International Women’s Day

Happy Wednesday, March 8: International Women’s Day. And, if you’re participating in the day’s events, it’s also a Day Without a Woman.

I’ve heard much poo-pooing of the protests going on this day, but I agree with them. In fact, I support my son’s teachers, who are taking the day off in honor of this Day Without a Woman.

Women are not appreciated in this country. We objectify and insult our female Marines. Our president’s multiple assaults on women pass with a few head-shakings and tongue-cluckings, but there he is. Our country’s mast-head, notoriously disrespectful of women.

I myself have transformed many times in my lifetime, professionally and personally, as a result of the most feminine thing a woman can do: birthing children. I felt apologetic about that, even using my motherhood as an excuse to explain my patchwork resume to future employers. I thought my story was unique, and maybe a touch shameful, that my personal (regrettable) choices to put my family and my sanity first, in not wanting to spend 90% of my waking time in an office and miss all my kids’ childhood, that all this was something to apologize for.

I’m discovering that my story is not at all unusual, that many women go through a version of personal, professional and financial penalization as a result of having to choose between motherhood and working in the big, wide world. To put it delicately: fuck that.

Is it getting better? Yes it is. The internet has revolutionized the workforce. Remote employers don’t care if there’s a spot of baby puke on my shoulder while I pound out my articles. But women are still discriminated against: called drama queens or bitches if they get upset at work, whereas a man throwing a fit is considered a power play. And, yes, women are still paid less than their male counterparts for the same jobs.

In other parts of the world, women are devalued even further: shot for voicing opinions, burned or stoned for going against male rules, raped as punishment.

The protesters today have been criticized for being privileged: they are the “safe” demographic, able to walk out of their jobs without fear of being terminated. But I applaud the use of that privilege to draw attention to the plight of women who can’t afford to make their stance known. Appreciate the women in your life, today and every day. We’re valuable.

Poor Valley Witch IX: Jilted

Good Tuesday, readers! I hope this last day of February is treating you well. Here’s the next installment of my short, serial story: Poor Valley Witch. To start from the beginning, click here. Thanks for reading!

***

Landon went back into Mamaw’s house. I need answers, he thought. His grandmother knew what was happening. It was time she let him in on whatever this family secret was.

She sat at the battered kitchen table, staring at the jam jars he’d gotten out for their tea, before he’d seen the vultures in the attic. Before they’d been the subject of a, what? A Baptist protest? Landon shook his head. Sweet tea with his grandmother seemed like something that had happened about a million years ago.

“Tell me,” he said, sliding into the chair across from her. She shook her head, like a petulant child.

“Tell me what the hell is happening, Mamaw! What is this? Why is some witch,” he stabbed his finger toward the window, and Poor Valley, beyond the tall pines. “Some witch sending her vultures to get my things? What does that mean?” Mamaw stared at him with wide, wet eyes. Her mouth quivered. He’d never seen her so vulnerable as she was today. It made him feel bad, like he was staring at her naked.

“I … made a mistake,” she whispered. She sat, clutching the jam jar with its skim of tea at the bottom, her wrinkled hands white with effort. Landon opened his mouth, then shut it again. He let the silence lay heavy. Finally, she took a deep breath and looked up at him.

“When your father brought your mother home and said they’d gotten married, I tried. I tried to find a way to make it ok.”

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Landon sat back in the chair. “Mamaw, are you seriously losing it? What the hell does my mother marrying Dad have to do with any of this?” He’d always had the impression that his grandmother didn’t like his mother, that her constant disapproval had driven a wedge between his parents. And his parents’ commitment hadn’t been strong enough for them to stay together. His mother’s love for him hadn’t been strong enough to make her stay.

“Your father was promised to the Poor Valley Witch.” Mamaw let out a shaky breath, releasing the jam jar where it sat on the table, her hands small and quiet in her lap.

“He was promised to her? Like in Rumplestiltskin, he was supposed to belong to her, or something? I’m not getting this, Mamaw.” Landon rubbed at his face. He was tired.

She laughed, some of her old spunk in the sound. He looked up at her, surprised by that.

“No, he was promised to her as in he proposed marriage to her. He told her he would marry her, would have babies with her, would live up in Poor Valley for the rest of their … well, the rest of his life.” Bitterness crept into her voice.

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“And then, what? He ran off and met Mom on spring break in … in, Florida? And they got married?” It was a reach, the most ludicrous thing he could think of, but as soon as the words were out his grandmother was nodding.

“That’s pretty much what happened, babe. Your father was faithless, as we used to say. And you just don’t jilt a witch.” Mamaw stood up and took the jam jars over to the sink, pouring the sugary brown tea down the drain. She looked frail, silhouetted against the window.

“So Mom left. Is that why? She finally couldn’t take the pressure? Did the witch curse her, or something?”

“Not exactly,” said Mamaw. “The witch tried to kill your father, first. She was unsuccessful. And then–” Landon’s cell phone chimed. His mother had texted; her plane was about to take off in Tampa.

“Mom’s on her way here,” he said. “She said she’ll rent a car in Knoxville.” Mamaw nodded.

“I’m so tired, babe,” she said. “Let me lay down a bit.” Landon got up to put his arm around her, help her to her bedroom. Something in her manner made him think she needed help, needed to lean on someone else. Put down her burdens for a while.

***

 

Fail-Proof Test: Are You the Good Guy?

I made a significant self-discovery over the past week.

You know how, when you’re really into the pivotal part of your hero’s story: the battle scene when the bad guy just keeps coming no matter what the hero throws at ‘im, and all the tenuously laid plans crumble apart until one epic, split-second decision wins the day for the hero …?

Basically, the good guys always win while they’re winging it. Check it out.

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Narnia: Peter and the good-guy army are fighting the good fight. Sure, they’ve got a plan involving luring the enemy into a land chute, trapping them, blah blah, but of course the White Witch ain’t having it, and she’s winning anyway. But then Aslan shows up! So they all just hold out until the end. And they win. I know, I know, it’s Deus Ex Machina, but still. Winging it.

Lord of the Rings: So many battles to choose from, here. They fight until all hope is lost, and then elves show up/plucky hobbit finally makes it to Mount Doom/Gandalf comes around/ents join the fight. Boom, for the win. Winging it.

It’s a formula: hero comes up with a plan. Hero messes up said plan, or her buddy messes it up, or it was never going to work in the first place. Ack! All hope is lost! Oh, wait, we’re ok, ’cause we just started winging it and now we won.

Ok, you can pick this apart and point to all the lessons authors are trying to impart: that good things happen if you just work hard, that faith and bravery are more important than winning so to prove it we’ll just have the heroes win when they display above-mentioned faith and bravery.

But at the heart of it all: winging it.

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So I turn to my partner-in-misspent energies/husband and say, “I just figured it out. We’re always winging it. Do you know what that means?”

“What?” says my intrepid life-partner.

“We’re the good guys.”

He gets it.

Poor Valley Witch VIII: Nubbins

Happy Friday, weekend warriors! I had a thought about Poor Valley Witch, so I thought I’d continue that narrative a bit today. Please read on.

If you’d like to read the previous installment, click here.

***

Landon sat in his car, cell phone in hand. His head was reeling. His thoughts were buzzing, full of white noise. He was an impulsive person naturally, and trusted his gut to guide him. It’s one of the things his father had always criticized.

“You need to slow down,” he’d say. “You need a plan. You keep flying by the seat of your pants, you’ll crash and burn.” Landon’s dad was right about that, usually, but Landon was naturally ornery as well as impulsive, so he pushed away the advice.

Now, it wasn’t his father’s advice he needed. It was his mother’s. She’d made the lost wax ring. In college, according to Mamaw. And here it was, on his pinky finger, plucked from a nest full of lost memories from his life, curated by vultures. Landon shivered, even though the day was warm. He thought he could smell their sickly-sweet stench, memory of their shuffling, rustling, black-feathered bodies evoking the sensation.

He looked down at the cell phone, thumb caressing the circular “unlock” button. He needed to go back to the Poor Valley witch, he was pretty sure of that. But he had absolutely no idea why. Why was she targeting him, sending her carrion-eaters to show him a cache of things hidden in his grandmother’s attic? He was starting to question Mamaw’s sanity, too. She’d said something about him being sacrificed. It was chilling, coming from her wrinkled lips, in her quavering, old-woman voice. But … was she all there? Was she lucid, or just spouting some creepy shit her dementia-addled brain had dredged up from a memory of some horror story she’d read as a kid? And which thing was more terrifying: his strong-willed grandmother going nuts, or her talking about his sacrifice while in her right mind?

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“I’m stalling,” Landon muttered, pressing down with his thumb to bring up his phone’s home screen. He tapped his mother’s name and lifted the phone to his ear.

“Hey, baby!” she answered on the first ring. “How’s my boy?” Her cheery voice grated in his ear. She’d been drinking, probably. It was there, under the cherry-sweet tone.

“Hi Mom,” he said. “Listen, I need you.” It was a bald confession. He would never have said those words in any normal circumstance; his mother had abandoned him and his dad, and he’d never forgiven her for that.

She picked up his tone immediately. “What’s wrong?” Not too drunk, then, he thought.

“I…have this ring,” he said, unsure of where to start his tale, or what he even needed her for. I’m grasping at straws, here, he thought. A gasp came through the phone.

“You need the nubbins,” she said. The cherry sweetness was gone completely.

“I have those, too,” he said, taken aback. They were in the mint tin, on the dash.

“Oh, thank god!” she said. “I’ll be there tonight. Tomorrow, if I can’t get a flight. I’ll come in to Knoxville. Stay with your grandmother. I’ll rent a car.”

“Ok,” he said, now completely flustered.

“Landon?”

“Yeah.”

“Stay at Mamaw’s. That’s important. Keep the ring and the nubbins close, and stay there.”

“Ok, Mom.” The connection dropped. What the hell was happening?

 

Part III of J-O-B: Finding Freelance Gigs

Last week I posted a bit more on the Poor Valley Witch story, so I decided to continue on with the third in my J-O-B series this week. Sorry, Mike. But for all you other readers, I hope you enjoy!

I mentioned in the first J-O-B post that I have two freelance gigs in addition to my part-time work. I’d like to share how I landed those gigs.

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Being freelance has lots of perks: you can pick and choose your work, the world is your office (or your house is your office, with a fuzzy cat “office mascot” and super relaxed dress code.) BUT freelancing has its downside. Sometimes work is thin on the ground, so you take whatever work you can get. And sometimes you get so sick of your house you flee to run errands and freak out the grocery store clerk because you’re so starved for human interaction you end up telling her your whole life story …

So how can you find fun and fruitful employment as a freelance writer? I have two avenues to share with you today.

1.Check online sources, and do it often. You’ll need a system, because just looking at all the places jobs might be posted takes days. Have a few you rotate through and check a couple daily, or maybe have two afternoons a week dedicated to job searching. Get good at recognizing how to pitch yourself as the best for the job through email cover letters. Make sure your resume and samples are up-to-date.

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2. Pursue the professionals you personally know. One of my clients is a local real estate agent who was interested in having a blog, but doesn’t have the time or experience to keep it up herself. I didn’t know that when I cold-called her, but she was willing to meet and hear me out. You never know what sustainable coffee shop owner wants a menu rewrite, or which outdoor adventures outfitter might want to start up a store newsletter. Come with ideas, plenty of writing samples (and, of course, a custom cover letter for that business, and your resume) and be prepared to hear “No.” You’ll get lots and lots of “No” before you land steady clients.

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Having multiple work streams is definitely the way to go in freelancing. When one client dries up, you can still sustain your work days with other clients. And don’t ever stop pursuing knowledge of freelance writing! Bloggers are out there, every day, sharing pearls of wisdom. Consider it Continuing Education, something every profession requires.

Thanks for reading!

Poor Valley Part VII: Lost Wax Ring

Here is Part VII of Poor Valley Witch, the short story I’m writing, warts and all, on this blog. I’m editing as I go and making lots of mistakes! But, hey, it’s a writing experiment. Go here to start at Part I. Here’s Part VI.

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“Sacrificed? What the hell does that mean, sacrificed?” Landon gripped Mamaw’s shoulders. She shook her head.

“Nothing. Let me see the ring,” she said, holding out her hand. He gazed at her a moment more, then sat down on the bed next to her and took the ring off. She took it from him and squinted at it, teeth bared in the shrewish expression he remembered from his childhood. It was her concentrating expression, reserved for tricky bits of sewing or the contemplation of broken things. It had always scared him a little bit; the exposed teeth made her look feral.

“There’s the engraving, but that’s not what I’m looking for … See here,” she muttered, turning the ring to look inside. “See the little bump in there? The circle.”

Landon leaned close to see. “Yes.”

“This is the lost wax ring.” The lost wax ring? What the hell did that mean? Was the ring lost, or somehow made of wax? It looked like gold to him.

“I don’t understand, Mamaw.”

“It’s a way to make jewelry. You carve what you want to make out of wax and press it into clay, then bake it to melt out the wax and make a mold. See, you have to leave a little nubbin that sticks out of the clay so it all drains out. And you have to leave little nubbins inside to hold it together while you’re carving the thing.”

“Lost wax,” said Landon, bemused. He didn’t understand what this had to do with anything, but Mamaw seemed calmer talking about it. She seemed more like herself. He wanted to keep that going. “Then what?”

“Yes. Then you melt the gold and push it into the clay mold. With centrifuge.” Her words became a whisper. “Little gold nubbins are left on the ring. From the mold. You have to cut those off.” She caressed the slight bump on the ring with one finger.

“Your mother made this ring,” she said with a finality that startled him. “In college.” Landon’s mother. Mamaw didn’t usually like to speak of her. She lived in Florida now, had gone south for a vacation when he was a kid and never come home again.

“Come with me,” said Mamaw, swinging her legs around to get off the bed.

“You sure that’s a good idea?” Landon put one hand on her arm. “You just fainted!”

She took his hand in hers and patted it with a wan smile, then stood up and walked out of the room. He looked down at his hand. She’d tucked the ring into it. He ran out after her. She was already out the back door, headed to the garden shed. She pulled open the door with a jerk and marched into the gloom. Landon barely made it to the shed before she marched back out, almost colliding with him.

She held a rusted mint tin. “Here.”

“What’s this?” He took the tin from her, still holding the ring in one hand.

“It’s the nubbins,” she said. He opened the rusted lid and looked inside. There were three tiny, misshapen cylinders of gold and a desiccated dead beetle. She closed the lid again and closed his hands around the ring and the mint tin.

“Keep these safe,” she said. “They are more important than you know.”

 

 

Part 2 in the J-O-B Series

In Part 2 of an as-yet-undetermined number in my newest blog series, J-O-B, I promised to discuss what happens when your pristinely crafted cover letter and resume get attention and you actually get in the door of a future employer.

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I’m talking about the interview.

Many writers are introverts. I get that. The thought of sitting across from a manager’s desk, or on the couch in a creative director’s office (and talking about such things as why you’re the best candidate for the job, and what your professional goals are, and if you could change careers and do anything what would that be and why …?) might actually cause you to break out in hives.

I don’t have any ground-breaking secrets here; you just have to get over it. You don’t have to suddenly become an extroverted version of the introverted you, but you do have to actually talk to people, and at least give an appearance of enjoying it. At least a little.

To get to this point, O Unemployed Pilgrim, you have to practice. Even the most introverted person has a friend or two in the world. Ask one (or both) of them to sit down and have a mock interview. Research job interview questions from multiple online sources and compile them. See which questions make the list most often. Figure out your answer to those questions. Throw in a few oddball questions. Figure out your answers to those, too.

If you’re relatively new, out of practice, or just prone to anxiety, you absolutely have to sit down, face-to-face with your friend (the mock future employer) and have them “interview” you, using all those questions. Do it a few times, until you feel more comfortable.

Dress up. Even if it’s a casual, modern office, dress up for the interview. Send the message that you care about making a good first impression. Don’t think that playing it cool will land you a job; it won’t. Be professionally eager. Show that you want the job. This isn’t the same as dating in middle school. (And if you were that person who pretended you weren’t interested to try and get a date, how’d that work out for you?)

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Bring hard copies of your resume, cover letter and writing samples. So, so many writers don’t do this. Yes, it’s accessible online. Yes, you sent the stuff according to the format requested by the company. (If you didn’t, you probably didn’t get an interview. Go back to Part 1 of the J-O-B series.) But, again, you’re sending a message: “I’m making it easy for you to see all the things that make me the best writer for your company.”

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Happy interviewing. If, like me, you are prone to sweating profusely during life’s exciting moments, let’s hope the interview space is air-conditioned.

Finally, I’d like to take a moment to say: Congratulations! You landed an interview! Go get ’em, tiger.