Every Girl

One of my all time favorite bands is the Turnpike Troubadours.

Turnpike was a red dirt band who was the perfect blend of country, rock and roll, blues, and zydeco music…pure Americana. Ballads or drinking songs, they could appeal to everyone. They don’t have song I haven’t absolutely loved, whether it’s fun to dance to, speaks to my soul, or both. You may have heard about them in years past because the lead singer left his wife for Miranda Lambert after they went out on tour together; and then he proceeded to spiral downwards after the breakup- sadly at the demise of the band (you know…the typical story of fame, sex, drugs, rock&roll, and the inevitable split because the rest of the band tired of the lead singer’s self destruction).

In any case, I recommend their music because it’s wonderful, and so contrary to the “pop-country” crap you hear on the radio these days which all sounds the same, and hardly qualifies as country in any sense of the word (though I very grudgingly enjoy *some* of that tripe)….

Damn kids.

That’s not what I’m writing about today though. Today I needed an outlet, and music seems to be the catalyst for seeking out a conduit of release. I haven’t touched my WIP for months now, so an errant blog will have to do.

Turnpike had a song called “Every Girl” that has long been an especial and particular favorite of mine. While I wasn’t born in late October or San Antonio, I still always saw myself in the lyrics. However…today the song quite unsually made me cry.

Part of that may have to do with the fact that J and I had a fight on Sunday and have been in a Cold War ever since; or perhaps it’s the four non-consecutive hours of sleep I got last night between both kids waking up intermittently and crying for me. Everything is worse when you’re tired. But truthfully, that just weakened my resolve to shelve those emotions, be strong, and have a good day. On the drive to daycare, I fell apart for all the aforementioned reasons – and I cried for the girl I used to be.

I used to be fun. Light hearted. Laid back. One of the boys. I used to love going out every night for wings and a couple of beers. Or head downtown to go dancing. But I had depth too. I was in touch with world events and politics, without letting it weigh me down. I read books. I was never “too tired” for things. I seldom cried, and when I did it was for now-laughable reasons. For the most part, I had a good outlook on life and just tried to live life to its fullest, each and every day.

That was before. Before life weighed me down and turned me in to someone I don’t really recognize and don’t really like when I take the chance to self reflect.

Now?

I run from place to place, without enough hours in the day to get it all done. I go to work and do my best there, giving it my all (which, amidst the pain and tragedy of this COVID19 pandemic is no mean feat). When I leave there, I spring in to Mom mode: dinners, quality time, stories, play, bath, and bed. After the kids go down, it’s time to clean up the mess, feed and pay attention to the animals, and get ready for the next day. Maybe…probably there’s some laundry thrown in there. I’ll get a 20-30 minute workout in if I have enough energy but didn’t get to it in the morning. I try to do and be everything for everyone, and with a sort of resilient grace that people marvel at saying, “Wow, you are super woman! How do you do it all?! And so well?!”

But I’m not super woman.

I’m just me.

Just me is eight years in to marriage with a man I still love. But I don’t like him very much these days. This marriage isn’t really what I shortsightedly did not envision at the wise age of 25. We were in love and that was all that mattered then. Now, J is very much wrapped up in himself and his own career, a part time Dad and per diem spouse. We don’t exist when he’s at work, which is about 70+ hours a week now. To his credit, when he is home, he does try. He’s just never home anymore. And I know he never feels like his efforts are never [good] enough…but…that’s because they aren’t ever enough. I’m still solely and primarily responsible for the reponsibilities and obligations of house, home and family – while trying to have some semblance of a career for myself.


It hit me like a truck this morning listening to Turnpike…I’m still Every Girl. She’s just not who we though we would end up as: perpetually exhausted, humorless, underappreciated, and taken for granted. I think this is true whether you are a stay at home mom trying to raise littles and keep the perfect home, or working full time and trying and failing to do the same. I honestly think this happens to most of us who try to “have it all” in one way or another. And it broke my heart for myself – and for my little girl in the back seat.

I’m not the lighthearted, freer, younger version of myself who had no idea what she was getting in to when she got married, or when she became a mother. No inkling of all the sacrifices she would have to make – gladly so, but sacrifices all the same. No idea that they would be taken for granted, and even expected. That I would constantly be rushing through every day before collapsing exhausted on the couch only to be asked by a late arriving husband about dinner.

I used to be fun.
I used to have energy.
I used to be laid back.
I used to bend the rules where and when I could.
I didn’t just get through each and every day.

Now?

I repeat myself ad infinitum – Queen Nagger.
I’m the healthy eating police.
And bedtime nazi.
And rule enforcer.
And screen time monitor.
The “boring” one as per our daughter.
Mombie.

Not that Turnpike would ever sing about it, but now I’m every overwhelmed stay at home or full time working Mom who is trying to do it all, and: barely surviving, rocking that sh!t, or existing somewhere in between.

Now….all that to say I honestly don’t want to complain. I love my family. I want to work. I accept that that comes with a certain amount of precarious work/family balance, and pursuant exhaustion. I can actually deal with it. I’m just really tired most of the time. And that’s okay, because I know this season of life isn’t for forever. But the wind gets sucked out of my sails when my clueless husband not only doesn’t appreciate everything I do, but also takes it for granted.

I don’t want to diminish what he does. J works his butt off and is stressed to the max these days. But instead of giving me grace, he simply expects more and more from me. I’m not allowed to have a bad day. Not allowed to take the wrong tone. Everything I say is wrong. Or if I let a ball drop here and there, he wants to know why instead of simply acknowledging I have too much on my plate. Worse still, it always becomes a competition with him about who works harder. And even worse still, I pay for the times I take for myself, at his encouragement. It always comes with a price.

He has very little empathy for me – and that’s both in the home and at work. I had a breakdown on Sunday, out of the blue, which spawned our fight. Chopping vegetables as I meal prepped for the family (J notably only made his lunches for the week), I was suddenly drowning in unprocessed emotions about the things I’ve seen in COVID ICU, and the guilt that I can’t do more. But J seldom wants to listen about my job. When he does…it’s with mild or feigned interest. So I offer up the bare mininum, and let him talk about his day. Even if I was inclined to talk to him about it, he doesn’t make it easy. On Sunday he upped the ante by badgering me to tears about what was wrong and it blew up in to an argument.

He wouldn’t leave it alone.

We both said regrettable things. I’m not excusing HOW I said things, though every one of them was true. I told him he is married to a job that will mean nothing in 10 years. We don’t exist for him except for small windows of time – on the weekend and only at his convenience. If he has stuff to do, I better watch the kids. That he begrudges me not working full time and not working enough while also expecting me to be a full time Mom. I told him, his profession has shown me time and again that we are fine without him, becuase I can handle everything with him being gone so much.

J – on the other hand -said regrettable but untrue things, with the sole intent of wounding me. And wound me he did. He accused me of all manner of failures: ranging from “trying to get out of working but sending the kids to daycare” to “crying about COVID all the time” to telling him he’s worthless and useless (something I’ve never said). To make matters worse he suggested I come up with a list of improvements for us to work on…and I don’t know how to interpret that when he’s gone from sunup past sundown, and it’s just me taking care of everything. So it’s just me who needs improvement. He also beat me over the head with the fact that I had plans to see my best friend for the first time in 8 years next weekend, on one night away…and that all my issues with him are merely a manipulation of the whole situation -when I don’t have the slightest clue as to what bee crawled up his britches to begin with. Gas lighting to the extreme.


I can’t continue on as we are. I can’t be a full time professional, a full time mom, housekeeper, laundress, grocer, chef, errand runner, favor doer, playmate, chauffeur, and participate in all the unit activities expected of a field grade officer’s wife. Additionally, I’m the one who comes to him to make up in fights. I’m the one who schedules dates and babysitters and counseling appoints. The only thing that exists for my husband is his job. He’s more married to his cell phone than he is to me…and I can’t do it all, by myself, anymore. I shouldn’t have to. At some point, something has to give.

And some gratitude would be nice.

Anyway. This turned in to more of a rambling diatribe than I originally intended. I’m wondering if my husband will actually speak to me tonight, or if my unwillingness to be the peacemaker – yet again – will only prolong our estrangement. To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to work it out with him right now.

Maybe I’m not “every girl” and it’s just me trying “to have it all” but failing miserably.

Sneak Peek: Freefall

As promised, here’s a sneak peak of Chapter 7: FreeFall from my WIP.

In this Chapter, Nell’s life is pretty much in the er…potty. She’s been terribly traumatized by past ordeals and feels completely abandoned by the most important people in her life. Those who have not left, she pushes away out of a subconscious fear that they too, will abandon her because she is not worthy of their love. She essentially loses all the things that are most important to her. As a way to cope, she engages in self destructive behaviors that only pile on to the torment of her soul. The final (and proverbial) nail in the coffin is the loss of a dear friend, whose imprisonment Nell feels responsible.

POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING: 

Also, there is some terminology and/or some situations in my novel might be sensitive or offensive to African Americans in this text. Please know I intend no offense and certainly do not share these views. While I refrain from using stereotypes and racial slurs (i.e. specifically the N word), there are some terms which were widely used in the 1920s (that are no longer appropriate in today’s conversations given their racist nature). I apply them only occasionally, appropriately, and as respectfully as possible, in the interest of remaining historically accurate. While this is book is not specifically about the social injustices and inhuman opinions of African Americans during that time (or even now), I do try to honor such experiences within the context of the story.

Free Fall

February 1929

Waco, Texas

“Can’t repeat the past? Why…of course you can!” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Sex is emotion, in motion.” ~Mae West

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” ~F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Nell walked slowly down the dirt path to the ramshackle but tidy house near the river. From a distance the cul-de-sac seemed to beckon her saying, “Welcome back, old friend!” The Texas winter air was cool and crisp, without being frigid. Smoke trailed lazily from dying coals in the fire pit. Nell could see she had missed the communal worship service the families of Riverside Heights hosted each Sunday. The smells of roasting meat and wood smoke tickled Nell’s nose, though her stomach churned nervously at the prospect of seeing John Moses and Desdemona. She was grateful the residents of the Heights seemed to be indoors. Nell wasn’t sure she could stand their well-intentioned scrutiny and the barrage of questions the Jameson’s’ neighbors would likely have.”It’s been too long.” she thought. “I should have reached out. I’m sure Des will be madder than a rattler.” Overwhelming feelings of guilt – and a healthy dose of dread – settled upon Nell’s slight shoulders. She trudged down to the simple abode.

It had been months since her last dinner with the Jameson’s. Her heart ached at the memory. Like many nights before, that one had been filled with laughter and the comfort of genuine friendship. But Nell hadn’t seen John Moses since his arrest and indictment for her assault, eight months prior. She had seen Des only once in the last couple of months. Their exchange had been brief but curt. At the time Nell tried to reassure Desdemona that John Moses was a good and godly man, who had in fact been her savior. The look on Des’ strong face had been one of thinly concealed rage. ”Don’t you tell ME about MAH husband Eleanor Halen.” Nell had been taken aback by the ferocity of Desdemona’s countenance – and the fact that she evidently laid the blame for her husband’s imprisonment at Nell’s feet.

Now it seemed, after eight long months of wrongful imprisonment, John Moses was free and quietly dismissed of charges. Nell knew that the fact of his innocence would be lost upon the citizens of Waco. Dan had yet to answer for his crime and faced no consequences aside from the paper’s self-serving dismissal. He would likely never be held accountable. Because of this, Nell found herself unable to face the Jamesons even as she longed for the comfort and assuagement of their family and warm home. Nell knew it was not in John Moses’ character to hold grudges. But Desdemona’s feelings on the matter shook Nell to her very core.

Nell took a steadying breath and wished for the thousandth time that she had thought to bring something more substantial than flowers and a wheel of smoked cheese. Nell spent all of Saturday and most of Sunday waffling on her gifts. “But what do you give somebody who went to jail because of you?!” After exhausting the shops on all three of Waco’s main avenues, she had finally settled on seasonal flowers and expensive cheese. “Nerts, I wish the Jameson’s drank spirits.” she thought again. “Dang Baptists. We could all likely use a swig or two…“ Nell sighed and knocked tentatively once, twice, three times on the Jameson’s door.

At first there was no answer. Nell debated whether or not she should knock again or simply turn tail and run. Suddenly, the door opened a peek, and she found herself staring at an adolescent miniature of John Moses. Junior was taller than Nell remembered. He shared John Moses’ eyes and easy going smile, though he had his mama’s strong cheekbones and golden eyes. At thirteen, Junior was lanky skin and bones now, but Nell suspected that in a few short years he would share his father’s muscular build. The boy’s expression was somber, though Nell saw a sparks of resentment in his amber gaze.

“Well, hello there Junior. You sure have grown since I last saw you.” Nell said shyly. Junior simply stared, saying nothing. “I ah…I heard the good news and wanted to come congratulate your family. I…” Nell hesitated. ”I brought some flowers for your Mama. And some really good cheese for your Dad. It’s been smoked and aged, and I think ya’ll will enjoy it.” Junior continued to stare. Nell felt her hands begin to tremble. ”Say, um…are your folks home? I sure would love to see them.” She said uncertainly. Junior raised an eyebrow contemplating Nell’s words for a moment. ”Mama!” He called over his shoulder. Nell startled at his deep, manly voice and wondered vaguely when he had lost his sweet childish intonation. ”Somebody’s here fuh ya.” Without another word, Junior shut the door – without slamming it. Nell opened and closed her mouth in surprise, unsure of what to do or what to expect.

She raised her hand to knock on the door, when pulled away from her with sudden force. Nell startled and found herself gazing into the smoldering embers of Desdemona Jameson’s umber eyes. Des hadn’t changed much in eight months. She was tiny, fierce, and strikingly beautiful. Textured hair was pulled back into a neat bun at the base of her elegant neck, giving her high cheek bone a proud edge. A full lipped mouth was set into a grim line, and her expression was one of implacable, forged iron. Nell noticed some new changes to her friend’s countenance since last she saw her: stray, gray hairs at Desdemona’s temples, a frown line between her brows, and worry lines at the corners of her eyes. She looked thinner too – though that diminished her ferocity not in the least. Nell quailed beneath Desdemona’s glare. 

“Eleanor.” Desdemona said quietly. Nell felt herself shrink some more. She struggled to find her voice. ”Hey there Des. I um…heard the good news. I’ve been meanin’ to make my way over here for some time now…I just…” Nell found she had no excuse or explanation. The words sounded pitiful and small to her own ears. Nell cleared her throat, and shifted her gaze to the warm, comfortable rooms behind Desdemona. “Is John Moses home?” She asked plaintively, looking back at the petite titan beneath lowered lashes. Desdemona remained implacable and silent. “I…I’m sorry Des. I know. It’s been far too long and I should have come sooner. I just…didn’t know what to do. Or say. It’s all my fault and I wanted to come tell you both to your face, how…how very sorry I am about….well…everything. I hope…I was hoping we can clear the air. I hope we can still be friends.”

The silence seemed an eternity. Each second dragged for decades, as Nell awaited the verbal flaying she knew was to come. Instead, Desdemona narrowed her eyes laconically, considering what Nell had said. She inhaled deeply before saying very slowly: “Eleanor, what you want from us? Yeah, we was friends. I’m still your friend. I just don’t know that you are mine. You disappeared. I’m real sorry for what happened to ya. I know mah husband kept you from harm. But where’d you go when we needed you most? You just let the wolves have him, ‘cause it was too hard to face up to the truth. Very least, you shoulda been here with me and mah children, who didn’t have their Daddy -and for what coulda been forever. Thank the good Lawd it was only eight months.” The words were quiet but cutting. Nell sensed no anger in them, simply disappointment and acceptance of what had happened. 

Des continued, calm and quiet: “But here’s the thing young Nell. My John Moses a strong man. He’s a good man. A godly one. And the good Lawd saw us through these tribulations. My husband holds no anger or blame in his heart toward you or anyone else. I truly wish I could say the same. I know it ain’t Christian to heap blame and guilt on a woman who was wronged, and carries those burdens with her every day. So I am doin’ my best to forgive ya fo‘ abandoning us.” Nell’s dreaded what came next. “I forgive ya. And I will pray fo’ you Eleanor Halen. But don’t come ‘round no more. You ain’t welcome here – no matter what my John Moses might say. You a good person, but a lost one. And we cain‘t afford to associate with white folk Nell – even good ones. It never ends well fo’ us.”

Nell felt the air left her body. Anger would have been easier to deal with. The calm finality with which Desdemona delivered her speech was inarguable and absolute. Nell looked beseechingly at Des, who wavered momentarily. ”It’s a sin what happened to ya Nell. A godawful one. But I have to look after mah own. Besta luck. And…God Bless.” Desdemona shut the door firmly and finally. A choked sob escaped Nell’s throat. Her thoughts were muddled and there was only pain. She dropped her gifts on the porch, and turned to go. Nell stopped at the bottom step and called out, longing and sorrowful: “John Moses! Can you hear me? I’m sorry John Moses. I’m so sorry. So sorry.” Tears blurred her view of the ramshackle home in which she’d shared so many nights of love, family, and laughter. ”I’m sorry…” she whispered again. Nell turned away from the Jameson house and ran blindly away from the hurt.

It’s Been a Couple of Minutes…

Well, after an impressive *almost* daily (at least weekly) streak of blogging, I fell out of the habit – largely due to the fact that I simply don’t have time. And when I do, I’m too exhausted. I finished up Chapter 7 (and Part I) of my novel – and M assures me that it was a compelling read – but that was nearly two months ago and I haven’t been able to drum up the energy AND drive to write further.

Between my last post and now…

…J fell off a ladder, and broke two ribs. Thankfully he didn’t break his neck, but it was with no little amount of stress and trauma being that I was at work and he was at home – alone – working on the roof. (Yet another exemplar of why women tend to live longer than men.) Instead of calling 911, HE called ME, unable to breathe. Needless to say, I called an ambulance and booked it home (and a driver with road rage ran me off the road!). 8 hours in the ED. And then a convalescing husband who didn’t want to follow a treatment/pain management plan (all while suffering so terribly he could hardly function. Just think about the worst case of man flu you’ve ever witnessed and triple that. Super fun for me).

…J went away on a work trip (or temporary duty as we call it in the military) for a month. That same month I happened to be working five days week and was on call EVERY weekend in May (because evidently I’m a sadist). Coordinating sitters and on-call sitters in the event I got called in…yikes.

…during that time, my son had not one…not two…but THREE ear infections. It’s unclear of whether they were all a continuation/exacerbation of the same original ear infection, but that was nonetheless three trips to the doctor, a cranky baby, antibiotics twice daily…you get the drill.

…I “took time off” in June, and travelled solo with my kids to my parents’ place. It was good to be home, but my highly structured and regimented kids did not fare well being out of their routine. They love Nana and Papa, but one or both would wake up screaming in the night, waking the other…all the way up until the last day. Needless to say, not restful.

…J’s parents also came in for a visit which was lovely. But, that also meant I had to keep both my children home for everyone to spend time together, meaning I was full time momming it (and we have a long established blog history pointing to my NOT being a stay at home mom) on top of full time hostess. God love my father in law…he’s a wonderful man, but he cannot be bored and wants 100% of my attention 100% of the time – which given the aforementioned responsibilities, is simply not possible. It was exhausting.

…our brand new air conditioner conked out in the Texas heat and humidity. Our house was somewhere on the spectrum of Danish sauna and convection oven. Thankfully we haven’t had a true Texas summer with triple digits being a routine thing, but even still…Leigh gets super cranky when she’s hot. And it WAS HOT.

…I returned to a more regular work schedule with set days for each hospital – and NO call (the perks of per diem employment) BUT, work has been positively batshit cray cray. We are chronically understaffed at both my jobs. The patients are sicker and of higher acuity, requiring more one one one interactions. After a year of postponing care, people are coming in droves to the hospital for procedures and medical treatments, but their overall health status is worse. Additionally, COVID is increasing again. Our in-hospitalization numbers TRIPLED from Friday to Friday this past week, with a third of them requiring ICU care and over half of that third being intubated/ventilated – thank you Delta variant, causing a host of trickle down effects to all sectors of patient care. There are few available hospital beds to be had, resulting in longer wait times in surgery recovery. The ICU at my smaller hospital has been pinging me daily to come work shifts because the full timers are getting burnt out again, but I’m already obligated to my two surgery-recovery jobs where they are likewise short staffed. It’s a crazy time to be in health care – and honestly, I’m over it.

…lastly, J also started a new job where he leaves the house at 5am and gets home well after 7 or 8pm. So for all intents and purposes, I’m a full time, working, single mama with two kids and two fur babies.

So with all that being said, it’s been a couple of minutes since I last penned a single thing, blog or otherwise. I was drumming up a nice readership too…oh well.

Anyway…cool story; ya’ll don’t care…and honestly my intent is not to complain. I would love to get back in to the swing of blogging – and beyond that, WRITING again. It’s a deep seated fear of mine that my novel will be shelved (ha) for another five years before I start to work on it again. Cannot let that happen.

Truth be told, I’m dreading the next part of the novel. My MC, Nell, will finally have pulled herself out of the chaotic trauma of her twenties, and there appears to be hope on the horizon. But, as happens in life, she’s about to face heartbreak amidst the agony and anguish of The Great Depression. The prospect makes me a little weary.

On that note…sorry for the filler blog. I toying with what part/excerpt of Chapter 7 I want to share in my next blog post. So stay tuned…

Also…

I don’t want to make this particular post political or contentious, but I would feel remiss in not providing a PSA regarding COVID19.

I want to urge everyone to please stay safe. Even having been on the front lines of this pandemic, my family is bored of it (just like everyone else) – but it’s not over. Since J and I are long vaccinated, we’ve become a little lax in our mask wearing and ventures outside the home. But with numbers increasing the way they are…please be safe. Whether you are vaccinated or not; plan to get vaccinated or not…please continue to wash your hands, mask up, and social distance.

There is a troubling amount of break through infections being witnessed in the vaccinated population. The good news is, it’s not resulting in hospitalizations or deaths, but we still do not know the long term effects of a COVID infection. Beyond that, I’m pretty sure people don’t want to miss any more work days – and they are getting sick enough to warrant a visit to the ED, their PCP or urgent care.
In unvaccinated or partially vaccinated populations…it’s not pretty. We are a little more prepared than we were this time last year, but it definitely hearkens back to that time: very sick patients suffering terribly. The most significant difference though is, the patient populations are much younger (health, 20s and up). Hard way to learn you are not invincible.

Please be safe and well my friends….

xxoo

Leigh

Burnout & Compassion Fatigue

Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.”

We all know what burnout is. I don’t have the stats to back this up, but I’m pretty sure your average American adult experiences burnout at least once a year. For some reason in this country you have to: run as far as you can, for as fast as you can, for as long as you can – oh and do it perfectly. I think it’s equal parts self inflicted as well as being a the widespread social expectation of “the American way of life”. We juggle a million different things at the same time, and then wonder why we are so exhausted all day, every day. When I ponder burnout, I can’t help but wonder if other countries experience this the same way we do?

Not to say that our non-American counterparts don’t get burned out and aren’t exhausted on the daily…I see posts from folks world wide lamenting the same things we do here: I’m overworked, stretched thin, and tired. And for the love of god, why do Mom’s have to do it all?! (Sorry…wrong post…but the same stressors and well founded complaints seem to apply to most (if not all) Western mothers.) However…there is a difference in the pace of life and expectations of the work place. When I lived abroad in Germany and England, it was so interesting to observe that like us, our European counterparts worked their asses off…but they also played their asses off and without any drama or pushback or pressure from their employers to curtail or skip time off.

Across the pond, routine vacation is a simple fact of life. No only do our European friends take some well deserved time off…they go on prolonged holidays (also well deserved). I’m not just talking two weeks in the summer or a week at Christmas. I’m talking, months-long periods of rest and relaxation. Not only is it accepted by employers, it’s often subsidized so one’s income doesn’t take an intolerable pay cut- as it would here in this country, unless you’ve accumulated enough paid time off (which even then…they aren’t going to approve prolonged time away).

J and I haven’t had an honest to god vacation in two years. No…I’m not exaggerating. Two years ago, we went on a brief but wonderful four day (+two travel days) trip to Puerto Rico, just the two of us. TWO. YEARS. In that time, I’ve been pregnant. Worked four different jobs. Had a baby. Moved cross country. Bought a new house. Survived a global pandemic (with an infant and toddler). My first night off in forever was about a month ago when J gifted me with a Mom’s Night Out and away at a hotel…but appreciated though it was, wasn’t even a full twenty-four hours. So yeah…I’m burned out. I know that is most definitely relatable because most of my friends – both with kids and without – are in similar situations. The travel limitations and bans have exacerbated a pre-existing and uniquely American problem of working too hard, for too long. Even still…it’s pretty shocking to hear that most of us have not had true vacations (even before the pandemic) simply because we cannot afford to do so, due to time and/or associated expenses.

So yeah…burnout. Beyond that…there’s something else going on with me. I feel like I’m having an existential crisis related to my profession.

I’ve always loved being a nurse. I’ve never once regretted my decision to get out of the military and pursue nursing as a career. Yeah, there have been tough days. Yeah, I’ve cried on the way home from work. Yeah, I have hard time not hitting the snooze button at least three times, prior to actually getting up. And yeah, I complain about having to go to work when I’d rather stay home…BUT…I’m almost always happy to be there, once I get there. I suppose I’m one of the lucky few who truly enjoys my work. I genuinely care about my patients and their well being. When I have a bad day…it’s usually because something has happened to one of them, or their family members, or I didn’t feel they were getting the best care to which they are entitled (for whatever reasons…insurance, doctors, hospital administration, or just a bad day…), even though I did my best to provide it.

But lately…

I’m not doing my best. I hate everything about my job. I have no patience. No empathy. Not even a drop of sympathy for anyone, no matter how legitimate their issues. I feel like I’m going through the motions of patient care. Requests and complaints of pain/nausea/discomfort annoy me. My coworkers annoy me. My bosses annoy me. I resent every minute I have to be at work, dealing with sick, whiny, entitled people all day. Having to observe strict rules and protocols surrounding all things related to patient care. Having to be the consummate professional caregiver all the time. Making and laughing at corny jokes just to make others feel better. Or worse, being treated like a waitress or field hand at somebody else’s beck and call. Nobody is the wiser, but my internal monologue is a litany of bitches and complaints, fraught with resentment and irritation all while I have this stupid, fake smile plastered on my masked face. Thank goodness for masks, because I usually wear my heart on my sleeve.

…I dread going to work and I resent every minute spent at work.

Before you think I’m complaining about my job…I’m not. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not that typical millennial or Gen Z’r whining about how hard and “not fun” work can be. I know: work is work. It’s called that for a reason. It’s not supposed to be fun and you’re lucky if you can tolerate what you do all day, every day – forget loving and enjoying it. But this isn’t me. This isn’t how I operate. Even on my worst days, I can rally and draw from this seemingly endless well of patience, humanity, kindness and compassion- even for asshole patients and family members. My patients are: sick, in pain, scared, worn down, worried, upset, anxious, not in control, frustrated, angry…and sometimes it gets taken out on me. And that’s okay. I can usually take a deep breath, and try to put myself in their shoes.

Lately. I just don’t seem to have it in me. It’s all I can do to get through my day with gritted teeth (thank goodness for masks…) just so I can go home. I count down the minutes until I can clock out – which makes for very long days, even if they are busy. And dear god…don’t ask me to do anything more than I have to. I’ll do so with feigned agreeability, and a fake smile…but in my head I’m cursing up storm and lamenting the fact that I have to do my job.

After a particularly rough Sunday having been called in for a full twelve hours with difficult patients, asshole doctors and idiot residents (not really…but that’s my internal monologue these days), I realized I’m experiencing what’s known in nursing as Compassion Fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue is “…a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring.” Symptoms range from, or compound in, the following:

  • Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Depersonalization
  • Feelings of inequity toward the therapeutic or caregiver relationship
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of self-contempt
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Poor job satisfaction

I have every single one of those symptoms (except weight loss, of course, because that would be a boon…) – the most significant ones being feelings of inequity and contempt for myself. I mean…who exactly is this bitchy, whiny, callous person? I don’t recognize her in the mirror. And I hate her for not caring about her patients. That isn’t me…and my poor patients…they deserve better than her lip service.

I know…I know…

I need to be kinder to myself. It’s been a shit year for everyone – particularly front line healthcare providers like myself who have been killing themselves, trying to shoulder the burdens and tragedies of this pandemic. I’m a full time working mom with a part time husband (through no fault of his own…thank you military), who pushes myself too hard and gives myself no leeway if I don’t achieve absolute perfection. But…compassion fatigue is something that happens to other people. Not me. I guess the first step is acknowledging it as a problem. That no…I’m not perfect and not above what happens to normal people who are simply burned out from their frenetic lives and are also responsible for the care and well being of others. What’s the cliché? You can’t pour from an empty cup?

Logically, I know all this. The advice I would give any friend or colleague in a similar situation would be to stop beating myself up. It’s okay to admit you’re tired, and that you’re tired of taking care of other people. You don’t have to be perfect all the time. You need a real vacation – not just a couple hours away from home, or a day “off” at home where you’re doing chores and household maintenance. You need a real honest-to-god one or two weeks off and away, near the water with a drink in hand. You need a little bit of something to soothe the soul.

Why is it always so hard to take your own advice, and cut yourself a little slack?!

We Americans need to take a page out of the Europeans’ holiday plans book: take some some well deserved holiday time for a few weeks, without guilt. We’d be better for it…I know I would. And so would my patience/patients (…see what I did there? Ha…).

Anyway…dreaming of white sands, blue waters, and strong fruity drinks…..

Make sure you’re taking care of yourselves. This pandemic has been hard on all of us, and we could likely all benefit from some rest, relaxation and recuperation.

xxoo

~Leigh

Being Human: Angels & A$$Holes

I don’t watch the news very often anymore. And even though I’ve always been fairly discerning in my sources, after watching Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, I’ve long stopped using social media as my primary means of getting the news. Unfortunately, it’s everywhere and you can’t avoid it (though making a concerted effort to do so has improved my overall mental health exponentially).

In the nurses’ lounge this morning, I was regaled with tragic and enraging tales of two children being shot by police in Minnesota and Chicago, a mass shooting at a FEDEX center, protesting and police clashing in Minneapolis….You get the picture. Forgive me for not linking those stories, but the intent here isn’t to give you the news on those incidents so much as provide perspective on what dominates our media every hour, on the hour. It’s no wonder my mental health suffered when I was voraciously consuming the news, less than a year ago. Today, I teared up on the stories of mothers grieving the premature loss of their sons – as much victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time as their own skin color. They pulled at my mother’s heart strings. I swallowed my anger at the mass shooting, wondering how we have had yet another tragedy at the hands of some psycho with a semi-automatic weapon and it’s just a fact of American life. I sighed with resignation and bewilderment that race relations in this country are still so fractious; HOW can we fix them? One gets so tired of hearing about the ugliness and hurt in the world. It’s utopian, I know…but I just wish people could just be kind to one another.

The funny thing, yesterday I was flying on a high and thinking that maybe people aren’t such assholes. A friend sent me this wonderful Instagram story of Italian-born U.K. raised pianist, Giorgio Lo Porto, who filmed interactions with an elderly neighbor amidst the isolation of this pandemic. We never get to meet the neighbor, whose name is Emil, but the two men bond and play piano together, separated by a wall. Making it all the more heart warming and heart wrenching is the fact that Emil’s wife was taken from him by this bastard virus. He started playing piano every day in her memory, catching Giorgio’s attention and evoking emotions in him the way that only music can. Needless to say, his sentiment is shared and enhanced by their duets. Listening to them play separately and together within the context of the story…talk about goosebumps and a catch in my throat…

Sometimes…humans don’t suck.

It’s amazing how the world can simultaneously be such a terrible and beautiful place. People are capable of such kindness and such cruelty. I’m not sure if it’s more one thing or another, or perhaps it balances out in equal measure. The fact is we so rarely hear about the good in people. I know that isn’t as sensational as the ugly side of humanity…but I can’t help but wonder if perhaps we would be more prone to doing and perpetuating good, if stories about human kindness, and empathy, dominated our news feeds instead.

In my admittedly insignificant opinion, social media has been the best and the worst creation of this century – more so the latter than the former. Maybe it’s just my unique algorithm, but it seems that while we occasionally share happy things online the predominant habit is to see and perpetuate horror, conflict and tragedy – compounding those stories with an overwhelmingly asshole response of quick judgment, intractable uninformed opinions, vicious arguments, and ugly exchanges between keyboard warriors who would never be so brave as to voice their nasty, unempathetic opinions in person.

Now…I say that knowing full well that I’m being slightly hypocritical, having guiltily engaged in such exchanges, in the past. These days, I hop on to see funny memes/gifs and look at pictures of my friends’ lives, look at blogging/publishing forums, and quickly hop off – lest I get sucked back in to the vortex of the a social media addiction which is detrimental to my worldview and mental health. If ever I find myself getting riled up and commenting on something, I delete my inflammatory comment and keep scrolling – or I sign off completely.

Balance, right?

It is hard not to worry about the world my children will have to grow up in though, when I’m pulled back in for a minute by a stupid feed comment or the lounge’s community television….I guess all we can do is try to adjust for things within our immediate control, and be the best people we can be. I hope to raise my kids up to be savvy critical thinkers who aren’t too jaded and cynical about the world. I guess it’s just helping them come to terms with the fact that all people have within them the capacity to be an angel and an asshole; you just have to strive for kindness instead of meanness, avoid people who opt for the latter, and hope that human nature is inherently good (a philosophical debate for another day…).

Anyway, I don’t even really know what this blog turned in to, today. So with that…I’ll sign off…

~Leigh

Step Away from the Ledge, Mama

Yesterday was NOT a good day.

After dropping a fur baby off at the vet for surgery, the kiddos off at daycare, and getting a text from J asking me to figure out how to print off some tax form since our printer is out of ink…I was ready to take a face dive “off the ledge”. I even seriously considered just driving away from my life and never coming back…for all of 5.2 seconds anyway. What absolutely sucks is the fact that yesterday was my only off day of alone time this week. I had so many plans to write, indulge, rest, and relax, recharge…

…Instead I had a complete mental break down.

After dropping the kids off, I sobbed all the way home. And I’m not talking cute little sniffles or individual tears simply streaming their way slowly down my face. I’m talking snot faced, ugly, gut wrenching, belly sobs that tore their way on up and out of my throat, and past my lips.

The odd thing is, nothing was particularly different from days previous, or even this morning (which is markedly better). J’s innocuous text wouldn’t have bothered me whatsoever today. But yesterday, that one, tiny, insignificant task being added to my endless list of “to dos” was just enough to push me over the edge. (Of course, had I been in a better mental space I could have just articulated to my husband that no…he needed to figure it out, instead of dissolving in to body-wracking tears and falling down the rabbit hole of hysteric hopelessness.)

But every day feels like this:

You might be surprised to find that we *super-Moms* do fall apart, and on a regular basis. We just don’t let you see. For me it’s about every six months. After months of just getting shit done because it has to be, I hit a wall. Even the smallest, most insignificant of tasks overwhelm me and I turn in to this blubbering mess who can’t even take care of herself.

Now, I don’t want this to come off as a bitch session or whine-fest. But it is disheartening to have society tell me that I signed up for this – which is backed up in comment feeds on various social media forums. I know it’s simply because people do not get it (unless they are Moms). I certainly had no idea until recently. Because of that, I do think the struggle of mothers everywhere is something that needs to be talked about more widely and understood better – or at least empathized with. We don’t even really need our problems fixed. But a little bit of understanding and empathy would go a long way.

No mother I know would actually trade the lives we have for one without our children. Yes, it was our choice to have kids (some of the time….but that’s a topic for another day). And to be fair, it’s not just the kids who wear us out (though that is a significant part of our daily struggle). But I can say with full certainty that NONE of us truly knew what we were getting in to. How could we? Society told us we could balance it all: marriage, career, family…and we are super Moms that can handle it! But one day, you wake up, find yourself beyond overwhelmed and considering driving in to oncoming traffic due to the mental and emotional burdens which are too heavy to pick up that day.

Now, before you call social services on me for child endangerment or suicidal ideations…most of us don’t actually want to harm ourselves. We’re simply exhausted. But because we are moms, we just get up every day and do the damn thing…until we can’t anymore. We fall apart. Pick ourselves up. And then get on with taking care of everybody and everything. But who is taking care of us?

It’s don’t think many people understand how extensive the burdens of having a family can be for moms everywhere – whether they choose work or stay at home. To keep it straight: BOTH are FULL time jobs; one is simply unpaid. Regardless of your choice…you seldom get a break. For me, work is an escape from the rigors of child rearing, but it is still in fact, work with inherent work stressors. Moms everywhere are run down and exhausted by the sometimes hourly requirements of maintaining a happy, healthy, emotionally stable family. Sometimes it feels like the individual members of your family are each their own full time jobs, with different needs and requirements. Somehow managing every task for each of those family members (including those of the four legged kind) is your responsibility. Clothing, dressing, bathing, feeding, cleaning, doctor/dentist appointments, teaching/guiding/mentoring, finding childcare (and backup childcare), school functions and active school activities – and making sure it all happens on time, like a well oiled machine…

Jesus. It’s a lot.

And when you do have a moment to yourself, either at the end of the day or on a rare “off” day”, you’re so exhausted that you fall in to bed, sacrificing whatever self care activity it was that you had planned. Basic human needs such a nutrition and hygiene suddenly become “self care” – forget doing anything that you actually want to do like: read a book, get a pedicure or massage, watch an adult movie in its entirety and free from interruption, work out, cook (for pleasure), take a nap (ha), write – or whatever it was we enjoyed doing pre-kids. (I can’t for the life of me remember what I did with all my free time back in the day. I know I worked out and went out a lot. I even played video games. For like…12 hour stretches…but what else did I do? Sleep? I have no idea… )

Even nights out and away require extensive planning.

But Leigh…what about spouses? Don’t they help? To that I say…of course. Yes. Sort of. That is, when we ask.

There’s this phrase in the military: implied task. Basically, don’t wait to be told to do what needs to be done; just DO it (and fail to take the intiative at your own peril!). But somehow, that is seldom what occurs in my family, or in many of my friends’ homes. Somehow, my hard charging, driven, leader of a husband suddenly becomes yet another kid, incapable of noticing the numerous implied tasks littering our household: the dog dragged a third pair of his dirty socks out of the dirty clothes hamper, the laundry basket is overflowing, the dryer is full of clean clothes to be folded, the dishwasher needs emptying, the kids need a bath tonight….you get the picture. Everyone in the family has to be asked and reminded and nagged by Mom to fulfill the obligations of the family – yet another item on the to do list.

To be fair…I don’t think that our spouses don’t want to help. It’s just that somehow, taking the initiative doesn’t occur to them. Somehow the task of being family manager is Mom’s job, and we are responsible for delegating chores, appointments, and errands out to the appropriate parties. Additionally, unless we establish deadlines it’s not going to be a priority or done in a timely manner.

To be fair, I don’t have to “do everything” – thought it feels that way. I am a perfectionist. And J does take on our financial issues: bills, investments, retirement, etc. (something that irks my independent minded feminist heart to no end…but I don’t have the time or mental capacity to take care of it these days). He also maintains the outside of the house: lawn, garden etc. But beyond those occasional chores and responsibilities…I usually have to ask. And I have to clarify that it be done now, tomorrow, this week, this month….or it doesn’t get done in a timely manner.

Because of this…I’ve become the world’s worst nagger. I get sighs, sullen looks, and eye rolling from members of my family. Hell, I irritate myself with the constantly repeated requests and reminders. But damn. Why do I have to ask so often and so much for so many things?! Why can’t I just get the help I need without having to ask for every little thing?

Anyway…we are working through it. I’m trying to be less a perfectionist who does ask for help (versus becoming passive aggressive). And J is trying to be more proactive about tackling the implied tasks. It’s a start. Unfortunately, his job takes him away from us so often, for long periods of time, that it’s a moot point. I end up in situations like yesterday, where he’s been gone for a month, I’m overwhelmed, over extended and contemplating vehicular suicide (…again, kidding for the sake of hyperbole) over having to print off a sheet of paper. Seems pretty silly, unless you dig deeper.

Thankfully…on days like yesterday I have some really great friends, family, and coworkers whom I can lean on. I reached out to several people who were understanding and empathetic. They told me it was okay to cry and that I simply need to let it out (and more than once every six months). They told to forget about the to do lists for a minute, and to take care of myself. They even told me to plan for a two week period of escape, with my kids, to my parents for some reprieve. So in a month, I’ll have grandparent back up and can catch my breath. In fact, a charge nurse at one of my jobs not only took me off the June schedule, but offered to come watch my kids any time I need a break! I cried, I was so touched.

And J, bless him, went above and beyond after he found me crying in my car in the driveway. I couldn’t even tell him what was wrong. So he made me take a nap. He made dinner. He got the kids ready for bed. When I woke up from an exhausted slumber, the world didn’t seem so overwhelming. And those little things…god…they just felt like a million bucks. I even had enough energy to stay up late with him binging Netflix shows we’ve missed out on over the last month during his insane training schedule. It was fun, and I missed him. It was great to have my partner back (Single parents…mad kudos ❤ ). Then this morning, he asked me to help him get the kiddos ready and took them to daycare – WITHOUT me having to ask. No only was I so thankful for that offer of help, it cut down on my travel time, allowing me to get a run in before work. It was a great start to the day. Like I said…marked improvement.

Anyway…

If you are a Mom…

I see you. I know it’s hard. But you are amazing.


If you aren’t a Mom…

Cut us a little slack, find a little empathy. And check in on your Mom friends. We are not okay.

If you have a Mom.

Give her a hug. Tell her you love her and appreciate her. Thank her for everything she’s done and will do.

We don’t need our problems solved.

We need to feel like people care enough to help lighten our load

…and make sure we take a step back from that ledge.

xxoo

~Leigh

Writing What I’ve Already Written

Damn Chapter 7.

I wasn’t happy with it. But at M’s advice I threw up my hands and decided to let her read my second draft. She read all seven pages yesterday and, while she raved about my world building and the progression of the story, she did have some constructive comments which require my attention. Now don’t misunderstand… I’m not salty about it in the least. M is the ideal beta reader. She loves to read – particularly historical fiction, has an exceptional handle on the monstrous task that is proper grammar and syntax for the English language, and she has no qualms about being honest (even if it may hurt a bit). She’d actually make a great editor, I think. In any case…she read Chapter 7 and hit the nail on the head on why I hated it (but was evidently incapable of articulating why):

I wrote a summary.

After spending a good amount of time setting the scene and building up the world for the reader to imagine, the chapter as a whole was completely flaccid. I skipped forward in time and essentially summed up what happened to my MC. I didn’t show the reader. I just told them. Classic rook mistake in writing – or so I’m told on the social medias. No…just kidding…I knew that. In the previous six chapters, I was very cognizant of story-showing: painting the picture for my readers to imagine as the story unfolds. But for some reason, Chapter 7 has been a bit of a bear to write.

Which means, I need to completely re-write what I’ve already written.

M was quite apologetic in her criticism of my work. I told her not to worry about it because, of course, her criticism is on point. If I’m going to actually do this thing – the right way – I sure as hell will need thick skin because not everyone is going to love my novel. But if I’ve done the work, and done it right…many people just love it the way M does. I’m so happy that she’s invested in the story, craving more, and is keeping me honest so I do justice to Nell’s tale. Needless to say, I trust her judgment. And of course, M is 100% correct in her assessment. Somehow she put my malcontent with the chapter in to words. (Which is exactly why she was the first and only person I told for so long – outside this block. She’s the only one whom I’ve allowed to read Boats Against the Current in its entirety.)

So…with that…I need to go back to what happens BEFORE Chapter 7. I need to show, instead of tell. I need to weave the story versus simply summarizing what happened. I don’t have to scrap the entire seven pages. I can still follow the plot and use what I’ve written to paint the picture of what’s going on…it just needs significant plot reworking and character development.

Sigh. It’s fine.

I wonder if other writers and would-be authors experience what I’m terming “the doldrums” of writing? Until Chapter 7, I haven’t felt this sense of muddled trepidity (sorry..,just really wanted to use that word) with their work. It’s definitely a comedy of things:

  • I hate what’s going on in my character’s life (for her). It’s tough to write and hurts my heart.
  • I have SO much going on in my life these days. When the day finally ends, I just fall in to bed completely exhausted. I’m not sure when I’m supposed to get all this writing done, even as I want to.
  • I’m actually very overwhelmed at the prospect of *having* to write this whole book. I’d say I’m about halfway through, and while there is nothing more than I want than to write my novel…it’s also seeming like a monumental task that will never come to fruition because of the previous point – which is disheartening.
  • I’m also very overwhelmed at what comes after finishing the book. Self publishing…marketing…all that stuff. Yikes.

My Dad would say: if you have to eat an elephant, the only way you can do it is one bite at a time. I used to tell my subordinates the same in situations such as these (when you’re stressed and overwhelmed): get organized, prioritize, compartmentalize, and execute. It works well…usually…but as is often the case, it is a supreme challenge to take my own advice – no matter how sound it is.

Seems like one hell of an elephant…but…one bite at a time, right? It’s my goal to review Chapter 7 tonight and organize my thoughts, so I can actually sit down tomorrow and write a better one tomorrow. Wish me luck….

~Leigh

Yes, Those are My Boobs

One of my all time favorite shows, that I’ve probably seen more than a dozen times, is the sitcom Scrubs. I’ve watched the comedy the entire way through, from start to finish, at least a dozen times. I’ve lost count of the random Tuesdays I sat down to watch an arbitrary episode on Comedy Central or Netflix (back in the day) – and now Hulu. Aside from being one the most medically accurate shows out there (something I can now vouch for as a healthcare professional), it’s a show that has by and large weathered the test of time (except the occasional black face situation, which, *cringe*). It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you do both at the same time. (Except for Season 9. But we won’t talk about Season 9.)

Seasons one through eight can speak to your soul no matter where you are at in life. I started watching Scrubs as it was premiering sometime in season six. I was a very young twenty-something – still in college (part uno). I could definitely relate to and empathize with the trials and tribulations of other twenty somethings – while also laughing hysterically at the slapstick humor which characterizes Bill Lawrence’s notable masterpiece. The funny thing is, as I’ve grown up it’s continued to to speak to me as a single older twenty something, a married younger thirty something, and now a mom in her mid thirties.

Indeed, the last time I rewatched the series from start to finish was March-April of 2020. It was the beginning of the pandemic when we were all quarantined and going stir crazy – to the point of not only watching and enjoying crazy shit like Netflix’s Tiger King (I mean seriously…what was THAT about?!). It was also about that time that Zach Braff and Donald Faison set about making one of my now favorite podcasts, Fake Doctors Real Friends with Zach and Donald . Amidst the stir-craziness of the pandemic, I tried to watch the show in real time as they reviewed each episode. Alas, even at two episodes a week (because they were quarantined and bored just like the rest of us) I couldn’t hold back. I ended up finishing the entire series again sometime around August. No regrets. Here it is April and I think they are only up to season four over a year later (I’m a little behind in my listening). Trust me, I’m not complaining…the longer it goes, the happier we die hard fans will be. But as I rewatched the series for the nth time around, I was surprised to find myself relating to the older, more established characters of the show: Dr. Cox, Jordan, etc. and their stories.

Alright Leigh…why are you writing about a 2000s sitcom? You mentioned boobs. Where are the boobs?

Mmmkay…

So the reason I brought up Scrubs is because I was literally watching an episode on a random Thursday (not coincidentally, the same episode I’m currently listening to on Zach and Donald’s podcast). In this particular episode, we have Heather Graham as one of the guest star regulars playing the ultra sexy but delightfully spacey Dr. Molly Clock. In this episode, Molly wants her predominantly male superiors to approve a community outreach program for homeless patients needing psychiatric resources and assistance. She approaches them and is immediately put in to the position of having to draw their attention away from her ample bosom to acknowledge her as a working healthcare professional, and treat her and her idea with the respect that is their due. Prior to pitching the idea she *comically* crosses her arms over her breasts, dismissively acknowledges their mysogynistic observation of her breasts by stating: “Yes, those are my boobs.” – which finally draws their eyes north to Molly’s face – and she proceeds to ask them for funding for the program.

Admittedly, I laughed. I’ve laughed at this particular scene countless times. It’s definitely something I can relate to. While the girls are a little bit sadder and saggier these days after two adorable babies, I’ve had my fair share of male gazes drawn to them over the years – and purposely so on many occasions. Indeed, I used to wear far more revealing tops than the one Dr. Clock is sporting (though I have to raise my eyebrows about her choice of professional attire) with the intention of garnering attention from the opposite sex. As I said, it was something I could totally relate to and found funny. That is..until…

IT LITERALLY HAPPENED TO ME AT WORK YESTERDAY.

TWICE.

IN LESS THAN AN HOUR.

BY TWO DIFFERENT MALE COLLEAGUES.

I was put in a nearly identical position…but it wasn’t funny. Not even a little bit. I suppose there is something very off putting and exceptionally uncomfortable in having a man – whose attention you are NOT seeking – do this to your tits:

Unlike Dr. Clock (or my younger self, for that matter): I was in scrubs. I wasn’t looking for attention. My scrub blouse is not revealing, tight, or low cut. I wouldn’t even say it’s very flattering (I mean…the entire point of scrubs is to look professional while knowing you’re probably going to get puked or peed upon at some point during your shift). Unlike Dr. Clock, I was so taken aback by the blatant staring at my chest by two male counterparts, I found myself virtually struck dumb. They weren’t even slick about it. It was an uncomfortable 10-15 seconds long inspection of my chest. And in the second instance, I had even donned a sweater to obstruct any further viewing of my breasts – though that didn’t deter my male colleague in the least.

And you know what? It made and makes me MAD.

I’ve grown up in a very male dominated work and male dominated professions. I’m very assertive and speak my mind on pretty much everything…and yet…in this situation I was the one afraid of making the situation awkward. As it was happening, I didn’t even clear my throat to get their attention back on my face and the words coming out of my mouth. I didn’t want to rock the boat or cause offense, even though I am the offended party. Later, I found myself initially downplaying it as “Boys will be boys” and “Men are men”. Until it happened to me, I even laughed at Dr. Clock’s situation – and subconsciously blamed her for her choice in work attire. That too makes me MAD.

I’m beyond pissed at my male coworkers – who I consider friends – and am grappling with how I want to handle it the next time I see them. Do I call them on their shit? Do I drop it and wait for another opportunity to say, “Hey, could you not? That makes me uncomfortable.” And then what? They’ll deny it in all probability. Or maybe have the grace to be embarassed. Or perhaps they will get mad and tell me not to be so up tight.

Fellas, look. I get it. Boobs are nice. I’m accustomed to being one of the boys and listening to a fair amount of locker room talk, so I know how your brains work. I’ll even go so far to say: nice titties are interesting to look at – even for hetero people like me. We are all pretty drawn to looking at a perky pair of tatas – particularly when ladies such as my younger self are purposely flaunting them – and with the intent of getting your attention. And you know what? I guess that’ s okay. But Jesus…it’s 2021. Even in that situation, give them a discreet once over. Then remember that even if they are flaunting them, it’s fucking rude to stare. Even if they are flaunting them, you are a total creeper thinking about how you might like to take a dive down between those sweater bunnies – and trust me, it makes us REALLY un-comfortable. Beyond that, it is absolutely inappropriate and NOT okay to eyeball your fellow employees, to the point of making them uncomfortable. Don’t be that guy (or gal) who is the reason we have to attend all those sexual harassment seminars once a quarter.

It goes without saying too, that I’m all the more incensed thinking about my daughter having to endure the same kind of behaviors in 10-15 years from now. We get it. You have biological drives. But check yourselves and don’t be an asshole.

Alright. Rant over. Now excuse me while I go put on another episode of Scrubs or Fake Doctors Real Friends to make me feel better.

~Leigh

Frustration Station

Whew…well…after how a few posts and several days, I FINALLY got around to writing last night. And overall? It went well…ish. I’ve become quite accustomed to sitting down and churning out ten to twenty pages in one sitting, and aside from editing, being fairly happy with the results. Last night? Not so much. For some reason, Chapter 7 has just been very difficult to write. My MC is at an all time low, and there seems to be no hope in sight. Add to that the fact that it’s the shortest of all my chapters….

I’m not overly pleased with the damn thing.

Thankfully, I have M as my beta reader, sounding board and cheerleader. I [Marco] Polo’d her for moral support and asked what she thought about it being only 6-7 pages (instead of my customary 15-20). She boosted my morale by saying she has been dying to find out what happens to Nell – but didn’t want to add to my overwhelmingly full plate. She then eased my angst (Stemming from a near obsessive compulsive desire for perfection) by saying something to the effect of: A chapter is done when it’s done. Don’t force it or ruin things by overdoing it simply for the sake of metrics that don’t matter. It irks me still, but she made me feel better. So after three plus hours of trying to shove a square peg in to a round hole, I gave up and finished the chapter.

As with previous chapters, seven started out just fine. I set the scene and established ambience. The words flowed from my fingers with ease. I had an idea of what I wanted to happen and how things were going to go down. But…as also has happened on more than one occasion (though with substantially more harmony), the story took on a life of its own. I didn’t end up exactly where I thought we were going to end up. And that’s fine. BUT….while I’m content with Nell’s character development in Chapter 7, I’m also supremely dissatisfied with the fact that I can’t make it flow for at least a couple more pages but still within the overarching plot and character arc.

*Twitch*

Ah well. Here’s hoping chapter 8 goes a little bit better – and on to happier moments.

xxoo

~Leigh

Sneak Peek: Boats Against The Current

Time for another Sneak Peek! This is from Chapter 5 of my WIP, where we get a glimpse of Nell’s world as an aspiring journalist. We also meet one of her dearest friends and biggest supporters, who plays a substantial role in Nell’s story.

No trigger warnings here, though I would like to reiterate that some of the opinions and terms within are racist in nature. I do not share these views and have used them as respectfully as possible, only wishing to remain true to the time. I did strive to illustrate struggles of African Americans in the early 20th century (which are not so very different from what we are still seeing even today). I hope I have done and will do justice to that experience. If at any point it’s unrealistic or overly offensive, please let me know!

Boats Against the Current

July 1928

Waco, Texas


“A woman has to be twice as good as a man to go half as far.” ~Fannie Hurst”


Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door. ” ~Coco Chanel

“The printing press whirred and clicked  as the rolls of blank paper were stamped with inked images for this week’s edition. Nell loved the smell of fresh paper and the trainlike sound of the rollers transferring ink to image were always of great comfort to her. It was late, but the paper never slept. After finalizing this week’s overdue page design with Martin and E.L., she walked it down to the presses for printing. Dan had been out, so she handed it over to his assistant, John Moses Jameson. Lounging dramatically atop a steel ink barrel, she poured her heart out. “John Moses, I just don’t even know what to do! The old hag is right. If E.L. is hiring more reporters, he’s written me off and will never give me a true chance. And what’s worse, if Alice has her way, I may even be out a job altogether!” she lamented. John Moses said nothing, but listened sympathetically. Nell fell silent watching the tall black man work.

Printing a newspaper was an elaborate process. Once content was checked for spelling, grammar, and factual error, the page design was approved by the editor. From there, Nell would walk it over to the printer for press. Dan – or John Moses – would establish image production and ultimately churn out newspapers to the citizens of McClennan County. This process was complex and difficult work, requiring attention to detail on the part of the printer. Nell could understand why Dan didn’t like having the additional job of reporter. The work of printing was hot, hard, and extremely time consuming. With only two men, it could take several hours to prep the press as they lifted the giant plates and massive rolls of paper on to the press and reel.

The printing press looked and sounded like a gargantuan, black steel monster that would roar to life with the flip of a simple switch. Content would be transferred to the pages via immense rubber and aluminum plates, which were arranged by the printer and based off the page design. Dan and John Moses would maneuver and align the heavy plates with a corresponding punch to fit to press. The punch corresponded with bottomless steel drums filled with black ink. Once the plates and ink were ready, huge rolls of newspaper print were fitted on to a track, and then guided on to the reel machine below the press. The plates then inked the design to paper in a final product. John Moses told Nell that this process was called “threading” the press – and it took forever. It was important to keep just enough tension on the paper so as to keep it taut without tearing, in order to avoid rips and wrinkles in the newspapers. With paper and plates in place, the rotary press for newspaper production could begin.

Even though preparing the press was time consuming, the printing of each newspaper page seemed lightning fast to Nell’s untrained eyes. Rollers picked up the ink, transferred it to a blanket which pressed against the paper, producing a printed page. The press operators had to remain on standby in order to check the ink and registration while making fine adjustments to the punch, rollers, or plates. The days and nights of printing were long but necessary. As each printed page of the paper finished, the entire process would have to begin again until all the pages were complete. Plates and paper rolls would have to be reconfigured for new content before sending all copy pages via conveyer belt to the mail room where it would be sorted, stacked, collated, and wrapped by workers Nell didn’t know.

While Dan was a grudging and mediocre reporter, he was an excellent press operator. He didn’t look the part to be sure, but the finished newspapers were nearly perfect: free of smear, wrinkle and tears. Tall and lanky, he had cropped and unkempt dirty blond hair. Dan would wear a collared shirt – that had been white at some point but was the shade of old cream- beneath worn blue coveralls with a straw hat. Dan was a man of few words and didn’t contribute much in the way of content to the Herald. He had more of the look and air of a farmer than a newspaperman. Nell didn’t care for the tall, thin man with the roman nose and dimpled chin. He spent an inordinate amount of time watching her without ever saying a word, perpetually chewing tobacco and releasing brown spittle in to the cup or bottle, which never left his hand unless he was working the press.

Nell couldn’t articulate why, but Dan’s inscrutable, cold blue eyes made her uncomfortable. Jack had laughed when she told him Dan gave her the creeps. He’d said that Dan was a decent sort if you could actually get him talking, and that he “is a hell of a printer, to be sure.” Despite Dan’s reported skills at paper-making, the increasing volume in demand for newspaper required a more robust and consistent support staff. Dan would occasionally hire on seasonal workers but lacked the budget for a full-time assistant – much less the ten men he actually needed. In response, E.L. had hired an army of newspaper boys to stack papers as they came off the press. They also helped Dan with ancillary tasks and maintenance for the offset press[1]. E.L. also hired the paper’s first colored fellow, and his son, as a temporary printing assistant around the same time as Nell. Nell hadn’t realized it at the time, but over the year or so since her hire, she would find a dear friend and confidant in John Moses who shared some views of her world, and she with his.

Even though he was actively engaged in monitoring the paper’s printing progress for final pages, Nell knew John Moses was listening to her woes attentively as he always did. She observed him carefully, awaiting his measured responses. He was a big man, to the point of being intimidating, though he had a gentle manner and good soul. John Moses – never Johnny, J.M, John, or the like – was well over six feet and heavily muscled from years of hard labor. He was somewhere in his thirties or forties, but seemed ageless to Nell. His skin was smooth, unwrinkled and the color of chestnut, and he was bald. The only hint of maturity was the slightly graying, closely trimmed beard which shadowed his strong jaw. John Moses had high, angular cheekbones and  a long-bridged nose with wide base astride full, smiling lips. His smile was a wonderful thing to behold: shockingly white and typically accompanied by a warm, rumbling laugh that warmed Nell to her very toes. Nell knew his wife, Desdemona, might have her hide for Nell’s frank appreciation of John Moses, but was really was a very handsome for a black man – despite the impropriety of her opinion.[2]  Desdemona kept John Moses in crisply laundered blue, denim shirts with coveralls and a worn but freshly laundered newsboy cap – which Nell felt belied his age and intelligence. Despite being an uneducated and untrained black man, E.L. was like to say “he’s pretty smart for a colored fella.” Though Nell knew that did John Moses little justice. He was brilliant.

In her rare moments of downtime, she would venture down to the presses to visit John Moses just to hear him talk. He was knowledgeable about inner workings of newspaper production and constantly surprised her with his awareness of world events. Nell was in awe of the big man with the quiet but easygoing manner. He had a gentle way of opening her eyes to things previously unknown or unnoticed, both good and bad. Nell realized she had been blind to so many things: the maddening inequality of society, the most up to date current events, or the wonders of blues and jazz musicians like King Oliver and Ma Rainey[3]. Nell often found herself dismayed at the realization that she still found herself unwittingly underestimating him – a feeling of which she herself was so very familiar. But, in true John Moses fashion he seemed to sense herself reproach, easily forgiving the sin. Rather than comment, John Moses would regale her with his stories and opinions, as she sat upon paper rolls in enraptured fascination. Others they wouldn’t say much at all, but he would pull out an old trumpet and scat[4] upon the instrument. John Moses loved jazz and shared that passions with her freely.

John Moses had been one of the few Americans of color to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces in the Great War.[5] He was a native of New Orleans who spoke fluent French. But John Moses called New York home and had seen more of the world than most of the people Nell knew. Unlike Jack or Martin, he spoke openly of his experiences in the Army as a Black Rattler.[6] In measured tones he would relay the impotent frustration he and his brothers in arms felt at being relegated to dock working in the early days of the war. Like most patriots, John Moses had wanted to fight the good fight against the forces of evil. As the war progressed, he and his colored compatriots were given the chance to prove themselves. John Moses would become nostalgic, recalling the day he and his fellow warriors were allowed to fight. They served bravely alongside the French – who cared little about the fact that their skin was nuanced shades of ebony, instead of the ivory the United States preferred.

The French prioritized camaraderie and survival above all else, and found acclaimed fighters in their black American brothers. Listening to John Moses, Nell sensed that he missed the days in which he was treated as an equal by his comrades who lived and died by the motto of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité[7]. Nell felt it was a travesty that people had so little knowledge of John Moses and his comrades’ brave service, which largely went unrecognized by the greater American public. To everyone else, he was just another black man who didn’t meet measure in the eyes of polite society. It was through Jack that Nell had come to appreciate John Moses. In the early days of her time at the Herald, Nell had seen the two men smoking and talking together – shockingly sharing cigarettes and swigs of Jack’s flask. Even her fair-minded father had never shared such intimacies with his darker skinned workers. But the unlikely pair were fast friends on equal footing, and Nell knew that John Moses missed Jack nearly as much as she.

John Moses flipped the switch to the printer, and the great machine droned into silence. “Well, Nell, you know what my Desdemona would say…” he said warmly, somewhere between bass and baritone. The tall man turned around and quirked an eyebrow at Nell, who chuckled appreciatively considering John Moses’ wife. “Yes…yes I do. Somehow I don’t think putting pepsin syrup[8] in Alice’s tea would help my case much.” John Moses rumbled with laughter at the truth of Nell’s statement. “My Des is a bearcat[9], that is fuh ‘sho!” He chuckled, and cocked an eyebrow. “Might be funny though!” He said, turning his attention back to the press and making small adjustments with a lever Nell didn’t recognize. “Jack woulda….” John Moses trailed off. His shoulders tensed at the realization of his error. John Moses was the only other person – aside from Naomi – who knew about the depth of her involvement with Jack. He had been of great comfort to her in the immediate days after Jack’s departure, holding her close when she couldn’t be strong any longer, and inviting her over to the tidy but ramshackle house down near the river. Over the last month or so, he and Desdemona had adopted Nell to their already large brood of four, surrounding her with love and filling her belly with delicious food. Desdemona could whip up a meal for the ages on the fly. Their boundless kindness and love were probably the only things that kept Nell on the straight and narrow, or worse, from jumping off the suspension bridge in her desolation.”


[1] Offset press/offset printing: A method of printing papers still used in modern times. Best described as when a right reading image on a printing plate is inked and transferred from the plate to a rubber blanket, which then become the mirror image of the plate image. The offset transfer moves the image to paper, making it right reading again and the final product of newspaper reading. Ink rollers are used.

[2] Interracial relationships were illegal in the United States until 1967.

[3] Joe King Oliver: an American jazz cornet player and bandleader. Ma Rainey was one of the earliest female professional African American professional blues singers; the “Mother of Blues”.

[4] Scat: improvisation with melodies and rhythms; common in jazz

[5] African Americans in WW1: More than 380,000 African Americans served in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). They were initially utilized as labor troops: combat support and combat support services for combat units, typically serving in roles such as dock worker, unloading supply ships working long hours at the port of St. Nazaire, or performing essential duties such as building roads, bridges, or trenches to support the front lines. However, as the war bore on, they were assigned to support French forces who welcomed them with open arms, being more accustomed to different races and ethnicities among their ranks.

[6] The Black Rattlers: the nickname of the 369th Infantry Regiment, of the 15th New York Infantry.

[7]  Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité; the national motto of France.

[8] Pepsin Syrup: Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin, a laxative

[9] Bearcat: a lively, spirited woman with a fiery streak