The Culture of No One’s to Blame…Except You, Of Course

Posted by Deborah Huso on Oct 12, 2015 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Musings, Relationships

Last school year, as my daughter navigated first grade in a new elementary school at least six to seven times the size of the one she had attended since preschool, she encountered, for the first time, a bully. This angry little boy, whom I’ll call Robert, was a pestilence to her happiness on a regular basis, pushing her in the schoolyard, calling her names, all the usual stuff.

And while I frequently encouraged Heidi to clock the kid (noting I would stand fully behind her when she’d undoubtedly go to the principal’s office for defending her right to exist without persistent harassment), she declined to settle the drama in this way after being inculcated at school with the idea that hitting someone else, no matter what, is always wrong.

Those among you who are my age or older know this is false wisdom.

One day my daughter got off the bus and mentioned she’d had a session with the school guidance counselor that afternoon. I paused on our daily trek up the driveway and asked, “Whatever for?”

“I’ve been going every week to learn how to cope with Robert’s bullying,” Heidi replied.

Rage is not a normal feature of my character, but I must admit feeling it at that moment. How was it that a little boy who pushed and hit his fellow classmates, teased and insulted them relentlessly, and proclaimed almost daily that he hated his parents had somehow become “the victim,” while my daughter was being advised to assume the role of caterer to his victimization and adjust her behavior to accommodate his youthful rage against the world?

The tale gets better, however. A few days after this revelation from within the walls of modern public education came a phone call from Heidi’s teacher, advising me my seven-year-old had used the “F word” in the school lunch line that day. My minor relief that my daughter had admitted to picking up this new addition to her vocabulary from her father quickly dissipated when she came home and explained the circumstances in response to my questions about why she was cursing at school.

“Robert told me I was stupid and ugly,” Heidi remarked.

Now with things in context, I could not help but concede that her apparent response of “fuck you” was entirely appropriate. But again, it was my daughter who bore all the punishment while the bully received no reprimand because apparently it is far worse to curse at someone who is trying to make your life miserable than it is to shake the foundations of another human being’s self-worth.

Robert, you see, was not to blame for his awful behavior toward his fellow humans. Rather, he was to be pitied—no doubt the victim of bad parents, degraded socioeconomic status, a poor gene pool, mental illness, or some other and perhaps multiple maladies.

Needless to say, for this and other reasons, I have pulled my daughter out of the public education system.

But the situation with Robert is reflective of a larger social ill—the idea that abnormal, malfunctioning, or just downright wrong behavior in our culture now comes with a litany of “excuses” ranging from borderline personality disorder to sexual addiction (though I recognize the latter has not yet been coded in the DSM-5; Tiger Woods found it useful nevertheless).

Don’t get me wrong. You will find few people as respectful of the wisdom of modern psychology as myself. Apart from having had a number of friends educated in and working in the field, one cannot help but see and exercise its usefulness in the art of journalism.

But let popular culture get a hold of a good thing…and watch it promptly twisted into something it wasn’t meant to be….

Remember the days when it was wrong to hurt the feelings of others, whether done deliberately or unintentionally? Remember when it was okay to say to another human being: You make me sad or you make me angry?

Not so anymore. Today the individual committing the wrong is actually not responsible for the pain of others. Rather, the one suffering is.

How deeply has this idea permeated our culture? Well, apart from the very obvious sense of entitlement that a not insignificant portion of the American population now feels, get a load of what I heard the other day…from a friend I never would have dreamed would say such a thing….

I’d had my feelings hurt, and I said so, expecting, at the very least, some kind of apology. Nope. In response to “you make me sad,” I received, “I don’t make you sad; you choose your reaction to what I say.”

Um, yeah, okay, I get it.  I did indeed choose to feel sadness. Had I a different personality, I might have chosen to say, as Heidi did in the lunch line, “fuck you.” The bottom line, however, is that whatever my feeling or reaction to a hurtful statement by my friend, the fact remains he made a hurtful statement. Since when did it become okay to say or do anything with the full protection of “it’s not my fault; it’s your reaction” backing it all up?

Once upon a time, we didn’t have all these layers of excuses. If you stole, it was wrong; if you cheated, it was wrong; if you treated others poorly, it was wrong.

Now, however, the victims of pain, theft, lies, whatever are frequently asked to consider the degraded socioeconomic status of the thief before rushing to judgment or charges. If your partner cheats, then you may be encouraged to understanding and forgiveness because there are just way too many outlets in the modern world for him to possibly resist stepping out, nevermind his need to feel admired universally because of some developmental lack in his childhood. If someone fails to show empathy to those who suffer, then it’s because she has an avoidant attachment style from having had a bad mother.

And yes, all these things may be true to some degree…but there’s another truth called self-responsibility.

But perhaps in this age of Facebook and selfie sticks, we are all far too narcissistic to notice our own failings much less take responsibility for them. It is far easier, I suppose, to say, “It’s my mother’s fault,” and end the sentence there. We follow pop psychology instead of the fully Monty, which requires you to not only see the root of what has set you on the wrong path but to right the wrong, transcend the destiny of your genes, your upbringing, your circumstances or life experiences…to stand in your own two shoes and take ownership of your actions and how they may impact others.

Because, as William Shakespeare, wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Yet how far we have strayed from that recognition….


Life Without Someone to Carry My Bags…and Why It’s Better Than Regret

Posted by Deborah Huso on Sep 17, 2015 in Mothers and Daughters, Success Guide, Travel Archives
Kayaking in the Tetons

Kayaking in the Tetons

Every once in awhile my “aloneness” in the world hits me.  Okay, so I’ll be honest—it’s not every once in awhile; it’s pretty much every other day.

The last hit occurred when I was on assignment in the Grand Tetons, working my way through a three-day kayaking, rafting, and camping trip on Jackson Lake and then the Snake River.  Joining me on this journey were two couples—one fairly young and recently wed, transplants to the west who had moved from Chicago; the other was a couple in their 70s from West Virginia who had shared a long and adventurous life together.

As we were unloading our camping gear that last night of the trip to set up camp on a desolate but beautiful peninsula beneath the gray shadow of Mt. Moran, I happened to notice the male half of the young couple carrying the bulk of his and his new bride’s gear up from the bouldered beach to a camp site at the edge of the woods. When he was finished, pitying me a little apparently, as I hoisted a heavy dry bag onto my back and then prepared to follow it with a sleeping pad on my head, he came to my aid without speaking, taking the heaviest items from me.

I was astounded. Most of the time, I can’t even entice a man to help me get a large suitcase out of the overhead compartment on an airplane even when wearing a wrist brace, trying to hang onto a small child, and obviously struggling.  Yet this young man helped me without being asked and obviously with no expectation of the reward he might receive for carrying out such labor for his young wife.

Camping on Spaulding Bay

Camping on Spaulding Bay

After thanking him profusely, I began to set up my tent for the evening. I wasn’t struggling really. The task was relatively easy, just a bit awkward for two hands as opposed to four. The 70-year-old gentlemen camped near me soon came over to help and even directed me as if I was a an untried Girl Scout, which was fine. It was rather sweet actually. When he was done, he returned to his own campsite to exchange relaxing foot rubs with his wife—a phenomenon rarely seen among newlyweds much less among partners who have lived together for decades.

Once my campsite was in order, I settled down to rest behind the tent, staring off into the now glass-smooth surface of the lake, granite mountains with glaciers tucked into their crevices facing me across Spaulding Bay.

And I began to feel the aching absence I have known so much of my life.

“What is it like to have someone carry your bags for you?” 

My women friends are all married, the smallest handful happily, a few miserably, and most of them in a stalemate of resigned acceptance.  So far as I have seen, however, their husbands all carry their bags. Some may groan and gripe over the task, but they do it, dutifully, sometimes robotically, but sure enough, the bags end up properly placed in the trunk, in the overhead compartment, locked safely away from bears in a steel box, whatever.

I watch from the sidelines, envious at times….

You see, I have rarely had a man carry my bags.  Even when I was married, my husband was in the U.S. Navy and more away from me than near, so I lived the life of a single woman, seeing him on occasional weekends or sometimes not at all for months on end.

Galapagos 1069

Wandering the Malecon in Guayaquil, Ecuador

I carried my own bags, mowed my own grass, fixed my own fence, and repaired my own plumbing. I flattened myself into narrow, dirty crawlspaces to troubleshoot furnace issues, test drove and purchased my own cars, carried heavy children in my arms through amusement parks, and found my way alone through foreign airports in strange cities.

I was (and am) the mistress of self-sufficiency…just as my parents intended me to be. All my life they prepared me for a cruel world where I should “trust no one.”

Under this hardline, Scandinavian tutelage, I grew into a woman who could pretty much do anything necessary to handle the basics (and the mishaps) of everyday living. I taught single girlfriends how to change rusty and clogged water filters, repaired my own crotchety lawn equipment, and figured out how to grease stubborn, tight windows so I could close and open them with ease.

I’ve had no need for a man in my life. I am my immensely practical builder father’s daughter….

This last week, however, my seven-year-old daughter has been working on a curious project at school involving trust and team building. I can recall, in school and college, how I dreaded group projects because I knew I would not only always be the lead, but I would also always be the one carrying the bulk of the workload. I trusted, generally with reason, no one.

But Heidi’s project encouraged these things called trust and teamwork.  Her class spent a morning at her teacher’s farm, learning to trust one another—closing their eyes and falling off picnic tables with the solid belief classmates would catch them.

And I could not stifle the doubtful Midwesterner in me who wondered, “Should Heidi be learning this? Won’t it harm her in the long run to believe others will be there for her?  Besides me, of course?  Would it not be better to prepare her, as I have long tried, for solid self-sufficiency?”

For I have, perhaps even more doggedly than my parents before me, adopted a hard line with my daughter, refusing to carry her luggage in airports, encouraging her to find bravery within her soul, nurturing her fearlessness—all in preparation for the day when she will have no mommy to carry her bags, wipe her tears, hold her close in the dark hours of the night when the whole world seems stacked against her.

It is no cruelty on my part. It is an act of love.

I don’t want tears welling in her eyes when she watches a man carry his wife’s luggage, kiss away her tears, or hold her when tragedy strikes. I want her to know she can carry her own burdens and survive.

As I have carried mine…across two decades, across four continents.

Camping at the base of the Grand Canyon along Bright Angel Creek

Camping at the base of the Grand Canyon along Bright Angel Creek

People often ask me why I take these journeys—backcountry treks into the Tetons, the Grand Canyon, the Smokies. Less than prudent rambles through dicey South American cities, into dusty and hardscrabble Mexican towns, into sad shops populated more by stray dogs than people in Puerto Rico.

It is partly about character building but mostly about facing fear and uncertainty. Walking through it…alone…and knowing I can do it and come out the other side.  And sure, life should be about more than survival and fear facing, but those are two things you must conquer first…before you can conquer anything else.

Would that I did not have to conquer these things alone.

But there is ample reason for why I carry my own bags.  It is not just my upbringing.  It is not just my independent nature. Part of it is an unwillingness to settle for just any Sherpa.

I want someone who will lie on his back in the woods and name the stars for me, who will race me in his kayak across Glacier Bay and laugh and paddle backwards as icebergs crash into water.  Such men are few and far between…. Men of my age have been too burned by the demands of young and foolish women, and most have retreated into a safe sort of nothingness far removed from the rambling of Grizzly bears in the woods and the pressing crowds of St. Petersburg in summer.

They do not seek the land of the midnight sun.

So instead of settling, I carry my own bags, bear my own baggage, and venture into the wilds of life alone, choosing experience over safety, and hardship (at times) over comfort.  Because this is life, lived only once, with or without love, with or without someone to carry my bags, with or without the safety of someone’s arms to collapse into in the darkest hours of the night…but never without living and never without the sometimes hard to summon courage that drives one steadily to an existence without the base ugliness of regret.

I may die holding the baggage of my life in two arthritic hands, but I will not die without knowing I have lived.


Internet Privacy: Um, No Such Thing….

Posted by Claire Vath on Dec 16, 2014 in Mothers and Daughters, Musings

Physical safety is something we talk a lot about. All too often there are the Hannah Grahams of the world that flash across our news screens. That physical safety—walking through a parking lot alone at night, accepting drinks from a stranger at a bar—those are things we know to be unsafe, unwise.

A more uncharted area is Internet safety.

Do a Google search on yourself. What pops up?

Do a Google search on your children. Or a Facebook search. Now what comes up?

I grew up in an age where scrawled-on cassette tapes were stacked near my boom box. An age where phones had actual dials. And where, if you wanted to record a song, you sat, waiting for it to play on the radio so you could press a button.

But technology has come a long way from see-through phones. It’s zipped past us more than we might ever have imagined.

Forget remembering when cell phones first became widely used. My children will never remember a time when there weren’t iPads and iPhones.

And all these invasions of privacy are right at your fingertips.

Everything is there, in big brother, in the cloud—wherever.

Love letters, passive aggressive Facebook statuses, “sexts,” embarrassing photos, major life announcements—all of these play out in the broader arena of a very powerful technology.

And the ramifications will be huge. If you don’t believe that—if you don’t accept that the technology has gotten away from us, leaving even the policy makers to scratch their heads—look at the hacking, constantly—of naked photos, of classified FBI information, of credit cards at Target, Home Depot, etc., etc. It’s slipping through our grasp faster than we’re able to hold on.

We carry cameras in our pockets. Super powered cameras that, with the click of a button, can broadcast a picture to millions of people. Most of those people are good people. Some aren’t. It’s a powerful weapon we yield, and we often yield it without much thought. We’ve become a society that craves recognition. Through likes. Through shares. The more people who “like” or star something, the more we feel a strange sort of validation, whether conscious or not.

But when it comes to our children, we haven’t asked them what’s OK to post. Haven’t consulted with them as to whether the picture we posted of them sitting on the potty for the first time or going to their first dance with their first high school boyfriend is acceptable. A cute picture of a child splashing in the tub? On Facebook. A child-shaming picture with a kid whose bad behavior is showcased to garner likes? We create a Tumblr about it. We add pictures of our kids, with their school logos emblazoned on their sweatshirts, with our location in our profile. Mommy bloggers pimp out their apple-cheeked kids posing for selfies in a pumpkin patch and garner ad clicks and fan girls.

We don’t feel we need their consent. They’re our children, after all—our creation—so, naturally, we know what’s best. But we leave a trail of breadcrumbs—digital files in our wake. Files that can be shared over and over for ours and others’ purposes—good or bad. We have yet to fully realize the effects of how a life exposed online can shape a person.

The Internet is still a relatively new frontier—a Wild West where things that you’d never let happen in reality may play out virtually.

You wouldn’t let your 6-year-old walk down a road alone at night. Or publicly share the location of your kids’  school with a convicted sex offender you meet in the mall.

But the reality is we live in a world of virtual reality, unwilling to fully realize the effects beyond our computer screen. So before you hit the “post” button, think about how far that information can be shared. It may mean the difference between safe or unsafe, life or death.



Who Are Your Friends? Unfortunately, Hannah Graham Can No Longer Tell Us Hers

Posted by Deborah Huso on Oct 20, 2014 in Girlfriends, Mothers and Daughters

I can’t say as I’ve ever really had the idea that Charlottesville is safe. When I was a child and my mom was attending evening classes at the University of Virginia, Dad always drove her to class and picked her up again. Neither of them believed walking around Charlottesville at night was safe then. And it’s not safe now. The recent abduction and likely murder of Hannah Graham is a case in point.

Charlottesville isn’t a big city, but it’s still a city with a transient university population that can easily attract predators.

Which is why it pays to be a little street smart.

I hope if any of you have adolescent and college-age daughters, you are having conversations with them about responsibility—responsibility for yourself and for others.  Graham’s case leads me to wonder if parents are failing (because it’s an uncomfortable subject) to say to their kids, “Look, if you’re going to get drunk, at least don’t do it in the company of strangers. There really aren’t that many people you can trust when you’re under the influence of controlled substances. Know who your friends are.”

I remember being on the Downtown Mall once with a large group of female “friends.”  They had asked me out following a devastating break-up of mine that had ended a four-year relationship.  After dinner at a restaurant a block from the Mall, we all walked to The Whiskey Barrel for drinks.

I was feeling like crud and not very sociable.  I wanted out of this scene.

I told one of my friends I really wasn’t up for socializing and was going to leave. I’d ridden with a group of friends and did not have my car. She basically said okay, and that was it.  No offer of a ride, no offer to walk me out to catch a cab.

I wasn’t drunk.  But I was distraught and pretty careless of my own welfare that night when the world seemed like it was going to end. Fortunately, a real friend called me on my cell phone, asked how I was, and when I told him what was up, he said, “Okay, get yourself a cab right now, and come to my house where it’s safe.”  He’s been my friend since I was a kid…for obvious reasons.

Thank goodness for good friends who look out for us when we don’t have our wits about us.

Where were Hannah Graham’s friends that night? Maybe the people she was with weren’t really those kind of friends.

Real friends look out for one another, and they certainly don’t abandon one of their number who is in a weakened state, in this case, probably not sober.

Learning who your real friends are is one of the hardest lessons of life, and most of us don’t really start getting it until we’re well into adulthood when we have that core group that has stood the test of time, maybe decades, and has rescued us when we could not rescue ourselves.

Friends like that could have saved Hannah Graham.

Friends like that have probably saved me countless times.

Do you know who your friends are?

More importantly, do you know who your daughter’s are?


Mind Fuck For Girls: Why I Don’t Believe in Fairy Tales…Or Do I?

Posted by Deborah Huso on Apr 21, 2014 in Girlfriends, Men, Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Relationships, Travel Archives

Originally published March 2, 2012

Coral, gold, and gemstone on Ponte Vecchio

Last Saturday I promised my four-year-old daughter movie and pizza night if she behaved herself all day while I caught up on work in the office.  I don’t know as I would go so far as to call my daughter “girly.”  She hates baby dolls, loves cars, trucks, trains and LEGOs and is especially fond of getting as dirty as possible when outdoors, but she also has a fondness for all things Barbie and princess.  I’m okay with Barbie, and I’m actually okay with princesses, too, as long as we’re just talking about dressing up in a fabulous gown and looking beautiful for the day.

But there is a point at which my tolerance runs a little thin. Heidi persistently asks for Disney princess or Barbie princess movies–you know the ones where the girl finds her “one true love” and lives “happily ever after.”  And much though I’d like to pretend my efforts to make her strong, independent, and choosy are overriding all this falderal, I know they’re not.

I still try though and resisted Heidi’s begging for yet another Barbie princess movie last weekend and chose instead the movie Enchanted. You may have seen it. It’s a little bit of an anti-fairytale with the otherworldly princess rejecting Prince Charming in favor of an imperfect marriage to a New York divorce lawyer. It still has the flavor of happily ever after, but it’s a slightly better twisting of reality.

Heidi loved it, and she even got it when the princess fought the dragon instead of the divorce lawyer. But still, it wasn’t perfect. Because the princess fails, and both she and her lover are saved by a chipmunk. Women are still not allowed to save themselves in fairytales.

A friend of mind calls Disney princess “mind-fuck for girls.” I think that’s an apt description.

Rare is the woman, no matter how intelligent, who does not suffer to some degree from a childhood of fairytale mind-fucking. I always thought it had bypassed me.  Instead of browsing through catalogs at pictures of stunning wedding gowns as a pre-adolescent girl, I was cutting out pictures of my dream house…which I did eventually build, by the way. It seemed to me, even when I was quite young, that I had a much better chance of building the perfect house than of finding the perfect man.

You can control the construction of a house. Love is something else entirely. It runs where it wants to without asking anyone’s permission in advance. And most men are not prepared to be Prince Charming. They didn’t grow up watching princess movies. So there’s an emotional disconnect between boys and girls right from the get-go. My preschooler recognizes it already. She told me in the car one day, “Boys are stupid, Mommy.” I nodded, for there was much truth in this statement. And then she continued, “Daddy is a boy, so Daddy must be stupid.”

I laughed aloud, as I often do when profundity on a grand scale comes out of Heidi’s mouth. One of my girlfriends told me Heidi is far more advanced than we ever were as girls if she already gets the idea that guys don’t get us.

Even though my parents raised me not too put too much credence in fairytales and to make my own way in the world without relying on anyone else to make it for me, they apparently did not protect me enough. Because I still grew up believing that maybe, just maybe, I would fall in love with my best friend and live happily ever after.

A better view than the jewelry: on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

It didn’t happen. Not for lack of trying. I think, like so many women (especially young ones), I did my best to cram romantic partners into my personal visions of Prince Charming. And the poor men could not help but fail. My former husband had no idea I actually wanted to be proposed to at the lovely overlook where we first watched the sunset on Skyline Drive. I honestly don’t remember exactly anymore how he asked, it was so unmemorable. Others were worse. Like the boyfriend who foolishly told me he’d bought me a diamond just out of the blue with no indication beforehand that marriage was even on the table. I told him he better pay off his college loans and credit card debt before he dared show me the thing. Thank heaven for that caveat. We broke up long before he had his finances in order, and I was saved from what probably would have been a disastrous marriage.

So I don’t have a romantic proposal story about being carried off on a white horse into the sunset to pass onto my daughter. But then my mother didn’t have one to pass onto me either. She got her engagement ring in the mail. (My dad was in the Air Force in Texas at the time.)

And maybe these anti-fairytales are better anyway. For what pain women suffer in believing that a man will sweep them off their feet one day and love and cherish them forever after. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, mind you. But it’s rare. In my 36 years, I’ve encountered only one such couple. They were in their 50s when I met them, working at a museum where I had a part-time job during grad school. They’d been married 30 years. Every day at the end of work, that man would come into the gift shop where his wife worked, scoop her up off her feet, and kiss her. And she would giggle like a young bride. It was amazing to watch. Everyone in that museum shop would turn to look, no matter how many times we had seen it. And we all longed to be so lucky.

Because a lot of it is luck in the end, isn’t it?  Chances are Mr. Right is out there for you.  But chances are he lives on the other side of the country or maybe halfway across the world. He may not even speak the same language as you. How do you find him? That man whose personality is so magnetic that you’ll forgive him a thousand times for failing to put his socks in the hamper or for failing to pick the kids up on time? (Because you know the reason you’re really mad at your husband about his sloppiness and forgetfulness is because you’re mad at him for not being Prince Charming, right?) He’s not your match, and both of you know it, so you spar over the kids’ grades, whose turn it is to do the grocery shopping, why his mother is coming over again, and what to do on the weekend that everyone will enjoy.

Most of us settle for Mr. Half-Right. Or maybe even Mr. One-Quarter-Right because we know that our chances of finding the true Mr. Right are very slim. And someone told us somewhere, likely in a fairytale, that we have to get married, have kids, and pretend to live happily ever after with our “one true love.”

I’d like to think I’m over it. Sometimes I think I am. I’m a realist at least 85 percent of the time. I know men and women often don’t speak the same language, that they have wholly different expectations, that neither gender can be expected to read the other’s mind. I know that 90 percent of the time when a man hurts me, frustrates me, makes me crazy, he really has no idea he’s doing it.

But then something will inspire me to start believing in fairytales again…or at least make me want to believe. It happened most recently last November when Dorothy and I were in Florence, Italy, walking the famous Ponte Vecchio. In case you don’t know, it’s a famous bridge spanning the Fiume Arno that is lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry. I’ve never been much into jewelry. Once when my former spouse suggested he should update my engagement ring, get me something with a bigger diamond, I told him if he had that much money, I would be far happier with a fantastic vacation or a piece of land. (I never got the diamond, by the way, or a vacation, or a new piece of real estate.) But something about this romantic 1345 bridge in Florence, overlooking the river, with its shops of jewelry and the couples hand-in-hand walking across it gave me a little regretful thrill.

“Wouldn’t it be grand to get proposed to on this bridge?” I suddenly said to Dorothy. “And then go into one of these shops and pick out your ring?”

Dorothy, like me, is something of a cynic about love, but even she had to agree. Yes, that would indeed be fantastic. And so we stood there a moment in between all the glistening shops, looking out over the water and the city, daydreaming about something that was long gone for both of us. And I think we felt a little foolish that we even had such a girlish daydream—two business-owning women who had paid for their own trips to Italy and gone unaccompanied by husbands or lovers.

The “mind-fuck for girls,” as my friend called it, apparently outlasts education, prosperity, experience, even divorce. Which really leads me to wonder what it’s all about, why we can’t let go. Is it something like the “Hope” of Pandora’s Box? Does the idea that the “one true love” is out there somewhere keep us trudging onward in the most hopeless of circumstances, enduring the string of dates with men who are not “the one,” sifting through them all, wondering, and wondering if Prince Charming is ever going to show up? Do we really go through all of this thinking we’re going to be the rare and lucky woman who truly lands Mr. Right??


I know there have been times in my life when I have wanted to shout like Charlotte in Sex and the City, “I’m 35! Where is he?!”

I remember watching a friend of mine walk down the aisle a few years ago. And if anyone had been through the relationship ringer, she was it. I remembered her lamenting during her days as a single, dating woman, “I’m exhausted by it. I am exhausted by dating men, none of whom are right. I just want to give up.” But one day, years later, she walked down the aisle arm-in-arm with the man she believed to be “the one,” and the beaming smile on her face gave me hope for a moment.

Maybe this will be it, I thought. Maybe she really found him, and they’re going to be in love forever. She’ll prove it’s possible. I even told her so.  “Make me believe,” I urged her.

But that’s not how it happened. Her husband is not picking her up into his arms at the end of every workday and planting an “oh, my god, I am so in love with you” kiss on her lips. The question is though: does he need to be?

And I’m afraid the answer might actually be “yes.”

But do I say that because I’ve been mind-fucked, too?


But I do know two women who found love in their 60s…finally. And at least one of them is quite madly in love. I think of her sometimes when I start feeling hopeless. I remind myself there is always that five percent or less chance that something magical might indeed cross my path one day.

Crazier things have happened.

It never crossed my mind, for example, when I was the child of hard-working parents just barely getting by at times that I would one day enjoy the luxury of standing on the Ponte Vecchio looking at diamonds and coral pendants and perhaps, more importantly, looking across the centuries-old architecture of the city where Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci once lived.

I bought a ring for myself that day. It was not a diamond. It was not even expensive. I bought it from the jeweler on the bridge with only a few dozen pieces in his window. He told me he was able to sell the same pieces as his neighbors so much cheaper because of his low overhead. I slipped it on my finger, pulled my leather gloves back over my hands, and proceeded on my way to the Galleria degli Ufizzi to look at the original paintings of Botticelli, Raphael, and El Greco, something I also would never have imagined being able to do on a typical writer’s salary.

It did not occur to me until later that I had done my best to live out my fairytale thus far. And perhaps that simple gold filigree band was something of a self-engagement ring for me, not on the scale of the famous right-hand diamond. My fairytale is not quite that big, not yet. And I suspect if it ever gets that big, I’ll be buying more land with mountain vistas or maybe checking out Antarctica, not frittering money away on diamonds. Who knows?  That is the beauty of it, too. The not knowing what’s around the next bend.

In the tale of Pandora’s box, humanity is saved by hope. But hope is not sitting on a windowsill wishing for Prince Charming to come dashing around the corner. Hope is active. It is work. It is believing…and doing…and being…even when the evidence suggests that the game will not end as you would like. It’s still worth a bold attempt. Don’t leave it to princes and chipmunks to save you. That’s great if one comes along and gives you a lift. But try lifting yourself first.


Why Our Household Has A Zombie Apocalypse Surival Guide, Defending Facebook, and Various Other Reasons Why I’m a Good Mom

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Mar 25, 2014 in Mothers and Daughters, Relationships
My daughter's Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide

My daughter’s Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide

We are a family of full obsessions. We get involved in them deeply and then one day wake up and find a new one. Just like that. My husband and I have managed to make our biggest ones into careers—his as a historian and mine as a writer.

These days, my younger daughter is obsessed with zombies, and I for one can’t wait until this particular interest of hers disappears. Some may argue that at almost 13, she should NOT be watching The Walking Dead. I would agree. I would prefer that she not watch it, period. But she became hooked at a friend’s house, and there’s no turning back. Now she watches it every Sunday night—and has even been inspired to write her own zombie apocalypse novel. It’s very good—and I don’t like zombies–but I’d read her book. Of course.

I know I probably should not let Tess watch The Walking Dead. But I also know that if I make an issue of it, this will become a bigger issue than I want. So I’m waiting it out. I’m waiting for the next obsession.

I took the same tack with my older daughter’s middle school donning of the “emo” or “goth” clothing. Emma wore dark eye make-up and as much black as humanly possible for several years. Then somewhere between middle school and high school, she started embracing color again. Just the other day she said neon pink is her favorite color. Not that I care for the color, but hey, it’s progress.

Sometimes letting our kids explore who they are is uncomfortable for parents. They may embrace things we’ve long given up respect for—like guns, which I’ve outlawed in my house—much to my daughter’s dismay—because, after all, the folks on The Walking Dead use them all the time for their survival (in fighting against the zombies‑-not something we will ever have to worry about). So this prompted some very important discussions in our house, conversations we may not have had if she had not become such a Walking Dead fan.

Ultimately, this is why I’ve let her watch the show—as uncomfortable as I am. Keeping open lines of communication is a number one goal in my parenting. I want to know if my daughter is thinking about guns, drugs, or sex. Or any other sticky life situation. Sorry, but I do. Then I find we can reasonably discuss these issues, rather than being shocked into them by a real situation where it’s much too late to handle it objectively.

The same daughter—Tess—is also fixated with all things Disney. I think it’s a good and healthy obsession. She practices drawing the characters, likes to research little-known facts about Disney, and has asked for a trip to Disney for her 13th birthday—coming right up. We celebrated her sister’s 13th birthday in New York City and told Tess then we’d take her where she wanted to go—within reason. So Disney it is. I’m hoping our trip will ignite that passion a little more—with The Walking Dead fading into the background. Where it belongs.

Sometimes it takes a shift in location to jar your perspective a bit and find something else to think about.

I’ve taken a lot of grief from some members of my family for my “lenient” attitude when it comes to things like goth attire on Emma or watching the Walking Dead in Tess’ case as well as the fact that I allow my kids to be on Facebook. But you know what? I am on Facebook and see what they are doing. I know their passwords. I know what they are up to—because I myself am on it—probably way too much, promoting my books.

One of my husband’s relatives was very upset about Emma’s possible exposure to foul language and sexy content on Facebook. This is someone who is not even close to our family. And I had to sort of laugh. It’s been years since her kids were in school—and even longer ago since she herself was in the pubic school system. And while our first inclinations as parents is to protect our kids from growing up too soon, there’s not much we can do when we send them off to school. I blush to think of the language my daughters hear on a daily basis—words that I never knew until I was in college. (I am not happy about it, but there it is.) So I’ve switched gears a bit from what I thought my efforts would be at this age.  I have to trust my daughters will communicate with me— so far, so good—and we can discuss things. We can disagree. We can argue. And we do. I think that’s okay.

I’m adamant in my struggle to let my children find themselves and be who they are. For example, I’m a vegetarian—yet I don’t impose it on them. Nor do I impose my religious (or lack of) feelings on my children. I firmly believe that these things only have meaning in your life if you come to your own realizations, and I also believe in not giving them much to rebel against. Even so, however, Emma went through a rebellious meat-eating stage that still makes me cringe and laugh at the same time. “Look at me, Mom, I’m eating meat,” she would often say. Sometimes I’d scowl—but then I’d turn from her, hiding my grin. That’s the spirit, I wanted to say but wisely kept to myself.

I think becoming parents later in life has given both my husband and me a much longer view. As the cliché puts it, we’ve learned not to sweat the small things. Some may argue that we shouldn’t let Tess see The Walking Dead or let Emma dress like a goth girl, or let either be on Facebook. But we like to think we’re giving them what they need to discover who they are, within limits, of course.  (We are carefully watching them, commenting on what they do, guiding them, as well).

I’d bet whatever money I have in the bank and then some that my sweet, thoughtful, smart Tess will never wield a gun to fight off zombies—or any other kind of creature. Tess, on the other hand, has a written a book of instructions on how to survive the zombie apocalypse. “You just never know, Mommy,” she says. Indeed, you don’t. But I’m hoping our mother-daughter discussions will help us be better prepared when that “unknown” happens.

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The Guilt Diet: How and Why I Fell Off the Wagon

Posted by Deborah Huso on Mar 6, 2014 in Mothers and Daughters, Relationships

Originally published July 24, 2012

I know a lot about guilt, at least when you consider I’m not Catholic. In fact, I was raised Lutheran, and the great thing about being Lutheran, idealistically speaking anyway, is that not only do you not need intercessory prayer to wipe away your sins, your sins aren’t really anybody’s business anyway. At least that’s what Martin Luther said. All that muck is just between you and God.

Or between you and your mother.

If the Judeo-Christian Diaspora had need for a patron saint of guilt, my mother would be it. No improper action is unworthy of her note. Just the other day, in fact, as I sat across the kitchen table from her, to give her 20 minutes of painful and dutiful conversation, she remarked on my use of a four-letter word in referring to a less than ethical colleague. “Do you talk like that in front of Heidi? I just cannot believe the language you use.”

I am 37 years old, and I suddenly decided it was time to grab my four-year-old and hit the road before my mother began remarking on the unusual color of my toenails or advised me it was really not appropriate, given my age (nevermind I have great legs), for me to wear skirts with hems above the knee.

My mother comes by her guilt-inducing tendencies honestly enough. The great-granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants who managed to prosper through dedicated and pretty much non-stop labor in the rich soil of the American Midwest, she was raised on a solid diet of hard work, steel nerves, and eternal faith that anything that could go wrong would go wrong. Leisure time is the next best thing to a sin in this world view, and love is reserved for children who are under the age of back talking. Spouses, adult relatives, pets, and neighbors can fend for themselves unless, of course, they have reached drooling stage at which point you tend to them with a rough and exasperated sense of duty.

When you come of age under this kind of rearing, guilt becomes an everyday thing, hardly noted oftentimes.  You think being reminded for the 923rd time that it is all your fault your parents had to sell a quarter of the farm to send you to college is normal. And you really don’t think about the fact that the reason you haven’t told your mother you’re going on a European vacation is because you don’t want to feel bad for enjoying yourself and (God forbid) spending hard-earned money on something frivolous like seeing the palaces of the Russian czars or taking a gondola ride on the Grand Canal.

There is nothing healthy about consuming a steady diet of guilt, however. Guilt represses and controls, which is, of course, what it is designed to do, but most of us who have been raised on a guilt diet, whether it’s one of moderate or gargantuan proportions, end up leading lives where duty (however it is defined by the ones holding the guilt strings) holds sway over everything else…including happiness.

And if you think happiness is for the afterlife and not for the here and now, well, you might as well stop reading. I have no argument for the doggedly, miserably faithful. Ecclesiastes noted that “all is vanity,” and “all go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” In other words, we’re all headed for the same destination whether we live lives burdened by guilt or not, so why waste time feeling bad for being who we are and for enjoying the life we have been given?

It is a question I have often asked my mother. She has never been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. Perhaps that’s because the answer is ultimately that she, like so many people, from priests to politicians, has found guilt to be a handy way of getting what she wants from other people. If you can make someone feel bad enough for pursuing his dreams, perhaps he won’t pursue them and leave you behind. If you can force someone to be devoted to you by reminding her all the time of all you have done for her, perhaps she won’t abandon you, no matter how horribly you treat her. It is the same thing churches and governments have used for millennia—do the “right” thing, and no harm will come to you; no one will judge you; and life will never be hard. You certainly won’t have to make tough choices.

And, in the end, isn’t that why most of us raised on guilt diets stick to them? Much though we may resent the steady ingestion of our unworthiness, it’s far preferable perhaps to having to put ourselves out on a limb and risk censure or ridicule (or maybe disinheritance) by doing our own thing.

I think perhaps it was watching my father that finally made me ditch the guilt regimen. Raised by a rigidly religious mother and a father who was eternally disappointed in him, my dad ingested guilt almost from the cradle. The result was that he was and still is always trying to please with some ragged hope that maybe one day he’ll be good enough. His parents are long since gone from this earth, but my mother has done a fairly good job of assuming their place and discouraging my dad from following his heart if it in any way leads him away from her…even if only for a day.

Guilt like this is everywhere, and sometimes it’s not other people who impose it on us.  Sometimes we impose it on ourselves.  How many women friends do I have who are reluctant to go out for the day with friends or to take a vacation without their kids?  Somehow they have ingested the idea that they are poor wives and mothers if they give any attention to themselves. So they doggedly devote themselves to their duties—taking care of their careers, their spouses, their children—to the exclusion of caring for themselves.  The result is a life of groundhog days.

Not too many weeks ago I was standing in the prettily landscaped backyard of a well-to-do friend who, like so many of us, on the surface has it all.  I could not help but remark, as I watched our children playing together and her husband grilling on the deck, “You have a good life.”

She literally guffawed, “Yeah, right.”

I knew what it meant, and I kind of chuckled, now admiring the new deck furniture she had purchased, pretty green cushions and a jauntily tilted patio umbrella.  “Well, at least you have great deck furniture,” I said.

We both fell into stitches of laughter. Because it was all too true. When we let duty rule our lives too much, we end up clinging to absurdities for our happiness. Maybe we resent our spouses or hate our jobs, but at least we have a really nice car. Or maybe we’re angry we have to work horrible hours, but at least we have a really beautiful house to sleep in. We cover our guilt with salves of pretense.

I’m not sure when exactly I gave up the ghost and decided to start eating life raw and real. Perhaps it was somewhere between my mother remarking, “well, it must be nice to be rich” and me replying, guilt-free, “yeah, it is,” and walking out at Christmas one year when she told me to “get out,” fully expecting I would never be so lacking in guilt as to actually do it. The funny thing about resisting the guilt diet is that the more you call the bluff of the guilt reapers, the more they back off…or at least keep their guilt-inducing opinions to themselves.

Plus, you’ll find out who really loves you. Trust me, it’s not the person who tries to make you feel bad for following your heart or doing your own thing. It’s the person who makes you feel good for being who you are.


Shirley Temple, Miley Cyrus, and My Daughters

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Feb 25, 2014 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters

On the day Shirley Temple died, my daughters and I spoke about her over the breakfast table. We were sad to see her go but knew she had lived a good life. Dying at the age of 85, after living an incredibly full life is not a bad thing.

“Shirley Temple died today and I really liked her,” Tess said. “Class act.”

“Now, there is a child star who didn’t die from an overdose or get all skanky like Miley Cyrus,” Emma said.

“You’re right,” I said. “She went on and did something meaningful with her life.”

“I think Miley will die of an overdose in some cheap hotel room,” Emma added.

“I think she will die by a wrecking ball,” Tess said.


But seriously, Shirley Temple’s life speaks for itself.

And so does Miley Cyrus’—or at least that’s what we think. As I tell my girls all the time, we think we know these people, but we don’t. But what we do know about Miley is that she’s a mixed bag of wasted potential and bad cliché.

When they were younger, my girls loved the show “Hannah Montana,” which starred Miley Cyrus and her dad, Billy Ray. I liked the show, too, even though the premise was kind of silly, wherein a girl lives a double life. Nobody knows who she is except her best friend and family. She is superstar “Hannah Montana” by night and a school girl who hangs out at the beach with her friends during the day. In the show, there was a lot of exploration of what it means to be famous—and what it doesn’t mean. I liked it because of the music and because Miley portrayed a good kid. Billy Ray played an attentive and involved father.

This prompts me to wonder where he is these days in the young star’s life.

Unfortunately, Miley has become quite the teen star cliche. We can see this coming from a distance—yet the people around her seem helpless about how to rescue her.  Now is the time for someone in her family or in her circle of friends to step up. Or is so she “powerful” that nobody has the guts to try to help?

The young star “drama” happens so much I think our culture has become jaded about it even when it’s still deeply disturbing. I think of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and Justin Bieber. Jail. Drugs. Bad relationships and bringing children into the mix.  I also think of Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse. The whole fame at young age thing often leads to tragedy. With Miley, there have been drug arrests, films of her doing lap dances, the horrible music award fiasco, and so on.

My daughters and I watched her latest video together, and Tess said, “That’s so disappointing.” It was great hearing that from my 12-year-old’s mouth.

Miley’s “new act” doesn’t seem to be an artistic exploration as much as it is a privileged young woman profiting from acting like a spoiled brat and flaunting that she can do whatever she wants. She’s also buying into the whole “I need to rebel because I had this sweet image” thing and wants her fans to think she is strong and sexy because of it. And yet it’s unsexy, weak, and seems incredibly fake and gratuitous.

I can see some people pointing their fingers and calling me a “slut-shamer.”  I want to be clear my attitude is not about that at all. I’m all for a young woman owning her sexuality, and I don’t even use the word slut when I talk about Miley. (In fact, I love some sexy female singers who strut their stuff–Madonna for one.) It’s not about the sex. It’s about the rest of it.

It’s about how precious this life is and how you can choose to make it matter or not. How if you are born into privilege, it makes the rest of us sick to see you squander it. Not just the money—but the opportunity to make a difference, even if that’s just by way of living a positive example. And what is she rebelling against anyway??

Do you know what would be rebellious for a 20 year-old superstar? To NOT go down that road. Like Shirley Temple. On that, my daughters and I quite happily agree. Shirley Temple, from a cute talented little girl, to a teen star, and then as a woman who served her country on an international scale, is a much better role model—not just for girls, but for all of us.


Counting Beans and Hunting for Empty Egg Cartons at Midnight…And How To Be the Best Mom Ever

Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 19, 2014 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters

A rare moment of traditional motherhood--decorating cookies with Heidi

A rare moment of traditional motherhood–decorating cookies with Heidi

Have you ever done your kids’ homework?

Come on, I know you have.  Sometimes you do it because the project is so clearly over the head of your child or any other child of his or her age on the planet that you question the teacher’s sanity in assigning it.  My seventh grade science teacher is a prime example of this. She used to assign the most complicated engineering projects to us that they all essentially became grand competitions between all our fathers to build the best “Rat Mobile” (i.e. the fastest moving object powered by a mouse trap) or strongest structure made out of drinking straws and fishing line. That was when my builder father taught me the power of triangles….

However, I digress.

Last night was my turn to break the rules.

After having been delayed on a return from Chicago for more than 24 hours by bad weather, I finally arrived just barely awake at my daughter’s babysitter just before 10 p.m. I grabbed the already pajama-dressed darling and all her accoutrements, tossed her in the car, and dragged into our house 20 minutes later only to find her backpack full of instructions for school the next day:

“It’s the 100th day of school tomorrow!!!! Please make sure your child dresses like someone who is 100 years old and brings in 100 small items in to count in groups of 10 (like Skittles, buttons, or paperclips!).  Also, we are making caterpillars this week.  Please send in empty egg cartons for this project ASAP!!!!”

Am I the only one who wonders why kindergarten teachers employ so many exclamation points? Having worked in marketing and advertising for years, I’ve always lived by the anti-exclamation point rule: If you need to use an exclamation point, you’re not actually conveying information effectively. You cannot excite another human being about your product or service by simply employing the use of a line and a dot.

It is at this point in the evening that I realize following the rules is not going to benefit Heidi in the least. It is more than 3 hours past her bedtime, and I already know I’ll be up all night answering work e-mails and writing articles.  I put the kid to bed and begin working on her homework myself.

A friend calls just as I am counting out 100 dried beans.

“Hey,” I say, “Can you stop talking for just a minute? I need to count beans.” There is an awkward pause and silence on the other end of the line. 

After parceling them out in groups of 10 because even at age 38, I can’t count to 100 effectively at midnight after flying two hours, driving two more, and having about two dozen things on my brain that, awful mother as it may make me out to be, I find vastly more important than bean counting.

“Okay,” I say to my friend, “go ahead.  Tell me about your date. Oh, wait, do you have any ideas for how you would dress if you were 100 years old??”

Together we come up with a shapeless sweater dress, shawl, string of pearls, and (courtesy of my friend) a grand idea to draw wrinkles on Heidi’s forehead and cheeks the next morning.

Now it’s time to empty the no doubt already past expiration date eggs in the fridge out of a carton, so Heidi can start making a caterpillar for a science project.  For a moment, my brain drifts to the W-2s I’ve not yet sent into the IRS and the feature article I need to write on growing Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber. “Stop it!” I counsel myself. “Focus on finding Heidi’s missing ‘Dick and Jane Jump’ book.”

“I didn’t realize the 100th day of school was such a big deal,” says my single working mother friend whose daughter is the same age as Heidi. She has called to tell me she must cancel our yoga/meditation retreat weekend because she’s too stressed out to go.

“Yes, the 100th school day thing is quite pervasive,” I remark as I zip up Heidi’s backpack, confident I have accomplished all requisite tasks…that is until I see a stack of permission slips and paperwork I’m supposed to fill out.

“You know, men couldn’t do this,” my friend says. I remember the last time I saw her. She was sitting in her home office in space alien pajama bottoms, hair in a ponytail, dark circles under her eyes, Disney Princess paraphernalia scattered about here and there, losing her shit on a conference call with colleagues after suffering through four hours of sleep the previous night.

“I am exhausted,” she tells me. “I get up every morning, fight with my daughter to eat her pancakes, tell her repeatedly she has six minutes to get out the door, drive her to school while I’ve got my headset on and am talking to a customer halfway around the world, drive back from school, sit on tele-cons for 8 hours, try to squeeze in a trip to the gym, not that I need it since I don’t have time to eat anyway, pick up my daughter, struggle to make something resembling a home-cooked meal with the help of a slow cooker, pull out hot glue guns and colored paper for the latest school project, play games, do storytime, bathe her, get her to bed, back to the office to catch up on e-mails until 2 a.m., then do it all over again the next day.”

This is the life of a working mother. And honestly, it often doesn’t matter if we’re single.  I can’t recall my life looking all that different when I was married, despite my father’s injunction, “You need a husband….”

Maybe. What would he do?  I suppose he might do a better job than I of reading Dr. Seuss’ What Was I Scared Of? (Though there is something disturbingly entertaining about recounting the story of the glowing green pants that run around all night in the woods.) And no doubt he’d do a better job of cooking dinner. It’s pretty easy to beat rice krispies served alongside raw broccoli and carrots. 

But, as a rule, men just don’t take life as seriously as we do.  Maybe it’s a gift that they’re okay with the little ones heading to school with homework undone and hair unbrushed. Society is more forgiving of men if they are 10 minutes late to pick up their daughters from ballet.  They get accolades galore if they show up for Christmas concerts and school field trips. I show up for parent-teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments, and interviews with clients so that I can pay the bills that cover food, home, and, hopefully, college education. Forget retirement.  That’s never going to happen.

And that’s what cuts to the core…when my daughter looks up at me tapping away on my laptop, as she builds castles from Legos on the floor at my feet. “Mommy, when are you going to retire so you will have more time to play with me?”

How does one answer a question like that? The only way I know how is by counting beans at midnight and caring whether or not she shows up at school with her requested Styrofoam egg carton. And sometimes I fail at these things. I drop the ball, fall asleep at the wheel, miss the deadline, forget to send tennis shoes for P.E.

But one thing I never forget is love. The morning hugs and tickles to draw her out of bed. The promises to be there no matter what, even when she’s grown. The good night tuck-ins and the sometimes blissful crawling into bed beside her to hold her sweet little sleeping body next to mine as she clutches stuffed bears and kittens and whispers in her dreams, “I love you. You’re the best Mommy ever.”

And I am. If you don’t measure it in miscounted beans and lost library books….


Learning How to Write…From My Daughters

Posted by Mollie Bryan on Dec 18, 2013 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Writer Rants
Mollie daughter

My daughter hard at work…

My girls are both writers. I’m not sure how I feel about it, given how difficult life can be as a writer. But even though they’ve gotten involved with things like theater, music, and dance, what they do at home when they have downtime is write. For fun.

These days they are both working on entries into a national competition. They both have such different working styles, but it’s been fascinating for me to watch and even  learn from them.

Yep. I’ve been writing my whole life, now as a mystery novelist, cranking out a series and, believe me, I still learn things every day. It’s really not so surprising that I’ve picked up some writing tips from my daughters when parenting has been the most learning-intensive experience in my life.

Now, to be fair, these things that I’ve learned are not necessarily new, but they are excellent reminders. That’s one of the best things about parenting, isn’t it? The way your kids remind you, take you back to certain youthful moments—opening Christmas gifts, the magic of birthdays, learning to read, and to write.

Here’s my daughter-inspired writing reminder list:

  1. Figure out your working environment. Now this may seem simple enough. But working at a desk in front of a computer is not for everybody. Watching my oldest daughter Emma writing brought back a flood of memories to me. She takes a notebook and sits in front of the TV (while it’s on) and writes. Which is exactly what I used to do at her age. She then transposes it on to the computer. My younger daughter, Tess, loves to sit at the computer and write—but she does have notebooks filled with her thoughts as well. There is something about putting pen to page, about the way the pen glides across the page that is meditative for me. I must not forget that, even as I pluck away at the keyboard. But at the same time, writing by hand was a major obstacle for me to overcome in college—learning to write on the typewriter (now computer) and not in the notebook. Tess already has made that leap—but Emma’s process is important, too. In her transposing of text, she is also editing and reworking, and that is a huge step forward for any writer. That first draft is never worth much, so get over it and get on with the work.
  2. Write what you DON’T know. Writing is the best way for some of us to learn and live out our fantasies and dreams. If you follow “writer’s rules,”  one of them is “write what you know.”  It always makes me cringe. Part of my process has always been writing to discover, to learn, to communicate, and entertain. One of my daughter’s stories is about a gang. (My first novel was about a gang, too.) There’s something to be said for working that stuff out on the page—instead of real life. Feelings of not fitting in, finding others like you, and yes, even exploring darker, deeper sides of yourself. Writing about it gives you the emotional texture of having experienced it without the real dangers.  My other daughter is writing a paranormal story about a young woman with special powers who is facing great changes in her life. Wow. Without the paranormal element of “special powers,” that could be any teenage girl’s story as she faces so many changes every day, right?
  3. Write what you love. Once again it sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But I think especially as we mature and other things enter into our process—like keeping the market in mind—this might be one of the hardest lessons of all. Our time is finite, and we feel like we need to write what will sell to a publisher. If we are lucky, we hit a sweet spot where we enjoy what we’re writing and can sell it. Some days, I can hardly pull Tess off my computer to eat or watch TV because she says, “I’m writing, Mom.” And I have to tell you the only kind of writing worth doing is precisely that kind of writing. Because if it doesn’t hold your interest, it’s not going to hold your reader’s interest either.


I love what I do. It’s my sanity, my escape, and my work all rolled into one. If I didn’t love it, if I could think of something else I’d be good at, something else that could hold my interest and earn me a living, I’d do it—because writing is also a heartbreaking, lonely, gut wrenching experience. The business is one of the toughest and cruelest. One of the edges I walk is trying to don a vigilant thick skin, while allowing myself to open up enough to write honest words on the page. Sometimes when I read a negative review or I get a rejection, I hibernate awhile and lick my wounds. But the words and the page pull me back every time.

“What if I don’t win this contest?” Tess asked me one morning. “What if I work so hard on it and I don’t win, then what happens?”

“Are you writing the story just to win the contest?” I asked.

She thought for a moment or two. “I’m writing it faster because of the deadline, but I’d probably write it anyway. I like the story, and I’m having fun.”

And that, my friends, is exactly what I wanted to hear.

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