Story

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking about the nature of story this summer. What is story?  Is it truth?  Is it a well-constructed lie used to dupe an audience?  Is it escapism?

Some might suggest that our stories about ourselves are the narratives we construct in reaction to events and others’ perceptions.  These can either damn us or set us free.  If this is true and your story is dependent upon other’s perceptions of you and your actions, what does that say about you?  Maybe it makes you a passive character in your own construct.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.  When life becomes too hectic, I often feel like I’m in a hamster ball on a treadmill.  When I settle for mediocre because I feel I have to, then I lose a bit of myself while maintaining the lie, the sweet facade that says “Yes” all the time.

But if I was more like Rhett Butler and “didn’t give a damn”, would that force me to surrender passivity?  Would that make me arrogant?  Maybe. At least I would feel as if I am driving through my own narrative landscape.

We are all distracted by others’ stories.  How much time do you spend on social media?  Isn’t that what social media is… story?  How many of us see so many posts of beautiful people, beautiful things, and feel bad about ourselves?  We forget these are fictions.  Or we are overwhelmed by cries for help punctuated by Go Fund Me or the personal cause de jour.  Often I can’t even see some of my friends’ stories because of some blasted algorithm.

As a writer I have found myself a bit stumped about story lately.  I am starting to understand that writing is not inherent in the first draft, but is the process by which we take that clay and shape it into some form that affects our reader. Stories today need to be more evocative then ever, needing some shock value to just get attention.

Hopefully a reader can relate and connect to the characters and understand that they are not alone.  Maybe they can adapt to a foreign setting and find new appreciation for history, or learn that the “other” is just the reflective image in a mirror.  Rarer still is the reader who appreciates the author’s craft.

While preparing for my high school adventure that starts in September, I have been reading older stories, ones that some would argue should be removed from current curriculum.  This makes me wonder why these are the stories I am to share with my students.  I ponder how to help them understand these narratives’ value in this modern world, and of course, how to read them.  Which brings me to the most nagging question, whose story is worth knowing?

Enough musing.

Time to read some story.

JMonell

 

 

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Dietland…

Dietland

 

It was a sweltering Monday evening a bit before the end of the school year when I flopped into my favorite chair and played with the remote, landing on a cartoon black and white image of a heavy-set woman who had a dark cloud over her head.

And I was hooked.

I dropped the remote the first time I watched Plum, the main character, undress for a doctor’s appointment.  The plastic surgeon marked her full body with a sharpie, an action that felt as crude as rape itself.  Plum’s face contorted in confusion as the doctor rattled off all the different ways he could remake her physicality.

The next day I ran to the library to get Sarai Walker’s book.

And each Monday I plop my own plump butt into my favorite chair to watch Plum’s journey.  Sometimes I watch Unapologetic afterwards.

Because as much as the external story line jumps the shark, I am amazed to see such an honest view of women on television.  Okay…it is cable TV.

And the book, although lacking the diversity represented in the series, is brutally honest about how women are castrated by external expectations, especially when it comes to our bodies.  Unfortunately, the book’s ending felt stunted.  And the series wanders off into lands that Walker does not.  But Dietland‘s sentiment is still the same.

Watching plump Plum wake up to the reality that her life has been spent waiting until she’s thin resonated with me.  Watching her mock the female ideal made me chuckle. And then there have been the interactions between Kitty and Plum that have made me laugh out loud, a rarity since I don’t have much of a sense of humor, or cringe in horror.

Plum makes you want to reach out and hug her. She saves her birth name, Alicia, for that perfect body and goes as far as buying clothes for Alicia, not Plum, which made me uncomfortable. Listening to her counseling sessions with Verena made me cry.  I was so uncomfortable when she fought with one of her few friends, who in the series is a gay Black man, as they battled it out in a game of “You don’t know what it’s like”.

Self-hatred is buried deep within Plum.  And at this point in the season when she decides to free it, albeit at others, she is confronted with a society that still cannot accept her.  And maybe that is the lesson.  All you need to do is accept yourself.

Rarely does television evoke emotion from me anymore.  So much feels like super sweet candy that gets stuck in the back of your throat and makes you gag.

And watching Dietland‘s characters’ raw emotion can be painful.

But Dietland sheds painful truths on what it means to live as the “other” in our society.

I hope enough people have the guts to watch. Or better yet…read the book.

JMonell

Pool Politics

pool

July’s humidity has been thick, just as thick as the political quagmire we all play in. And one place this is most evident is the pool club.

No,  I do not work during the summer other than prepping for next year’s students or learning new pedagogy.  And before you start to gripe, just remember I don’t get paid either.  Instead my work shifts to home work.  I become a full time mommy.

One way I fill the time for my munchkin is by joining a pool.

We have been members of the same pool club, which happens to be in a neighboring town, for the past four years.  So Munchkin and I hop into the car, which is filled with towels, tubes, and other toys, and drive over in the afternoons.

Now our club has this Dirty Dancing feel, a real throwback to the 60s.  They have shuffle board, and a diving board.  There are even games set up for the kids to play during adult swim!  And a few times a month, they hire a DJ and stay open late.

It has that country club feel without the price of one.

But when it comes to picking out a seat….Mommy beware!  Choosing your seat means more than just sitting poolside.  Your seat is like one of J.K. Rowling’s sorting hats.

See, there is the Yummy Mommy section, the place where slim, fit moms of three huddle with their Yeti coolers stuffed with kid treats.  They often have plush lounge chair covers and Joe Shade umbrella perched just behind them.  They talk about soccer coaches, camps, and clothes.

Catty corner to them is the new mom’s section.  They are often found hovering near the steps, holding their munchkins’ feet dangling just above the water.  They can be seen spraying sun-tan lotion and pulling on shirts or hats.

Towards the deep end are the older moms, or at least the ones with older kids.  Some sit in pairs and chat, while others glance up from their books every so often to see if their kid made it off the diving board in one piece.

Behind them, sitting on the grass under the club’s umbrellas, are often the older members of the club.  They can be the most friendly.

Closest to the snack bar there is an overhang.  This is where the shade lovers sit, huddling close together to shun the sun.

Then there is the click of teachers, which I can finally say after three years I can join.  We talk about September woes and Summer jobs.  This is the group that grows closer in late August as other moms gossip about their child’s new teacher.  Late August is the most painful, yet instructive time.  It always amazes me how crass and callous people can be.

It took time to “fit” into a group.

The first few years I felt just as uncomfortable as my kid.   During adult swim I would try out casual conversation.  Then I bought a Joe Shade umbrella.  I told myself I was buying this because I had a suspicious mole removed off my back.  I picked green because most of the club members had blue and red.  Then I pushed my munchkin to play with other munchkins.  Part of this was getting him to pass the deep water test.  His success opened up social portals for us both.  And this year, I too went to Christmas Tree shop to pick up a lounge chair cover.  It’s aqua blue if you’re curious.  Now I match a few other mommies.

So finally, I can swipe my card, enter, and find a friendly face.  A few mommies even know my name.  My munchkin plays with other kids.  And I am comfortable in this throwback setting, sitting under an umbrella poolside…aware of politics.

Happy swimming!

JMonell

“I wanna be a Toys R Us Kid!”

toys r us

So this week Geoffrey the Giraffe was laid to rest.  And I am devastated.

See, we have a history. As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the “holiday catalog” to show up in the mailbox.  I loved the campy commercials that would punctuate Saturday morning cartoons.  As a child of divorce, “Daddy days” often meant a trip to Toys R Us with a chance to wander through aisles and beg for a Barbie.

Yeah, I did have that Barbie stage.

As I grew older, I read about how one store was haunted.  When video game consoles were new, I would go to Toys R Us to check them out and decide which games were worth a try.

And when I was first a mom, I would go to Babies R Us for diapers, clothes, and bath toys.

Later, I would walk my son through the store’s hallowed halls and watch his eyes grow wide.

Even though the store symbolized childhood, its death marks something darker.  In this article, by the New York Times, we learn of how the chain’s closing has a devastating human impact.  The employees, some of which who have been there for years, have lost severance pay.

Not only do they have to find new jobs, they need to figure out how to make ends meet in the meantime.  And what about all those who look for holiday work to fill in financial gaps?

Toys R Us’ death may also illustrate how children today do not know how to play on anything without a screen.

As my son and I walked through the store near us last week, I marveled at the action figures, masques, outdoor toys, and playing cards that were still left behind.  What has happened to our notion of play in American culture?

It seems that more companies are offering delivery services to appease the consumer who will not leave the house to venture forth for the shopping experience.  And if a company cannot meet that demand, then they too may go the way of Geoffrey the Giraffe.

So sad for us all.

J.Monell

Changes

abc books chalk chalkboard

Changes  by David Bowie has been haunting me of late.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything.   And that’s because I’m about to make a change, a big one.  A work one.  For years I have waited for this.  Many years I cried about this not happening.  But now that it is here…

Change in middle life is both invigorating and disorienting.  For the past month I’ve had one foot out the door, and the other running to keep up with end of the school year activities.  It’s no easy feat keeping 8th graders engaged in June.

And in between their demands, I’ve been thinking about my next teaching adventure.  Textbooks have been mailed to me.  I had the opportunity to visit my new school.  New curricula has been bound up in binders and put in my hands.  I’ve been able to meet a few new colleagues.  And I’ve been recording question after question as they pop in my head.

But this week I will leave the job I’ve had for the past seventeen years.  Yup.  Seventeen.  I’ve plucked seventeen years worth of stuff from my room, tossing much of it, and saving some.  Old projects.  Essay prompts.  Worksheets. Books.

Saying goodbye to my colleagues will be the most challenging.  I’ve had to commit to the end of the year party, because it is my end.  Just like I dropped in on the 8th Grade dance, because it was my last.  And bought a yearbook too. Because I want to remember this class.

But part of me just wants to walk out the door on Thursday as if nothing has happened.

The excitement for THE CHANGE is still there.

But it is pushed back by GOODBYE.

And then I think about the WHY.

For this is about ME.  Not my students.  Not my colleagues.  Just little old me.  Midlife crisis?  Maybe.  But I feel confident enough at this stage to figure out what I want.  And to go after it.  Some of my colleagues look at me and wonder.  Why am I not sticking it out until I retire?  Because I am worth it.  I am worth the risk of CHANGE to increase my happiness, to reinvigorate my passion for teaching, and enjoy my life.

So I challenge you to not just be content.  Be awesome!  Change.  Life is short.  And you might be like me…in the middle of it.

Happy Writing!

JMonell

 

 

A Mother’s Day Shadow

mother's day

Mother’s Day was once a Day of Tears.  It shadowed my birthday, which invariably landed within a day or two of that somber Sunday.  Often, I would find myself curled up with a comforter, popcorn, and a Diet Coke. My movie of choice: Aliens.

Why?

My mom passed away at the tender age of 46 from pancreatic cancer, almost exactly six months from the day my stepfather died from a sudden heart attack.  This was after months of agonizing promises and care for a woman I hardly knew, and barely liked.

You see, probably like many kids, Mother’s Day meant my father taking my sister and I out to pick out flowers while threatening us to be good on Her day, or else.  No one told him he needed to follow the same rule.

When my parents divorced, I lived with Mom, and looking like my father meant that I was him, even if I wasn’t.  And maybe this was not true, but to my teenage brain, it was my truth.

Mom’s death meant the end to her suffering.  And a little bit of ours.  But the loss of both parents felt like a black hole had opened up beneath my feet.  I had no choice but to be an adult.  None.

For years, the holiday haunted me.

Especially when I was informed that my eggs were too old and I would have no child of my own.  Wanting a child and not being able to have one felt like the end for me.  Not that I had always wanted a child, but when I saw just how badly my better half wanted children, I was devastated. Work became nearly unbearable.  How could I teach others’ children knowing that I could not have my own?

But I did.  I beat the odds.  A combination of acupuncture, diet, and Reiki helped me.  I discovered I was pregnant the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2007.  I think my first two words were “Oh Shit.”

I really wanted my Mom.

Today I understand her a little bit better.  I know she did her best.

And the Universe has presented many women who have filled the gap for me.  Each of them has magically appeared when I needed her the most.

I have a loving son whom I could not be more proud of, and a husband with whom I have shared nearly half my life.   And then there is my 99 year-old grandmother, one of my few links to Mom, who I know is looking down on us.

So cherish your mom, and your motherly friends today.  But be mindful of those in pain.  Swallow your grumbles and bless the moment with friends and family by being present for them.  Show gratitude.  For your Mom is why you are on this Earth, whether you thought she loved you or not.  Believe that you are the blessing to others that you are and today share the love with those who mother you.

Fondly,

JMonell

 

Aging Up

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Saturday is that day, the day I age up.

So many people say, “You’re only as old as you feel.”  But as I dash closer to the fifty yard line, I can feel a new urgency.  Anxieties have taken up residence in my brain, spinning thoughts faster than I thought possible.  How will we afford retirement?  What about the Munchkin’s college?  And a new urge to get healthy, which is chased by fears of illnesses one sees nightly on pharmaceutical advertisements that are crammed between scenes of my few favorite shows.

Oh shit.  I am getting old….er.

Switches are going off.  Do I really need work shoes with only a few weeks of school left?  Should we really invest in an extended warranty for the computer?  Gotta get the eyes checked…can barely read my favorite books anymore.

Sure there have been signs.  Like the shock I had after blowing out my knee two years ago while stepping out of a tree.  Or the fact that my newest colleague was a student when I first started teaching.  Then there’s the dryness of my skin on the back of my hands that reminds me of my grandmother.  And then my husband reminded me that we have been together for nearly half of our lives.

But somehow, I ignored these signs and focused on the day to day tasks that seem to have defined my life for the past ten years.  Work. Cook. Care for Munchkin.  Care for hubby.  Work.  Clean.  Volunteer when possible.  Soccer.  Church.  School. Soccer. Church. School. Write.

Damn.  What happened to my dreams? How did I let them slip away like sand?  Have they slipped away?  Is there still time?  Langston Hughes wrote of a “Dream Deferred”.  Maybe that’s what has happened to my dreams.  Not dead.  Just deferred.

It’s funny that for this birthday, all I want is time.  Time to relax.   Time to meditate.  Time to figure out who is this new old…er me.

Happy Writing!

JMonell