Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I'm Not Broken

Reprinted in memory of Mom - July 9, 1920 - October 31, 2011 - who believed in more than a little...
"But what're you going to do? You need to get a regular job." I held the receiver away from my ear as Mom's voice spiked.
Mom, the original fix-her-upper I swallowed my thought.
“You’ve got to fit into the mold.”
“I’m not broken, just broke. Those are two different things." The conversation continued; a circle of unlike minds.
"You should be a secretary."
"Mom," I braced my feet on the floor and prepared for the rebuttal. "I’m not a cubicle kind of person.”
"You've got to work." The words stung.
"I do work. Writing’s a job and I like it." The argument unending, I listened for a few more stanzas of 'your life doesn't meet the norm'.
"You're not supposed to like your job. You need money. How are you going to pay your bills?"
I looked at the pile of envelopes marked 'past due', 'friendly notice', 'forget something'?
"They'll get paid, someday." I shoved the mound of envelopes to the floor. "Just believe in me a little."
“What about the kids?”
A single mom with two sons and a daughter, I was determined to stay at home and make my dual career of mom and provider work. Divorced or not, my kids needed a face to come home to after school and that face would be mine. 
"What about medical coverage?"
"Mom, I've got to go… "My voice trailed away as I put down the phone and whispered to the now silent one, "Quit trying to fix me."
I turned to my pile of work. A brochure needed updating, a manual transcribed, a database reorganized. Granted, not the creative writer I envisioned.  Merely a broom keeper for other people’s words on a page: a cleanup person following prescribed protocols. Meantime, a story churned in my head.
Settled in my chair, I watched the computer screen come to life, greeting me with a cornucopia of icons:  Yahoo, Nero and iTunes smiled an unspoken good morning. I welcomed the familiar images like gossip over a copy machine. The array of characters stared, tempting me to play. Enjoying the break from solitude, I jumped into the game, hit the Internet search key and entered the word – hello. 
Returns of hello in languages known and obscure popped up: Konnichi Wa, Goeie dag and Jou San. A collection of Hello Kitty items blanketed a bookshelf. A site simple in name, Hello by Esao Andrews, superb in design, captured my attention, and I paused to explore the creativity.
Intrigued, I sipped my coffee and noted. I had a friend named Hello.
"Anyone else like me out there?" My fingers clicked the letters in place.
A prompt begged "where do I want to go?"
"I want to find people like me. People who think beyond nine to five, stock options and 401 plans," a tear trickled down my cheek and I thumbed it away. "Someone who thinks it's okay for me to be me."
I hit the Internet connection and typed my question in the search box. The computer hunted and returned with an offer of a personal advice counselor. Nope. Got one of those.
I entered "Writers", hit search and waited again. I dipped a scone in my French Roast, nibbled the dry pastry and leaned, elbows on table, towards the computer. Stunned, I reeled in my chair. What's this?
Hundred of writers. Writers in coffeehouses, chat rooms, workshops, E-groups. I scrolled down the list and clicked into several web pages, discovering sites for grammar, publishers, and freelance jobs. Reaching out towards the screen, my fingertip touched the word writer. A slight current traveled up my arm and I lingered--a connection.
"May I join?" I posted my request, hit send and reclined back in my chair, holding onto the base, exhilarated.
A bright message popped on the screen. "Pull up a chair and stay awhile."
Thrilled, I settled in, posted work and waited anxiously for comments and peer validation. What’s this? I was labeled the queen of purple prose, descriptive repetition and head-hopping. I scrambled grammar and made my cyber classmates pull hair and scream down invisible corridors. Embarrassed, I withered in my seat in the back row of web sites. 
"You have tautology." The message in caps shouted.
"I have what?" I bent for the dictionary, flipped through the alphabet and gasped, "I have tautology."
Recognizing my rusty skills, I enrolled in online workshops, accepted the challenge to clean up my court of illuminating phrases, and forged forward. I learned my point-of-view, story structure and beginnings, middles and ends. Armed with knowledge, I grabbed a seat in the front row of URLs.
Still, I massacred commas and frustrated new friends with fragments and hanging participles. I nosed into a grammar site, polishing grade school skills with bone-headed exercises of independent and dependent clauses. I scribbled and wrote, getting characters out of my head. Confident, I stepped to the plate a player. With the best, I provided feedback, offered suggestions, and soon decided to enter a short piece in a contest.
I typed and created. I printed to proof, drew rivers of red lines on my paper and revised. I ran back to the computer - cut, paste, and delete my mantra. The deadline loomed. Echoes of 'write tight' kept me focused. The hours ticked down. Persistent, I formatted the manuscript, packaged the entry and chased down the mailman--my entry on the way.
The months passed and the list of winners arrived; my first rejection notice tumbled to the carpet. I performed a ceremonial dance to my success; my left hip crippled for days, I downed Tylenol cocktails.
"I'm in the game," I circulated a short note to my friends. "I got my first rejection notice."
Words of support, smiling faces and emoticons tagged the moment. The camaraderie system in place, I sent out a selection of short articles and soon a check arrived. I copied and enlarged the pay-to-the-order document and stopped at the store for a frame. Breathless, I hit "my E-groups" and shared the news. E-cards of congratulations and ‘great job’ poured in from Australia, Mississippi, and New York.
My mailbox burst with rejoicing. Unknown faces in unseen places--present in my heart, we had a party of many in my room of one.
Between congratulations the bedroom phone rang and I trekked down the hallway. I caught my breath as my feet followed.
"I was wondering how you're doing?" The scrape of mom's kitchen chair across the tile floor told me we were in for a long chat. “The ladies at church have been praying just for you.”
“Thanks,” I dropped to the bed and curled against a pillow. "I'm just having a party with some friends."
"That's wonderful. Did you get a new job?"
"I guess I did." I switched ears, the right one flattened by the headset.
"Does this one pay well?" A pause on the long-distance line followed.
"It pays pittance." I gazed at the framed check hanging crooked on the wall. "But it has great benefits."
"That's wonderful news. So you have medical insurance and vacation time?" The excitement in her voice told me I graduated off her prayer list.
Struggling for the answer, I said, "Well, not really."
"Then stock options and a good commute?" She searched for the mix of conventional benefits. "Nice boss?"
"The job comes with a terrific group of friends." On a roll, I continued, "I'm working with writers that think like me. Imagine that?" My adrenaline pumped.
"So you're still broke." I sensed a dip in her enthusiasm, my name back on her prayer list.
"Yes, I'm broke but I'm not broken." I jumped from the bed and affirmed, "I'm complete."
"I don't understand your world but if you're happy then so am I." Mom's unrelenting faith reached across the miles and wrapped around me.
Embraced in her words, I smiled and said, “Mom, I sold my first story.”
 ...she believed in me.
Copyright 2003

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