Monday, December 30, 2013

Essay or Death

Do you ever not act on something because it means a lot to you and you really love it? Even though you are aware of how little sense that makes?

Yesterday I blogged about how I'm having a rough time writing my statement of purpose for grad school, and today is no better. So I texted a writer friend who's also applying to the program and I said, "I'm afraid that I'm not good enough, that my writing is boring, and that I'm too old to be a writer, like it's too late." She said there's no such thing, and reminded me that I've already been published so I'm actually a writer already. Then I shared the same fears with my coworker James and he said, "If you don't go to grad school for those reasons, I will kill you." Then my writer friend said, "I'll kill you too," and then she texted me a kissy symbol, like "I'll kill you if you don't do this, love ya, bye."

So now I HAVE to apply to grad school or I will die. And my friends will not make this a "she died quietly in her sleep" type of death, no, they're going to toss me from a moving car and into a Miley Cyrus video. So I just gotta do it, I just gotta write it. I'm a writer, I can write this, right? Right? Of course I can!

Why do I want to get an MFA in creative writing? Because...ok. Because I want to learn more about writing, and to become as good as I possibly can. Because I love teaching it and I want to eventually become a professor. Because I would get to share what I know and read other people's work. Because I feel at home at college, I practically grew up on a college campus when my mom went to grad school. Because writing can be so solitary and I want to be part of a writing community, more than just talking to other writers on-line I want to meet them and know who they are. Because it's the career I want more than anything, it's not just a job, it's my vocation. Because my friends will kill me if I don't.

Ok, I need to say all of that, but say it better and make it two pages long. More coffee is necessary.

UPDATE: This is rough draft is honest, enthusiastic, and so fucking cheesy all at the same time. I might make myself vomit if the words "wisdom" and "experience" end up in my final draft.

UPDATE 2: Can't I just say, "Lemme in your program or I punch you in the face?" No, that won't work, it has to be two pages long.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this post is to write a rough draft of my statement of purpose. Oooooooooooooooooooh God. I hate writing this stuff. It's for my grad school application. Did I mention that? At statement of purpose for my grad school application for the U.N.O.'s MFA program in creative writing?...That sentence I just wrote was poorly written and boring and there were too many prepositions in it. And the over editing begins...

This should be easy to write. I have a lot to say and there's a whole heap of reasons why I want a Masters in Creative Writing, I just feel squirrely and restless when I sit down to write this thing. I haven't had to do academic writing in six years, I'm used to my own messy style now.

So first I'm going to write this messy. Then I can go back and edit. Ok, here it goes.

Dear Santa Claus,
How have you been? Did you have a nice summer? How is your wife? I have been extra good this year so I have a long list of presents that I want.

Wait, why does that sounds familiar? That's not a statement of purpose! That's Sally's letter to Santa from "A Charlie Brown Christmas!" I'm already plagiarizing! And it's not even applicable! OOOOOHHH, I'm never going to get this! Never! NEVER! (wrings hands, hurls self in front of a train)

Ok. Now that the despair is out of my system I can try again.

Four score and seven-

No. Take three.

Dear U.N.O.,

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the moviehouse, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.

(Gives self a long, baffled stare in which I question how I was even able to pass high school.) Genevieve...that is the opening line from The Outsiders. I know that you feel awkward writing this. I know you feel insecure about applying for grad school in the first place because you're afraid that you're not good enough. But all you have to do today is tell them why you want to do it. So write about that and we'll edit it later. Write it, you know, casual.



Ok. Here I go.

Dear Fuckbuckets,

Please consider me for your creative writing workshop. I love to make up stories and new words, as is evident by my calling you a fuckbucket when I don't think that's a real thing. I just made that up all on my own. That's just a sampling of the many nicknames you'll get from me when I am part of your workshop. I love to write and to learn new things about writing. I have also recently taught a workshop and enjoyed that experience. I like sharing what I know and learning more about writing through my students. That workshop and the tutoring I've done on the side has shown me that I would love to teach, so ultimately I would like to be a creative writing professor, and with the help of you clever bitches I can also become the best writer I can be. I thought I wanted to be a librarian for a while but then I realized that I don't want to shelve books, I want to write the books that people shelve. I want to be part of the writing community and publish all of the time, and have other writers and readers in New Orleans say things like, "Oh yeah, I know Genevieve Rheams, I saw her do a reading at Burger King." And then they'll want to take my class! See how that would work? And I would talk about U.N.O. all the time, like about how I got my undergrad and master's degree there, although I'll probably get my doctorate some place else. But let's not get ahead of ourselves because I haven't even finished my application yet and so far I'm a little freaked out about it. So my purpose is - I get into your program and become the best writer ever. Deal?


Sigh. God help me.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Young Adult Christmas

I haven't written about my kids much because they're getting past the age when I can write about them without disclosing personal stuff. Their issues are different. When they were three and resisting potty training, it might have been funny to write about that, but they weren't reading my blog and neither were their friends. In fact, none of them were reading anything, so they couldn't even accidentally come across it. Now if one of them Googles "gender confusion" or  "prison bitches" they can find my blog. Also now their issue might be staying up at night upset about ___ and though I might find it funny and worth blogging about, they take it very seriously.

Yes, sometimes I find the things that they're upset about funny. Of course they're upset about ___. Everyone gets upset about ___ when they're fourteen, and now that I'm thirty___ years old and not fourteen I find it amusing that I was ever worried about such a thing. I don't laugh while they're upset of course. Just on the internet with you.

This is where fairness comes in. Because if they wanted to they could find my blog by Googling the term "magic space bears," read about how I find some of their anxiety funny, and then write a fair rebuttal in the comment section. Or start a blog of their own called "My Mother's Lies." But I don't think I have anything to worry about because if they Google "magic space bears" the first thing they'll find is Hyperbole and a Half. I can't help it if they prefer Allie Brosch to me. Still, I will leave ___ to them and continue to only slander myself.

But I will say that the mood has changed a lot in my house since the kids turned 10, 12, and 14. There are sometimes when I look at them that I can actually see their hormones chugging Red Bulls and doing mad skateboard stunts all over the inside of their bodies.

The skateboarders inside of them make them sullen and moody. I don't blame them. Their bodies have been high jacked. They're beginning to change from the inside out in ways that they feel their mother never properly explained. Because there, um, might have been some information she skipped.

"Mom, what is __?"

"Oh? ___? That's normal."

(Child looks horrified) "It is?"

"Yeah. I forgot to mention that part."

"How did you forget to tell me about ___???"

"Because I don't really love you."


"Just kidding. But you're not worried about ___ anymore, are you?"

For my complete parenting guide tips, look for my new book, When Mom Makes Us Laugh Nervously. 

Though my daughters' moods have been up and down I really thought that Christmas would even them out. Because you know, NO ONE gets bummed around the holidays. But really, it's usually such a fun time for us. We have our little rituals, like getting hot chocolate and going to see the lights in City Park. And running loose through the tree lot. They don't even look at the trees except in passing, they just run like maniacs through the rows and giggle, while I pick out our tree. Then I call them to me when I find one and we all vote on it. It's a giggly time in general I would say. They giggle when I take out the decorations, they giggle when I put up the lights on the house. They giggle when I get frustrated from untangling wires. That's a whole lot of smiling.

But this year those smiles have been replaced by mostly blank looks. And when it's not blankness it's frustration, as if they are all untangling wires in their heads. Mostly I think I've done a good job with not taking their bad moods personally. I know that they're all changing in complicated ways and it's hard. But I felt hurt when no one showed enthusiasm about Christmas this year. When the decorations came out and no one cracked a smile. When I mentioned stringing lights on the house and no one looked up from their electronic devices. I wondered if I'd done something wrong, or if I'd had more money I could buy cooler stuff instead of the same old stuff that we put up every year.

"The tree will be new," I thought.

I had an idea. I would take us all out to dinner, get some new decorations to replace the old ones that were falling apart and then we'd hit the tree lot. This was brilliant.

This was a terrible idea. First we argued for a half hour over where to eat. Whenever I mentioned a place none of them would agree on anything. Claire doesn't like Mexican, Emma doesn't like sushi or Chinese and Christopher doesn't like any place he's never been to before. I realized that the problem was that I was leaving it up to them so I announced that we were going to Applebees, they groaned about it and I told them just to be quiet and eat it. The main problem with this that I didn't mention is that I don't like Applebees. It was just the only place I could think of that was nearby and had a vast assortment of American and Americanized versions of ethnic foods for the kids to choose from. Which is why I don't like it.

There was minimal groaning during dinner, mostly from my 12 year old. Then we went shopping. More Emma groaning. So much that I couldn't focus on what we were looking for. Then we went to the tree lot.

There was no running. There were no smiles. They browsed through the trees. I watched them walking through the rows and considering the merchandise like grown people and was horrified that they didn't take the time to run wildly. It was a relief when my son finally grinned and said, "I'm going to look over here," and tore off running to the other side of the lot.

We picked a tree and by the time we tied it to the roof and drove home, I was too tired to decorate it. No one protested. So we gave it water and left it bare that night. And the next night. The day after that they went to their dad's for the weekend and I couldn't believe it wasn't decorated. I'm the kind of Christmas woman who has her tree, decorations and lights up within a week after Thanksgiving and here it was well into December and I had a naked tree in my living room. I thought about decorating it myself while they were gone but that just felt so lonely.

It made me wonder why it is I really do what I do at Christmas. Do I do it for them? Is all of this some kind of sacrifice and now I'm feeling like a martyr because, like the Applebees compromise, these aren't things that I really want? What is it that I really like to do at Christmas when left to my own devices?

So I experimented while they were gone. I took out the outdoor lights and began stringing them up. And I giggled. I drank hot chocolate. I played the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. It turns out that the things I share with the kids are the things I really love to do, and I would do them anyway.

But I missed them. I thought about them the whole time I strung up lights. I realized that the things I really like doing might not be the things they like. The holidays are just like anything else. They don't have to like what I like. Soon they'll be old enough to make their own traditions and figure out what it is they like to do. I had been trying to force them to enjoy the same old stuff and it wasn't working.

I spent Saturday afternoon fixing up the house, and took pictures of the end result and texted them to people. I was like a kid proud of a drawing. I had decided to decorate the tree that Sunday before the kids came home, and then I got a phone call from Claire.

"What's up, kid?" I said.

"I miss you," she said.

"Awe. Well, I miss you too. Hey, did you see the picture of the lights I sent you?"

"Yeah, they look good! You haven't decorated the tree yet, have you?"

"Well, I was going to. You want me to wait?"

"Yeah, don't do it without me."

So I waited until they came home. It's a rare day when all of their mood swings line up in the same direction, but that day it was happy. We decorated the tree while the latest episode of "Once Upon a Time" played in the background, which is a little different for us. Usually it's something like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, and not something with evil wizards, but that's ok. All four of us were smiling.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Unexpected Expectations

Earlier today, out of nowhere and for no reason, I had the following thought, "When I get into a relationship again, I'm going to need a therapist and a tranquilizer gun." I don't know what that means and so I don't know whether to take that as a sign of progress or psychosis. I guess it would depend on whether or not the tranquilizer gun would be for me or the other person. Scratch that, neither scenario is good.

A tranquilizer gun, really? Do I expect to be with a lion? Do I think there's a chance I might become a werewolf? Exactly how much do I think I'll need to tone shit down? Sex jokes aside, really, seriously, what kind of problem do I think will arise where the only solution will be to shoot someone unconscious? I'm not planning on dating a fledgling vampire or a circus bear.

What bothers me is that I'm the one who had the thought and I don't know what it means. I started out wanting to blog about getting a Christmas tree with my kids and then BAM! relationship epiphany with guns. This is why the therapist will be necessary.

All this reminds me, there was a quote by Gustave Flaubert in The Writer's Almanac the other day that I must share. He said, "Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work." So maybe my relationship thought was me...working? Was I writing it? Was it a character's thought, a character who's nothing like me, who's short and loud and good with math, three things that are totally and utterly unlike me? Except for the one thing we have in common which is that we're terrified of relationships? Oh dammit!!!

Oh well. Christmas tree post to follow tomorrow, a story in which no one will be tranquilized.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Open Note to Self

Dear Genevieve,

You can not expect to get up at 4:30 in the morning if you keep going to bed at 11:30 at night. It is both unrealistic and demented. I know that you pride yourself on your ability to function on very little sleep, but I'm afraid that your perspective is horribly flawed. Mostly because of the term "function."

Sure, you're as capable of not sleeping as the next person, but the image you have of yourself as some kind of super human who can power nap between 3-5:00 in the morning, fix breakfast, clean the kitchen, write for two hours, shower, get the kids to school, put in a full day's work and then come home to do it all over again in the evenings is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. You will die.

I know how this misconception got started. Remember when you were 18 and you would stay up until 5:00 in the morning with your friends, and then show up to work at the coffee shop at 6:30?  You have this memory of how you were able to open the shop, work until 3:30, and then go back out again the next night. In reality what happened was you staggered around deliriously sipping iced coffee, which did nothing to curb your exhaustion, and then told your boss you were sick and had to go home by 10:00 am. And then you went out again that night. Perhaps if you had become addicted to cocaine you could have pulled off the kind of bad ass social life that you think you accomplished, but you didn't. If your manager at the time hadn't been constantly stoned you would have definitely been fired, and so the only way you really succeeded in this scenario is that you didn't lose your job because the cafe was run by substance abusers who were passive about their dysfunctional employees.

Your only responsibilities in the fall of 1993 were to serve coffee, pay your car insurance, party, and listen to Nirvana, and you barely had the energy to do those things. You weren't even in college yet! You had almost NOTHING to do, and you were tired.

This is the person that you are thinking of when you imagine yourself as someone who can get a whole lot of stuff done on a few hours of sleep. If you hadn't been so sleep deprived at the time, you might now have a clearer memory of how you really were but this is not the case. Your memory of yourself is a lie.

This brings us up to speed. It is 20 years later and I know this might come as a shock, but your body has aged. And your workload has fucking exploded. You to go to work, come home, cook dinner, help the kids with homework, force the kids to help you tidy the house, and then force them to go to bed. Then you have time for yourself, but if you're going treat yourself to some you time until 11:30, then you need to sleep until 6:00 and not 4:30. While it's admirable to try to wake up with the Amish and get an hour's worth of writing in before chaos of the day begins, it just ain't gonna happen unless you go to bed for 9:00. And that's not happening if you decide to start watching "Dr. Who" at 10:00.

But that's what you did last night, and so now you are on your lunch break and you are ready for bed. This is not good. I suggest that you go to a Starbucks and have a stoned 18 year old serve you a latte.

Stoned 18 year old baristas. The circle of life continues.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Code: Face Pain

I work for a large, unnamed hospital. I would name it but then I'd have to kill the internet. I don't want to do that, so I'll just tell you about me, James and Brian.

James and Brian are my coworkers, and we survive our positions as Data Stewards for the unnameable hospital, which I've decided to call Blinky, by acting like 3rd graders. This involves a lot of these kinds of conversations, that always center around the same insult:

Me (approaching them): What's up?

James: Your face.

Brian: Oh! Burn!

So to back up here for a second, or actually, to back up a number of years, the three of us are college graduates. None of us majored in the thing that would have prepared us for the job that we do. In fact, none of us are sure what we do. When people ask me what I do for a living the following conversation ensues:

Stranger at a party (he is standing across from me wearing a suit and holding a martini. I don't go to parties where classy people stand around holding martinis, I'm just making up that scenario because I go to swankier parties in my mind): So what do you do?

Me: I'm a Data Steward One.

Stranger at a Party: What's that?

Me: I think it's something to do with medical information.

And I think I'm right. I am also right in that there are levels for whatever it is that I do. Me, Brian and James are "Data Steward One." One of our other coworkers is a Data Steward Two. We don't know how she got to the next level. And we also don't have a clear understanding about what she does so we don't know how she's stewarding the data at a higher level than we are.

So not only are we unable to describe what it is that we do, we don't know what anyone else around us does either.

"James," I said the other day. "How do I find a patient's last x-ray in the new system?"

"I dunno, I don't work in that system. Ask Latasha, I think she does."

"Right! Latasha, she knows everything!...What does she do?"

"Um...she knows shit."

Latasha is the person in the office who is a treasure trove of information. She's familiar with all of the database systems, she knows key people in other departments, and she can switch out toner in the printer. But none of us know what she really does except that she knows everything. So we have decided that that is her job. Omnipotent Coworker One.  Every office has one. Find out who this person is and bake her cookies.

Just as an aside, I can tell that I am pretty much useless at my job because when I typed out the term "database systems" in that last paragraph, I became confused. I'm not really sure what a database system is. It's one of those terms that alludes me like "patient encounter" and "EMR." You know what an EMR is? It's an "electronic medical record." I just gave you information that I learned a year after I started working with EMR's. Do you know what a patient encounter is? I don't know either, but I can tell you that it doesn't involve aliens as (I feel) the word "encounter" clearly implies.

Anyway, it wasn't Latahsa who taught us the code for face pain, which has been the single most useful piece of information that me and my boys have learned at Blinky. Our coworker Pete does something with medical codes. We don't know what that thing is, but he's at a Level Two with it so we're impressed but we don't know why.

One day I was stewarding the data and I came across a patient encounter where the chief complaint was "Pain in the Face." As sympathetic as I usually am whenever I have to read a diagnosis, I could not stop laughing at Pain in The Face. For one thing, it's just funny to imagine saying.

"What brings you in today?"

"My face hurts."

No reason. A brick didn't land on it. This pain is mysterious.

Secondly, there's an accusatory nature to the diagnosis as if this patient is a pain in everyone else's face.

"What brings you in today?"

"I'm a pain in the face."

Now I swear, I really do care about other people's pain. I also care about their privacy so I didn't tell anyone who this patient was. But I did run up excitedly to Brian and James and said, "Guys! Guys! Face pain is a real thing. It's a real diagnosis!"

"No!" said James.

"Yes!" I said.

"It's a medical condition?" asked Brian.

"Apparently so!"

Pete did some quick typing in whatever program it is that he uses. "There's a code for it," he told us.

"NOOOO!" we said.

"Yep. Medical code 784.0. Pains, face."

We were delighted. Pete then emailed us the different medical listings for face pain.They are:

Pains, face 784.0
Pain in the face 784.0
Chronic pain in face 784.0
Atypical face pain 350.2

Our minds boggled. How different is "Pains, face" from "Pain in the face?" Why is Chronic pain in the face the same code as (what we assume is) occasional pain in the face? And! And! What is atypical face pain? Is "atypical" describing the pain or the face?

The fact is, people, that we just don't know enough about face pain.

We have, however, taken our 3rd grade sense of humor to a whole new level of geekiness.

"What's up James?"


"Oh! Burn!"

We are at Geek Level 16. Though it's not reflected on our employee badges, you can tell when you talk to us just how advanced we are. We are not 784.0. We are definitely 350.2, and we're not looking for a cure.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Days Are People Too

Monday has really been living up to its reputation lately. It's like it's not even trying. It's saying, "Everything you have heard about me is true. I'm going to start off difficult, become more complicated, make the hours go by slow, and end unsatisfactorily." This means that you are going to be late for work, your pants will tear, your boss will fuss at you, and you will get your period early. Even if you are male. ESPECIALLY if you're male because that's what kind of a bad ass Monday is becoming.

This is partly Sunday's fault. I've been listening really close on Sunday afternoons and based on my rising anxiety level, I think that Sunday is thinking up evil stuff for Monday to do and she's giving him ideas. This covers Sunday's reputation perfectly because Sunday can continue to look peaceful and devout, but really she spends all day being nice to your face while she silently plots for you to have a terrible tomorrow. Sunday is the kind of person who will shake your hand at church and then tell everyone about that one thing you did in high school. You remember that thing you did that one time? No? Well, Sunday does and she's blogging about it. She didn't even go to high school with you! She just dug this stuff up!

The guy you want is Tuesday. Tuesday is that guy who doesn't call a lot of attention to himself because he doesn't need to. He's always there after Monday, compassionate and forgiving. He says, "I know it's been hard. We're going to get through this." Tuesday would lend you money and tell you not to worry about it, and if you told him a secret he'd never tell anybody, not even his best friends, Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday and Thursday give Tuesday shit sometimes for being such a quiet goody goody but then they remember that time that Saturday relapsed and OD'd in the bathroom and he was the only one who kept it together until the ambulance got there. Saturday has been madly in love with Tuesday since he saved her, but she's too much of a party girl for his taste.

Wednesday doesn't like to take sides. She reads a lot and you can talk to her, but you can tell if you look into her face that she's not really listening. She's wondering if she wants beans with dinner. This isn't because she doesn't care about you, she just doesn't know how to handle things. Her inability to handle conflict makes it nice on a day when there's not much going on, but if something comes up you'll look at Wednesday,  and she'll shrug and tell you it's almost over, and you'll spend the rest of the day wondering when Friday's going to get here.

Thursday has gender confusion. If you are going to have a random, out-of-character sexual experience it's going to happen on a Thursday and it's going to be amazing.

Then Friday is here. Friday wears no shoes. He doesn't want you to worry about anything at all, even the stuff that you should probably be worried about, like that itch you've developed since your random sexual experience on Thursday. Friday will bake pot brownies for you and if you don't eat them, he doesn't get his feelings hurt - more for him. He's endlessly supportive, and a good listener like the hippie dad you never had. But you probably shouldn't take his life advice.

Saturday is a really good person which is why it's hard to be mad at her for throwing up in your car. She tries to be just a regular 9-5 job, stand up kinda woman who balances her checkbook and eats right, and sometimes she does, but then out of the blue she'll toss back three slices of cheesecake and a bottle of tequila. She's funny, she's beautiful, there are songs written about her, and sometimes you wish a Saturday night would never end, but inevitably it does and if Saturday's not careful she will show up drunk on Tuesday's lawn. It's a shame because if it weren't for Saturday's self-destructive impulses she and Tuesday would make a great couple. But it's not a surprise Saturday turned out like she did when sandwiched in between a free-spirited hippie like Friday and a stuck up bitch like Sunday.

Tuesday would like me to tell you that he does have his flaws. He fails to return text messages in a timely manner. If you do miss him, though, it's ok. He'll return in seven days. Unless Monday has anything to say about it.