Shopping in the Boys’ Department

Check it out over here, at my website,

https://pamelahelberg.com/2013/04/30/waffle-stompers-or-how-i-came-to-shop-in-the-boys-department/

Just a few thoughts on gender and clothing–the politics of what we wear (only not very political, mostly ruminating and wandering).

See you over there . . . and while you’re there, would you mind liking and following me on that site?

Thanks ever so much!

Pam

Simply a Love Story

One of the giant, impossible, gnarliest questions nearly all writers face is how to handle the people in their lives, particularly the people who might people their stories.  Of course this is a theoretical question at first.  And is handled as such in writing classes and groups and in discussions with writing gurus.  Sometimes the fear is simply dismissed as a worry for amateursIf we don’t write something, anything, nothing will ever be published, rendering our worries moot.
Published writers have expounded upon this fear in encouraging fashion, and I’ve long been an adherent to Anne Lamott’s pithy comments on the subject: Write as if your parents are dead” and You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Because if I didn’t believe this while I’m writing, I’d be paralyzed with anxiety, even more paralyzed than is normal for a writer.
At some point, if one is a serious writer, this concern blithely traipses across that line from theoretical to real. And this is what we serious writers want, what we yearn and ache for . . . that our work, our words, our views gain traction in the world and have lives of their own. Writing is not unlike having kids—we nurture, feed, hone, discipline, stay up at night, worry, fret, and finally let them loose to have lives of their own, and nothing prepares us for what comes next because we just don’t know, we no longer have control.
We celebrate. Publication parties, excited phone calls. Flowers. Like a graduation, an 18th birthday. Ours but no longer ours. Reflections on us forever it seems. And so.
I have always wanted to be a writer, but for many years did not write due to fear, fear that my words would be misunderstood, misinterpreted, used against me; fear that my words, my experiences would wound, maim, alienate, damage. I can trace that fear back to a specific incident, and what I learned then was this: I am not okay. Who I am, my deepest most intimate thoughts and experiences, the ones I dared to commit to paper are all wrong. Wrong, bad, evil even.
I hadn’t written a Unabomber manifesto or a hate-filled credo, simply a love story, a story between two teenage girls, the thralls of first love, the whispers, the profound moments of stolen passion, found time. The untimelydiscovery of this story scrawled in my loopy teenaged hand set me on a path that has led me directly to this day, yesterday, and the day before that. The past month, the last two years when I started taking my writing seriously again.
That story, the one that launched me into a world of trouble and onto the path that found me here, found the light of day again in a recently published anthology, and then again as it was reprinted by The Friendly Atheist Blog at patheos.com which is where I think my mom must have read it. She’s known for a good while now that I had an essay that would be published, and she knew the general context of the story, but she wasn’t prepared for the reality of my words. This time though, she’s not mortified by who I am or the story I am telling, but by her actions at the time, the beliefs she (and my father) held then, the ways in which these beliefs colored and shaped my life.
She emailed me a couple of weeks ago after I’d blogged about being raised Christian fundamentalist and the resulting damage to my psyche. She emailed to apologize and to beg forgiveness. I wrote back easily, telling her that forgiveness had long ago won out, that I no longer held that anger. We’ve been close in the past twenty some years, my mom and I. She’s been my biggest champion.  I think I can write now about what happened then because I know we have a good relationship.
So I was sad when she emailed yesterday, telling me she wouldn’t be able to come to my reading and the book launch party for Beyond Belief on Sunday. She thought she might cry and be embarrassed and she still felt really awful about all of the Christian craziness of my childhood. She asked for my forgiveness, again. I reiterated what I’d said a few weeks ago: We are good. We have come to this place from those times. I forgive you. I love you.
My mother has her own stories. We all do. We own them. We can’t let fear in any of its guises (shame, guilt,vulnerability, martyrdom) silence us because then fear has won.

The First Time

Beyond Belief Contributors:  Cami, Pam, Susan, Colleen, Elise

So, Readers, the reading at Elliott Bay Book Company was fantastic! The first time was all I expected it to be ~ magical, terrifying, exhilarating. Every last one of us did ourselves proud—Cami, Susan, Colleen, Elise, me. At first, I didn’t think anyone was going to show up, and I wondered if we’d still carry on with the reading for a crowd of six, five of which were us, one of which was The Little Woman. 
But then Greg—our Elliott Bay liaison— told us to wait til 10 after the hour and sure enough, next time I looked up, the place was packed. And while I definitely know that a full house is the better than an empty one, I had a small moment of panic.  That panic I wrote of last week—the fear of being seen.


I had practiced my reading the night before with TLW who told me that I needed to be more passionate in my delivery.  So, I had that in my head as I stepped up to the microphone there in the basement at Elliott Bay Books (what is it with basements as reading areas?).

I intro’d my reading with the story of the Jehovah’s Witness flyer with its metrosexual Jesus that arrived on my doorstep the same day I got my copies of the BB anthology in the mail.  That got a good laugh—a good sign.  And I tried my darnedest to read with passion.  (TLW reported later that I nailed it, passion-wise). Still, I was nervous, nerves that come from the fear not just of being exposed, but of being misunderstood by strangers and misinterpreted by those closest to me.

Anne Lamott advises to “write as if our parents were dead” and that seems good in theory, but it’s scary in reality.  My story paints a rather unflattering portrait of my parents, and this is one of my primary anxieties—both that my parents will be hurt/angry/sad that I wrote so honestly about what transpired AND that the audience will think they are bad people with whom I’ve severed all ties. 

That’s ME! At Elliott Bay Books!
So, it was with great relief that an audience member asked The Question—the one question I hoped hoped hoped someone would ask:  “How is your relationship with your parents now?” I’m happy to report that I have solid relationships with both of my parents and that we’ve all come out the other side of this crazy religious nonsense.
And really, that’s the best part of my story. 

Writing is Daring Greatly (thanks Brene Brown)

Dear Reader—Tomorrow night is my debut as a published writer—my first reading of a piece of writing that is actually in a book.  Not on a blog, not off my printer, but there on the printed page amongst other pieces in a collection of published writing.
Pretty sweet. I have to say that it is about damn time considering I’m closing in rapidly on the big  Five Oh (mere months away) and considering I’ve wanted to be a writer for, oh, all of my life. So what conspired to keep me silent and unpublished all these years?
Fear. Fear of being known, of being vulnerable, of being reviled. Shame. The certainty that what I had to say didn’t mean anything to anyone else. The terror that what I thought made no sense to anyone else. Scared that if I committed the thoughts in my head to paper that I would be forever judged by what I wrote down, by the ink stains.
So, what changed? What enabled me to throw caution to the wind, to finally put pen to paper and let the world in on my innermost thoughts? Fear. Ha! How’s that for irony? But seriously, the fear that I might never realize my dream of being a writer impelled me to write.
What if suddenly I were unable to write tomorrow? What if I’d played it safe all these years, thinking I had unlimited time ahead in which to overcome my fears slowly, always confident there would be time later to pen my memoirs, and suddenly I found myself incapacitated? I’d be pissed—angry that my fear of vulnerability, the shame of being thought less of had kept me from sharing my most authentic self.
I didn’t write for so many years because I thought that a) I would be laughed at or, more likely, told my ideas were heretical and would ultimately land me in hell (seriously) or b) I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say, that my ideas weren’t universal enough to catch on with anyone outside of my own head.
I realized, in small, baby steps, however, that people did listen when I read, my words did resonate, and slowly, I found a writing community, a group of other writers to cheer me on and for whom I could root. As Cheryl Strayed told us at the Wild Mt. Memoir retreat a couple of weeks ago, we should write from a place of abundance, that is sharing our joy and passion with other writers and cheering them on because there is plenty to go around.
I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown lately, and if you haven’t had a chance to catch one of her TED lectures, caught her with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday or read one of her books, make the effort. She’s got some amazing research to share, some great life lessons about living with vulnerability, abundance, and passion.
So, tomorrow. That’s it. Tomorrow I lay myself bare in front of complete and total strangers. Wow. That’s daring. Greatly.