Normalcy: Barely Required


My mother had a thing about sweating.  Even a single drop of perspiration, especially at her hairline, made her act like she was not long for this world.  The unfortunate treatment of this affliction was to run around the house in a bra and cotton panties.  During the heat of the summer, she dressed for her own friends, but when children came to visit, my pleadings for normal decency were met with, “I don’t give a damn.  I’m not going to die for your company.”

But her sweating practices were innocent compared to what went on when she was behind the wheel of a car.  Proudly driving ‘like a ‘bat out of hell,’ she was in the habit of turning to her four children as she screeched to a halt at a red light, and commanding that we “Act normal.’’.  Her approaches insured that while we waited for the signal to change, all eyes in surrounding cars were on us.  We were trained to sit quietly until she took off from the intersection ‘like a ruptured duck.’

We only needed a general destination: ‘to hell and gone.’  Her goal after that was to save us with dramatic exhibitions of her superior reflexes.  In those near-miss moments, her rage was replaced by confidence, and what she was running from was obliterated from her radar: the total wreck that was our home life.

Originally, this short was going to be about the shock in realizing ‘Act normal’ was not what most parents said to their children, an epiphany occurring in a writing class.  But in re-examining some of the car stories for this post, it struck me, for the first time, as long as we were in a car, normalcy was barely required, and only when there were witnesses.

Putting Down the Fugue


Along with the sorry state of the world, heavy matters of life and death have left me without a soft place to land and write.  I spent several weeks just thinking, trying to pin down a faceable subject.  But I kept returning to an exhaustive rehash of other people’s criticisms of my work. What a fugue; but it provided an effective escape from the recent tragedies and losses.  Enough already, it’s time to let it go.  So please bear with me as I do.

Beginning this litany with the comments of a well-published essayist, he suggested that each subject of these latest shorts is packed enough for a whole book.  My close friend who’s a copy writer and poet has respect for the discipline of the epic-on-a-single-page.  And his preference is an original voice that includes consciousness and politics over obvious spiritual or political writing.  However, some do favor my inspirational columns, and others are most interested when my pieces hit upon today’s issues.

While the above mentioned essayist has no objection to Self as a subject, a few are of the opinion that personal writing is indulgent, possibly ugly, although no one has used that word to me.  My siblings don’t object to pieces from our collective past, but they remember events differently than the way I tell them.  And at a reading in Kansas City, one family member said: “You know, Steph, if I didn’t have to work so hard, I’d like to write a book too. ”

As much as writing is a privilege, it’s not an evening in front of the TV with a box of chocolates and a G’n’T.  The process (not complaining, just stating facts) often requires drilling through a mountain of resistance.  Yet, because life doesn’t make sense without writing, when I’m struggling in the dark to come up with a decent sentence, or trying to figure out what the piece is really about, I have no desire to escape.

Much of what I’ve learned about myself is from the commitment to this work and reading other authors brave enough to expose the foibles of humanity.  Even though it is an interior practice and I stay true to the subjects that interest me, others’ criticisms are invaluable.  But this rehashing exercise has eaten up enough time.  So I’ve cleared my slate and shall begin again.