Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So Behind...

A week ago I was getting ready for the San Antonio, Texas, Romance Writers of America annual convention. It was amazing, truly amazing. I've been back since Sunday, and am still recovering from all the fun and excitement.

That's all for now.

I'm so far behind with family, life, my novels in progress, and all the minutia that makes humans interesting.

Pete, my dog

Pete in particular missed me. He sends his hellos, and gratitude to all the people who took care of his Mama, befriending her, while she was gone.


Not All Princesses Get Their Happily Ever Afters: The Tale of Charles, Diana, and Camilla

In the wee hours of July 29, 2981, millions of Americans dragged themselves out of bed to watch a royal wedding between HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, and Diana Spencer, daughter of a peer of the Realm in London. Collectively we oohed and aah-ed at the royal coaches, The Dress, tiaras, major and minor royals, and of course the carriage ride of the bride up to the steps of St. Paul's. The moment she stepped from the coach in all her diaphanous wrinkled silk glory, veil wafting in the wind, we were completely smitten with this young girl about to get her fairy tale come true.

Diana Spencer was three years younger than me, an innocent from a fractured family like mine, except her father had stuck around and mummy had left three young girls behind. Anyone with half a brain would know this young, sweet girl was hefting major emotional baggage, but then we are talking about the Windsors who have some exceeding dim bulbs in their membership.

Before the royal marriage proposal, before she'd wandered into the radar of her husband-to-be, Diana's marriage to the Prince of Wales was doomed. Not because of her emotional baggage, but because her prince fiance' and his mistress planned to keep up their relationship. No matter that Charles would one day be the head of the Church of England as king, no matter the importance of wedding vows, or the heart of a young girl, Charles and Camilla were a couple. The problem was that Bowles-Parker would not do as a princess back then. Charles needed a bride who could give him heirs to the throne of England, and Camilla Bowles-Parker was unmarriageable in the eyes of his family and church. She was married, and therefore no innocent, virginal candidate.

So Charles proposed, Diana accepted, expecting her Happy Ever After, but even before the wedding discovered Charles was in love with Camilla. Diana went through with the wedding despite the shabby evidence of her fiance's unfaithfulness, and as the cliche' goes, the rest was history.

She gave her husband three beautiful boys, royal heirs, and privately fell apart while Camilla Bowles-Parker won.

If I were the Brothers Grimm, I would say the Homely Prince won the Wicked Witch, sacrificing the beautiful princess. The anti-HEA. Romance readers would attack me with torches and pitchforks, and the fairy tale aficionados would do likewise.

As we all know, the prince and princess divorced and left a lot of ugliness in the press. Diana went looking for a grown-up man for her HEA, and died tragically in a Paris traffic tunnel. Charles made a stiff upper lip and brought her home to be buried, finally showing some manly cojones. The antithesis of that beautiful royal wedding played out in Westminister Abbey, as we said goodbye to a woman who deserved her happy ending, but was cheated out of it.

While I listened to her brother chastise the Royals for their treatment of his beloved sister during the funeral, I was sitting in the proverbial "amen corner".

When Charles wed Camilla, I rolled my eyes and said "well, someone got their HEA, even if it was the people who'd left such tragedy and wreckage behind."

The two beautiful boys that Diana tragically left behind have grown into men, and they still bear the stamp of her huge, loving heart. Two men came from that tragic day in 1981, and Diana's boys will always have a place in my heart. They seem to know her tragedy is not theirs, and their own happy ever after is dependent on the things they were taught by their loving mother.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pardonnez-moi. My Domestic Goddess Disguise Does Not Work

There's nothing like hosting an extremely intelligent French teenager to discover how one's spoken French is truly bad. It's been 37 years since I wandered into French 101 at LSU, and honey, it shows.

Never mind that I usually skipped language lab due to an undiagnosed ADD inability to sit anywhere for an extended period of time without food or company. Never mind it was a requirement that we spend at least "x" number of hours with headphones on in said lab, repeating over and over what was being poured into our ears. Never mind you may be repeating the sounds imperfectly, thus cementing bad pronunciation firmly into your memory.

If I ever went to the French language lab, it was out of fear of the emaciated and angry young female language instructor assigned to my class. We were a small group of 1970's kids, Star Trek/Star Wars nerds, dazed and frightened of this French woman who started yelling the lesson in frustration. She scared me even more than Professor Sidney Cohen, my favorite history professor, which is saying something.

Back to Pierre. Luckily for my family, his English is very good, including his pronunciation. No need to dredge the barrel of my memory for words like "butter", "car", etc. French grammar? Forget it. When I discovered that French grammar was just as difficult to understand as English, my foray into that language was doomed.

Pierre came to us at almost the last minute, courtesy of a French organization that organizes the exchange of American and French teens. Our youngest had stayed with a family in the Auvergne a few years ago, and this would be our last chance to host. Not enough American families had signed on, or emergencies had come up. M. Claude called me, as well as other past families who'd sent their children to France before, asking me in his beautiful and charming accent if we had room for a young boy. I'm a fool for a grey-haired man with a French accent. Of course, I said yes!

I blush to think that Pierre will go back to France with the illusion that our family is typically American. To a man and dog, we're insane. I have the hosting ability of a Neanderthal man, and am about to have a nervous breakdown trying to appear as a competent domestic goddess. There's nothing domestic or normal about me, so keeping up the pretense for three weeks is bringing me to my knees.

That Pierre has exquisite manners is not exaggerating, so when my family slips and there's a brief glimpse of the chaos we call family life, he laughs. Bless him.

Our hosting ends next week, while I'm attending the Romance Writers of America convention in San Antonio. My husband and youngest will be entertaining him those last few days, so I'll miss sending him off on Air France. Hopefully, he's seen past the smokescreen of our semi-civilized facades and still likes us, despite our crazy little dog, disorganized household, and my attempts to keep him company while youngest is working.

Because I'm semi-feral, socializing skills are all but beyond me, but Pierre has reminded me of the niceties of polite company. Something that one of my kids has a partial grasp on (and you know who you are, kiddo.). I hope our French son will forgive us for our roughness, and come visit again one day. Maybe by then we'll know how to act like civilized denizens of the world.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Finding Happiness Despite Myself

I spent a lot of time in my childhood listening to people who had low expectations of me. Quite often I heard things like "You're so lazy you'd not bother to pick up a $1000 bill," or "you don't care about anybody but yourself". If a kid hears these kinds of things long enough, and no one ever contradicts this kind of abuse, then they start believing it. Fall for it hook, line, and sinker, then actually start acting like the character failure their critics think they are being.

For the longest time I thought I was lazy, stupid, and didn't care about anyone. My mother said my dad didn't care about anyone but himself, so perhaps that's where the faulty genes had come from. We were a pretty cutting edge family back in the early Sixties. Deadbeat dad who made a huge amount of money as a union welder; mom who taught school and tried to keep a roof over our heads, and food in our mouths; sisters who never acted like they were related. We were a preview of what was to come for many Americans.

No one except a teacher or two seemed to think I had any kind of spark, and I usually was intent on letting them know how worthless I  was actually. My life is littered with broken friendships, estrangements, misunderstandings, and yet I managed to find my husband, Dan, and mother two boys.

I find my fractured humanity troubling, knowing the mistakes I've made rearing two boys, marrying a man who's far nicer than I deserve, but count myself infinitely lucky. I found someone who accepts my fractured humanity and loves me despite it, is my friend knowing my short-comings and frailty. Somewhere in the cosmic meaning of things, my life worked out despite myself, and I feel humbled by that. Loved despite not deserving love, achieving happiness even though I've sown unhappiness in other peoples' lives.

Life is a wonder, and I'll never understand the meaning of it, or the generosity of the human soul.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Women and The Right to Say No

I've been reading a lot of blogs and articles about women and harassment this week following the shootings in California. It's as if Elliot Rodger's murder spree knocked the scabs off a long festering wound in the lives of women. The back and forth of women and men talking about sexual harassment, violence, social mores has been both fascinating and alarming.

Growing up in a single parent household with two other women, I had the antithesis of the Cleaver household. My dad beat my mother, cheated on her, left us destitute, and generally gave almost all men a bad name. Another man sexually abused me as a child, so my view of men was of fear and vulnerability. I both wanted a Cleaver type dad who'd protect us, and also the right to live without men in our lives. I embraced Feminism because it empowered women to claim their own bodies and minds, not needing a man to fulfill our needs or lives.

Flash forward to college, summer internships, and dating. I remember being told that I should be in Home Economics instead of architecture, something that would get a male professor in hot water, if not fired now. I spent an entire summer being sexually harassed by men in a Louisiana state media center, in a situation so repugnant that even now it makes me nauseous. Sexual harassment was a new term then, and I remember stumbling to explain my interpretation of it to a Baton Rouge news agency head when it came up in conversation.

More than once when asked I was shaken to even try to explain my interpretation of it because of my past, and worries about my future. This was in the 1970's and early 80's when people still joked about a woman going to college to get her "Mrs.". Get it?  Yeah, it wasn't funny then. I wanted to have a career, didn't want children after having a crappy childhood, didn't want to marry and be tied down and vulnerable. Men were turned off by my need to be independent and truthful, so most of my time in college was spent dateless until I met my first husband.

Girls who've been sexually abused have had their self protecting barriers torn down, dissolved, until life rushes at them like a tornado. One just can't stand up and lean into the wind of life until something happens, or we learn to cope.

One night over 20 years ago I was single again, starting to date a guy who didn't want to go public with our relationship yet. We'd gone to a trendy bar to meet people we knew through a volunteer agency, and sat next to each other, but not with each other. It was a table of mostly men in their twenties and thirties, and a sprinkling of women like me in their late twenties and early thirties. Off to one side was a dance floor, and music was pounding making conversation difficult.

A Marine Corps officer appeared at my side, and began to insist that I dance with him. He stood between me and my supposed boyfriend, ignoring all my polite words of refusal. The people around the table, including my boyfriend watched this conversation with interest, but no one made a joke or intervened. This went on for a few minutes, and I finally accepted just to be polite. This is something that many women are socialized to do: be polite if it kills us. As soon as the music stopped, I went and hid in the bathroom, trying to not cry and  stop my shaking. When I was calmer, I stepped out of the bathroom right into the Marine who was waiting, demanding to know if I was okay. I finally managed to get him to back off, and went back to my table, avoiding eye contact with my boyfriend as if I'd done something unfaithful. We left early and pretty much separate, and he never brought up the confrontation. Ever.

I wasn't angry at my jerky boyfriend that he'd not stepped in and claimed me, even though he was ex-Air Force and as big as the Marine, but at myself for capitulation with someone harassing me. Yes, it was harassing me to not stop when I'd politely refused a dance several times. It was harassment to wait for me outside the women's bathroom and not take a hint.

Guy friends would later tell me "You should have just told him no." But I did. Several times. Politely. If women get angry and reactive, we're called bitches or the c word. Not assertive or brave. We're bitches because we won't accept unwanted advances or comments. It frustrated my guy friends because it seemed so cut and dry.

So for the guys who have bad people skills or mental health issues, it's not our fault you can't find a woman who'll put up with you. It's our right to tell you to go away without fear that you'll come back and kill us, or call us a horrible name. It's about sex and not about sex, living without fear in a world where women can still be stolen from their schools by religious fundamentalists, stoned to death by family members when one marries whom they want, or being able to walk the street safely.