Feather in a Hurricane

 

feather in a hurricaneMy guest today is author BC Brown, who explores the painful consequences of subordinating her own needs to her husband, a pattern she had in common with Lindsey Chandler, the protagonist in my just-released novel, A Fitting Place.

 

Feather in a Hurricane 

Three months driving between St. Louis and Indianapolis. Working all week and driving all weekend. Sleeping on waiting room floors and eating out of machines. My mother now recuperating after major surgery.

I was weary, leaden, and spent. Just when there seemed a light at the end, my husband of a decade calls.

“How quick can you come back?”

It’s ten p.m. I’ve been awake for more than 48 hours with only catnaps. Perhaps after a million hours of sleep. All I said was, “I don’t know. I have to pick up mom’s meds tomorrow, wait for the nurse, and do her grocery shopping. Why?”

“Can you be here by noon?”

An hour time change, a three-hour drive, and a mountain of errands beforehand. Uh, no.  “I could be home by two. What’s this about?”

A hesitation. “I’ll see you at two. I can’t talk about it on the phone.” Click.

I should have gotten a speeding ticket, a Driving Under the Influence of Fatigue ticket, but I was lucky. Despite my lack of sleep and my complete lack of focus, neither I nor anyone else was harmed.

I arrived home to have my heart ripped from my chest. My husband was leaving. What I thought was a happy marriage had been a sham. He’d had an ongoing affair. Within an hour, he’d gone.

I was left with a minimum wage job that couldn’t support the life we lived. I had no schooling, having supported him in school and helped work his business.

I did what any self-respecting woman would do. I called family.

My sisters drove from southern Indiana to St. Louis in almost the record time I’d done it only hours before, packed everything I owned, and took me home. Where things went from devastating to destitute.  It took more than a month to stop bursting into random tears.

The best part of it all? Expectations of job searching and of being an independent, strong person. With what skills?

My husband and I met at seventeen. The instant I was legal, we had the dream: jobs, one of us in school, a business, dogs, and a mortgaged picket fence. My life was very much ‘my husband’. With the exception of my writing and my love of karaoke, I didn’t have my own opinions, my own interests, or my own skills.

I was stymied when potential employers asked why I’d make a good fit for their company? I mean, I didn’t know if I made a good fit for me.

As a result, I worked a string of back-breaking and paycheck-puny jobs. I tried counseling. I tried job fairs. I trudged from one ad to another, touted my pitiful skills, trotted out every reference, accomplishment, and award.

It didn’t help. I was free falling. My elderly and ailing mother was financially supporting me, while one sister with kids fed and housed me and the other fed my gas tank and car insurance. I was broke and broken.

Enter the good friend.

My best friend for almost fifteen years, the same man who’d introduced me to my husband (but I couldn’t hold that against him), mentioned his old job was open again. The pay was crap, the job bottom of the barrel, and the hours long with mandatory overtime. But he’d put in a good word for me.

I walked in, seven months out of work, with a pathetic resume of retail, food service, clerical, and a smidgen of advertising experience. The HR manager asked why I wanted the position.

“I’m broke. I need a job; you have one that needs to be filled. No matter that I feel like a feather in a hurricane, those two things are true,” is all I said. Desperation is rarely the best form of self-presentation, but I was beyond desperation, willing to consider jobs that weren’t exactly the most flattering or self-respecting.

He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “You’ll hate this job, probably quit in a month. Everyone does.” Pause. “You start Tuesday.”

For the first time in half a year, my stomach ceased churning. I put my hand in his and shook. “I won’t quit.”

My feather had snagged something solid and stopped spinning long enough for me to get my feet. I spent the next three years in that job, moving from the entry position to a middling position. Even when I was offered a better, full-time position elsewhere, I continued to work there. See, if everything I’d tried and done on my own hadn’t helped, I sure wasn’t going to give up the one good thing that had happened.

I learned an insanely good lesson. I’d been raised with a ‘do it yourself’ mentality. But that hadn’t worked. It was when I’d acknowledged that I needed others that life straightened out.

I could pick up the pieces, build a new me. But it took someone else, a good friend, to show me who I really was all along. Just me. And I could do this.

BC Brown featherBC Brown is the author of A Touch of Darkness and A Touch of Madness, both Abigail St. Michael novels. Her work has been included in three, multi-author anthologies – Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction, Quixotic: Not Everyday Love Stories, and A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court. She has published a dark fantasy novel, Sister Light, Book One: Of Shadows previously under the pen name B.B. Walter.

BC has upcoming work with the Abigail St. Michael novels entitled A Touch of Emptiness. More of her work will be released in a general fiction novella entitled Feather in a Hurricane and a dark fantasy novel, Of Shadows.

You can see more about BC and her books from the links below.

Amazon … Barnes & Noble … Facebook … Twitter … Goodreads

 

The discussion on the human condition will continue, with particular emphasis on the issues that complicate the life of Lindsey Chandler, the protagonist in A Fitting Place.  If you would be interested in contributing a guest blog to this series, please contact me here  or at afittingplace@hotmail.com. 

Misdirected Anger

 

Throughout A Fitting Place, Lindsey struggles to deal with her often misdirected anger, along with guilt at taking it out on the wrong people, including her teenage daughter. Lindsey’s dilemma is all the more agonizing as she is a social worker who is supposed to be a model for others. My guest this week is Adam Santo, who talks about the impact of parental anger and stress on the children who are the victims of it.

 

Misdirected AngerNearly 1 in 10 children are witnesses to family violence.

It is a staggering number to swallow, but also remember these numbers cover a wide variety of abuses: emotional, sexual, and physical. The difference between discipline and abuse is a thin line, a tenuous string thinner than a spider’s webbing which parents unconsciously cross when emotional stress or anger runs high.

We will all suffer the blinding torrent of anger at some point; it is knowing when to draw the line that matters most to a child. When I look back on my childhood memories for guidance, seeking a path that keeps the past from repeating beyond my generation, I end up finding more questions.

“Was there a point I caused my father to beat me?”

This is a question most abused children run through their minds hoping to find where things went wrong. I contemplated this same question over the years without ever finding the source of my plight. Other children suffer the same fate, growing up with a black cloud of doubt over their heads, unable to let go of the past, repeating the abuse as adults with their own children.

“He still loves me… he won’t beat me again.”

Children are just that – simple thinkers, hopeful dreamers. What parents do is forgotten by most children when their parent utter the words, “I’m sorry” and “You shouldn’t have made me do that”. Sad, but true. Blame is pushed off the parent and given to the child before the exchange of guilt is ever recognized by the younger of the two. I should rephrase that – the actual act is never forgotten; it is forgiven because the child is searching for a way back into the good graces of the parent, hoping to rekindle the affections of their parent builds an emotional cycle of tug-of-war between child and parent.

What we sometimes forget as parents is that children are balls of clay waiting for us to mold them. Smashing the clay becomes a learned parenting skill and will reciprocate down to future generations. For a child, what we say and do is interpreted exactly for what it is. Take a breath, think before acting. It will shape the next generation.

 

Adam Santo Misdirected AngerAdam Santo is a SciFi/Fantasy writer who enjoys the quiet moments that allow for writing. His debut novel, Temperature: Dead and Rising, a newly twisted tale about zombies, took the world for a ride they would soon not forget. Santo began his second novel, Temperature: Bitter Cold, before the ink dried on his first book. When he is not writing, Santo enjoys quality time with his family and friends, movies, and reclaiming his youth when his son challenges him to a video game.

You can find Adam on  www.Facebook.com/authoradamsanto,  www.panhandlingfantasy.com, and www.twitter.com/adamsanto

 

I would love to host any of my readers who’d like to do a guest blog on one of the themes of A Fitting Place. To buy your copy of A Fitting Place, click Amazon.  It is also available on iBooks.

Being Your Own Worst Enemy

 

Swapster-ArrowsThere are several times, in my novel, A Fitting Place, when both of my major characters are their own worst enemy.

A typical definition of being your own worst enemy is acting in ways that are self-defeating, that prevent you from getting what you want or meeting your goals. But the definition that drives my characters has a slightly different focus: you are your own worst enemy when you are driven to action by two or more incompatible objectives.

For example, you can’t insist on being independent and self-sufficient, and still criticize people for not volunteering to give you assistance and/or support. You can’t complain that others take advantage of you if you’re unwilling to say “no.”  You can’t take pride in being eccentric and then be offended when strangers are uncomfortable around you or question your decisions. 

This last one I know from painful experience.

For many years, I was told that I was my own worst enemy but nobody seemed able to explain it to me in a way that told me what to do differently.

And then one afternoon, when I was in my late 20s and thinking I was well on the road to a successful career as an economist, my boss walked into my office and settled, unsmiling, into the chair across from me.

Only moments before, we’d left a meeting in which senior staff had grilled me on a paper I’d recently written. For nearly two hours, I’d had to explain and defend it, almost line by line. Apparently, my defense was sufficient, as they’d accepted my paper for publication. 

What had I done wrong?

“Mary, do you realize that you’re your own worst enemy?” Peter said. “For a moment, I thought you were going to cry.”

“Why did they have to be so hard on me?”

“Your paper challenges some long standing views held by respected PhD economists who’ve been in this field for years. Your idea was new, and its significance wasn’t as obvious to everyone as it was to you.” 

“But their questions were brutal—”

Peter interrupted me. “You should be flattered they took two hours out of their day to discuss a paper by someone barely two years out of an MBA. If you want to poke a stick in their eye, it’s your choice. But you can’t expect them to like it.

Well, of course you can, but as strategy, it’s pretty much guaranteed to make your own worst enemy.

The painful truth is that, thirty years later, I still have to temper my reaction when people don’t understand a point I’m trying to make. But at least now, I no longer take it personally.

Have you ever been your own worst enemy?  How did you get over it?

 

This blog continues the discussion on themes in my novel.  I welcome comments and guest blogs from my readers based on their own experiences.  Let me know if you’d like to do a guest blog on one or more of the issues relevant to A Fitting Place

 

Failure is Your Friend

 

ht_charlie_whittmack_ll_110715_wgOne of the key concepts in the MBA short course that I teach on “Managing Career Risk” is that failure plays a critical role in building a career that is ultimately satisfying in both the professional and personal realms.

I have framed this idea a number of ways over the years. Making mistakes is how you learn what not to do again. Failure lies not in making a mistake, but in refusing to try again. Failure is never fatal, just as success is never final. Failure is, in fact, a form of success as long as you are able to learn from it.

But those aphorisms are just words.  As I noted in my last blog on Teaching as a Map, what makes them come alive is a personal story of growing through failure to success.  

And come alive they did when Charlie Wittmack, an athlete who thrives on pushing the boundaries of his physical capacity, came to class and shared his 2010 struggle to complete all three legs of what he calls a “world triathlon”—a 10,000 mile journey that included swimming the Thames and the English Channel, cycling from France to Nepal, and summiting Mt. Everest.   

What made his story so compelling was his recognition, from the start, that he was attempting to do what most people considered to be impossible … his recognition that everyone expected him to fail.  

Ultimately, he completed all three legs of the triathlon.  But several times, along the journey, it seemed that he would fail. Perhaps the worst came when he collapsed from altitude sickness as he cycled up to the highest mountain pass in Tibet. But each “failure” left him closer to his goal than anyone ever imagined he would get. Each failure taught him lessons he could—and did—use in his next attempt.  Each failure left him that much closer to the goal he wanted to reach.

The point, I think, of Charlie’s story is not just that failure is your friend, but that if you think big enough, you can’t fail … you just get closer and closer to success.