anti-war, baseball and poetry, Cancer as the elephant in the room, Coming Home, Culture and the workplace, Hal Ashby, Jane Fonda, JBBC, Jon Voight, Laurence Olivier, Lean In, Lesley Richardson, poetry, Sheryl Sandberg, The Troubles, Tim Buckley, Toxic culture, Versatile Blogger Award, Willy Russell, Women and Careers
Last July, I got lost on the Internet. As you do. On the way back Home, I bumped into Lesley Richardson, a self-proclaimed unpublished writer. Before long, I discovered that, like me, Lesley has badly behaved hair that she has learned to embrace, a husband, a beautiful teenage daughter, and a cat. She has just turned fifty, as will I in a couple of weeks. We immediately bonded over the shared trauma of life in 1970s Northern Ireland, not because of The Troubles, but because we had curly hair before brilliant minds invented products and tools to tame our stressed tresses and we were relentlessly compared to Crystal Tipps. You could be forgiven for assuming the content of Lesley’s blog is a bit questionable: Standing Naked at a Bus Stop but the story behind the title is that the mere thought of people reading her writing makes Lesley feel as though they have caught her naked … and standing. At a bus stop.
Such a condition might require a professional intervention, given that Lesley aspires to be a successful novelist, which by definition involves people reading her writing (thereby making her uncomfortable). People like me. Let me be quick to point out that Lesley has an agent, and she has already written a novel, which was probably fabulous. She’s been in an anthology too, so it’s not as if she’s technically “unpublished.” And then there is her blog. I love it, even though she neglects it for weeks at a time causing me to wonder if she might actually be “on assignment,” at a bus stop on the road to Helen’s Bay. The next time I go back home, I will definitely be looking for Lesley. When we meet, I’m convinced we’ll wonder how we managed avoiding each other for the first fifty years of our lives.
The other day, I received from the lovely Lesley, a Versatile Blogger Award. Hooray! Between us, the versatility part is a bit of a stretch, bringing to mind the kind of nimbleness required by your Pilates instructor, but I’ll gladly take it. When you’ve been around for almost half-a-century, shameless self-promotion is definitely in order. Especially if you haven’t been promoted by yourself or anyone else for several years. In fact, right when I heard from Lesley, I was shedding the cloak of self-doubt that is the mandatory uniform of a toxic, dysfunctional, and largely joyless workplace where sacred cows and large egos leave little room for anyone else. Margarita Tartakovsky calls self-doubt Creativity’s No. 1 Crusher. No argument from me.
Anyone who has ever worked in such a place knows that every day you don the mantle of self-doubt, it feels heavier, like armor. Why would anyone want to show up every day? Well, maybe there’s an upside in the very near future, like the departure date of the self-proclaimed guru who’s been brought in to shake things up. Or maybe you have the health, finances, and internal fortitude to weather the lies and manipulation, the passive aggressive pettiness and the collective aversion to honesty. Otherwise, you deserve so much more than living minute by minute, always waiting for the other shoe to fall, and I recommend running at high speed as far away as possible. Once out of their sights, shed the armor. And breathe as yourself, once again. Today, I am out of that uniform – lighter, brighter, and – just ask Lesley – award worthy.
My lovely Versatile Blogger Award has arrived right as I am poised to begin Act Two. Scene I opens with me testing the waters of versatility and moving away from the edges where I have had an unfortunate tendency to denigrate myself so people might like me or give me credit when it’s due me or even feel a bit sorry for me because of The Cancer that has sat like a great pink elephant for the past eighteen months among people who were entirely and shockingly nonplussed by it. I am not proud to admit that I have allowed such people to dismiss me as “insignificant” or less, when the nobler self-respecting thing would have been to just turn around and walk towards people who might raise a glass to me, interested in what I have to say or what I think about a thing or an idea.
Pat Roy, of Learning Forward – The International Non-Profit Association of Learning Educators, once said to me over lunch, “You put a good person in a bad culture, and the culture wins every time. Every time.” I remember thinking this couldn’t always be the case, but I think Pat is probably right. I vaguely recall a power point slide in her presentation, featuring a little stick figure completely overwhelmed by a Tsunami wave. Or to put it another way, “Culture eats structure for breakfast.” Think about it. You may have a million dollar idea like the one my best friend and I have been working on, albeit fruitlessly, for the best part of a decade. All well and good, but if the culture does not value the creativity, risk-taking, and vision of the individual behind it, the idea will be stifled or scoffed at, and you will be forced to bury it deep in your pocket and stand in the corner with your tail between your legs, asking yourself if you might possibly be stupid.
I have not yet read the versatile Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. I probably will, given all the hoopla surrounding it. In truth, a more accurate assessment of what I’m doing is leaning back – for a better view of the situation, to listen better, to take stock, and to figure out – finally – what matters.
The Versatile Blogger Award reminds me of those chain letters we used to pass around when we were teenagers, convinced that bad luck would befall us should we break the chain. So far be it from me to break the chain begun by Lesley’s Versatile Blogger Award. Now for the rules I must nominate 15 blogs for a Versatile Blogger Award, and regale you with seven random things about myself. These should probably be true.
Previously, I have recognized bloggers who advocate tirelessly for those of us living lives altered immeasurably by breast cancer. Their writing is frequently highlighted by Marie Ennis O’Connor, another Irish friend I met while stumbling around the Internet. In her weekly round-up at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer blog, you will find some of the most versatile women I know. Living out loud lives formerly untouched by cancer, their resolve has emboldened me to say no to pink ribbons and platitudes and one-size-fits-all treatments for a disease that should have been obliterated long ago. Thus, they write and fight for a different way. Versatile, indeed.
This time, my nominations for a Versatile Blogger Award go to an entirely different group of writers who make it easy to step into their worlds, their words strung together in ways that remind me you can always find your way home. Each of these is well worth a visit. Enjoy:
- Nelly’s Garden
- Shauna Reid
- Chalk the Sun: Finding the Phrase to Every Thought
- Little by Little: Ramblings and observations. In no particular order.
- Mrs Trefusis Takes a Taxi
- Siren Voices
- Style Rummage
- The Franco-American Flophouse
- Irish Farmerette
- Liberty London Girl
- Carol Baby
- A Moon, Worn as if it had been a Shell
- A Time for Such a Word
- Saige Wisdom
Seven Random Realities About Me
- In a moment of mild rebellion, I gave my ironing board to Goodwill. I couldn’t quite part with the iron, but that day is on the horizon. This is of some significance given that I was raised in a house where everything was ironed. Even socks and dish cloths.
- My best friend, Amanda, is convinced that the teenage version of me is re-asserting herself. I used to get up at five o’clock every morning. Now, I can’t imagine why on earth I would entertain a meeting before 9:30AM. How fortunate am I to have found a new job where, apparently, lots of other people feel the same way.
- I will never not listen to my gut again. Recently, someone I admire, asked me why on earth I would even have accepted a job when everybody told me I was insane to do so. My husband, my best friend, my parents, people I respect in the field, and, most importantly, my gut, all told me to run as far away as possible from it. All those red flags waving in my face, and I ignored every one of them. I chose not to listen to my gut. I was stupid. I forgot to ask, “How will this job be good for me?” Lesson learned.
- I have rediscovered the sweet tooth I had as a child. My grandmother used to make sugar sandwiches for me, great door-steps of white bread sandwiches filled with creamy, country butter made crunchy by caster sugar. Once, my parents left me with granny while they took an excursion to Derry city with my aunt and uncle from America. She baked while I played outside and made the fatal error of leaving three lemon meringue tarts to cool on the window sill. On my tiptoes, I started by just picking at the edges of the mile-high white meringue topping, hoping nobody would notice, but I couldn’t resist. I devoured every bit of it, and left the tarts bald, glistening yellow circles atop pastry. Granny just thought it was funny.
- While I don’t have the phenomenal memory I thought I had (see previous post) I can still recite great chunks of poetry from school and entire episodes of the BBC’s Fawlty Towers. My brother and I are also given to exchanging quips and profanities from Goodfellas or shrewd insights from movies based on scripts by Nora Ephron or Willy Russell. This morning it was that scene from Educating Rita when Frank realizes that, like Mary Shelley, he may have created a monster.
- I just don’t understand American Football, basketball, or baseball. Any team sport, really. Over the years, scores of well-meaning Americans have tried to explain their version of a footie match to me, but I don’t get it. I especially don’t understand why football takes such an inordinately long time. It is much easier to go to the mall. I watch the Super Bowl for two reasons – the National Anthem and the half-time show, but only if it features old rockers like Tom Petty, The Who, or Bob Seger. I understand them very well. I suppose running is almost a sport. It makes sense to me, even on a treadmill where you don’t go anywhere. I like baseball, but only because I have elevated it to mythic status because of W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe which I wish I had read before watching Field of Dreams (I always read the book before watching the movie because I like to cast the characters myself) and, of course, The Natural. Were I ever to teach English Literature again, I would do a whole unit on baseball and literature. It would include Line Drives, a beautiful anthology that transforms baseball into poetry as Bill Littlefield explains: “We wait for baseball all winter long, or rather, we remember it and anticipate it at the same time. We re-create what we have known and we imagine what we are going to do next. Maybe that’s what poets do, too.
- My favorite movie is Coming Home. Made by Hal Ashby in 1978, it was the first movie to tackle Vietnam. In it, Jane Fonda, portrays Sally Hyde, wife of an army captain who has been deployed overseas. While he is away, she volunteers in the hospital, where she meets and falls in love with a Vietnam vet, played by Jon Voight. I like to think Sally and I would have been friends, as she educates herself about the war and what happens to the men coming home. Today, it has to be said, I am utterly depressed that Jon Voight, in real life, appears to be absolutely nothing at all like Luke, the Vietnam veteran he portrays with such vulnerability and humanity. Then again, he is an actor. He even won an Oscar for his performance, over Robert de Niro’s Michael in The Deerhunter, another of my favorite movies, and the venerable Laurence Olivier. The Coming Home soundtrack is essentially a time capsule of life from 1965 – 1968, with no covers. Because a soundtrack was never released, my brother once took the time to recreate it on a CD for me some years ago. This was shortly after we accepted that the days of the Mix Tape were over. I still have that CD, and I cannot listen to Tim Buckley’s Once I Was without thinking of the final scene of the movie, and all those young men who died in Vietnam or came home broken.:
For extra credit, here are the tunes from the soundtrack, but not in the right order:
“Hey Jude” The Beatles
“Strawberry Fields Forever” The Beatles
“Once I Was” Performed by Tim Buckley
“Expecting to Fly” Buffalo Springfield
“For What It’s Worth” Buffalo Springfield
“Time Has Come Today” The Chambers Brothers
“Just Like a Woman” Bob Dylan
“Save Me” Aretha Franklin
“Follow” Richie Havens
“Manic Depression” Jimi Hendrix
“White Rabbit” Jefferson Airplane
“Out of Time” The Rolling Stones
“No Expectations” The Rolling Stones
“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” The Rolling Stones
“Ruby Tuesday” The Rolling Stones
“Sympathy for the Devil” The Rolling Stones
“Bookends” Simon & Garfunkel
“Born to Be Wild” Steppenwolf