Archive | June 2013

On Baked Goods, Gardening, And Cultivating Career

You already know the writing of Carinn Jade from her popular website Welcome to the Motherhood, as well as her pieces from Mommyish and the New York Times.  She’s the real deal– real writer, real Mom, real lawyer, real friend.  I could go on, but let’s hear from her as she embarks on a new chapter in her careers with a heart full of acceptance and a future as bright as a cluster of stars on clear summer night.

* * * *

Lately I’ve been struggling.  I’ve also been succeeding.  I’ve been picking and choosing and placing and planning.  Through this process I’ve been visualizing what’s really important in my life.  I imagined myself as a pie with three thick slices*.  Fill it with whatever pleases you (mine is peach cream) but picture it.

image credit: weareoregon.com

image credit: weareoregon.com

 

(*Note: there are other slices of my identity such as wife, yogi, dysfunctional twitter user, but those are firmly established.  The three slices below are the ones I’ve been struggling with over the past few years.)

One slice of me is a mom.  The kind that gets down on the floor to play cars, who runs over the jungle gym bridges, and who delights in making my kids laugh by doing crazy things.  I have enjoyed my days at home with my children without a shred of regret.  That’s not to say I haven’t lost my shit on occasion or doubted my ability to be a full-time parent, but I never regretted giving up my career in finance for them.  For the most part I was exhausted but happy, even more so when I became a freelancer who channeled that leftover longing into writing.  Which brings me to the next slice.

Another part of me is a writer.  I have written all over the internet about myself, my struggles in motherhood, and my opinion on popular headlines from a parent’s point of view.  Since December I have also written two very shitty first draft (a la Anne Lamont’s perfect phrase) novels.  The first one was DOA, but I am in love with the second and am revising my heart out.  I recently pitched an agent who requested a full before I had to admit I didn’t have a full.  I do have a polished 50 pages that I am willing to show and I let that fly today.

Another part of me is a lawyer.  I spent almost 20 years either dreaming of, studying to be, or actually being a lawyer.  I’ve spent the past 4 years trying to reject it.  I was disillusioned by the lack of women role models and simply didn’t have it in me to put in the number of hours it would require to break that glass ceiling over a lawyer trying to be successful in finance.  As a mother of two young kids, honestly, I just didn’t think I had it in me.  I have regretted that a lot in the past year and many of my Mommyish posts revealed my struggle.  While I was happy in my personal choice, I felt I was letting down all female lawyers, or at the very least my daughter if she ever wanted to practice law and have a family.  I had opted out and blamed the culture (which is partially to blame) instead of continually trying to change it or finding a better fit.  That time is over.  I start full time next week with the law firm that gave me my start right after law school.

I know what you are thinking.  This is a lot of crazy shit.  Going back to the law full time after my writing career really gained traction — how does that make any sense?  You’re thinking “blow up that three-piece pie, Carinn, because something’s gotta give.”

It’s true, things will change.  But I am hoping it’s mostly my analogy.  A pie, I’ve realized, is a fully baked and completed product.  Which I am not.  I am more like a farmer growing a vegetable garden.  I’ve got my plot of land.  The soil is rich and dark and fertile.  I’m growing carrots, snow peas, and beets.  Each one requires attention at different times, each one has slightly different seasons.  Learning which crop will sustain me will take time and careful tending.  Season after season I will improve my product through trial and error.  It will take many seasons of work, no matter how much I try to muscle through it faster.  Turns out, vegetable gardens don’t respond to my strong arm attempts.

I have no idea what this next chapter looks like in real life.  I do, however, know that I will practice acceptance daily — of all the competing parts of me and all of the good and bad parts of this journey.  I’ve learned that by rejecting an important but complicated aspect of my life, I was rejecting part of me.  All this did was invite struggle.  If a part of my identity falls away, it must do so naturally, rather than me trying to push it out of the picture because it’s not always comfortable.

In the past few weeks during which these changes have been set in motion, this quote rings true.

If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

-J. Krishanmurti

Here’s To Transformation.

 

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If you would like to post here about your work life (or lack thereof), contact me at Christie.o.tate@gmail.com

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Can I Still Be A Gatsby Scholar Even Though I Forgot The Plot?

Image credit: blog.roopevintage.com

Image credit: blog.roopevintage.com

Some people take great pride in their physical appearance– say long silky hair or great calves.  I am not one of those people, but I am not above taking great pride in one attribute I believe I possess.  For years, the spotlight of my pride has been shining on my memory.

I have a killer memory.  I remember what I wore on the first day of every single job I’ve had.  I remember the first question that someone (Steve) fired at me the first morning I went to group therapy (“Are you a top or a bottom?”).  I remember old boyfriends’ dogs’ names and the meal I ate right before I saw E.T.

But just as someone whose good looks are chipped away by the ravages of time, my memory has deteriorated faster than Paula Deen’s reputation.  It would take me a few minutes to remember what I had for breakfast this morning (banana and KIND bar) and an unforgiveable five minutes to remember what I wore last Thursday.

I hardly know myself anymore.

The other night Jeff and I went to see The Great Gatsby, which was one of my favorite books in high school.  My senior quote was the last line of the book: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”  I’ve considered myself something of a Gatsby expert.

The only problem is that I haven’t read the book since junior year.  That’s over *cough* *cough* two decades between me and Mr. Fitzgerald’s tale.  But still. I was smug.  I kept leaning over to Jeff “explaining” what was happening.  “Jeff, that billboard of T.J. Eckleburg symbolizes the loss of spiritual values in America and the growing commercialism of the time.”

I was aglow with self-congratulation that I remembered the themes, the names, and that I was drinking a Diet Coke right before the Gatsby exam in Miss Baker’s honors English class.

But, then, Daisy did that thing where she killed her husband’s mistress accidentally.  Oops! I hadn’t remembered that.  At all. 

I assured myself that it was just a tiny blip in my gray matter. There’d be no more surprises.  But, then, to my everlasting shock, Gatsby got shot.  What the what? I had zero memory of that.  I didn’t even remember that he died in the book.  What kind of a Gatsby scholar forgets that he died?

I decided that Baz Luhrmann must have taken some serious poetic license with his “retelling” of the story. But when I got home and Googled the plot, turns out that Mr. Luhrmann was sticking pretty close to the book.  Or at least, he was closer than I was.

Upon reflection, I believe I had confused the ending of Gatsby with the ending of Our Town, the play by Thornton Wilder, which adds yet another nail to the coffin in my chances of getting tenure as an English professor.

The only upshot, if any, to all this demoralization and loss of identity is that in a few short days, I’m hoping I won’t remember it!

5 Things I Won’t Complain About This Summer

New leaf? Turned over.  That’s why I won’t be complaining this summer.  If you are looking for a rant, then look elsewhere, because I am all about sunshine and dew-drenched daffodils these days.   While I am super busy not complaining about anything this summer, I still had time to make a list . . . of all the grumbles you won’t hear outta me.

Mmmm. Picnic.  Image credit: www.github.com

Mmmm. Picnic. Image credit: http://www.github.com

  1. Bugs.  I won’t complain about the ant and mosquito bites that make it a challenge to maintain my professional composure during the day.  I was just trying to take a picture of my kid playing T-ball, and my reward was an ankle ringed with bug bites.  I wonder if my boss enjoys watching me scratch my left ankle with my right toe?
  2. Picnics. No one loves picnics more than my husband.  Dining al fresco to him is what a Tory Burch outlet sale is to me.  Heaven.  In years past, I have mentioned in a quiet and not-at-all-annoying way that I hate eating outdoors. Why? He asks.  Well, the wind blows my hair into my food and the big gusts blow parts of my meal away.  The non-ergonomic seating hurts my back and my ass and then there’s the bug thing and how the kids are impossible to corral.  But this year, I am all smiles as I crouch on the semi-wet ground, gripping my corn on the cob and eating potato salad with my hands (because we always forget forks).   This summer, I don’t even care if you use picnic as a verb.  Go for it! I love picnics! 
  3. Tourists.  Today, I embrace every single visitor to my fine city.  Even the ones whose fanny packs are bigger than my thighs (which are smushed together and dripping with sweat), which make it impossible to get around.  Hell, I am even sending love and light to that family of five who walked down State street, a giant horizontal barrier of good old-fashioned family strolling.  Did they get in my way as I was speed walking to work? Yes, actually, they did.  But I’ll admit I enjoyed their Rain Forest Cafe bags and comfortable walking shoes.  Everyone should start her day with a slice of Americana.
  4.  Rallies on the Plaza.  My office overlooks a plaza that is a popular summer destination for pan flutists and people who like to chant in support of their causes.  My favorite was the group whose them song was Gangam Style.  That was a long afternoon, people.  But instead of burning up energy kvetching about how public demonstrations make it hard for me to concentrate on my Very Important Work, I am looking forward to the next time a vocal group of citizens plans a rally.  Gosh, I hope it’s on a day when I have to do some math or translate middle English.  I love a challenge!
  5. Sweat.  I am super tempted to rant about how much I hate breast sweat and the more southernly sweat that makes summer feel like such a pain in the ass.  I won’t though– no complaining about the fact that it’s not fair that people with more flesh have a greater cross to bear during the high perspiration months.

It’s going to be a long and peaceful summer. 

What are you NOT complaining about these days?

Ready to Break It Off? Put Your Phone In the Trunk

I turned off my cell and threw it in the trunk of my car, where I hoped I would leave it for the rest of the weekend.  I put the key in the ignition and rested my head on the steering wheel where it stayed for 15 solid minutes while I cried so hard my nose started to bleed.

I knew I was doing the right thing.  I had to be strong for both of us.  He couldn’t do it, and I knew it.  My stomach churned like I’d stepped aboard one of the Pirate Ship at Six Flags.  All afternoon I thought I would puke from the stress, the loneliness, and the crying.

This is withdrawal.

Mad with grief, I stuffed a dirty Kleenex up my nose and drove to my friend Heather’s house.  She took one look at me and wrapped me in her arms, mothering me and sistering me all at once.  I curled up on the floor of her study, writhing in physical pain that was really emotional pain.  You’re going to be OK she cooed over me as I rocked in the fetal position, asking her rhetorical questions like Do you think he knows I love him? Is he going to be ok? 

She made me soup and drew me a bath.  I didn’t believe I would be OK.  Not for one second.  I was going to die a ward of the state, even though I was 30-years old.  The only future I could see for myself was a lifetime of rocking on friends’ floors crying about this one or that one, while my happily married friends tended to me, along with their minor children.

I followed Heather’s directions, the reward of which was that I tapped into a pocket of emotional stability that allowed me to drive home.  I left her house smelling like lavender and cradling a tub of homemade chicken soup.

Back in my car, I felt my phone pull me like a cocaine pulls an addict.  I will not open that trunk.  The only news my phone offered me was bad.  If he’d called, I would be helpless against the urge to call him back, and the cycle would continue.  If he hadn’t, I would be devastated, and I didn’t think I could afford to lose any more fluids.

At home I crawled into bed, holding my home phone, because he never called me on that number.  I dialed my friends and each of them gave me a pep talk. You did the right thing.  You had to cut it off.  You have to move on.  I gulped and nodded because I agreed with every word, but tears kept falling because it hurt to do the right thing and cut it off and move on.

I knew that I had to suffer through this no how much it hurt because I wanted to heal and end up in a marriage of my own– one just like his, except happy.

Fertility and Friendship

tumblr_meffl36POk1rw9bhmo1_500

tumblr_meffl36POk1rw9bhmo1_500

I imagine that there are as many ways for a friendship to end as there are people who have ended them.  The end of a friendship can be just as messy, painful and confusing as the end of a romantic relationship.  Honestly, sometimes it’s more intense.  Instead of dividing up common property and deciding who keeps which material possessions, the end of a friendship sometimes results in the divvying up of mutual friends and shared social scenes.  God help those overlapping friends who remain close to both of you– they must walk that fine line that leaves them feeling stuck in the middle afraid to mention you to her or her to you.  How awful is it to be that friend– the one in the middle? Someone should set up a 5K run for those people, because that’s a bad situation and they deserve some money or some extra social cache for enduring it.

OMG, it’s so painful.

It’s comforting– if rare–to see the end of a friendship  in black and white terms– she stole my husband so I withdrew the gift of my friendship from her.  There’s no need to phone-a-friend there– just dump the relationship.  But real life is murkier.  I had a friendship that went seriously and hopelessly off the rails over fertility.  Our chemistry turned into a toxic mix of hurt feelings, regrets, jealousy and deep resentments.  We have yet to come back from the brink.  Maybe someday we will be able to pick up our friendship and offer each other support, love and free babysitting.  But until then, I’m still sorting out what happened and hoping to learn from my own mistakes and grow as a friend.

Check out my piece on Mom.me about fertility and friendship; it’s available here.

5 Things I Learned From The Stranger Who Wandered Into My Office

Ouija Board-- a socially acceptable accessory? Um, no

Ouija Board– a socially acceptable accessory? Um, no.

Regular readers of this blog know that I love crazy people as much as the next blogger.  But it’s one thing to read about and deeply appreciate blog-world crazies, and it’s another to have crazy come into your office and start talking about wiretapping.  And abortions.  And “women of the night.”

I was calm when a strange lady walked into my office– she was on the wrong floor and looked normal-ish, though I will admit my standards are pretty low.  She had salt-and-pepper hair pulled back in a neat pony tail.  She could have been my aunt or my elementary school teacher.  Or a fucking psycho killer.

Her first question was where the “procurement” office was.  Since I have no idea, that question was easy.  But then, she was asking me whether I thought all the buildings in Chicago were wiretapped. I expressed no opinion about wiretapping or the Government or Chicago.  It was then that I noticed that she was wearing a lapel pin that I swear spelled out “Ouija.”

I swiveled my chair around to keep working, hoping she’d leave.  “You look so nice, so can I ask you some more questions?”  That’s right. She complimented me.  Even a crazy person can tell how much I love affirmations.  Seriously, she thinks the whole wide world is bugged and that certain high level public figures are in some sort of abortion conspiracy, but she can figure out that little old me likes a compliment?

I wasn’t scared, but I also was trying to make a deadline and chatting with people who like to hang out in public buildings wasn’t helping me reach my personal goals.  I thought to myself, What would Willie Nelson do?  He’s not the best north star because let’s face it, he gets to go home and smoke weed, while I have to head home and parent with only some dark chocolate and a Mad Men episode to dull my pain.

My next thought was What would my therapist do?  And I tried to think of ways to charge this lady a bazillion dollars for listening to her problems, but I think that would be a violation of my employment contract.  And the social contract.

Ultimately, our conversation lasted about 30 minutes (though it would have wrapped up in 10 had I not mentioned I have a law degree) though it felt like it was closer to 7 hours.

I can report that I learned something from Strange Ouija Board Rambling Lady:

1. Shut and lock my door during work hours;

2. Be less overt about my thirst for compliments and praise;

3. Don’t tell strangers that I have a law degree because they are going to want me to help them get their security deposits back from an apartment they vacated in 1977;

4. Learn how to set boundaries with strangers; and

5. Learn where the procurement office is (or get comfortable lying about it) so I can send potential psychos on their way.

Every moment is a teachable moment, right?

Our Big Summer Trip . . . To the Front Yard

summer-travel

It’s that time of year. My Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of pictures of other families’ travels.  Just last night, I saw Cayman beaches, the Grand Canyon and some quaint little lake up in Michigan as I scrolled through while laying in my bed in my own room in boring old Chicago.

And to all of you with the money, energy, and cajones to travel, I say “Bon Voyage, brave warriors.”  La Familia de Outlaw Mama is parking it right here this summer.  There will be no long car rides, no bucolic country sides and no jet travel.  Why?  Because it’s my idea of living hell to travel with small children.  Especially Even those precious small children I would lay down my life for.

So this summer my passport is gathering dust and my luggage is staying put.  If you care to read more on the subject of my exciting summer plans, please click yourself through to my latest post on Mom.me.

In the meantime, travel safely, wear your sunscreen, and send me a postcard from your adventures.

How To Use Lipstick For Self-Esteem

The summer I worked at a camp I was gripped with a fear that I would relapse in my eating disorder because I wouldn’t be able to get to meetings. I was new to recovery and didn’t think it would be good for my resume to get fired for purging in the camp latrines.  I packed some inspirational tapes to listen to during my free time, hoping that their messages might carry me through.

When the kids were tucked in, I’d crawl into my bunk and put on my Walkman (it was 1993). Pressing play, I’d close my eyes and listen to speakers’ stories of coming back from the brink of dark situations I couldn’t imagine like sleeping on park benches after getting kicked out of the house or waking up in jail.  Somehow each story ended with hope and reconciliation.

My favorite tape was one where this guy Ken from North Carolina described his first year of sobriety.  His story, told through his gorgeous southern accent (his pronunciation of “bar” had roughly 3 syllables), put me to sleep night after night.

I loved Ken’s story because he spoke in great detail about his struggles in the early days of life without alcohol.  He talked about his insomnia, impotence, and shame.  And then he explained how he crawled out of those dark places one inch at a time.

When Ken was desperate for relief from the voices in his head that were forever whispering you’re no good and you don’t deserve a good life his sponsor told him to go buy some lipstick.

What? Ken resisted but his sponsor insisted.

Ken bought a tube of Cover Girl’s finest– he chose Iced Ruby because it was red and sounded like a drink on the rocks.  His sponsor gave him the following instructions: Take this tube of lipstick and write on your mirror Ken, you are wrong.

Why? Ken asked.

His sponsor explained that Ken needed to be reminded that those voices in his head– which he spent the better part of the day believing– were wrong. “Kenny, you think they’re right but they’re wrong. When you believe what they’re saying, you’re wrong. So write it on your mirror. You. Are. Wrong.”

Ken scrawled the message on his mirror.

Every morning, those mean, lying voices woke up before Ken did and they greeted him as soon as he opened his eyes.  By the time he got to the bathroom mirror to brush his teeth, they’d already given his serenity a beat down.

But then he’d see message in all its Iced Ruby glory, and he got a chance– a moment to read the words and stop himself in mid-lie and consider that the voices in his head were wrong.  They were loud, tenacious and seductive sirens, but they were wrong.

These days, I’m dying to buy some lipstick and scrawl on my mirror Christie, you are wrong.

 The only thing stopping me is that my two children will see it and then I’ll come home one day to lipsticked walls and floors and couches.  I can’t take the risk, but I really want to. 

So, I’ll just put my lipstick on my lips and remind myself all day long: Christie, you are wrong, and hope that I’m right about that.

My Commercial Spirit

Artistic rendering of Outlaw Mama

Artistic rendering of Outlaw Mama

 
I’ve spent thousands of dollars on therapy, so I am someone who is self-aware.  After all, the point of all that internal exploration is to understand who I am and either make peace with it or work to change it.
 
One thing I know is I am not indie.  I’m about as indie as an Olive Garden bread stick or a Best Buy flat screen.  There’s literally nothing indie about me.  And it’s not that I once was indie, but somewhere along the way decided I hated being so marginalized for my coolness that I “sold out” and started following Ryan Seacrest’s musical recommendations or Oprah’s book picks.  No, I’ve always had a top 40 sensibility, and my life has been marked by very few forays into counter-culture.
 
However.  I got swept up into the frenzy of a writing conference and signed up to pitch my book to an indie press.  You know, because “it would be a good experience.”
 
To prepare,  I looked at the press’ catalog and read the first chapter of about 10 of its books.  The only thing my book shares with those books is that we are all using words to convey meaning.  Each of the press’ books, including the one that one a major literary prize, has gorgeous language (think “elegiac”, think “shimmering prose”), big themes (“the nature of consciousness”), and is not concerned with traditional narrative elements.  Like plot.
 
My book, by contrast, is pretty plotty.  Without the plot, there’s plenty of lovely language lying around, like the eloquent passage where my protagonist describes her impure thoughts about Judd Hirsch (“I concentrated on his hairy eyebrows and thought about his dramatic arc on Barney Miller.”).  Trust me, ya’ll, it’s poetic.
 
Of course my book isn’t any more indie than I am, but I put on the only clean clothes I had left in my suitcase and prepared to pitch my heart out.  I know what you’re thinking.  What’d she wear?  Yes, it would have probably been more helpful if I wore a vintage dress with some artsy boots and glass jewelry– at least I could show some indie sensibility.  OMG if I only had some funky glasses.  I considered getting a tattoo– a quote from an obscure REM song or Spinoza.  I didn’t.  I put on my sweater set, my seersucker pants (red and white, which is edgier than the traditional blue and white, amiright?), and my ballet flats.
 
When I sat down with the editor, I reminded myself that this was an exercise to get experience and not to land a book deal.  I looked into the editor’s kind eyes and unfurled the tale I’ve spent 61 weeks writing.  Maybe I looked like a seersuckered jackass, but I heard passion in my voice, and I felt proud of and grateful for the story I’d conceived.
 
The editor, however, didn’t experience the same rapture.  “It sounds commercial,” was the assessment, delivered in the sincere, nonjudgmental tone of a professional.
 
Alrighty then.
 
As I walked back to my room, the word commercial rattled in my head like a marble in a wooden box.  I tried to muster some indignation or offense, but I couldn’t.  The truth is that it feels like a compliment even if it wasn’t intended as one.
 
As time passes, threads of shame have woven themselves into this story.  To combat their potency, I’ve started a running list of things that are both commercial and not soul-destroying.  So far I’ve got The Help, S. Pellegrino water, Ikea, Dollywood, The Happiness Project. 
 
Maybe one day I can add my debut novel to this list.  
 

 
 
 
 
 
 

I’ll Never Be Lorelai Gilmore

She shaped my ideal for motherhood.  I loved everything about her– her hair, her eyes, her smirk, and her quick wit.  I could never get over how she could talk so much and make me want to listen to every word, even the ones I didn’t understand.

How did she know so much about pop culture?

I was going to be just like her.

I was going to grow my hair long and somehow replicate her flawless ivory skin.  I would be sarcastic and ironic and have a half smile that would melt everyone’s heart when I goofed up.  I would buy my boots at the thrift store and eat dinner at the local diner where we’d know all the people.  My daughter would lift the glass top of the doughnut dish and help herself to one with chocolate glaze and sprinkles (and then my offspring would end up at Yale because my rapid-fire verbal skills prepared them for Ivy education).

Like her, I was going to befriend all the quirky people in my town even though I live in a gigantic urban city and my neighborhood is up and coming so befriending “quirky” outsiders might get me killed.  I’m also married to the father of my daughter. Oh, and I have a son.  And my parents aren’t rich, East Coast bluebloods.

But none of the differences were going to stop me. No-Sir-Eeee.

What stopped me was my actual motherhood.  I let go of trying to make my skin glow like hers during pregnancy.  All that acne felt like a sign. You’ll never be Lorelai. My hair grew long, but it was stringy so I looked like a greaser.  My kids both love sprinkled doughnuts but we don’t get them at Luke’s Diner; we get doughnut holes at Costco spend the next 10 days fighting about who will get the biggest one.

Still, I’ve used her as a north star in my parenting.  I cram a ton of dialogue– all of it witty and sharp– into every conversation at home.  Usually I am talking about myself or spewing random facts about Willie Nelson (“he’s a black belt in karate” and “he’s covered Kermit the Frog’s Rainbow Connection”).  No one listens, but I know that each one is an homage to my favorite fictional mama.

I’ll never be Lorelai, but a part of me will keep trying.  Forever.