Post-circus life check-in

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It’s…been awhile.

Since last I wrote, John and I traveled for nine months straight with a traditional tent circus from southern Texas to New Hampshire and back. For those of us who didn’t grow up in circus, the lifestyle can be quite jarring but it amazed me how quickly I adapted to it.

It’s now been three weeks since our last show and we are settled in Indiana for the winter. We’re negotiating with two other shows for next season. I thought it would be tougher to adjust to civilian life than it actually ended up being. There was a window of about two days where I was astonished not to have elephants living next door to me (they were excellent composters and cuddlers) and not to need my mud boots at every living second outside of my home. Hot showers with good water pressure and toilets that weren’t emptying into a holding tank that smelled after 4 days were also very nice adjustments.

I won’t lie to you; it was a tough, tough season. Anyone on the show will tell you it was so it wasn’t simply because we were newbies, aka “First of Mays”. We dealt with a lot of bad and severe weather, no international crew (and some performers) for the first two weeks of the season because of immigration policy (which made things VERY tense on the lot), towns that were good last season not being good this season, and more days off than we’ve had in past seasons (which was great for relaxation but terrible for making money). And our last lot for the season was a 9-day stand in an untested market we’ve never played near before.

Veterans would tell us throughout the entire season that this was a very bad season to be newbies on. I truly believe that most folks on the show expected us to blow the show (circus jargon for quitting the show without notice) at some point. There would always be the joke when we’d leave the lot to fill up on propane or dump our holding tanks and return a few hours later that “everyone assumed you were blowing the show!”  which we laughed about in the beginning and then became an irritant later on when the stress of the season was weighing on us.

I managed the front gate of the big top tent which essentially meant I took tickets, answered a lot of questions and filled the role of PR person when a wide-eyed individual wanted to know what it was REALLY like to work for a circus and how they could join up. I was fortunately sheltered from the equally wide-eyed animal “rights activists” who, trying to give them the benefit of the doubt, probably had the animals’ best interests at heart but went about it very, very badly. During the actual shows, once the tickets were tallied and my only necessary job was to tell people where the portable toilets were (“The bathrooms are to the left!” or “Los banos estan a la izquierda!), I was able to read or daydream. The music from each of the acts melted together, the ringmaster’s script was quickly memorized (including his inflections), and I exchanged smiles and jokes with the other crew on the midway as we waited for intermission.

We traveled with almost 100 people…the same folks for nine months. Just like any other towner job, you had the people you liked, the people you didn’t like, the people you knew you could trust and the people you only exchanged shallow pleasantries with. The backyard politics and power struggles bit us both in the ass in the beginning of the season simply because we didn’t know where they’d be coming from. We stepped in it big time unknowingly and unfortunately that followed us through the rest of the season.

Unlike a towner job, a circus job requires you to eat, sleep, socialize, and otherwise bare all with your co-workers 24 hours a day. In some ways, this was a good thing: you learned who you could depend on and you proved yourself trustworthy. We had a couple of mechanics who would follow us from town to town and fix your vehicle no matter where you were. There were several of us on the show with sewing machines and with a quick exchange of money or bartering for something you needed, you could get the zipper fixed on your coat or your pants patched up after tripping over a tent stake and ripping them. We had a cook who made two hot meals a day that everyone had access to for free. No one had utility bills because our generator truck provided our power, our water was pumped into our homes twice a day from city water, and every couple of months you’d need to refill your propane tank for heat, hot water, and your refrigerator.

I kept a blog throughout the season that I tried to keep impartial but found more and more that I needed to edit myself when it came to my daily frustrations. Name dropping people who are making your life hell or even referring to a disagreement would only make things worse in the short term. Admitting to being frustrated with certain ways the show was run would only exacerbate the issues if someone took the words personally. Wishing I could be seen as a newbie who has a lot of life experience to offer that could translate well into circus life just wasn’t a possibility. Much like the music industry, many in circus hold to the way “we’ve always done it” and don’t wish to make many, if any, changes.

And that’s fine…to a point. But that’s just my opinion. I don’t have my own show nor do I have years of experience trying out different ideas only to have them blow up in my face. Maybe it is just easier to do things the way they’ve always been done and leave it at that. Even though it causes tensions to rise throughout the season and blow-ups to occur that cause people to leave, maybe in the long run, it’s worth it.

I’m not generally of that mind though. When I come into a new situation, I can’t help but see the overall picture and then focus on the way you can make it better. It’s never meant as a judgment on my part but I believe it’s usually seen that way. I learned to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself when it came to the day to day life on the lot. And since we decided on our own not to return, it’s probably for the best that I didn’t attempt to make any ideas for change known. I won’t be the one to live that life with that particular show next season and those who will be are the ones who will need to decide.

I think the greatest misconception about circus (and you can probably extend this to any flashy performing arts job) is that it must be fun and glamorous every single day. When you are an audience member and our guest in our big top, what you see is the extraordinary talent, the beautiful costumes, the showmanship, and the exotic. You can’t relate to the people in the ring because they seem to be from a different planet. Their skills are unimaginably difficult and nothing in your life has given you the ability to learn what they are presenting to you. You’re face to face with tigers, elephants, and zebras which doesn’t even happen at the zoo. How could this life be anything else BUT glamorous and joyful?

I wouldn’t want to burst anyone’s bubbles when they’d ask me breathlessly what it’s like to work with a circus and to live that life every day. But honestly, it becomes like any other job you’ve done but with a different backdrop. God forbid, you get used to seeing exotic animals in your front yard and you see the performers along with the crew slogging through knee-high mud and elephant droppings. After the 5th time of spinning your tires in the mud and needing to wait two hours for the forklift to pull you out, you have glimmers of thoughts of working indoors during inclement weather and mud being something that you can easily avoid in the land of concrete and pavement. Everyone on the show led regular lives outside of the performance ring with their families, their house repairs, and their blown tires. Some performers would be sick as dogs while performing but you wouldn’t have known it from the stands. Performing, selling popcorn and souvenirs, and taking tickets were the way you made your money each week in order to pay bills and send money home to your family if you were the breadwinner.

However, now a few weeks removed from the season, I do miss aspects of it. I miss the freedom afforded to us with traveling every day, having the same schedule each day, and the relatively easy job that I performed. I miss many of the people I lived, socialized and worked with for nine months. I miss being in a new town every day and a new state every week or so that held unknown promises and secrets to uncover during the short time we were there.

I am a very different person than I was going into this season. I have developed a thicker skin, I have made peace with the knowledge that there are people who only have their best interests at heart even to the detriment of those around them, I have lived with very little and in harsh conditions and emerged victorious, and most importantly, I have shed the stifling fear of homesickness. In the beginning of traveling, I felt untethered and loose in the world with nowhere specifically to call home and that scared me significantly. I didn’t want to be in a new state with new experiences; I wanted to be in a familiar town surrounded by family and friends who I knew unconditionally loved me. By the middle to end of the season, I learned to embrace the new, the strange, the unfamiliar in favor of appreciating the unique experience afforded to me in this job. It didn’t strike me as weird anymore that I was living in a parking lot in Fort Worth, Texas surrounded by a community that didn’t speak my language as a first language. I adapted, continued learning and practicing my Spanish, and enjoyed it for what it was.

At this point, we’re not 100% sure if we’ll be returning to the circus world next season or not. We’re negotiating but if we can’t get the money we need to live on, we may stay in Indiana for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s my ego talking, but I do fear the idea that if we don’t return to a show, we’ll be seen as newbies who couldn’t hack it. That those in the circus world who made it obvious they didn’t like us or think we belonged there will feel triumphant at their supposed correct assumption of us. But then I’m reminded that those people probably spend very little time thinking about either of us at all now that we’re not on their radar and more importantly, to live my life in reaction to that would be counterproductive. We’ll go the way that is best for us and we’ll thrive. We’ll be happy and we’ll be confident in the knowledge that we keep refusing to settle.

There isn’t much more I can ask for at this time in my life…

2013 in review

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

We are all worth more than this

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I stood up for myself yesterday and it felt terribly good.

The kind of “terribly good” where I was immediately conscious of my place in this world, my past failures to stand for up myself, and how ridiculous it is that anyone has ever tried to make me a doormat. I felt all of my 33.5 years and used that feeling to explain succinctly, calmly, and in all finality why what was thrown at me was not going to happen and why.

I was in a situation where I was viewed simply as a warm body filling a much needed space. My presence there was being used with no regard to my readiness or my ability and without my knowledge. There was no respect for my personal schedule and I was told we were all expected to be “on call”. I was thrown into interactions with strangers with no clue how to answer their questions and after several apologies, they were (understandably) annoyed with my ineptitude.

Yesterday was Day 3 and I was stressed out to the same level I was at when I managed a beautiful, but poorly-supported-by-its-owners bookstore in 2007.

Here’s how it went down:

I found out by accident that my entire schedule had changed that day without prior warning and without any notification. I objected and asked why this happened and when I was supposed to have found out about it.

I was told (not by the manager) this is the way it is and we are all expected to be vigilant and attentive at all times to the Holy Schedule even to the point of calling in on days of to see if we’ve been scheduled that day or not.

I said if I had been told that was the way schedules worked here, I wouldn’t have accepted the position.

After a slight flustered silence, I was told that this is just the way things are and I’ll get used to it.

I said I would not because that doesn’t work at all with my personal time outside of there and something needs to change or this will not continue to be a good fit for me.

Later conversation with the manager:

I repeated everything from above. I asked why I wasn’t told that the schedule is done this way, why I wasn’t given the heads-up that it had changed so dramatically, and finished with why this would not work for me personally. I also said that if I couldn’t be trained properly and actually have someone shadow me during said training, I wouldn’t continue working there.

I have worked in customer service and retail for over 15 years. I have dealt with inept management, corrupt ownership, back-stabbing, sexual harassment, and a screaming match with a manager in a parking lot over her incredibly unprofessional response to my two weeks notice. For those of you who have worked this industry, none of this comes as any surprise to you and I’m sure you can add to the list.

What I fail to understand time and time again is why so many businesses are run so poorly. I hold myself to a pretty high standard of work ethics (which doesn’t always make sense or keep me sane), so I can understand when others don’t match me. But when the basics of a good working environment are thrown out the window in favor of chaos, warm bodies, “just getting by”, no emphasis on communication, and a serious lack of teamwork, I have to wonder why a place even bothers to turn on the OPEN sign. The money they make must be pretty good and sustainable for such a lack of oversight.

When management’s expectations of its employees is that of theft, lying, and ineptitude, there is a serious breakdown and elimination of trust and communication that every working space needs. When beeps sound every time someone moves around the back room so that you can always be accounted for, there is an anxiety that builds subconsciously in your brain. When you are required to have a “buddy” with you when cleaning the parking lot, there is a voice in your head saying you can’t be trusted.

So when the environment you work in needs to resort to these measures, they are not attacking the problem in order to make things better. They are not ensuring theft, lying, and ineptitude will stop. They are not providing a safe and welcoming atmosphere to spend a major portion of your weekly life in. They are blindly attacking with no game plan and taking everyone down with the ship.

I call bullshit.

Every worker is better than that. I am better than that.

So I laid it all out on the phone last night…I specifically pointed out what would need to happen in order for me to continue working there. Management agreed to my specifications, so they’ve been given one more chance. Though I need the money, they need me more.

And they will not be allowed to forget that.

Estrangement during the holidays

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This Christmas, it will be 8 years.

I can hardly believe it.

8 years since we’ve been in the same room as my in-laws. I have hazy memories of that Christmas: most of us gathered at R & S’s house, eating lots of food, gift exchanges, and laughing at the latest snowman acquisition that S got: it looked like one of those little kid figurines that stand in the corner in time-out and we all shared a laugh about that (later, that scenario would be twisted around to look as though we were laughing and making cruel fun of S for owning it). And that’s about all I remember.

Oh, one other memory: driving home that night, I remember telling John that I had a really nice day with his family and that I felt as though we were all finally really getting along.

Nothing had ever quite been right when we all got together. I knew about his family’s background of dysfunction and rampant estrangement throughout the generations, but I figured, like all families, when the shit hit the fan, there may be some verbal sparring or hurt feelings, but everyone would come back together again because unconditional love would win over all. I had no other experience except for that so it was hard to imagine anything else happening. Even after a particularly loud and hurtful screaming match a month before our wedding, I still believed.

Except this family was so damaged and weakened from generations of sparring, estrangement, hurt feelings, and self-imposed martyrdom that shiny thoughts like unconditional love and forgiveness weren’t going to save it.

We eventually accepted contact from two of his brothers after they were unceremoniously dumped from the family too. A couple of years before that, we were reunited with our (ex) sister-in-law and nephew during her bitter but much-needed divorce from another brother. It’s good to have blood relatives back but the loss of years (especially being able to watch our niece and nephews grow up) weighs heavily. Nothing will ever be the same. We can smile and eat together and catch up on each other’s lives and get to know our niece (who was a baby and living in NJ when this all went down) but there will always be the gap of silent years hanging over us. A gap that was initially forced on all of us against our wishes but which ultimately drove us all apart.

John and I? We made it. We’ve been together 14 years and counting. To look at us now, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell what we’ve been through. Holidays? Holidays are tough. No doubt about it. We spend a lot of time reminiscing about the years leading up to and after the estrangement. We make further peace with the idea that his parents are simply gone and that reconciliation, at least in this scenario, will not come. And sometimes we get angry that the holidays aren’t quite as magical as they used to be because they’ve been sullied by family who will no longer be present.

But ultimately, we’ve learned to be thankful and grateful for the family and friends who have stood by us and who have shown us unconditional love. They are the ones we surround ourselves with and who we define ourselves by. Each and every one of you is the best gift we could ever hope to get each Christmas. Thank you for waiting under the tree for us every year. Your presence in our lives is indeed a present.

A Week Of Christmas: You Don’t Always Get What You Want

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Clara Sayre:

This Christmas, it will be 8 years. Focusing on giving back to those who care and love us unconditionally will help make that number not hurt so much (I hope). – Clara

Originally posted on E-stranged:

“Through the reciprocation of energy, always, and every time, we will get exactly what we put out there to others. Like Karma, whatever we do will indefinitely come back to us in some way shape or form. When goodness is given, it is likely to returned.  When you support someone, you will be supported.  When you Love, you will be Loved.  If you give someone your last dollar, someone will help you equally. This is the law of the universe. What selfless characteristics do you portray to benefit your reality? Expand.” 
― Will Barnes

It was ideas like the ones suggested in the quote above that kept me hooked into dysfunction and abuse for entirely too long. I used to be a bit embarrassed about my preoccupation (and eventual disgust) with such New Ageisms and clichés. In hindsight I can see why these ideas were so attractive … I wanted love and caring…

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“To be loved is to be recognized as existing.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

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For the past couple of years (and on and off many years before then), I’ve been studying Buddhism through its many prolific writers: Thich Nhat Hanh, Noah Levine, and Lama Surya Das being the ones I’ve turned to the most during this time. I ordered the book Dakini Power by Michaela Haas, which is about women in Buddhism, but it arrived in Ann Arbor after we’d already left for our jobs with the circus, so my hope is that the book was purchased by someone who needed it more than I did.

I’m currently working through Hanh’s You are Here which my mom found at a thrift store and mailed to me. I’ve dog-eared and underlined so many pages already and I’m only halfway through the book (yes, I’m one of those readers who marks in a book…I don’t find it sacrilegious at all; instead it’s a way for me to quickly reference quotes that get me through a particularly bad day or anxiety attack). Same goes for Das’ Awakening the Buddha Within. Both books have turned into texts akin to the Bible for me; truth and wisdom are found on every page and my self-concept expands.

I was raised Christian…I have a deep respect for the words of Jesus, not so much the churches and many figureheads of said churches. The good ones keep me from completely turning my back on the faith I was raised in, but I also realized I needed more. I wasn’t getting the answers I needed though I threw myself full force into it in my later teens and a good portion of my twenties. Now I’m not entirely sure what I consider myself, but I do know that my spiritual nature will always incorporate the wisdom of Jesus along with other spiritual influences.

I enjoy the idea that Buddhism encourages oneself to take responsibility, to always search, and to do so in peace. The mantra I’ve been using lately speaks of this: “Be mindful. Be present.” (“In Buddhism, a moment of mindfulness is like a ‘grace'; these moments can consecrate every activity, waking each of us up to the sacredness of what we do, as we do it.” – pg. 71, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das) I should embrace my anger just as I embrace my joy. I shouldn’t live in the past and I shouldn’t spend copious amounts of time wishing for the future. I need to be in the present, in the now, and take joy in the simple fact that I am here. Hanh writes about how every task you do, you should do in mindfulness:

“Stopping (shamatha in Sanskrit) and deep looking (vipasyana) are the elements of Buddhist meditation. Deep looking is possible once stopping has taken place. On the cushion, we must stop. During walking meditation, we must stop. Even when we are in the kitchen washing the dishes, we must wash the dishes in such a way that stopping is possible. Every moment of dishwashing should give you joy, peace, and happiness. If it doesn’t, you are not washing dishes as a practitioner. The kitchen is a place of practice…When we wash dishes, it is not only to get the dishes clean. It is to live every minute of the washing. So wash each bowl and each plate in such a way that joy, peace, and happiness are possible. Imagine you are giving a bath to the baby Buddha. It is a sacred act.”

I am inclined toward impatience and living for the future (“The past no longer exists, and the future is not here yet.” – the Buddha). That is where my natural tendencies have formed the habit of defaulting to. I am rarely satisfied in my present moment and I sacrifice constantly, hoping that such sacrifice will make my life in the future much better. But I never reach my future life because it’s always two steps ahead of where I am realistically (“What does it profit us to kill time just to get by while we wait for the weekend or the next summer vacation and consequently overlook the miracle of the present moment? – pg. 108, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das). I have trained myself to be immensely impatient with everything…something isn’t worth doing unless it can be done in a hurry and require the least amount of inconvenience on my part. Tie those together with my tendency toward perfectionism and you have yourself one stressed out lady. It’s no wonder I am drawn to Buddhist writers who show me how to slow down and appreciate each moment for what it is. It will take a lifetime to work on this, but at least I’m slowing down and learning to be mindful, sometimes one baby step at a time.

Buddhism has always intrigued me especially after meeting author/meditation teacher Noah Levine (Dharma Punx, The Heart of the Revolution, and Against the Stream) in Portland, Oregon when AtS came out. Powell’s Books hosted him at their store on Hawthorne and we crammed in with the large crowd to hear him speak. He spoke about his life (which most, if not all of us there knew by heart after reading Dharma Punx until the pages were falling out) and how Buddhism is relative and important for Westerners of all ages. He has devoted his life to helping young people discover meditation and breathing techniques instead of resorting to violence and drugs. He writes in a way that makes it easy to understand the basics of Buddhism and I appreciate everything he’s done to that end. After the talk, we all got in line for him to sign books and I heard story after story of young people saying they had always felt like religion had no place for them and they were feeling hope after hearing him speak. The fact that Buddhism is considered a philosophy rather than a religion helped also (“Buddhism today is best thought of as an ethical psychological philosophy or nontheistic spiritual practice, needing neither dogma nor belief to be practiced and accomplished.” – pg. 111, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das).

I guess what I’m rambling on about is that I’m excited and feeling optimistic about discovering something that, through studying, will help me have peace with my anxiety and with others. It already has in small ways and though I forget most of what I promise myself I will remember the next time I get impatient, angry, or intolerant, I always return to the small collection of books I’ve acquired and read through the underlined words to bring myself back.

Some quotes that have been good for me lately:

“Our universal tendency is to try to stay away from all this suffering, so we are always trying to escape from ourselves. Society offers us all kind of ways to do this: television, radio, novels, magazines, cars, telephones, and so on. We abandon our territory just like that, leaving it in a state of disorder and pain. We want to run away from it. Our culture and our civilization are characterized by this tendency toward escape. But the Buddha advised us to do just the opposite. We have to come back to our territory so we can bring order and harmony to it…We are afraid to face our inner pain, so we run away; but the Buddha says with great compassion, “Do not be afraid, my friend.” – pg. 53, You are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh

“If you feel irritation or depression or despair, recognize their presence and practice this mantra: ‘Dear one, I am here for you.’ You should talk to your depression or your anger just as you would to a child. You embrace it tenderly with the energy of mindfulness and say, ‘Dear one, I know you are there and I am going to take care of you.’ There is no discrimination or dualism here, because compassion and love are you, but anger is too. All three are organic in nature, so you don’t need to be afraid. You can transform them.” – pg. 5, You are Here, Thich Nhat Hanh

“Each of us is like a river, whose waters are forever changing. Westerners often use ‘mind’ as a primary definition for the self. ‘I think, therefore I am.’ But Buddhism points out that you are not what you think; like the weather, what you think is unpredictable and subject to change.” – pg. 82, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das

“We all have a tendency to resist change, particularly in those areas where we most need transformation…The fact is that we all tend to hang on to our negative habits and frozen behavior patterns. We keep retracing our steps; we keep walking the same circular patterns. We don’t climb out of our ruts, our comfort zones, however dissatisfying they really are. Buddhist philosophy tells us that there is a way to take charge, change direction, and peel away ignorance so that we can see with total clarity.” – pg. 61, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das

“The traditional elder, Kalu Rinpoche, once told me that he didn’t believe that a seeker who had ties to Christianity or any other faith had to convert to Buddhism in order to practice Dharma. The truth, after all, belongs to anyone who cherishes it, lives it, loves it, and is committed to it.” – pg. 42, Awaking the Buddha Within, Lama Surya Das

Book Review: Something About You (Just Me & You Series) By Lelaina Landis

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Something About You (Just Me & You Series)
http://lelainalandis.com/books/
By Lelaina Landis
Published 11/13

If you’re a virgin to romance novels like I was, you couldn’t do much better than to begin your foray into them (that is, if you’re looking to jump into the much reviled, yet much loved and purchased genre of romance) with Something About You.

Let me quickly give you a little background as to how I ended up reading and reviewing this book: Author Landis read my review of Sylvia Lucas’ childfree book, No Children, No Guilt and emailed me to see if I’d be interested in reviewing her debut book. She was careful to check with me first how I felt about the romance genre and my honest answer was that I’d never read anything from it and it wasn’t my go-to genre like science fiction and fantasy always has been. But I was intrigued and I told her I was up for the challenge.

I tried very hard to go into the first chapter with an open mind. But after almost 10 years of bookselling experience, the auto-pilot reaction of derision kept threatening to surface as I got to know the main character, Sabrina, and her first encounter with Gage Fitzgerald, who was undoubtedly being set up as the good-looking male in the inevitable forthcoming sex scenes. I rolled my eyes a bit at his name and the high society back drop that most of the characters lived in, but I kept going. I have a hard time relating to characters who have money, who name-drop alcohol (I’m not even sure what vintage port actually is), and I am completely oblivious to brand names in high fashion.

Here’s the thing though. The story unfolds around Sabrina, who is the Chief of Staff to an underwhelming, unlikeable Texan representative, and though she’s a bit high strung and tightly wound at times, you can’t help but like her. You admire her strength of character, her inimitable work ethic, and the fact that she knows what she wants and she goes for it. She is a feminist in all aspects of the word (though it’s never mentioned as such) and she has a healthy, strong, sisterly friendship with Molly, who marries Sebastian, who happens to be Gage’s best friend.

Molly and Sabrina’s friendship is a real winner in this book. While most television shows, books, movies, society, etc. focus on the petty, backstabbing stereotype of female friendships, this book focuses instead on a friendship between two women who have known each other for a very long time, who will call each other out in the most loving yet brutally honest way, and who have each other’s backs through thick and thin. By the end of the book, I was actually a teensy bit jealous of their friendship.

But this is a romance novel and so far I’ve only alluded to there being the inevitable sex scene. What may surprise you (because it definitely surprised me) is that the first hot and heavy scene (besides a make-out session in Chapter 2) doesn’t happen until almost 300 pages in. Don’t go skipping ahead now that I’ve told you where it’s at either; it’s well worth your time to get to know the characters and the plot before delving into the bedroom romp.

The story revolves around Sabrina and Gage, an unlikely couple of opposites who meet at a wedding and whose best friends are convinced they should get to know each other better. Throw in some complicated and dysfunctional family issues that every character is either trying to overcome, make sense of, or just live with and the fact that Sabrina has no desire to have children (a real relationship killer or so she assumes) and you have some good subplots to carry the book along. And there is an in depth story. This book isn’t focused on skimping over details and character development in order to deliver 50 pages of raunchy sex between strangers where the woman is a damsel in distress and the man is a self-assured, sexist demi-god. It guides you through the character’s day to day lives, it presents challenges (Gage is a shock jock on the radio and Sabrina is in politics; a bad match if ever there was one), and it doesn’t even get heavy-handed with the over-arching theme of being childfree, but neither does it shy away from the idea that a woman can know she doesn’t want children and not have it be the end of the world. Sabrina stays true to her desire to be an awesome auntie someday and not a mom ever even when it means experiencing heartbreak and tough love.

I wasn’t, unfortunately, a huge fan of how the book ends…literally. The last three sentences were a bit too schmaltzy and uncharacteristic of Sabrina for my taste. And there were definitely times throughout the story where it seemed to embrace a soap opera stereotype a bit too much for me: the prissy bitch of a stepmother who was Sabrina’s father’s mistress for the entirety of his marriage to Nola, Sabrina’s mother, the two characters with physical disabilities who find love in one another – though I did like the way they describe themselves, “…we’re the old, beat-up dolls no one else wanted to play with. The dolls with the missing legs and the purple knee joints.”, and the richy-rich environment that everyone fits into except Gage, who is from a podunk town in Iowa.

All in all, though, I would say I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the book and especially enjoyed reading a strong, childfree female character in a romance novel. Her decision not to have children introduces the “crazy” concept of safe sex and various birth controls methods in the midst of sex scenes and lo and behold! that doesn’t take away from the steamy words you’re enjoying a bit more than you’d like anyone to know about. ;)

(Two funny personal connections to the book: on page 11, when the city of Paris (France) is mentioned, a character assumes it’s Paris, Texas being talked about…Paris, TX is only 30 minutes from where I live now and the only “big” city worth driving to within a wide radius of my town. On page 323, Sabrina calls a number that turns out to be for Mercy Medical, a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. My husband’s old band, Brandtson, wrote a song called Mercy Medical, named after that same hospital.)

Book review: No Children, No Guilt by Sylvia D. Lucas

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No Children, No Guilt
Sylvia D. Lucas
Copyright © 2011 by Sylvia D. Lucas
http://sylviadlucas.com
All rights reserved.
Kindle Edition

“I have three cats and I like them precisely because they’re not children.” – pg. 22

I have had a pet cat for 12 years. Even as I type this, he is sitting on my lap, staring at me patiently, waiting for me to pet him and pay attention to him even though I am typing on my laptop. Soon, he will meow plaintively because I have not picked up on the cue that he wants all of my attention right now. And so as he turns around slowly to jump off of my lap, I feel immense guilt at ignoring him and begin petting him as he wants. I don’t do this purely out of love; I do it out of obligation and not wanting to continue the guilty feeling.

You see, I don’t enjoy having a living being fully dependent on me. I didn’t realize that until a couple of years into have a cat. But I also don’t like being the kind of person who just gives away her pet because it doesn’t fit into her lifestyle anymore. So we have kept the cat, given him love, food, and shelter, and we clean up hairballs with as little patience as you can imagine.

As I read Lucas’ e-book, No Children, No Guilt, I recognized in her the same type of person, though our decisions about not having children come from very different angles. While Lucas expresses an ambivalence toward children from a young age (her innocent carelessness with a doll and not understanding her friends cooing over baby clothes in high school), I didn’t realize mine until my mid twenties when it finally struck me that I actually had a choice in the matter. I was the kid who played with dolls obsessively (and Micro Machines, plastic dinosaurs, and Legos) and I made money babysitting while growing up (and enjoyed it). A few years ago, I was a friend’s nanny for her 4 month old until he was almost a year old.

And as Lucas delves into the childfree topic and picks apart the emotions and reasons behind it, I once again felt a sense of relief that someone else out there gets it and she wrote about it so that people like me wouldn’t feel strange or guilty. I write “again” because I had the same feeling when reading Jen Kirkman’s I Can Hardly Take Care of Myself. Because no matter how solid you’re feeling about the decision not to have children, there is always an underlying feeling of guilt that you’re letting your family, friends, the church, your community, and the Universe all down by not conforming to parenthood.

Which is why I loved a section on page 14 in Lucas’ book where she releases the reader from that guilt:

“Stop thinking you’re supposed to want them…Accept that…not wanting your life as you know it to go undergo an absolute and irreversible reconstruction is perfectly natural, and that being a mom simply isn’t the life position you’re looking to take on.
Accept that raising a child is just not your thing.
But do it without feeling like you’re an unimaginably horrible person.
You don’t have to want a baby.”

Lucas tackles the “selfish” argument deftly, acknowledging that childfree folks are, indeed, selfish but not necessarily in a negative way, rather as a statement of fact. She points out that parents are also just as selfish in their want of children as childfree people are in their lack of want.

One of the best parts in the entire book, in my opinion, shows up right at the end when Lucas points out that there is nothing wrong with childfree people dipping our toes in the waters of “what if?”. In fact, she writes that doing so isn’t any different than wondering what our lives would be like in another job or if we had chosen a different major in college. And my favorite quote comes soon after this section:

“Refusing to ask questions often means there’s some fear about the answers – and that’s a pretty compelling reason to ask them in the first place.” – pg. 45

I also appreciated how Lucas didn’t ostracize parents. She recognizes that her reader may be a parent and takes pains to admit that parents, particularly mothers, have to deal with judgment and criticism just as much as childfree men and women do. And she points out that it’s been her experience that the majority of people she’s met who have children firmly believe, “If you don’t want them, you shouldn’t have them.”

All in all, I enjoyed Lucas’ views on being childfree. While it reads more like an essay rather than an e-book, that didn’t take away from the knowledge being imparted. The openness in which she writes about her life, her two divorces, her pro-choice views (which are very eloquently and succinctly explained on page 16 in a way that made me give a round of applause), and her current marriage helps bring a personal touch to what can sometimes be a very academically-treated topic.

Because in the end, that is what being childfree or being a parent is all about: the personal touch we place on it. As Lucas is fond of reminding her reader throughout, “Live and let live”.

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Copyright (c) 2008-2013 quieter notions

I am 33.

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14 years ago, I began walking in adulthood. I did so very poorly. I was uneducated in the ways of living on my own. My muscles were unused, flimsy, and unaware of their potential. My voice was that of a child’s, unsure and still used to asking for permission. My eyes were wide, opening themselves too much to strangers. My body, ungainly with the extra weight it had never encountered before, was foreign to me. Yet, I was pushed into the world, unready as I was.

14 years later, I look back on that time and I am grateful, but cautiously so. I was not ready for my world to get bigger, but I was forced into it and that is the only reason why I can claim who I am today. I made many mistakes, I fell to rock bottom many times, I discovered people who didn’t like me and I learned how to be okay with that, I forged friendships that were supportive for both people involved (rather than friendships that depended on me to do everything for them), and I learned to love myself.

6 years ago, things started falling into place. I was 27. The lessons I had learned over and over again finally clicked around this age. I learned who I was as a person, independent of anyone else. I learned my likes, my dislikes, and who I wanted to be as an adult. I learned not to accept things because they were the default and I learned that some defaults  are okay to accept. I made decisions for myself and no one else. Most importantly, I learned not to apologize for being me.

Now I am 33…in six months, I’ll be 34. I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up, however, my muscles are used, strong, and aware of their potential. My voice is steady and sure of what it says and asks. My eyes are open, seeing what is around me and taking it all in before making judgment. My body, still a bit ungainly with the extra weight it’s been carrying all these years, is familiar and comfortable to me. I have been pushed into the world and though I am not always as sure as I just described, I am ready.

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Copyright © 2008-2013 quieter notions

Quick thought

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On being both a perfectionist and a control freak:

* When we come to you with self-doubt and a general state of unease about ourselves, telling us that we’re great, wonderful, the best at what we do, marvelous, and everyone thinks so, what you’re doing is perpetuating the idea that we need to keep remaining perfect, regardless of how impossible it is. Ex. I was a good student, a good worker bee, a good writer, a good musician, a good high school theater actress, a good everything. Nothing wrong with that, but after a lifetime of hearing how good you are, you begin to realize that you’ve maybe internalized that goodness/perfection a bit too much and now hold yourself to an impossible standard. Having others misguidedly attempt to encourage you only stresses the fact that you need to keep being this way.

* If we want to dwell on our horrible day, the details of which we can give to you so perfectly that it will feel as though you were there yourself, give us three minutes to dwell, acknowledge that it was indeed a horrible day and then distract us. By talking through every detail for the next five hours, you reinforce with us that this day is worth reliving every detail and picking apart everything. If we see you expending energy on the things that we expend energy thinking about 24/7, this will only encourage us in this neurotic and self-destructive habit. Breaking this habit is necessary, but difficult and we couldn’t do it without you. But you need to prove to us that our monumental catastrophes are only day to day stresses and once talked about for a few minutes, we are allowed to move on with our day.

* For many of us, our job is our life. It is how we describe ourselves, how we plan out our days, and what we give the most thought to. We can tend to go overboard with our dedication to our jobs, putting in more thought and energy than we are actually getting paid to do. Don’t ever let us get salary jobs because we’ll be taking the work home with us every day and weekend. We need to turn the work portion off when we get home. We need to be encouraged to do so and to pursue other scholarly pursuits and general frivolity in order to derail us from our one track minds.

I don’t mean to put the burden of rewiring us on you; at the end of the day, it is us who have to make that decision to break our impossible habit of perfectionism. But how we are interacted with goes a long way in breaking that habit or perpetuating it. As someone who is straddling the habit and attempting to swing my other leg over to the freedom side, I know I wouldn’t have done it without some amazing and strong people (namely, my husband) who stood up to me and stopped allowing me to hold myself to such a high standard. Because the thing is…you don’t even realize you’re doing it until someone points it out…

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Copyright © 2008-2013 quieter notions