Date Archives January 2013

Lend me your brains!

This is the year, folks. This is THE YEAR to take the writing to the next level. But before I set out to conquer the world in my own weird way, I’d like to very humbly ask for your help.

Care to give me some feedback?

I have formulated an extremely un-scientific and completely ridiculous survey to find out what y’all think of the old bloggity. The results are anonymous so feel free to let it rip if there’s something you don’t like.

Here’s the link.

I ask you to PLEASE BE CANDID. I have an extremely thick skin when it comes to writing and if there’s something that turns you off, I want to know about it. Plus, keep in mind that your feedback will help me improve. Don’t blow sunshine up my patootie unless you really mean it!

If you don’t feel like filling out the survey (it’s 10 questions), please feel free to shoot me an email (trishsammerjohnston@gmail.com) or leave a comment here with a few sentences about your innermost thoughts, feelings and desires that relate to me … I mean, my blog.

Also, if you just want to let me know if there was a particular post that you liked or hated, that would be cool too.

THANK YOU!

Again, the link is https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DQJDSLL

A lame white chick weighs in on Obama and MLK Day

 

Four Novembers ago, I voted by absentee ballot. I was due to pop out a baby very close to election day and I didn’t want to take any chances.

“I will tell them to turn on the TV in the delivery room if I have to!” I told everyone. “I’m going to watch those election returns even if I have to do it through contractions!”

As it turned out, my wee (or not-so-wee) little Benjamin wasn’t born until 7 days later. So my massive belly and I spent election night schlumped on the couch. I dozed in and out and opened my eyes long enough to see the crowds gathering in Grant Park in Chicago. I smiled, patted that big old belly, and went back to sleep.

I didn’t vote for Barack Obama because of his color. I voted for him because I thought he was the right person for the job.

That I happened to be casting my vote for America’s first black president didn’t occur to me until later. “Oh yeah. I voted for the black guy. And he won. Wow. That’s … huge.”

Let me get that for you

The day after that election, I was busting with pride. I actually put a flag on my car that morning, to go with my Obama/Biden bumper sticker. I hadn’t had a flag on my car since 9/11, lest people confuse me with a Republican. ūüėČ

I dropped my daughter off at preschool and then went to Wawa. As I was walking in, I saw a delivery man coming toward the door with a dolly full of soda cases. As I would for anyone on any day, I stopped and held the door for him.

But on that morning, it felt different. I was a nine-month-pregnant white woman, performing this courtesy for a black man. And we had just elected a black president.

I probably smiled at the guy a little too big and a little too long. I imagine black people were getting all kinds of goofy looks from white people that day. Looks that said, “Hey! How cool is this? I voted for him, too!”

Let me just admit: I recognize how lame this sounds. You can just see it as a headline in The Onion, can’t you? Area woman shows appreciation for black people by holding the door for deliveryman.

But really, on the other hand, it’s not so lame. Sure, it was a teeny tiny gesture. Something that we take for granted. But we all know that not so long ago, teeny tiny gestures like drinking out of a water fountain, sitting at a lunch counter or choosing a bus seat were loaded with meaning — and sometimes danger.

Allow me to gush

I’m a white chick. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to be black in this country. Often, even though I’m a screaming liberal and a total equality-for-all kinda girl, I’m afraid to express certain things because … well, talking about color can be scary. I always fear that I’m going to say the well-intentioned-but-incorrect thing and step in a big pile of you-know-what without knowing it. Like, for example, is my holding-the-door story accidentally racist because I shouldn’t assume that all black people voted for Obama?

But today I will say this: I am SO FARKING PROUD to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today by watching our first black president get sworn in for his second term. I am certain that I will not be the only one shedding some tears over this.

We have come a long, long way.

Hey, America: Good job.

The power of having a dream

Killing Patty

 

My real estate agent calls me “Tricia.”

I’ve never told her to call me that. I always introduce myself as “Trish” and that’s also how I sign my name.

But she got me thinking about a time years ago when I decided to reclaim my name. You see, for most of my childhood and my teenage years I was “Patty.”

Good crap, I hated being called that.

I didn’t start out as Patty. Until the second grade, I was always Patricia at school. I was Trish (or Trishy) at home.

Then we moved. The first day at my new school, my teacher called me Patty. I was too shy to squeak up and correct her. Instead, I accepted my new name in silence and went about becoming Patty.

I was Patty there for four years until we moved. But by that time, I was used to being called Patty. I had even stamped the front cover of all my Judy Blume books with my heart-shaped Patty stamp. Certainly, that meant I must be Patty, right? So when we moved to a new town, once again, Patty it was.

As I got older, “Patty” felt more and more uncomfortable. In my mind, a person named Patty was supposed to be perky, wholesome … all milky white skin, rounded edges … the very picture of agreeable-ness.

But I was a smartass. A potty mouth (and a bit of a prodigy in that department from a young age, I might add). A girl who liked really loud music with lots of guitars. A girl with a dark sense of humor. A girl who was super quiet around people I didn’t know, and a complete nutjob with the people I did.

But it felt too late to change my name. The world expected me to be Patty, so Patty I was.

I am not my label

Looking back now, it’s funny how I felt so oppressed by that name — a name that was casually given to me on the second floor of McKinley Elementary in Rockland, Massachusetts, by someone who didn’t know me.

My inability to correct my teacher snowballed into close to a decade of being called a name that I hated.

Seems so ridiculous.

But hey, don’t we all do this all the time? Let people call us things that we aren’t? Accept labels that, on the surface, may sound like compliments but actually often carry deep undertones of judgment? Labels that put us in tidy, limiting boxes — because that’s who the world keeps telling us we are?

“You are the sensible sister.”

“You’re so free-spirited ….”

“You’re the smart one.”

“You’re the fragile one.”

“You’re too pretty for that.” (If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard that one …)

“You’re such a go-getter.”

“You’re the shy one.”

Hello, my name is …

By the time I got to college, I had had it with Patty. “Call me Trish,” I announced during the roll in each new class.¬†That was awkward, because a lot of people from my high school went to the same college. They were confused at my name change — all except my best friend, who’d begun, of her own accord, to call me Trish years and years earlier.

And in fact, even though I seemed to be making a radical move by telling the entire world to call me by a different word, the fact is that I still low-balled it.

Because I really wanted to be Tricia.

Why could I tell people to call me Trish but not Tricia? Why didn’t I feel entitled to that name even though my given name is Patricia?

Because Tricia was a pretty girl’s name. A Tricia might be worth looking at if you saw her across the room.¬†A Tricia was going to go ahead and demand three vowels in a five-letter name and make you think a second or two about how to spell it.¬†There might be more than meets the eye with a Tricia. She might be creative, complex and passionate. A Tricia might not always make it so easy for you … she certainly wouldn’t ever define herself as “low maintenance” because a Tricia knows herself and doesn’t apologize for needing what she needs, wanting what she wants. A Tricia might be fussy about her appearance sometimes. A Tricia might be mercurial and opinionated. A Tricia might be someone who is hard to quantify.

Trish, on the other hand? What you see is what you get. She’s not going to bother you with more than one syllable. She’s got some oomph — she’s an exclamation point! She’s no trouble. She’s, like , OK-looking but not beautiful. She’s all-purpose. She’s practical. She’s totally cool with whatever you want to do. Trish rolls with it. Trish certainly doesn’t care if you notice her or not.

Choosing your choice

I really admire people who can hit on the perfect word that completely embodies who they are — or who can mold their given name into the shape they demand it to be.

And now, I present a roll call of  people I know who wear their names with absolute style:

A former boss would walk into an ad agency on Madison Avenue to cut a big-money deal and tell the receptionist that “Billy” was there for his appointment. ¬†Hey New York City, guess what? There’s a Texan in the house.

A friend named Heather always signs her name with the biggest, floofiest “H” you’ve ever seen. It always looks an “F'” to me. For years now, I have called her the Divine Ms. Feather. It suits her. She is divine.

One of my best friends in the whole world is Nicole. She could never find a nickname she liked and she hates being called Nicky. Years ago, she re-christened herself “Cole.” It’s an original, just like her.

Beyonce Knowles is Beyonce. Madonna Ciccone is Madonna. And John Walston is Walston. I can’t speak from personal experience about the first two, but you know it when Walston enters a room. Someone called “Walston” could only be the been-there, done-that former newspaperman, the elder statesmen of the newsroom, a wise and colorful storyteller who vaguely smells of coffee at all times.

A friend’s license plate says “VALBABY.” It was a nickname she got when she was in her late teens/early 20s — when she just busting into adulthood, getting into all kinds of mischief and probably spending a lot of time laughing. I bet back then she never imagined she’d see that name stuck to the back of her minivan, but I imagine it’s a nice reminder to herself that Momma Valerie has an inner ValBaby that’s just looking for some trouble to get into.

Another former coworker was blessed with an unusual last name: Sweatman. We all called him — and he proudly called himself — “Sweaty.” I once remarked that it might be hard to find a woman to marry him with that last name. He grinned and told me that the woman who eventually married him would have to be worthy of the name.

A Facebook friend whom I adore but have never met in person decided to take “Audacity” as her middle name years ago. When she did, she proclaimed to herself and to all the world that she now had the AUDACITY to be who she really was, thank you very much. She’s a helluva writer, and she has a great quote in one of her pieces about her history of letting people choose her instead of the other way around. I think claiming AUDACITY as her name means she’s choosing herself these days.

Claim yo labels

So today, pay attention. What does the world call you? How does it make you feel? Which labels do you accept? Which ones do you reject?

As for me, I’ll be right here … claiming my inner Tricia.

 

 

Observe: the existential dating crisis of the single momma

That quote had me chuckling this morning as I lifted it from a friend’s Facebook page (thanks, Cyndylou Who).

On one hand, I was all F*CK, YES! about that sentiment.

Then my sensible side (believe it or not, I do have one) kicked in and went … Hmm.¬†I guess it all depends on how you define mad and passionate. I’m down with mad and passionate. Mad and passionate is intoxicating. But can you have that while also making sure the bills get paid and someone takes out the trash and the munchkins get raised in a stable, loving home ?

So far, it’s been a one-or-the-other prospect for me. It’s either impractical passion or (the illusion of) stability with a big, fat dollop of hum-drum.

This is possibly one of the most enduring struggles of my life.

Opposing forces

I get a horoscope in my email every morning. I don’t know much about astrology and I don’t take it too seriously, but I read it every day. Today it said this:

Instead of denying that you want more stability in your life, acknowledge that your desire for security is as important as your need for freedom. You might not be able to resolve these opposite forces now, but talking about them reduces your stress.

So today I will listen to my super-personalized horoscope. I am acknowledging it: My desire for security is as important as my need for freedom.

(Happy now, astrology guy?)

Peeps, this is something I’ve never quite been able to figure out in the context of a relationship.

I can figure it out for myself. When it’s just me, sans relationship, I can walk this line pretty well. I pay my bills. I make sure my munchkins are clean and cared for and nurtured. I write. I meditate (sometimes). When the kids go away, I go out and have my little adventures. It’s a nice balance between stability and experiencing all the things that bring me joy.

Pretty straightforward.

But it all falls apart when I try to do that in the context of a relationship. You know, with a man.

Sweeping generalizations

Excuse me for a moment while I indulge in some stereotypes …

In my dating life, here’s what I’ve seen:

The guys who are intellectually stimulating to me tend to be childless by choice. Even if they like me, they view my children as baggage so they’re only going to get so close. Often, anything that smacks of domesticity or child-rearing sparks a reaction as if I’d just served them up a steaming shit sandwich.

The guys who are dads often want to Brady Bunch it up. I am not opposed to someone else’s children — indeed, I felt very protective of the Irishman’s kids when we were together and I still think about them — but wallowing in so-called domestic bliss 24/7 isn’t enough for me.

I don’t mean to sound fussy or judgmental of anyone who is happy with suburban family life. If you are happy, I am happy for you. I just know that it’s not enough to make me feel content in life. (Again, no judgment here. I’m just acknowledging that we all need different things.)

Maybe I have more of an extreme personality than most people, but I’m not satisfied if life runs along a static baseline. I’m just not. I guess ultimately what I’m looking for is a stable life that still allows room for growth and exploration. I don’t need to hurl myself out of a plane, but man, if life becomes an endless series of trips to Target punctuated by Red Box movie rentals, I go nuts. Not that there’s anything wrong with renting a movie or going to Target — I certainly do both of those things — I just need to ensure that those activities are interspersed with other things that excite my brain and my senses.

One is the loneliest number …

So far, I haven’t found anyone who shares my life vision.

So what now? What do I do?

I haven’t figured it out.

God help me, I don’t want to make a life commitment to the wrong person again. But dating, honestly, I think is starting to wear on me. However, I’m not quite ready to give up on love yet, either.

Do I face the potential fact that I may never find what I’m looking for?

Do I live my life independently and then take a series of lovers on the weekends? You know what? Been there, done that. While it sounds exciting, the casual thing isn’t anything that I do particularly well. The fact is, I crave a deeper connection with someone.

Do I just go it alone and stop looking? I could. It’s tempting. Every few months I resign myself to doing just that. But you know what? Since I keep dusting myself off and throwing myself back there in the dating world, I guess I have to admit that I really do want a partner.

Do I find someone “close enough” and go from there? I can’t. I so just … can’t. I don’t expect perfection. I assume that anyone is going to have some habits that make me nuts — and vice versa — because that’s always the way it is with people. But I can’t be with someone whose value system differs from mine, who blows off anything artistic as too hoity toity to bother with, who may be lovely and kind and passionate … and also very, very drunk very, very often. I can’t be with someone who acts like any sort of life responsibilities are a big, poopy drag and that I’m boring for suggesting that we clean or maintain our home. I just cannot have any of that.

So mad passion? Yeah, that would be good. Sign me up. But is it too much to also ask for some shared interests, great conversation and someone who is grownup enough to share the adult responsibilities of life? Oh yeah, and who is also loyal and honorable?

Is my list starting to get too long? Am I asking for too much if all of that is my baseline before I’ll even consider committing to anyone?

On one hand, I think I’m kidding myself.

On the other hand, I know that I cannot settle for anything less.

A Retroactive Christmas: When the spirit hits too late

It’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives

This is how Christmas felt this year:

I was on a freeway driving someplace that I HAD to get to and I had to make good time. I blinked through my lopsided glasses as I tried peer through the salty, grimy haze on the windshield, not completely certain that some of that haze wasn’t in my own head. ¬†The kids yammered in the backseat, while eating another meal from another drive-thru window. The radio was tuned to an all-Christmas station that seemed to be on a constant rotation of Bob Seger’s “Little Drummer Boy” and at least 15 versions of “Santa Baby,” sung by every pop tartlet to make a ding in the charts during the last four decades.

I could feel my stomach lining getting thinner as I chugged my 5th coffee of the day.

Then, a gleaming 18-wheeler pulled up next to the car. There were giant antlers wound with Christmas lights sticking out from the sides of the cab. The headlights were red and green. The driver had a Christmas hat on. The sides of that festive freighter were adorned with pictures of cozy fireplaces and carolers and people decorating trees and sledding. For a minute I could just taste the egg nog. Perfect, paper cutout snowflakes came out of the exhaust pipe.

“Looks kids!” I shouted. “It’s the Christmas truck!”

“Catch it, mommy!” they yelled. “Let’s follow it! Go faster!”

I hit the accelerator. The blanket of exhaustion started to lift as I thought, “We can catch it. We can have Christmas this year. It’s totally attainable. We can go sledding and sing carols and sit around feeling all satisfied and Christmassy … we can do it! There’s still time! If I can just find out where this truck is going, it can all be ours …”

The driver, who seemed to be lit by the glow of firelight, gave us a wave and hit the horn. A few bars of ¬†the “Gloria” section of “Angels We Have Heard on High” shook every car on the highway. We all laughed in utter joy. The kids bounced in their seats and waved frantically.

“Where are you going?” I mouthed to the driver. He gave us one more wave and a big old Christmas smile. Then he shot off down the highway, faster than my dirty, six-year old Prius could ever hope to go.

“It’s OK,” I told my kids. “We can still have a great Christmas. It’s going to be a good one. You’ll see.”

Then I dropped the kids off at their dad’s house, got another convenience store coffee, and drug my greasy, sweatpant-bedecked self to Target where I shopped until 11:30 PM with all the guilty fervor of a parent who can’t begin to make up for all the ways she felt she’s let her kids down during a holiday season where she worked just too darn much.

And then it was over.

Can I get a do-over?

So now I’m trying retroactively recreate Christmas, this first week of January.

I’m holing up in the living room and watching Christmas movies. White Christmas. Love, Actually. White Christmas. White Christmas.¬†(Tangent: Does anyone else love this movie? If so, I need a big discussion about the romantic interplay and the female archetypes that were displayed in Betty and Judy. And Bing’s buttery voice. All that dancing. Judy’s teeny, tiny waist and why was her neck always covered? The witty, old-timey banter. I could just eat that movie — or lick it like a delicious lollipop.)

I’m trying to get into the holiday spirit not while shopping, but while returning all the crap that I bought by accident during my last-minute panic shopping.

I’m pulling out my old piano books and playing all the Christmas carols I used to play all-year-round. I’m laughing that I’m still making the same mistakes on the same notes that I made when I was a kid. I’m imagining that my dad, who used to love to hear me play (mistakes and all), is hanging around for his own private concert. I imagine when I pause for too long, I hear his voice boom down from upstairs and demand “More!” (Merry Retroactive Christmas, Daddy.)

I’m regrouping. I’m re-focusing. I’m starting to feel somewhat human now that I’ve gotten at least a few nights of sleep under my belt.

I’m¬†looking forward to the new year. Hope you are, too.

And now, as my retroactive Christmas gift to you all, I will share the pictures of my dirty house leading up the holiday, so you can all feel better about your own housekeeping skills.

These wonderful things are the things we’ll remember all through our lives …
Just hear those sleigh bells ring-aling, ting, ting, ting-aling too …

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check out the most Christmassy thing I did and read my Christmas Eve blog post. It’s about my hippie-girl thoughts on Jesus.