assertive” does stem from certain qualities being dubbed “bossy” or “bad”—and yes, we need to challenge this notion. But other challenges may stem from the fact that, well, I just don’t like things like confrontation, arguing, and yelling—things that certain people (extroverts? assertive folks? bossy folks?) might actually enjoy and thrive upon—whereas I probably will always find such things threatening. Can’t it be okay for me to calmly asked for a break from situations, to reflect, and then reconvene? Does the assertiveness model we are promoting for girls include this? Should it? Or do the “assertive” girls (and boys) get to win via their style?

Also, even more recently–like, I just google-searched recently–I see that somebody else has a problem with #banbossy, pointing out that being bossy is, simply put, different than being a leader, and not a good thing at all.  Introvert or extrovert. So, to all the extroverts I may have equated with being bossy-not-in-a-good-way jerks, I apologize.

As always, your thoughts are welcome.

 

(As an aside: I think I tend towards introversion, but after nearly 10 years as a stay-at-home mom, I think I’ve gotten needier for people; a lot of my “shyness” peaked around high school. Still, I don’t like too many people butting into my work.)

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All the Single Gloves

It’s no secret that this winter’s been a long, brutal one. I think it may be contributing to a certain seriousness on my part–I actually have several incomplete drafts for this blog, but I’ve lost steam part way through, party as I find them no fun. Meanwhile, I’ve found myself specifically frustrated with the fact that my children are down to single gloves, their partners unable to found. Maybe they’re in the school lost and found? Sigh…I really don’t care at this point.

Meanwhile, I must have heard Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” recently–or maybe it just jumped into my head looking at single gloves. I’m not a singer, and it turns out that parodying a song is rather tricky, but here’s a bit that maybe you, too, can try to sing and you rifle through what’s left of your winter gloves.

(Please note…if someone runs with this as an actual spoofed song on youtube and I fail to get any mention, I’ll be kicking myself.)

 

All the Single Gloves (Put A String On It)

All the single gloves (all the single gloves)                                                                                      All the single gloves (all the singles gloves)                                                                                      All the single gloves (all the single gloves)                                                                                      All the single gloves                                                                                                                            Now put your hands up

Winter’s been long, full of snow                                                                                                        We still need to wear our gloves                                                                                                       But lookin’ around, two can’t be found, one must have gotten lost                                              I got one here, another one there, but none of them are matching                                       Can’t buy anymore, they’re not longer in the store                                                               Target’s just selling things for spring

‘Cause if you liked ’em then you should have put a string on it                                                     If you liked ’em then you should’ve put a string on it                                                                  Like a pre-school kid run ’em through your sleeves a bit                                                               If you liked ’em then you should’ve put a string on it

Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh u h uh oh                                                                                       Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh

 

 

 

 

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Note: This Post Will (Not) Reduce Belly Fat

Hello. You know how sometimes you watch a sitcom, and it’s some characters talking about the good ol’ days, and most of the show is just a bunch of clips, and you think, “Gee, the writers must have been stuck that day.” Well, this is the equivalent. It’s a re-post from my older blog, What (a) Debbie Does. However, I did do improv again, and I’ll even admit it was at the local Gilda’s Club. Well, it was actually at a church across from Gilda’s Club, as there was a water main that broke and flooded a bunch of the Gilda’s Club house. They are working on renovations there. I hope someone repaints Noogieland. I hear the kitchen has red cabinets, like Gilda’s red door. Should be a pretty intense color to check out! Also, I still dug doing improv (though I missed doing the “Oscar moments” exercise–we ran out of time!)

This past Monday, unplanned, I ended up doing one of the coolest, funnest things I’ve done in a while.

(First, wait–it “funnest” still not a word?  Crap, can we change that?  “More fun” ruins the pretty little parallel structure.)

I did improv.

Yep, improv.

I don’t know if I want to go into the backstory of how I fell into a room with a bunch of “instructors”–or maybe it was a troupe, or facilitators, or just people with cooler jobs than the average Joe–on a Monday night.  Like one of the rules of improve, just accept it.  Accept the scene–Debbie is in a room with strangers doing improv–and go with it.  (Some might find the backstory interesting, and some day, I may touch upon it.)

(Also, as aside, will auto-correct please accept “improv” as a word and stop tacking an “e” on it?)

We started off doing some crazy little exercise that involved making strange noises and pointing at each other.  We moved on to naming states or games or pharmaceuticals while pointing to each other, and somewhere in there, we said our names, which we may or may not have learned.  I think my brain was supposed to wake up, although I felt a little like my questionably ADD self repeated things over and over so I don’t forget to, I don’t know, water a plant or something.

Things moved on from there, to little exercises which were actually building crazy, silly, fun scenes around scenarios.  I guess I do this sometimes when I write, or often in my head when I daydream, but when I started doing this out loud, with other crazy, silly, fun people, it felt so much more fun and communal and supported and instant, like people throwing confetti at me while I write a blog piece, instead of that inner voice always going “Hmm…is this okay? Is anyone going to read it? Like it? I’m not so sure.”  No, almost by definition, improv is fun and right and anything goes, which is such a refreshing change from wondering if something is good enough.  Was I any good at improv?  I’m not even sure it matters, which is why, yes, I was so awesome at improv.  It was kind of exciting to try something new, and I found myself both enjoying other people’s “skits” while itching for my turn, pretty please, next.

I’ve also found myself googling about improv, re-reading Tina Fey’s “The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat”*, and reflecting upon how treating life like one big improv exercise might just be free-ing from time to time.  In fact, it’s actually quite possible most of my parenting has actually been improv.  (I’m especially good at improv-ing with stuffed animals, by the way.  Perhaps I should lead a class in it?)

While I’m not sure I’ll turn into some improv junkie, checking out the local club behind this fun-fest is on my list of things to do.  For fun.  Which I don’t always get enough of.

Right now, I’m kind of like a timeshare salesperson with this stuff:  You should try it!

*Tina Fey later notes Improvisation will not reduce belly fat.  Sorry, if that’s your goal.

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What has Debbie Been Doing?

It’s always tough to start blog posts with that whole “I haven’t posted for a while” phrase. Tired. Boring. Lazy. Truthfully, I have two posts I crafted which I haven’t posted. One was never meant to be a post; I was just using WordPress almost as Word, writing a piece for my monthly writer’s group.  The other post was, well, just too damn much backstory, like I’m Dr. Doofenshmirtz trying to explain why he’s invented his newest “Inator” because he once had to be a lawn gnome.

My backstories aren’t that entertaining.

Ultimately, it’s simply that time of year. You know, that time when we’re done with big, showy holidays (phew!), but we’re not all the excited about tax time, New Year’s resolutions, or a spring clean-up that will never come because, OMG, will this Polar Vortex ever end?! No, it seems not, so life is taking on that Groundhog Day quality, and I’m currently channeling that phase were Bill Murray just eats tons of doughnuts.

But speaking of New Year’s Resolutions, I did, in a roundabout sort of way, have a few. Going into the holidays, I’d seen some nice business profiles I wrote in print, I’d been pulling together this site as a writer’s portfolio, and was jonesing to find new, exciting ways to keep momentum going, yeah! Without going into details, I’ve done a few of these things–hello to all you wonderful folks I have met at places like the Detroit Working Writers, Oakland County Literacy Council, Troy Chamber of Commerce, and random odd lady at the Girl Scout cookie booth in Kroger!–and now I’m gathering all my notes and thinking now what? I’m sure the answer is not It’s almost Friday, so why not try to see a movie before Sunday’s Oscars, but to me, that currently sounds like the best option. Or at least the most comfy.

I guess what I’m saying is his: patience and persistence is difficult, especially in our current ADD, text-and-tweet-it-now, I’ve-tagged-you-so-we’re-besties-now-right? culture.

How do you keep yourself motivated? If it involves a recipe, please share:)

 

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What Qualifies You to Speak?

This past Saturday, in an effort to both broaden my horizons and push my comfort zone, I attended an event with DWW, “Speaking Skills for Writers.”  I’m not going to go into the details of the event; one of the attendees already wrote a nice wrap up of the event in her own blog.  Also, the instructor, Linda Anger, said it’s best to be narrow and deep.  My high school English teacher had similar instructions: Less is More.

Instead, I’ll hone in on one of the earliest questions that stuck with me the most, and it’s this: What qualifies you to speak?

The question might have been slightly different–what gives you the authority to speak?–but I don’t think it was that, and no matter.  I felt my answer was weak–“because I have a voice”–and I couldn’t help but think that my sister has been interviewed several times on various women’s health issues because she is an Ob-Gyn, and my brothers have lectured at UM Dental School because they are dentists.  When am I going to publicly speak, much less as an authority, anytime soon? As a writer, I’m often either writing about myself (for personal essays), or interviewing the expert.  For that latter point, I’m obviously speaking/writing for the expert, working off of their authority, so to speak, to get across a message.  And for the former…well, I can get existential pretty fast.  Or, getting back to the original question: what qualifies me to speak?

My personal essays and blog ramblings basically cover mothering and, I guess, a periodic dip into light pop culture, housekeeping, and the topic of writing.  I ran across the quote that if you can’t be deep, be funny, and I do at times try to be just that: funny.  But I feel that I’m hardly an expert in any of these things (housekeeping? hah!), or that they are all that important (housekeeping? ho hum).

(Also, I’m pretty sure none of this post has been funny at all.  If this upsets you, here’s a joke: What kind of dinosaur likes waffles?  A trisyruptops.  You’re welcome.)

I’m certainly not an expert in parenting, and at this point would consider punching someone in the face for thinking that they are one.  Part of being a seasoned parent is to realize that at a certain point, we’re all winging it.

Still, in the vein of parenting, I know I have an experience that sets me apart, and the experience stinks.  I didn’t share this as part of my “getting to know you” exercise with my buddy, the gracious Lynn Cobb (ha ha, I’m all about gratuitous blogger linking here!).  I often don’t share this facet of my recent life story, and it’s this: that–ugg–I’m the parent of a child who went through chemotherapy for cancer (lymphoma.)  As this is now the second post where I mention this, I think it’s obvious I’m trying to figure out things like how and why I should add my voice to some sort of childhood-cancer awareness dialogue.  I’m not an expert, and some days I don’t even get my own experience, but I do know it gives me an immediate and real perspective.  I can speak/write because I have a voice, a voice which children don’t have.

*Okay, I have 4 kids having a play date right now, so I know they have voices, and I even know there are young authors, but they also have the inherent power limitations–ie: can’t vote, can’t speak with their dollars, etc.–that adults have.

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