When she made me laugh right in the middle of a full-on breakdown, sending salty snot flying from my nose, I knew my sister was my hero.
The first time I saw her perform standup, it left me not just laughing but gaping in awe of her ability to hurtle a crowd into fits of laughter.
So, with her 3,000 miles away, I often use her clips on her website and YouTube to remind me that laughing has a way of turning pain into light so that it becomes far away, and transparent.
On our summer visit in Los Angeles, that light shown even more brightly. On the night we ventured out to watch Man of Steel, it become apparent that she owned the title Woman of Steel and that her superpower is laughter. It was her birthday and she chose it thinking that she would entertain my children and still see a great movie.
After watching Man of Steel, I walked out feeling the same way I normally feel when I leave a much-anticipated film or even television series that I’m disappointed with. I felt disoriented and unappreciated. I felt like Hollywood could care less about what our daughters and sons learn and they definitely underestimate their ability to interpret anything more than cheap lines and renditions of X-Box or PlayStation games.
Then my sister laughed and laughed again. “What was that? My brain hurts,” she blurted. She asked the kids what they thought and they shrugged and displayed that slanted twist of their mouths, their eyebrows raised.
Then it happened. Superhero Woman of Steel mode kicked in and POW! She riddled us with joke after joke, which I can’t remember because it comes at you so fast, this blur of laughter hitting you then wrapping around you so tightly that the only thing you can do is double over in fits of laughter.
She always does this, well, at least most of the time. She, my sister and comedian Jill Michele Melean, always forces us to laugh at the absurd and even more so the depressing.
When I’d break up with a boyfriend, she wouldn’t comfort me as much as make me laugh. “You’re gonna be okay. Now, here are some things to look forward to: You’ll have plenty of time to write. And, more importantly, you’ll lose a lot of weight.”
Again, the snot flew.
Sometimes, I’d get angry and even sometimes cry harder, but she’d wake me out of my coma and laughter always followed.
As kids, if I was sad, which was often enough, she’d come running over ready to make faces and throw a nice smelly fart my way.
She was completely and utterly inappropriate and I thank the heavens for beaming her to down to me.
So, this is for you. For those times when happiness seems too far away, Jill Michele brings us laughter, the perfect weapon.
Rolling your eyes at your mother seems a rite of passage for most girls. My daughter rolled her eyes so much lately that I finally rolled mine back at her. Of course, I was extra dramatic about it. I rolled my eyes up with an extended flutter to emphasize the severity of only the white part showing.
She laughed, and her rolling eyes settled into a disdainful stare to match her frustration with my “nagging.” But, there are other sometimes more disturbing behaviors lately: Telling me to leave her alone then shutting her bedroom door, elbowing me (however lightly) when I try to hug her, saying “Oh Wow,” after I tell her to do something important like homework.
I’d already hurdled the “I hate you,” moments so I figured I could handle being my daughter’s enemy. But, “I hate you” was sharp, loud and over within seconds. These new insults dig into my side, make me feel nauseous, and even bring me to tears.
Inevitably I remember what I did to my own mother. Rolling my eyes being the most memorable of my insults. She would yell, “Don’t you roll your eyes at me!” Then, I’d do it again, just to spite her.
I’ve grown up a lot since then and I hope I’ve learned something. However, like every naïve new mother, I vowed to never be like my mother. Now, when I hear other moms say they won’t be like their mothers, I secretly say, “Good luck with that.”
My mother was terrible. She wore miniskirts to my ultra-conservative Baptist school functions. She divorced two men. She told my friends’ parents to go to hell when they made snide remarks about her inappropriate behavior. She wouldn’t let me go anywhere because she was afraid I’d get hurt. She didn’t come home sometimes for 24 hours because she’d work double shifts as a nurse.
I hated her for all of that and more.
Sometimes, very early in the morning I’d sneak into her cave of a room and kneel next to her bed. I’d listen to her breath and I’d feel sorry for myself because I missed her so much. Then, I’d blow her a very quiet kiss and leave. I wanted her with me, just being my mom, like all the other mom’s at my school.
I know now that if she were around all the time I’d have hated her for that.
Why? Well, she’s my mother, my enemy, my one true love.
It doesn’t make it any less painful to know that while I experience the same with my own daughter. It just keeps me grounded. I know the journey will leave me sore and tired, but love will lock us together.
My mother also snuck into my room late at night bringing me little presents: a pair of earrings, a teddy bear, a kiss. I’d be angry with her for something so I wouldn’t let her know I was awake, but I loved her for visiting me. Deep in my soul, I knew she loved me just as much or more than the “perfect” moms who volunteered at bake sales and coached the cheerleading teams.
Just recently my daughter decided we didn’t need to read together at night anymore like we’ve done even before she began reading on her own. I tried to act like it didn’t bother me, but when I cried myself to sleep for three days in a row, I again felt what my own mother must’ve: a sorrow that only love brings.
I wrote my daughter a note praising her for finding her independence and telling her why I was sad about it, that I would miss it so much and I’d be there for her no matter what changes come.
Within a week, she asked me to read with her again. One night, yes; another night, no.
I remind her that I will always need hugs and she will always be my baby. Those things she must accept. We’ll work out the rest.
She smiles a baby smile, blinks her eyes, and rests her head on my shoulder.
Since Saturday, I’ve been upset and I didn’t want to write about it because I knew it would’ve been unfocused. I also don’t want this to be a place for readers to have to endure endless rants. So, I’ve been reading fellow writers’ posts while attempting to sedate the anger I still feel. But, as I was browsing the blogs I follow in my Reader, I came upon the Daily Prompt: Be the Change. It asks the question: What change, big or small, would you like your blog to make in the world?
After quelling my initial outrage over a long-awaited yet horribly disappointing Saturday, here’s my answer to this question.
This blog should change every reader’s perspective. What you once thought to be true or real should change because you read about a strange but inspiring moment. You should laugh like a mad man or a wild woman and do something spontaneous. You should find solace in it all because you feel comfortable being different and take pride in yourself even if others won’t ever see it.
In short, this blog should inspire resilience. Without it, you’re doomed.
I write this now, two days later, more clearly and focused, well, because of the prompt and because of the distance from Saturday.
On Saturday, November 10, I got up at 6 a.m. to drive across town to an Idea Expo for teachers. In a fog of fatigue after teaching all week, I told myself this was too important to miss. I did find inspiration in the Superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools Alberto Carvahlo’s well-delivered speech. It garnered a standing ovation from the audience of teachers.
But, that was it.
Fifteen minutes later, I sat in a boxed room with a teacher sharing a lesson on Dracula, one of my favorite classics, which she purportedly teaches to middle-school students. I thought, okay, I’m gonna like her because that’s daring.
But, I didn’t like her.
I wanted to bite her.
Instead, I bit my lip and left for the day. She would be the next speaker for the next presentation, and I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut for that long.
Here’s why. She showed us a sample of the lesson she prepared for her students. She showed us a prompt about horror, which we had to answer. Fair enough, I thought. It was when she asked us what controversy meant that I flinched for the first time. She told us she was modeling the lesson for us. Okay, fine, I’d heard that before. I didn’t like it but okay. Then, she asked for responses, which we gave. After that, she said, if her own students couldn’t answer the prompt, she would let them copy off the student next to them.
I flinched again. I few curse words flew through my mind.
Then, she showed us her list of vocabulary words and said that she didn’t believe in letting students struggle with words because sometimes they mispronounce them. Fine, fair enough. Again, I just needed to give this a chance, give her a chance. She’s a teacher. She deserves my respect.
As she reviewed the list of words, she said, “Aqueese.” Just like that. Aqueese.
I jerked my arm and stabbed my paper with my pen. I shut my packet.
The word was acquiesce.
I make a lot of mistakes. I encourage my students to correct me if I misspell something on the board. I’m a writer, so I know how misspellings happen. But, if I’m teaching pronunciation then I’d better get it right. If I’m teaching spelling and I suck at it, I’d better study those words or admit my weakness.
It was too much to bear. I grew up loving literature so much that I passed my days in the library. I skipped science class, not to go to the beach, but because I snuck into the library to read. I lived inside these books, and she had proceeded to mutilate what I loved.
So, I left.
I walked to Starbucks and listened to Billie Holiday belt out her piping-hot tunes. I pretended none of this just happened and settled into the sounds around me.
But, the anger lingered.
The fumes gathered and swirled.
I looked at my own children and myself as a child. So many teachers had disappointed me the way this woman did that day. So many teachers have handed my children misinformation on a silver platter and lauded themselves while doing it.
I could and can only think: Resilience. Laugh out loud, relentless resilience.
The only regret I have is that I didn’t speak my mind. In an effort to be polite, to tame the fire in my belly, I bit my tongue.
Purple seems a state of grace. Cloaked in it, the world around you bleeds with creativity and honor. A smile isn’t just a smile, it’s a perspective. I see myself as someone I am. A struggle becomes a path, an enemy, a friend.
Then I see red.
Nothing in between.
My goal has always been to remain within purple. But, over the last few years, it’s become very clear to me that red must intrude, must kick purple to the curb and salute a raw instinct to fight.
Mothers know this. They may not feel purple, perhaps they walk with blue or yellow. But, in a swift second, they fill with red when their children are threatened, teased, or hurt.
I know. I’m a mother and a teacher. The inconsistencies shock some and are vulgar to others. I’ve been yelled at by many mothers, and I’ve done a lot of yelling myself. However gentle I try to be, especially with teachers, my manners disintegrate when confronted with problems affecting my children.
Knowing this has changed me even more so when dealing with parents. My purple turns to deep red for the mothers who yell at me. I usually sympathize more than they know.
The angrier the mom, the more I can take a good beating from her, even if she’s completely wrong. The last mother who yelled at me never should have. She was wrong, but I didn’t get mad. I looked her in the eyes and told her to understand that when I spoke to her, I wanted to help her. It didn’t take much. I didn’t even have to tell her I had children too. She simply saw it in my eyes.
By seeing red, by understanding it, I can live in red more comfortably now. I know what it’s there for. It’s a call to action, a desire to protect, a need to be heard.
The stacks of paperwork stared at me, but it didn’t matter because I was going to Europe for my honeymoon. Bleak cubicles boxed me in, but my emails reminded me Europe was waiting.
With both of us working fulltime at jobs that required 12-hour days, my fiancé and I could never have planned a honeymoon to Europe without email. The negotiations, the pricing, the bookings—email, email, email.
Before email became a common tool, it would’ve meant appointments, endless phone conversations, time away from work, and Europe probably would’ve been a pipe dream.
But, this was the year 2000.
Despite the incessant anxiety of planning a wedding and attempting to transport family from Venezuela to Miami, my emails set a reassuring hand on our shoulders, saying, “You’ll fly away soon.”
I remember thinking, “This isn’t gonna happen,” at one point as I was struggling to battle the seating arrangements for the wedding reception. Then, I turned to my desktop, seeking solace in what amounted to love letters from my fiancé. There, smiling, was an email titled, “Itinerary.” It was done. He had emailed me the agenda for our trip.
We would soon be sipping cappuccinos in cafés in Roma and Firenze. All momentary problems dissolved and those stacks of paper diminished to a simple task at hand.
Even our Eurorail tickets floated to us through email. So, I dreamt of the train that would take us to Vienna from Venezia.
Looking back now, I remember dragging our suitcases from the TRENI down the street to Hotel Alexandra in Roma and I wonder how we survived without our iphones. Facebook would’ve sounded crazy and WordPress would’ve been unimaginable.
The technology we have today would’ve not only made our trip more interesting, but it would’ve saved memories that often slip through my fingers. Most of the pictures I post pop up from my iphone. I can’t believe I lived without it.
But, that good old reliable email…that was just the beginning. Europe without email?
Writers everywhere feel as if they’ve taken a shot to the heart when rejection hits. These particular bullets miss by an inch leaving a wound so deep that it never really heals. This week I’m going to post bits and pieces of a campaign worth discovering. Check out the video below.
Nayia Moysidis, the founder and CEO of Writer’s Bloq, not only helped me figure out how to patch up my wounds but how to fight back. For more information link on to my post titled https://bravesmartbold.com/2012/09/15/a-tribute-to-the-katniss-of-the-writers-revolution/ or click on Writer’s Bloq and the Kickstarter campaign.
The mission: Helping great writers get discovered.
If you have a story to tell, a blog, a short story, a novel, a fierce desire to write, then you need to find Writer’s Bloq and the Kickstarter campaign. Because it’s only the beginning of the journey, this is an incredible opportunity for writers everywhere to join and find a place for their talent to be seen and heard.
The founder and CEO of Writer’s Bloq, Nayia Moysidis, embodies a spirit of blemished ferocity in the form of love. She refuses to buckle under the pressure of defeat—a very real, crushing reality for all writers at some point in their lives.
She started Writer’s Bloq after being rejected or, in more accurate terms, ignored 89 times.
Her hair pulled back into a long braid, her intensity alive, she speaks with the skill of a confident leader. Her power lies in her compassion. She understands and identifies with those who follow her. They follow her because they trust her. They follow her because she’s one of them: A writer.
Writer’s Bloq launched a Kickstarter campaign on August 22, 2012. Writer’s Bloq has seven days left to meet its goal in order to raise $15,000 so its team of writers can begin their Bloqparty Tour and promote their quarterly and their novels. They have raised $13,353. You can learn more about it by clicking on their Kickstarter campaign.
Writer’s Bloq isn’t just a writer’s showcase. It’s a home for writers to connect and draw attention their work in a way only a true hero can deliver. At the Bloqparty gatherings, writers meet up with industry professionals who have the opportunity to greet them in person, to give a voice to their words that might otherwise go unheard.
Nayia leads as Katniss does. Nayia braves the sorrows of talented writers being threatened with extinction. She’s the leader of a writing revolution because she embraces the fear inching through the publishing industry. A fear, if ignored, could become a reality.
She found a solution to a problem that’s grown into an epidemic, the kind that kills a writer’s basic instinct, to write and be published. Her solution means that writers don’t have to do what I did many years ago.
One of the main reasons I began this blog stems from this young, fiery soul. I had met Nayia Moysidis through friends and had gotten an email about her blog http://www.nayiaisms.com/.
When I read her blog, I chuckled. I read another post and cried. I read another and thought, “I used to share her passion for writing.”
So, right before bed when I was supposed to be too tired to think, the thoughts rushed around blocking my desire to sleep, so much so that I started writing again. And, I haven’t stopped since.
Yet, what I discovered was startling and sickening. I found that I’d become a good writer, not much different than I was 20 years ago, but I had nothing much to show for it. Okay, I had a resume with Publications Specialist on it and I could announce Award-Winning teacher with confidence. That was nice. But, I couldn’t proudly say, “I’m a seasoned writer because I’ve written this, this, and this.” I had worked in the publishing industry but I had created work for other people, most of whom either openly or insidiously claimed the work as their own.
I had been rejected as much or more than Nayia, so I packed away my dreams and slipped them under the bed. I became a very practical, very acceptable person, my true power sedated.
The worst part was that I had sold myself short. I had accepted my rejection as a truth instead of a reality.
To write this, as a writer, is even more painful than saying it out loud because when I say it, I usually contort my face and alter it or I say it as a source of twisted inspiration to those preparing for the beginning of their journey. It’s never truthful because it hurts too much.
I started out writing passionately and with a desire to change the world like so many artists. I did write. I have written. I have created, but I didn’t do it with the bravery I know I should have, the bravery I could have.
The Good Fight
So now, I support, love, and cheer for those who do what I didn’t. And, I do what I didn’t with trepidation. I say trepidation because after so many years of telling myself that I can’t do something, it’s hard to break that pattern.
If you don’t talk, if you don’t write, if you don’t take those chances that feel as if you’re stepping out onto a tightrope, you’ll just coast or even worse, you’ll just wander and wonder (yes, the spelling was intentional).
If the Katniss of this writing revolution existed then, I would’ve wanted to follow her. I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. She refuses to accept the stinging reality that only a handful of writers becomes published authors and that the majority of those who self-publish find little success.
Nayiafights the good fight, uniting writer with agent, writer with publisher, writer with an industry that itself wanders around lost and confused about where to look and how to construct a new path.
Her success ensures victory for all writers and for all those who honor the written word because she embraces the bitter, the wounded, and the lost then gathers the ripe and the ready to fight.
So, find her, read her, then support her and the writers of Writer’s Bloq and the Kickstarter campaign. Join them. Become one of them. It’s only the beginning of the journey.
It was suddenly too quiet. The loud clank of my dryer, reminding me that there would be clothes to fold, had stopped. I only knew because I wasn’t even aware of that whir and clank anymore. It was like a friend who hummed and clicked a song throughout the day. So, when it stopped, it sounded like an alarm clock of silence.
I walked to the dryer and pushed the button. Nothing.
I turned the dial. Nothing.
I began to panic as I looked at all the laundry left to do, knowing the guy who fixes my dryer would say he couldn’t be here until later, maybe even next week.
The panic arose from the sick feeling that I might have to enter and remain in a Laundromat. The TVs, the screaming kids, the inevitable heat, the creepy guy who doesn’t seem to have any laundry, and the memories of it all laughed at me. But, WordPress got in the way.
An Even Bigger Challenge
Caught between the daily post and this BraveSmartBold blog, I was faced with an even bigger challenge.
Do I panic for real? Or, can I be brave, smart, and bold by fixing my problem with a grace and wisdom that eludes us when faced with difficult dilemmas.
I chose the latter, which didn’t seem that difficult as I was throwing all the dirty clothes into garbage bags. I grabbed my computer and triumphantly found a simple solution to what could’ve been a freak-out session, complete with yelling at my husband for buying a cheap dryer and handling it like the Hulk’s victims.
Inside the Coin Laundry, however, my triumph fizzled. The familiar sound of my whirring, clackety dryer sounded instead like an old train with a loud, Spanish conductor. The Spanish show blaring overhead screamed a game show complete with dancers. And, there was the guy except he had a load of laundry, I think.
I felt like a mouse in a maze with the enormous silver and blue washers stacked in blocked patterns with no room to walk except in scattered rows, signposts explaining which was what. A bright-blue counter with chipped red paint grinned at me. A heavy-set woman handed me a tattered business card that said Herbal Club on it and she pointed to a back room with a sheet for a curtain.
I had already begun to sweat.
“You knew this would happen,” my BraveSmartBold voice told me.
“Just load the laundry and write a post,” the WordPress voice told me.
Her notes struck the incessant thoughts from my brain. Each punch on the keys left me thinking only of the beauty the world had to offer, the drops of rain hitting the pool, the light touch of a butterfly.
I know when I’ve lost our fights because my daughter looks away from me, sits, and plays her piano.
I look at her in a state of reverence when she ignores me, her mother, her teacher, her prodder, her leader, her tormentor.
The sounds bleed from a part of her that no piano teacher could ever touch. She knows the notes from ages ago and I know I have no right to interfere in their delivery to this small space she’s found in a limitless dimension, so I stand distant, yet affected.
Her sounds leave me inferior and that’s when I know I can mother her from a place of love, bowing to the majesty of understanding music with only her ears.
A book, a lesson, exists somewhere but never meets this moment when she sits and creates from her soul. She plays by ear.
My daughter blocks my noise, my pressure to do, to checklist, to become and achieve. She seals my lips shut with a sound, the universal sound of song without words: music.
Times when I need her to listen, I have been cut short by the piano.
With her long, tangled hair draping her shoulders, she defies me. And, I’ve learn my lesson.
I stop my rant and listen.
That music plunges into every empty pocket of the house. No one speaks when she plays. She knows this and so do I.
The humility of knowing that my child may know more than me smacks me in the face.
A few sounds later, she leaves the song behind and we’re smiling again.
My Great Grandma stood, hands on hips, staring out the sliding-glass door as the rain pelted the concrete. “What we need is a hurricane,” she said, her gray, cropped, curly hair making her look wise and crazy, which is exactly what I thought when I first heard her words.
But that wasn’t even the crazy part. The insane part materialized a week or two later when a hurricane, or the beginnings of one, showed up on our doorstep.
So, not to sound crazy myself, when I stood at the sliding-glass door a few weeks ago, the heat melting my brain, the humidity making it hotter, and said, “We need a hurricane,” I wasn’t that surprised when Isaac came rattling over our doorstep.
Shuttered in my house in Miami, feeling restless in my cave, I watched the wind and rain scatter tree limbs and fill the pool with water and debris. I thanked the Great Spirit for letting us keep our electricity this time, remembering Wilma’s punishment and hoping everyone in Isaac’s path would stay safe. Then I returned to my childhood when tropical storms and hurricanes meant huddling in our house with our cousins and watching Martial Arts on TV until the electricity went out.
We had never experienced anything too horrible or at least I didn’t remember much about it.
I did, however, remember the one that had devastated Miami. After my Great Grandma died, Hurricane Andrew left me in an apartment with no way out, fallen trees trapped me for days, a visiting New Yorker cried over a crushed car. I stood in long lines for water and volunteered to help people in shelters.
Then my mind returned home to Isaac and I thought, “Why the hell did she say that we needed a hurricane? That is crazy.”
I pulled down some containers with old photographs and cried when I saw her. She had been my best friend when I was little. I’d sit on the floor and play with her canister of buttons while she watched General Hospital. She told the best stories on our walks to Winn Dixie down the street from her house. She even took the time to tell me to try one of her cigarettes, which I’d been eyeing for quite a while. When I choked on the smoke, she said, “Won’t do that again will you?” Then she made me a sandwich, and we read a book together.
Now, listening to Isaac’s rain as I sat in my house, in the dark, with man-made light keeping me up, I sifted through pictures, hoping something would trigger my memory, asking why she had said we needed a hurricane. I really didn’t want her to be crazy.
Please, don’t be crazy.
But, I finally got tired and gave up, sliding all the pictures together and putting them away. I kept some out and found some frames but decided to save them for another rainy day project.
Listening to the rain hit the shutters, I dosed off then my body jolted awake.
I took a different perspective. My mind’s eye panned away from Great Grandma looking even more silly and loveable in her terry-cloth jumper. As she kept staring out the sliding-glass door, she glanced back at us: me, my mom, her mother, and my sister. We were busy fighting. We were also sweating. I couldn’t remember what the fight was even about, but my Great Grandmother’s glances were angry. She was sick of the heat, and she was even more sick of our fighting.
Then I heard her explanation. “We need that hurricane to cool everyone off. You hear me? You all need a good storm to show you what really matters,” she grumbled, stomping off to her bedroom and lighting a cigarette.
When the storm hit, we not only stopped fighting, we hugged each other. Huddled together in a bathroom, we worried about each other. We wondered who we could help, how could we help.
My Great Grandmother was wise and crazy, just crazy enough to know how a hurricane could stop fights.
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