For me, September is literally the “back to school” month. My day job as a college physics instructor starts the fall semester on Monday. I’ve already received several emails from desperate students needing to be added to a class that’s already full, or being blocked from a class even though they meet the required pre-requisites.
I expect the number of those messages to increase the closer we get to Monday, never mind on the actual day.
Anxiety levels run high on that first day of the term and through the rest of that week.
Normally, after almost ten years of teaching, I’m the calm presence at the front of the classroom and during office hours. I help freshmen and freshwomen interpret schedules, find classrooms, navigate campus, and generally convince them that they got this. They can succeed as college students.
This year though, I’ll be the one with the highest stress level.
You see, I’ve just had an abundance of blessings.
On top of signing my first publishing contract, a three-book deal, I also received a National Science Foundation grant for a three-year project. A project demanding extra time, energy, and resources, on top of my regular job.
If I ever thought my day job and my writing time competed with each other before, this year will be the freakin’ Olympics of trying to balance my life.
Seriously though, the only way I’m going to get through this amazing and scary year is to let go of my teacher role, let go of control, and instead become a student.
I will need to learn:
-How to say “no” to all volunteering and extra work, no matter how great the opportunity.
-How to delegate to the other people on my grant team and in my family.
-How to ask for help when I need it.
-How to graciously accept help when others offer, and I haven’t recognized that I need it yet.
There are of course many other things I will need to adjust, like reading and TV watching time, but the four above are the big ones. And they are going to be very hard lessons to learn, because I am a type A overachieving control freak.
How big of a type A overachieving control freak, you ask? My first clear sentence was: “Can do it by MYSELF.” I believe my mother was trying to help me dress at the time.
So, bear with me as I navigate this new and exciting path that the universe has led me down. I’m sometimes a slow learner and may need the lessons repeated a few times, but I’m looking forward to fun thrills, even if there’ll be a few bumps on the way.
This month’s theme, Back to School, sends shivers up my spine. I hated the school experience, awkward social anxieties and other various “growing pains”. I would have preferred to spend all four years of college in the library reading from stack to stack, using my beloved dewey decimal system.
Since I have zero intention of ever returning to an actual school, I have to get creative to generate new learning experiences to strengthen my writing. Actually that was just my way of justifying that I like to turn vacations into research field trips (since I’m not published yet, I can’t even get the tax write-offs yet). I ate my way through New Orleans comfort food and then walked off the pounds on the streets of Philadelphia. Every place I go, I get inspired with a sensory rush of new people, places, and things.
Next weekend, my sisters are flying me to Washington DC as a birthday gift. Not only do I get to see wonderful sisters but I get to experience a new brand new place. The catch is that I only have 48 hours to be a nerdy tourist. Where should I go? What should I do? What should I eat?
The top 2 current suggestions are:
Who would like to be my Virtual Tour Guide and add suggestions to my list?
Since my mother died in 2012, I’ve mentioned that when I escape into my writer’s brain I feel closer to her. So, it is with this otherworldly notion that I share a story of how I spent Labor Day weekend and discovered my long legacy of hopeless romantics going back five generations to my great-great grandmother, Fredrika Hawkinson.
In 1983, my grandfather and namesake, Glenn Snook died in the house he’d built during the depression. Complete with crystal doorknobs, coved ceilings and Swedish hardwoods, the house on the corner of 22nd & Friendly Street was as much an expression of his artistic ability as a monument to the love he felt for my Swedish grandmother, Edith Benson Snook, who’d preceded him in death in 1979. She was raised in Minneapolis and came out to an uncivilized Oregon with her maternal aunt, Violet Hawkinson Hegberg and her uncle, Gustav Hegberg. They were appalled to discover that there weren’t even sidewalks in Oregon in the early 1920’s. I’ve been told I resemble Violet, who died in 1939. I’ll let you be the judge. Her pocket watch sits on my desk. (You can see it pinned to her chest.) Sometimes it ticks of its own accord. Alas, not today.
Back in 1983, my mother, a grieving only child, cleaned out her parents’ house and put the contents in a forty foot storage container/van my father had purchased for her. It was placed on an equipment lot owned by our family business down by the Willamette River. Over the next few years, Mom occasionally pulled out odds and ends for my brother and me as we journeyed thorough college and then bought houses of our own.
My marble topped coffee table and recovered kidney shaped couch and sofa along with my Duncan Phyfe dining room table all came from The Van Down by the River.
There was an intriguing picture that used to hang in my grandparents’ living room of a couple at the end of a fight. I used to stare at it and create different stories in my mind, the fight that led to the scene in the picture, the possible and hopeful resolution that we would never see. My grandmother used to tell me she felt sorriest for the dog who didn’t know whom to comfort, as he was caught in the middle. It was an ironic picture for the fact my grandparents were so happy and deeply in love.
When I bought my house in 2002, I asked my mother for that picture. She could never find it despite fairly extensive searches of The Van. The summer after my mother died, we found the picture in my parents’ attic. It is by Franz Skarbina and called: Das Ende einer Liebe, ‘The End of a Love”. (Unfortunately, it appears that unlike me, Franz didn’t believe in happy endings.)
For the most part, The Van Down by the River remained untouched for thirty-one years until last weekend when my brother called and said he thought it was time for us to clean it out.
It took all day. Boxes of National Geographics hung out with blue mason jars and newspaper articles. And in a little box entitled, “Stuff to Keep”, my mother kept every dance card from college and inside each one she’d written my father’s name next to her own. She had cocktail napkins from their engagement party and everyone else’s engagement party/wedding who married the summer after graduation in 1956.
I found the ornate Swedish wedding certificate from Violet and Gustav’s 1902 wedding, which is being framed and will hang in my dining room. I wear the diamond from Violet’s engagement ring along with diamonds from my grandmother and mother’s engagement rings on my right hand in a ring my mother had designed in 1979. I feel the depth of the each promise and the years each woman wore their sparkling stones and what the stones meant to each of them. There were three happy marriages between them until death took them away from their grieving husbands. There is an irony that I’m the only divorcée among the group to wear any part of their engagement rings.
In among a box of books in The Van was Lalla Rooka, an Oriental Romance by Thomas Moore, inscribed to my Grandmother Edith Benson from her Grandmother, Fredrika Hawkinson. Published in 1817, it is one of the first romance novels.
“When Lalla Rookh enters the palace of her bridegroom she swoons away, but revives at the sound of a familiar voice. She awakes with rapture to find that the poet she loves is none other than the king to whom she is engaged…”
And not to be forgotten is the photo of Rudolph Valentino, which my mother gave me in 1983. My grandmother must have gotten it about the same time Rudolph starred in the 1921 movie, “The Sheik”, which was based on the 1919 novel by Edith Maude Hull, reputed to be “the first romance novel”.
When he is better, he explains to Diana in a tense climactic scene that he is sending her away. She is upset, especially as he confesses to her that it is because of his love for her; he can’t bear to mistreat her any more. Although she begs and pleads, declaiming her love, he stands firm. In utter despair, she reaches for a revolver in a desperate attempt to die as her father died. Ahmed wrenches the gun from her and clasps her to him, declaring he will never let her go…
So on those days when I wonder why there is a need in me to write romance novels, to live in the bittersweet misery of a good story, it would appear that it is a part of my heritage. I come from a long line of hopeless romantics. I just wonder if they’d ever thought of picking up a pen and writing it all down.
- Mary Glenn Oldham 9/7/2014
First and foremost, thank you for reading my monthly posts. SJP has been an enormous amount of fun and I have loved interacting with each and every one of you. Your comments, shares, re-posts, likes and re-tweets always made my heart soar with giggly pride.
I wish all of you the best. No matter the journey, enjoy it. Even if darkness surrounds you, look for the glimmer of light and follow it. Unless, of course, your name is CarolAnne. That didn’t turn out so well in the long run for her. For those of you constantly twirling through wild flower festooned meadows like a manic Julie Andrews, twirl on! And share the drugs.
I’ll still be surfing the waves of the interwebs–dodging data, zigging where WiFi zags and avoiding the omnivorous cloud whenever possible. My snark will be flourishing on FaceBook and breeding like meth-addicted rabbits on Twitter. Luvs the Twitter, the Twitter is the preciouuuuuuusss. *strokes the Twitter* Find me on Twitter @GinaFluharty or visit my website http://www.GinaFluharty.com.