Posted by Deborah Huso on Jul 28, 2014 in Musings
, Success Guide
, Travel Archives
This special post is part of a writer’s blog tour in which I was invited to participate by friend and fellow author Erin Casey. Check out why she writes, and then be sure to check out the blogs of a few other of my favorite bloggers at the end of this post!
The author in her “summer office”
More than a decade ago, when I was just beginning to launch my career as a full-time freelance writer, I remember driving through Goshen Pass in western Virginia, pulling off the road periodically to frame scarlet sugar maples and golden poplars in my camera lens for a fall getaway article I was writing. Still giddy at the idea I was actually pursuing this crazy dream of mine to live by the written word, I turned to my travel companion, a friend who had accompanied me on so many of these writing journeys, and said, “You know what? I’m a writer. I’m actually a writer.”
He regarded me with understandable puzzlement and said, “Well, of course, you’re a writer.”
“No, really,” I insisted, as if daylight had suddenly shattered through the sodden tree limbs overhanging Route 42, “I’m a writer. I’m actually making a living by writing.”
Of course, this was not news to my friend. But somehow it was news to me. Through late nights at the computer and endless prospecting for freelance work, I had somehow been so caught up in the business of making a living by my craft that I had failed to notice the point at which I actually became a professional writer.
But then the question remains, what exactly is a writer? And have I, for the past 30 years, been selling myself short because I was not, for nearly 20 of those years, earning a living wage as a writer? How many writers, after all, can earn a consistent living wage by their craft? After all, it took me two decades to figure it out.
You see, I was not suddenly a writer while photographing autumn foliage in Goshen Pass. Nor was I suddenly a writer when I published my first newspaper article or my first short story. If we want to talk about writing and what it means to be a writer, well then, I have to go back much farther, to a period that doesn’t appear on my resume. Because I have been a writer almost since I could hold a pen, quite literally.
I wrote my first short story when I was six years old. I was no child prodigy. I had been reading biographies of famous Americans written for young children and had loved them so much I wanted to write my own. So I wrote a story (though I probably considered the effort great enough at the time to be called a book) about a pioneer girl named Ellen Kay Brown. And I illustrated it, too, with pencil sketches of girls in bonnets and fathers with grisly beards.
I handed the notebook-paper story to my mother, a high school English teacher, for my first critical review. She didn’t paste it to the refrigerator with a magnet or smile and exclaim how proud she was of my effort. She took it in her hands quite seriously, as she would a research paper on Hamletor Macbeth, and, red pen in hand, proceeded to critique my first attempt at literature, circling my childish “enuff” and changing it to “enough,” capitalizing proper nouns, inserting punctuation.
Was this some cruelty on her part? I never for once thought so, but perhaps some more indulging parent might. This was par for the course in a household where books lined shelves in rooms upstairs and down and where anyone of blood relation would know the difference between “can” and “may” as well as “lie” and “lay.”
I took my little manuscript back, absorbing her red corrections, recording their sense for the next effort, and thus began a ritual between us that lasted until I left home for college. I wrote; she critiqued quietly with her red pen. By the time I graduated from high school, I was one of only a select few in the world who knew, as if by second nature, when and when not to use commas as well as how to give stylistic flair to an exam essay (though my mother claims no responsibility for the latter skill).
Today my mother keeps all these carefully reviewed manuscripts—penciled short stories, illustrated poems, carefully typed essays—in a cabinet in the library. They are small treasures to her, the woman who said, when I declared at six years of age that I was going to be a writer, “It’s never wise to count your chickens before they hatch.”
But I’ve always been counting chickens, hatched and unhatched, and I’ve never assumed anything other than success. That has been my way. It would have to be my way. Only a dreamer could ever believe it possible to make a career out of language.
But still the question—when did I become a writer? My first sense that I might be one actually came when I was a senior in college and my mentor and three-time history professor said upon reading my senior thesis, “There’s nothing I can tell you about writing. I wouldn’t know how to critique you.” My mother never said this, but on the infrequent occasions when I showed her a college or graduate research paper, she would read it, first page to last, hand it back, and say only, “Looks fine to me.” Flipping through the paper, I scanned the pages for the familiar red ink—nothing. Full circle at last, I thought.
Yet no writer who is a good writer ever thinks his or her work is good enough. I read articles I wrote only months ago and think today they look horrible. I have become my mother minus the red pen. All things can be improved upon.
Yet all writers know this, and all writers know, deep down, that it is not so much the paycheck that justifies them as authors. It is the constant development, the constant effort. I have been a writer since I was six. An editor might be intrigued to know that I have more than three decades of experience. But would that intrigue persist if she knew the whole truth?
And that is the sad reality of the writing life. Until you have a paycheck from a publisher, and preferably several, you are not a writer. Your skill level, your decades of practice, your passion are irrelevant . . . at least to most editors.
Did you ever notice that the editor who constantly sent you rejections of your pitches suddenly changed his tune when one of his colleagues took a chance and published your work . . . with success? Yes, once you have a few publishing credits behind you, the rejections trickle to a minimum. Which makes you wonder—does good writing count for anything? Or are editors, like movie producers, tied to the tried and true?
Well, yes and no. Good writing does count for something. After all, it’s easier to publish good writing than bad. But getting good writing noticed, in the end, is a matter of luck. For myself, I ran into an overwhelmed newspaper editor willing to take a chance on me and the editor of a start-up lifestyle magazine with a dearth of authors. After that, everything began to fall into place. Just ask Nicholas Sparks how he became a best-selling author overnight. His answer, like that of so many other wildly successful writers, will make you dream like the daily players of the lottery and gnash your teeth at the same time.
It is luck.
But it’s also persistence. Beat the statistics by flooding the market.
I guess my mother, my original editor, knew a thing or two. I kept passing her the notebook paper, and one day it came back without red ink. Was it talent, or did I beat the odds? Perhaps a little of both . . . but maybe it’s time I started playing the lottery.
Check out some more writer’s blogs on this tour. Below are three of my favorite writer ladies!
Susannah Herrada is an aspiring “Lady who Lunches” who spends most days trying to figure out how to avoid the mundane inherent in her role as ‘homemaker’ by preparing for or unpacking from an adventure. Spending about a quarter of her life on the road these past few years, she’s anything but a ‘stay at home mom.’ For summer 2013, she’s on her third extended summer trip, this time to Central America, two kids in tow.
Check out her wanderings at Not At Home Mom. After each trip, she finds herself back in the Washington D.C. metro area with a new perspective on life, love, parenting, politics, and what really matters.
Before Susannah turned her sights to the open road (and writing about it), she taught eighth grade physical science in Arlington, Virginia.
Mollie Cox Bryan is a journalist and cookbook author turned novelist. After 20 years of writing nonfiction for nonprofits, corporations, museums, magazines like Grit, Taste of the South, and NPR’s Kitchen Window, and cookbooks, she turned to mystery. Scrapbook of Secrets: A Cumberland Creek Mystery (Kensington, 2012) was her first mystery novel and was an Agatha Award finalist for best first novel in 2012. Her second in this five-book series,Scrapped (Kensington, 2013), is a finalist for the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Literary Award.
The mother of two active daughters, Mollie lives in Waynesboro, Va., where her traveling consists of carting the girls back and forth to music and dance classes, the library, and shopping malls. Visit Mollie’s blog about the writing life.
Jill Smokler is New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of a Scary Mommy (Simon and Schuster, 2012) and Motherhood Comes Naturally (And Other Vicious Lies) (Simon and Schuster, 2013). She runs The Scary Mommy web site, an online confessional of sorts about motherhood and oversees Scary Mommy Nation, a 501(c)3 organization devoted to helping Moms in a really scary situation–the inability to feed their families.
Check out the Scary Mommy blog!
Posted by Claire Vath on Jul 16, 2014 in Motherhood
Should you ever need a handy guide for surviving as a hostage, rest assured, Wikipedia has you covered. Complete with ominous cartoons involving a masked man with murderous rage in his eyes and his hand clapped over the captive’s mouth, the web site offers 20 “simple” steps to make it through being taken against your will.
I’ve never even gotten the wind knocked out of me—much less being abducted by a cartoon villian—but as I scrolled through Wikipedia’s tips, I realized just how applicable hostage-surviving tactics are to surviving parenting. I’m not going to give you 20 tips based on Wikipedia. That would be too easy, but here are a few of the highlights.
1) Regain Your Composure
Calm down! says Wikipedia. “Your adrenaline will be pumping, your heart will be pounding, and you’ll be terrified.”
I spend most of my time terrified of parenting. Whether it’s worrying about Internet-viral stories of unvaccinated children poisoning the herd or BPA in my sippy cups, I try not to let the fear creep in. But it does. From the Internet. From a car that follows me too closely while I’m driving (I have kids in the backseat, for God’s sake!). From the other kid in the waiting room who’s holding a vomit bag. There are a million disastrous scenarios I envision on a daily basis. And those I can’t even begin to envision usually end up as a Facebook story that gets shared over and over (I’m looking at you, secondary drowning story).
2) Be Observant
“Never let your guard down.”
As I type this, I’m sitting in one room while my children remain suspiciously quiet in the other. I would go in and check them, but I don’t want to know who’s coloring on the wall at the moment.
However, when I see a child about to vomit, I remain vigilant. If anyone gets near me, I quickly back away … to avoid the vomit spray.
3) Keep a Survival Attitude
“Be positive … the odds are with you … That said, you should prepare yourself for a long captivity. Some hostages have been held for years, but they kept a positive attitude, played their cards right, and were eventually freed. Take it one day at a time.”
This needs no explanation. It’s Parenting 101.
4) Put Your Captor at Ease
“No needles aren’t scary.” “Yes, vegetables are so delicious!” “Yes, school is fun!” “I love going to the dentist. So will you.”
We tell our children little white lies to make them believe what they need to.
“Cooperate within reason with your captor.”
I usually fall prey to bribery in the grocery store. (Yes, if you’re quiet the whole trip, you can have a cookie or snack when we get in the car.)
5) Keep Your Dignity
This is easier said than done. Wikipedia advises us to remain “human” in the captor’s eyes. “Do not grovel, beg, or become hysterical. Try even not to cry. Do not challenge your abductor, but show him/her that you are worthy of respect.”
Sometimes, after a long day of fussing, after the kids are in bed and I’m holding a glass of wine, I look in the mirror and wonder when I turned into a parent.
6) Try to Communicate with Other Captives
Luckily, my co-captive and I have the advantage of time on our side. “If you look out for each other and have others to talk to, your captivity will be easier to handle.
“Depending on the situation, your communication may have to be covert, and if you’re held for a long time you may develop codes and signals.”
After 15 years together, we have the knowing looks down pat.
7) Stay Mentally Active
As much fun as it is to be home all day with my children, if I don’t have adult activities and conversation, my brain turns to mush and I feel like the walls of my house are closing in on me. There are only so many times I can answer my daughter when she asks me what sound a dragon makes.
8) Blend In
This is my greatest triumph. The article advises you not to stand out to your captors, particularly when you’re being held among a group of other captives. As someone’s mom, I do my best to blend into the walls, the woodwork, anything. This works really well when anyone has a dirty diaper, needs to use the potty or needs a nose wiped. If I’m extremely stealthy, sometimes they run past me … to their dad… to ask him for help.
And, finally …
9) Try to Escape Only If the Time is Right
Since it’s apparently frowned upon to go shopping while you’re alone and have small children napping upstairs, as soon as my husband is home from work, I volunteer for errands. The grocery store? Great! Pick up dry cleaning? A pleasure.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jul 8, 2014 in Motherhood
, Travel Archives
Being a writer, I travel a lot, often averaging a week away from home a month. I don’t complain about it too much though. In fact, I’ll let you in on a secret: I love it. It doesn’t matter that I’m working. Because let’s face it: while my days “on assignment” can be long and tiring, sometimes starting at 6:30 a.m. and not ending until 10 p.m. (and let’s not forget the couple of hours I then stay up catching up on e-mail at the hotel), they are not usually spent in arduous meetings watching the dullest PowerPoint presentations known to man. Instead, I will frequently spend these days away from home doing everything from sea kayaking to stand-up paddle boarding. It could be worse. It could be a lot worse.
The author, sans famille, in the Sea of Cortez
And even if it were a lot worse, I still wouldn’t complain. A friend of mine who travels around the world overseeing clinical research trials says she loves hotel rooms. “When you leave them in the morning and come back in the evening, they look pretty much the way they did when you checked in,” she says. “Someone makes the bed, cleans the bathroom, leaves you cookies.”
An editor, wife, and new mother I ran into on my latest trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee, told me she, too, loves the travel that comes with the job: “I get a king bed all to myself, and I don’t wake up with any cats sleeping on my head.” An added bonus: she can drink beer at the airport.
Unfortunately, I know far too many women who have not yet discovered the art of traveling solo, whether it’s for work or pleasure. Guilt ties them to their husbands and children. They are so guilt-ridden, in fact, that they would never admit to their friends (or even to themselves) that they actually want to get the heck out of Dodge, even if only for a day or two. This is tragedy on a grand scale. And I cannot help but wonder why otherwise sane and intelligent women chain themselves to motherhood and marriage as if it’s a life sentence, no probation allowed.
Men rarely do this. How many men ask their wives if it’s okay to go out with the guys on the weekend or if it would be in bad form to go on a hunting trip to Alaska for a week? Do men feel this level of bondage? I don’t think so. Call it socialization if you will, but even the most liberated women among us still feel they are less than women if they long for a night away from their toddlers or a week away from the company of their spouses.
I’ll admit it took me awhile to discover the blessings of solo travel. I got my feet wet taking girlfriend getaways and discovered, at first to my horror, that vacationing with women friends was about ten times more fun than traveling with my husband. You don’t have to waste time looking beautiful every day because your girlfriends really don’t care as long as you’re not embarrassingly sloppy, and you can laugh as loud as you want in the restaurant because women are not as hung up on propriety as men are (yes, it’s true, ladies). Plus, your female friends won’t give you a guilt trip about going to a museum they’re not really interested in. Women share and share alike. Follow me around The Louvre, and I’ll support you in your search for the perfect stinky cheese. Men will tell you it’s okay with them if all you want to do is shop for shoes in Rome, but they don’t mean it. And they’ll give you more guilt than your mother when it’s all said and done.
But even better than the girlfriend getaway is the solo retreat. And I don’t care if it’s an actual vacation or travel for work. Few things beat sitting alone in a posh restaurant in a tropical garden in L.A. sipping California Riesling without having to carry a conversation or make someone else laugh. It’s divine, in fact, about as divine as sinking into a king-size bed in a hotel suite you have all to yourself with no 6 a.m. “I’ts morning time, Mommy!” wake-up calls.
When I travel by myself, whether it’s on my own personal vacation or on assignment for a magazine, I retreat (without even being aware of it sometimes) into a life that is mine but isn’t. All the anxiety of meeting deadlines, picking up the kid on time, being cheerful for a grumpy spouse coming home after 12 hours of work and a long commute, and suppressing my own “I just want to scream because I can’t take it anymore” tendencies so I don’t land my daughter in psychotherapy before age 12 dissipate into thin air. I forget that crazy woman who lives at home and become entirely myself–the long lost adventurer of my youth out on a journey to see the world and live in the moment with no responsibility to my name but getting out of bed and living hard and blissfully all day long.
If you tell me you don’t need this, then I have to tell you: you are lying to yourself, whether out of guilt or societal pressure, I don’t know. But you are lying. Because we all need to be apart from our families. We all need to stay in touch with the women that we were and still are beneath that stressed out surface of the world’s greatest multi-tasker.
I didn’t realize how much I needed it until returning from a trip one day and pausing across a long layover at O’Hare to have lunch and remembering for a moment that I was returning to my four-year-old’s birthday party–a potential mob of waist-high people in my house, the presence of my mother, my mother-in-law, and sundry relatives who all think I’m just a little bit too much to take. The thought of that re-entry into my everyday life made me scan the menu for hard liquor.
But, in the end, while I’ll never be the mother my mother thinks I should be, I’m a damn good one just the same. And that’s because my solo journeys strengthen my sanity and enable me to walk into my bedroom, where my daughter has just colored the ottoman on my favorite chair with an ink pen, and not turn into psycho-mommy. Instead, I glance over at the stack of Italy travel books on my nightstand, smile a little to myself about my next escape, and engage in a strangely rational conversation with my child about why we don’t do pen and ink drawings on household furniture.
So next time you find yourself putting on a “mommy show” for your 10-year-old, who seems mildly amused that you can get so upset over the fact that he just locked his sister in the closet (a treatment she may well have deserved if she was chattering on the way she is known to chatter on), consider the fact that it may be time for you to do some solo traveling of your own.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jul 3, 2014 in Men
One of my best friends had an epiphany the other day. As we were each sprawled across lounging chairs in front of windows overlooking the mountains, sipping wine and talking, as women will, about life and love, my friend remarked out of the blue, “You know, I always thought I was a great catch.”
Instinctively, I responded, “You are!”
“No, wait a minute,” she cautioned me, holding up her hand. “I always thought I was a great catch to a man. I thought it meant something to be smart, witty, successful, cultured, and attractive.” She paused, pursed her lips, then continued, “and it does—to a woman.”
And I am thinking about this, thinking how downright critical it is to me to be with a man who intellectually challenges me, makes me laugh, has his shit together, takes care of himself, loves the outdoors, can talk about Dostoyevsky and Jung as well as Tesla and Einstein. I can’t really imagine settling for anything less, and sometimes I want even more. I haven’t even gotten started on insatiable curiosity and passion. (And by the way, I hold my female friends to similar standards.)
“Men don’t care about that,” my friend says. “They would be just as happy with a far lesser woman.”
And, unfortunately, I had to concede—she was mostly right.
“So why do I look for all those things in a man?” she asked, suddenly aware of the idiocy of more than three decades of female existence. “I mean my girlfriends meet most of my needs. I can travel with you. I can enjoy nature with you. I can dress up and go out with you. I can drink wine with you. I can have deep conversations with you. I can laugh with you.”
She pauses. “I just can’t have sex with you…. It would be awkward.”
Indeed it would. Neither one of us is so disillusioned yet as to be ready to try lesbianism.
And yet there stands in front of us that stark reality that men, by and large, do not meet very many of our needs, perhaps cannot meet them, were not designed to meet them, much though they are initially attracted to that exotic woman who speaks her mind and quotes Alexander Pope off the cuff.
Some time ago, a friend of mine said, “Men want complex women without the complexity.”
At the time, I thought she was right, but I am less certain now—now that I have a few dozen more dates under my belt and sat across the table from men who could do no more than tell me I had beautiful hair and mesmerizing eyes. How often has a man said I had a mesmerizing brain? Or a wonderful laugh? Or a sharp wit? It is not a frequent occurrence, I assure you.
As with bikinis, less is more, at least where men are concerned.
My friend said she now finally understood why her S.O. had asked, some months before, when referring to all of her fabulous traits, “How could a man want anything more?”
The reality is…he probably wanted less.
The universe may tend toward chaos, but men tend toward complacency.
And if they crave the attention of a woman at all, it is not for her conversation, her insights, her humor, her sensitivity, her kindness, her companionship. Most of them are not looking for the same things that women are, and we women set up false expectations, thinking men crave what we crave.
By and large, they do not.
The simpler and less time or energy consuming the relationship (at least as far as women go), the better. So do not judge the 40-year-old man who seeks the attention of a 23-year-old college grad with no immediate prospects. She is just what he needs—high on admiration, low on expectation.
This is something the modern, worldly, educated woman cannot provide him. She may admire him if he has the chutzpah to be gallant and confident, but she will expect things. She will expect consideration, respect, consistency, character, and…love. Things that a younger, less experienced, still wet behind the ears woman will not because she has not found her own sense of worthiness yet, seeks her value instead from outside sources.
Which is also what a lot of men do, even the most successful and brilliant among them. Unfair though it may be, we still live in a culture that values men for what they present on the outside less than who they are on the inside. It is a trial women do not face—we enjoy, much moreso than men, being loved and admired for our inner selves.
So a friend of mine was not entirely wrong when she said recently, “All men really need is a little Internet feedback to affirm their virility.”
Women tend to love from the inside out, men from the outside in. And that pertains to love of self as well as love of others.
It makes for tricky situation when a woman who has shown she can hold her own in the universe runs into a man who has done the same. She already loves herself and is ready to love others; he may not have had the chance yet, however, to practice that self-love. As Carl Jung once said, “The most terrifying thing is to accept one’s self completely.”
And unless or until he can do that, ladies, no matter how wonderful all his other qualities, he cannot love you, not really.
You are a great catch…but part of being a great catch is being that which is not easily caught.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jun 24, 2014 in Men
Originally published June 24, 2012.
There’s nothing particularly fun about divorce. Of course, this is not news to the 50 percent of American couples who seek one each year. So why do we do it? Good question. I suspect most would answer that, for whatever reason, the often massive hassle of divorce and the despair and loneliness that often go with it and follow it, are preferable to remaining in the marriage.
And trust me, that’s no easy call.
It struck me just what a hard call it is when a friend of mine said recently that in the wake of separation and divorce and subsequent failures to find Mr. Right, she actually got to the point where she would drive through tunnels and across bridges, hope that they would blow up on her, and then be angry when they didn’t. That’s how bad it felt.
I think most of us have, at some point or another, felt that level of despair in life, that “oh my god, can it please just be over because I cannot take one more frigging day” feeling that comes when tragedy strikes or life doesn’t go as planned. But who would choose to feel this way?
Because that’s what divorce is—a choice to go through hell…at least for a little while.
I’m not even sure I speak from experience. My separation has been, for the most part, amicable, and I cringe when other people tell me their horror stories of two-year long custody battles, raging and expensive wars over personal property, losses of years and years of earnings and assets. Why indeed would anyone go through such mess? Is it like childbirth? We dream of the joy that must surely follow the pain?
I’m not so sure.
How many divorcing or divorced people do you know who maintain a sunny outlook on relationships and a belief they will one day find that person who meets their expectations and needs? I’m trying to think here…I can’t think of a one.
But somewhere, deep down, that’s got to be the driver. Else why do it?
Well, it could be because married life really just sucks that bad. So bad, in fact, that we divorcees believe that trading an unhappy marriage for a potentially unhappy single life is a good deal. At least if you’re single, you can’t get mad about things like your spouse sitting at the computer for the 70th night in a row, ignoring you completely, or his lack of ambition to mow the grass, requiring you to hire a landscaper for a not inexpensive weekly fee so you don’t have to bushwhack through the yard to get to your car.
The fact is you’re just not as angry about sitting at home on a Saturday night when the person leaving you alone is not in the next room blissfully reading BBC News while you are sipping wine in front of the fire wondering what the heck. And you don’t really get annoyed about mowing the grass either when your spouse is not snoozing on the sofa while you do it. There is something to be said for minimizing one’s exposure to opportunities for funk.
But plenty of people settle. 50 percent of the population remains married for the long haul. I’m not saying all of these folks settle for uninspiring relationships that leave them bored, resentful, and frustrated for some 40 years of their lives. I do know a handful of happily married couples (and I guess knowing them and knowing “happy” just might be possible in the same sentence with “marriage” is what keeps me from throwing in the towel on love completely). But I also know what I can only call a crapload of, if not unhappily married couples, couples who certainly don’t get their kicks from being together. They have entered into something of an unspoken truce that reads like this: “I’m not all that crazy about you, but it’s too much of a hassle to get you out of my life, so we’ll just suck it up and try to stand each other as best we can until one of us keels over.”
I’m not sure that’s any way to live. So why do it?
The answer lies in the basic cynicism most of us develop about life and love the longer experience we have with both. There’s nothing easy about living. There’s nothing easy about love. Yet we grow up thinking the experience of these things is gonna be grand. We fall in love, or maybe only lust, cannot imagine ever not feeling that way and marry the wrong person or marry the right person but then decide to take him or her for granted because, being human, we are lazy. And love, like life, takes work.
It’s really not like riding a bicycle. You can forget how to do it. You can get rusty at it. And if you let it rust too long, forget it. No amount of Rust-Oleum is ever gonna wipe off the crud. There’s nothing to do at that point but toss the heap of oxidizing love into the trash and maybe try to start over. If you’re brave enough. Plenty aren’t.
While some divorcees remarry, many do not. And most of those who do not are women. I’ve heard their war stories, their “I’m done with love; I don’t need it” attitudes. They don’t feel like risking their hearts, their assets, and their sanity for another round of tennis with a blind teammate who doesn’t know how to do the laundry or the dishes. Better to settle for singlehood, less risky and probably less headache. And most report being happier single than married anyway.
Then there are those who are just settling for married life as they’ve got it. Because that’s less risky, too. Better to live with the devil you know than wander the streets sifting through the devils you don’t. And there are the kids, too, if you have them. You fake it for their sake, hoping they won’t notice you don’t hug and kiss anymore, don’t have fun dinner conversations, and stick to your own side of the bed with a book at night. And you kind of hope they won’t take those same tactics of settling into their own romantic lives.
But they often do. After all, no one has taught them differently. And they certainly haven’t observedwhat a happy marriage looks like.
Which is part of the reason I decided not to settle, not to let my daughter think it was normal for a husband and wife not to adore each other, not to respect and admire one another, not to want to play together and help one another…at least once in awhile.
But I also realize I may be engaging in another form of settling. Chances are good I will either settle for singlehood, always wondering in the back of my mind if maybe the right person could have been out there and I could have been happy, or settle for another relationship down the road with someone who doesn’t necessarily light my fire but offers tolerable companionship without too much grief.
Last weekend, I cleaned all of my ex-husband’s stuff out of the garage, wiped down all the shelves, swept the floor, creating a new space free of the clutter that never bothered him but always made me nuts. I thought about how I might have been able to accept the clutter and a hundred other little inadequacies had there been more love.
While cleaning off the shelves I found a bag of sand-peppered seashells he, and I, and Heidi had collected on the beach two autumns ago during our annual trek to Corolla for my daughter’s birthday week. Tonight, I emptied them into the kitchen sink to rinse off the sand, and, as the water cascaded over them, their colors brightened into multitudes of orange, and red, and black, and pink. And I remembered sitting on the sand in the last light of afternoon as my husband drew Heidi into the ocean with him. It was one of the last times we spent together with some level of peace and happiness as a family, a rare moment without resentment, or conflict, or spoiled hopes.
It is a good memory.
But I have no regrets. Because had I stayed for those rare and isolated moments of something not quite joy but almost good enough, I would have been settling, I am sure.
Several days ago, finding myself in a funk over divorce settlement concerns, I mentioned my despair to a friend. He said, meaning to give me hope, “You’re a survivor. You’ll make it through.”
He did not realize that was perhaps the last thing I wanted to hear—that I would survive. Who wants to survive life? I’d rather live it. Giving up on a dream that did not work out was part of my effort to live instead of settle. Because sometimes the best thing one can do with a dream is let go of it and try for something better.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jun 18, 2014 in Men
, Success Guide
The sport I took up for a guy….
Originally published March 22, 2012.
I’ll admit it. I’ve done a few crazy things for men. Like pretending to enjoy watching a boyfriend participate in some bizarre World War I re-enactment that actually involved mud and trenches but really looked like a bunch of grown men playing dress-up in the great outdoors.
Then there was the boyfriend who tried to teach me fly fishing. (Why I agreed I’ll never know, as I consider standing in a stream or at lake’s edge with a fishing pole about as exciting as watching paint dry.) But I tried it nevertheless. I wasn’t at it five minutes before I had my line tangled in a crabapple tree.
And I must not fail to include hanging out in the pit at a race track, the dirt from the track flying so thick that it later took two showers to get all the grit out of my ears and several flossings to get it out of my teeth. Not to mention the two beer guzzling guys who walked past me, saying, “Dude, I bet we’ll find some hot women here tonight.” (I should probably mention my S.O. at the time was a race car driver, not a spectator, which basically means he did not own a T-shirt with a Confederate flag on it with the sleeve rolled up on one side to show off the tattoo of his mother’s first name.)
True, I’m not very P.C. I can’t help it. I call it like I see it.
Which is why I feel compelled to point out that I quickly learned we should all have our limits. Mine was one re-enactment and two dirt track races. (I liked the second guy better.) And I’m inclined to think, now that I’m older and wiser, that my limits might be even more stringent these days. A guy would have to be Mr. Wonderful for sure to get me to bungee jump off a bridge in New Zealand. Basically, he’d half to be flawless. And I’m still not sure I’d do it.
So I kind of wonder why women do so many crazy things for men. Are we really that desperate? So desperate to hold their interest and affection that we take up their crazy hobbies or at least stand on the sidelines watching them with enough regularity that we start to look a little bit…well…desperate.
Learning archery in the Ozarks
It hit home with me the second (and last) race I attended. Somehow I had convinced myself I was being supportive by spending a lovely spring weekend driving God knows how many hours through central North Carolina (the armpit of the state, in my opinion, with all its look-alike cities, interstates, and giant junk outlets) to the dirt track in Gastonia in a really big pick-up towing a sprint car (which if you don’t know what that is, ladies, it’s the one with the really big rear wheels and the Orville Wright-esque roof that makes it looks like a cross between an airplane and a go-cart). I spent most of the day in the pit sitting on a tailgate reading a biography of William Faulkner for an article I was writing while the wives and girlfriends of the other race car drivers dished out elaborate buffets of fried chicken and biscuits, tested all their video recording equipment, and began climbing up on the roofs of their S.O.’s six-figure price tag towing vehicles to see if they could videotape the races from there. When race time rolled around, each one of those ladies lined up alongside her husband’s car, his helmet in hand like a squire waiting to tend to a knight. That was the point at which I started to feel weird and decided the so-called fine line between being supportive and being pathetic was actually not so fine after all.
After that episode, I showed my support by not raising hell on the weekends my boyfriend decided to spend at the track and stayed home where there were much more interesting things to do than fawn over a weekend warrior race car driver.
But I’m not alone in having made some ridiculous efforts to impress a man with my supportiveness. A friend of a friend who was planning a romantic getaway to Hawaii with her fiancé recently relented when he suggested they go camping in Utah instead…in a Winnebago…a very old Winnebago. Driving cross-country for three days, camping for five, then driving back. And in the interim, their meals would be tuna out of a can and the romance would be lovemaking in the back of a van. Sure, it’s a little reminiscent of the teenage years in a way, but who wants to make out in a stinky van at age 40? I’m personally all for the luxury hotel mattress.
I’m sure the lady in question is, too, so why won’t she admit it, hold firm, and buy those plane tickets to Hawaii?
Yeah, you guessed it. For some reason, she feels that in order to hang onto the guy she has to sacrifice her sanity…and her precious vacation time. You might be desperate if you do this, ladies.
Kayaking along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Another friend of mine has an even more interesting track record. In the course of her relationship career, she has purchased a bass boat, a motorcycle, and a kayak. She still has the kayak, and I think she actually uses it, but the bass boat and the motorcycle have long since hit the pavement. I’m not even sure she actually ever got on the motorcycle. The purchase, I think, was a gesture of intent.
And apparently good intentions work, as she did marry the guy. He goes duck hunting and motorcycling without her these days, much to her relief, no doubt.
Women may claim that men, once married, suddenly forget how to cook, dance, and kiss, but women are guilty, too. Our “tactics of desperation,” as I like to call them, suddenly cease once we feel we have the guy cornered. We magically lose interest in skeet shooting, football, and black lingerie. (Well, some of us do anyway. Personally, I would never want to be caught in Grandma panties by an EMT following a traumatic car accident, and I do know a woman who makes cupcakes with her husband’s picked team’s logo emblazoned in the frosting for the Super Bowl each year.)
A friend of mine actually asked me to write this post after deciding a couple of her women friends were acting a little too “desperate.” At the time, I agreed with her that there are just some things you don’t do for a man, any man.
But then I got to thinking about it and, pathetic Super Bowl cupcakes aside, all this stretching of ourselves beyond normal limits isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not always. Sometimes acts of desperation turn out all right. I would never have discovered a love of sea kayaking had my former husband not goaded me into trying it out off a sandy beach in St. Croix. Nor would I have learned how to shoot had a boyfriend not introduced me to the sport more than a decade ago and enticed me to at least learn how to blast a rabid skunk…or a rabid neighbor…if I needed to. And frankly, I think if I’d been permitted a spin around the racetrack (instead of standing on the sidelines), I might have found that a little bit more interesting, too.
This is not to say I’m encouraging acts of female desperation, which seem to be most common in the unknowing years of the early 20s and the “oh, my god, I am never gonna get married unless I take up skydiving with this guy” years post 40. It’s okay to get your feet wet in something new, just so long as you’re not sacrificing your own sense of self to do so or stretching limits that you’ve put in place for very good reasons. Moving in with an S.O. who owns 12 indoor dogs when you are a stickler for cleanliness is not likely to do anything for expanding your horizons or enhancing your relationship. This is a guy it’s even questionable whether or not you should be dating him much less marrying him (I mean does he ever show up without dog hair on his pants?). Nor should you drink tuna water in the back of a Winnebago if every part of your being is screaming for a relaxing, luxurious getaway on a Pacific beach. Resentment isn’t something you want to cultivate in a relationship either.
But you do want to cultivate growth.
Rest assured, however, the line between growing and being desperate is very thick and very black. You can’t miss it.
Growth feels like a rush. Desperation feels like anxiety. (Given how few men are willing to learn ballroom dancing and yoga, however, I’m guessing they feel a lot more anxiety about trying new things than we do.)
I’ve found as I grow older, I don’t really need the goading of a romantic partner to incline me to try something new…unless it’s squid. Not really inclined to try that on my own, though I did recently eat some wild boar. I’ll gladly make a vain attempt at doing yoga on a paddleboard in the Tennessee River or see how much I can embarrass myself on an archery range in the Ozarks just because I can (and because an editor is paying me to do it). It seems appropriate, once mid-life starts its heavy approach, to be up for anything.
With a couple of exceptions….
I still don’t plan to bungee jump off the New River Bridge anytime soon. Nor will I go ZORBing. Something about intentionally cramming one’s self into a rubber ball and then having someone push it down a hill at breakneck speed just seems…well…stupid. And I really don’t feel either activity is going to promote any personal or spiritual growth…unless we’re talking a very quick trip to heaven.
But there are definitely experiences that you shouldn’t pass up. Years ago when a friend of mine went horseback riding in the snow in Iceland with her boyfriend, I thought she had lost her mind. Today she’s married to the guy and has, with his encouragement, hit five continents in the last decade and a half. Talk about “desperation” paying off. Maybe fly fishing isn’t your thing. But I bet, even if it’s not, that standing in the middle of the Madison River in northwestern Wyoming with a moose grazing nearby and the Rockies rising in the distance has the potential to float your boat…even if next time you come armed with a camera instead of a fishing rod.
Posted by Claire Vath on Jun 12, 2014 in Fathers and Daughters
I was 17 years old when I began dating my husband. At 17, you’re not thinking, “Wow, he’ll make a great dad to our future children.” No, you think plenty of other things … but not that.
At 17, we were still kids. But he was quick-witted, sharp, confident, and warm. Our relationship was soon time-tested when he moved away to college. Sure, it was only an hour-plus, but driving across the wide body of water separating us made the trip seem longer, the distance farther.
And then we both moved. Six hours from our hometown. Together in a new city to explore. The city we’ve now called our home for the better part of a decade. As he grew up with me, he became quieter, more thoughtful. The quick wit remained, but it surfaced less often as his responsibilities grew. Quietly, softly, the boy I had begun dating all those years ago became a man.
I became pregnant with our first child a few months shy of our five-year wedding anniversary.
There was elation, quickly replaced by the ho-hum slogging through of pregnancy—the Braxton-Hicks, the inability to eat anything that wasn’t bread, the relentless heartburn, the restless legs, the fatigue.
And while I talked to the baby in utero (mainly to say, “Please stop hiccuping so I can get some sleep”), my husband wasn’t quite as connected. He remained excited that we were creating life, sure, but he didn’t feel the need to physically connect with the baby yet, putting his hand on my stomach to feel the baby contort itself eel-like, leaving ripples across my skin.
Both of our children were born via C-section. One birth less dramatic than the other. The outcome of both, equally good: healthy, pink, squirmy. My husband had never even changed a diaper or even really held a baby before.
I was still immobilized the first time I watched him hold our children; my abdomen split open on the operating table. I lay there, looking up, as he gingerly cradled these babies we’d made, a crinkling smile behind the paper mask.
He looked our children in the eyes and greeted them as though he’d known them forever. They were a part of us, after all. The culmination of all those years of us growing, changing. Becoming the people our children would know.
It’s one thing to embrace becoming a father; another to rise to the challenge of fatherhood. With him, the fatherhood was instant.
He rose from bed before dawn to shush a wailing infant.
He kicked me out of the house when he came home from an exhausting day of work and told me to go do something while he tended to the baby.
On weekends, we split up dirty diaper duties.
He bottle-fed and sang and rocked.
I did all those things too. But I felt I was doing my duty as a martyred mother. I was home all day, breasts bulging with milk, diapers to change, tantrums to extinguish. All those things stoked my ire, fussing, yelling when I got bit (again) by a teething child or kicked.
But, he, the person I’ve known for half my life, prevails as the calm in the tumult. Rarely does he lose his temper. Patience and kindness are his currency with our kids, with me—even when we’re not deserving of it.
He’s a hard worker—both in the office and at home—but makes it a point to carve out time with the kids, even splitting up who gives them baths.
Our children see this. They intuit his unassuming love, his quiet tolerance, his kindness, and they are drawn to him.
Our daughter, this morning, was crying upstairs. I stood at the bottom of the steps and called up: “I’m coming to get you in a second!”
A little voice carried back down to me: “Where’s Daddy? I want him.”
As a teenager, I had a lust for romance, for passion, for all the things teenagers want in a relationship, or think they want. That was great then, and those things are still important, sure, but to say it has been a profound privilege to watch my high school boyfriend become a great father doesn’t begin to scratch the surface.
As partners, we are equal. As a father, he inspires me to be better, more patient.
Fatherhood comes in all forms. Some scream it from the top of the Facebook mountain. Others ignore the fact that half of their child comes from them. Others take a middle ground. Some, like my husband, embrace it, quietly, wholly.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jun 9, 2014 in Fathers and Daughters
Originally published as part of my “The View From Here” column in The Recorder in 2003.
My first time on the tractor with Dad
Everyone remembers learning how to drive–it’s one of those milestones of growing up. I remember it vividly, even though I was only about seven years old at the time. But I wasn’t learning to drive a car–no, it was a 1950s Allis Chalmers tractor, my Dad’s beloved and rusted antique. Since I was a toddler, I’d ridden that tractor with Dad, as he carefully plowed the red clay dirt in our two-acre garden along Blue Run.
Then one day, I was sitting in the smooth, worn metal seat; Dad was standing behind me as I steered through the soft earth, dragging a plow behind. I was tooling right along, thrilled that he had released the steering wheel to me. My mistake was looking back to discover Dad was no longer standing behind me but had hopped off the tractor, apparently in an effort to show me I really could drive the thing on my own.
Panic seized me, and I lost control of the tractor. Dad climbed back on in a flash, preventing me from driving the Allis Chalmers through the electric fence that separated the garden from the pasture. “You were doing fine,” he scolded. “What happened?” I don’t remember my response, but somehow not having the comfort of his hand close to the wheel made me lose faith in my ability. Most children know the feeling–it usually happens when their parents first release them on their bicycles without training wheels.
But as William Faulkner once said, “The basest of all things is to be afraid.” Thankfully, by the time I started reading Faulkner, I had learned that lesson and learned it most undoubtedly from my father.
Parents have a natural tendency to want to shield their children from harm, from the loss of innocence. My parents were no different, but I believe they recognized, in particular my father recognized, that adversity and fear are two things children need to learn to face and ultimately overcome. Often, overcoming those things means taking responsibility for one’s self.
When I was growing up, my Dad warned me about everyday dangers–not to touch hot stoves or machinery, not to play near the top of the stairs, not to touch the electric fence. And, like any child would, I touched things that were hot and got burned; I played by the stairs and tumbled down them; I grabbed the electric fence and got shocked.
But I didn’t repeat these mistakes. My Dad’s usual response to my little injuries and my tears of shock was “I told you not to do that.” I didn’t get hugs, kisses, and soothing words, maybe a Band-Aid and a frown. So I quickly learned there was no benefit to getting into trouble; after all, I had been warned. What resulted was a small child who took responsibility for her actions. And that child grew into an adult who did the same.
Today, too few parents teach that sense of self-reliance and responsibility to children. And too many children blame others for their failures. I saw this readily when I taught English to college freshman. When they received failing grades, those failures were somehow my fault, not their own. Failure, in their minds, was unrelated to lack of preparation, lack of research, lack of effort. These same children and young adults grow into older adults who sue others when they injure themselves or who blame society for their personal failures.
When I fail, I know it’s my own fault. Dad taught me that without ever saying anything other than “I told you so.”
But Dad also taught me, by example, that I was responsible for my own success and that I should be fearless in pursuing my dreams. As a child, I watched him pursue perfection as a craftsman, creating beautiful custom cabinets and desks and home additions. And I watched his clients call him back for more work year after year. Somehow I absorbed that perfectionist nature along with the willingness to take risks that is so necessary to success and personal fulfillment. And my father, who was my best friend and playmate throughout my childhood, encouraged me along the way because he knew that parents need to be fearless, too, and willing to let go of their children. My Dad’s hold on me has always been loose; thus, my devotion to him has always been tight.
When I finally learned how to drive–a car, that is–Dad would tease me when I’d take off for college after a weekend visit home, “Drive fast, and take chances.” I thought he said this to frazzle Mom. But as I matured, those words grew into something else. He didn’t need to tell me to drive carefully. He knew I would because he’d raised me to be responsible. “Drive fast and take chances” translated into “I trust you. I know you’ll do the right thing. I don’t need to tell you to.”
And somehow, I think, those words also meant, “Take risks.” Not on the highway, of course, but in life. And so I have, both in my professional and personal life. The results, as Dad must have known, have opened the world to me in ways I never expected. To this day, it is my father who inspires me to live, to look on the world with joy and wonder every day. He is the most fun person I know. He regards life with the curiosity of a child. It was he who told me when I was still a girl, “Never forget what it’s like to be a kid.”
And I haven’t. When a career opportunity threatened to take me 700 miles from the home I’d always known, it was Dad who said without hesitancy, “Go if you get the job. It will be a great adventure.”
He knew I’d come home again. After all, my grandmother told me when I was a girl, “You know, for your Dad, the sun rises and sets on you.”
Perhaps what Dad doesn’t know is that for me, the sun rises and sets on him also. He showed me the sunrise and had the courage to push me toward the horizon, even if it meant I would grow up, move away, and live my own life. What he didn’t realize was that by teaching me self-reliance, by offering me freedom to be myself, he was ensuring that I would always come home again and always look over my shoulder to see if he was there watching. Only now, thanks to him, I know better than to release the steering wheel.
Posted by Deborah Huso on May 28, 2014 in Musings
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
A perfect day with my late grandfather
Tonight I am sick with the flu, sitting near my sleeping daughter, who has been asking questions all evening about the MRI she will get tomorrow. “Will it hurt? Will I be scared? Can I take Shaky Bear with me? Will you sing to me, Mommy, while I’m in the machine?”
I am looking at my online calendar, rife with deadlines on complicated feature articles, thinking how this is the worst possible time to be sick, the worst possible time for me to successfully navigate the waters of motherhood when my little girl is frightened.
But a couple hundred miles away, the step-sister of my childhood best friend lies in a hospital bed, much of her body riddled with cancer. Tomorrow she will undergo a long and frightening surgery. She is younger than I—a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister.
And I wonder if she is scared, scared her happy young life will be cut short by life’s cruel unfairness?
Is she asking questions? Did I take enough risks? Did I live hard enough? Did I tell everyone who is important to me I love them in a thousand ways a thousand times and then some? What if this is all, and tomorrow I am no more?
These are questions we should all be asking every day. My father taught me to ask them, to live by them, and I have tried.
But who does not have regrets? Dreams not yet lived? Because life is not a Norman Rockwell painting, much though I often wish it was and wish I had a place in it. As my friend Sarah says, “Life is relentless.”
And there is no time for waffling on the big stuff. There is no time not to take a risk, not to bare your soul, not to embrace it all, pain and joy, and live it with wild abandon.
Sometimes we err in living too much for joy, forgetting that pain provides, as Viktor Frankel so eloquently noted in Man’s Search for Meaning, “no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”
Because that suffering makes the perfect days more perfect. Like the afternoon I spent sipping wine in a vineyard with a dear friend, watching two small boys play catch with their father, a small white church with delicate steeple rising softly in the distance beyond green hills. Or the day I curled up on the floor under sunny windows with my daughter, snuggled under blankets reading books by Richard Scarry and Jan Brett.
I would not have experienced the full bliss of these moments had I not walked through fire for love and failed, had I not wept rivers over death, had I not known abandonment and fear.
As that sweet young mother drifts off to sleep tonight, may her mind be filled with the “soothing thoughts that spring out of human suffering, in the faith that looks through death,” as William Wordsworth noted in one of his most famous poems.
He also said, “Thanks to the human heart by which we live, / Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, / To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
For that is the only way to live—fully, openly, courageously, vulnerably.
Posted by Claire Vath on May 27, 2014 in Motherhood
“What’s your name?” the man asked me. We were in the Publix parking lot. I was hugely pregnant, waddling across the cold pavement toward my car, a basket full of groceries.
When I told him my name, he broke out in a huge, gap-toothed grin and reached for his back pocket. He pulled out a worn brown wallet, the creases of which matched the smile lines around his eyes. Rifling through the billfold, he pulled out a crinkled yellow Post-It note and showed it to me.“ This is my e-mail address,” he said. “And this,” he pointed, “is my password.” Written in all capital letters was the name “CLARABELL,” as though it were some poignant, divine intervention (or as though that were my name).
I smiled politely and nodded as though I understood the nature of this revelation.
“I just wanted to know your name to let you know that I’ll be praying for you, Claire. Prayin’ that you deliver a healthy baby.”
I looked at the green nametag on his shirt. He knew mine, after all. His name was Jimmy, and he had just bagged my groceries, asked me about my pregnancy, and walked me to my car. I don’t like accepting help from anyone, but now with a protruding stomach, people insisted upon it, and I’d given up arguing with them. As he walked me to my car, Jimmy told me about all the February birthdays in his family (I was due in February) and the dates of each family members’ birth.
And when he told me he’d be saying prayers for me, I thanked him profusely. If nothing else, that’s the kind of help I can get behind, particularly when I’m treading the uncharted waters of new motherhood.
“Everything will be great,” he promised. And looking at him—the sincerity in his eyes, the age lines of his face and his lop-sided grin—I believed him wholeheartedly.
“I hope so,” I agreed, getting into my car.
“Hope,” he nodding, pushing my empty basket back toward the store. “Ya gotta have hope.”
Nine mornings later, I awoke with faint contractions. Things moved swiftly thereafter. I was ushered into the hospital, then into a gown. I was given needles and catheters and ice chips. And then the baby’s heart rate began to drop. And things moved even more quickly. “We need to get him out now,” my OB informed me as a nurse slapped an oxygen mask on my face.
Tears swam in my eyes as I looked up at my husband, who squeezed my hand and nodded it was going to be okay.
Six minutes later in a roomful of people working at breakneck pace, my baby was pulled from my stomach. He was swollen and pale, and his head was a bit conical, but he was perfect.
Two days after I left the hospital, I went to the grocery store, wincing a bit from my tightening C-section stitches as I strolled the aisles for provisions. As I passed shoppers, I wanted to call out: “Do you know who I am? I’m someone’s mom!”
I had ceased to be just me anymore. The frenetic birth of this baby inexplicably changed who I was.
I looked for Jimmy while I was there, but I didn’t see him. And I didn’t see him again for many months after.
And then one day, there he was. He passed me by, looking straight at me, but there was no light of recognition on his face. Just a placid nod, an impersonal smile as we passed.
I felt a pit form in my stomach. He doesn’t remember me. I’m just one of the hundreds of customers passing him by.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, that Jimmy clearly had no recollection of our moment months back.
Maybe he’d changed. I certainly had.
So when he passed me, I didn’t say anything either. Just smiled back, remembered that one cold February day and the kindness and reassurance given by a man in a grocery store parking lot.