This is the second post in a series sharing my Timeline Story, a look at the events, experiences and occupations that have contributed to shaping my business and writing life to the present. The first post is found at this link.
As the days in elementary school began to pass by, I grew increasingly fond of books and words. Learning to write words down on paper gave me a sense of power and fulfillment, even at that early age.
Most things came easily for me, and I found myself experiencing pride and elation over good grades. Not to mention having a good time.
It wasn’t until sixth grade that the writing bug bit in a serious way.
Our teacher announced an essay contest among all sixth graders early in the year. The contest was sponsored by the Hermitage Auxiliary Foundation, an arm of the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.
The contest required an essay on a topic closely related to the history of Andrew Jackson. The three top winners would be presented at The Hermitage, home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson in a ceremony with photographers from a local newspaper.*
My excitement palpable I found it hard to wait patiently to head home and get to work. I chose to write on Jackson’s role at The Battle of New Orléans, the last major battle of The War of 1812. Major General Jackson’s reputation was boosted because of his actions and the result of this battle, opening his path to the Office of President of the United States.
I submitted my essay and waited, and waited, and waited. Often being among the first to submit creates what seems like interminable waiting. But I felt I had a good essay and, therefore, a good chance of coming in among the top three. I was ready!
Finally, right before Christmas holidays, our principal announced the three winners. Third place went to a boy in another grade. Second place to my friend, Linda, in my classroom. It couldn’t be possible that I’d win first place. So I sat back and waited to hear who had won the big prize.
And then I heard my name called, and the principal invited me to the stage. I experienced my first stage fright then and there.
The three of us attended the ceremony at The Hermitage on the coldest winter day that January, January 8th, the actual day the war ended in New Orléans. We received monetary prizes as well as certificates of accomplishment, not to mention the cookies and cider waiting inside out of the cold.
It was then I knew with certainty that some day I would write. I had no way of knowing what I would write or when but write I would. Here the dreams of my journey to writing began.
UP NEXT: The third installment will bring the high points in my writing throughout high school and college.
*Somewhere, but I don’t know which somewhere, are copies of newspaper photos and my original certificate, perhaps misplaced during my mother’s move several years ago.
On Saturday, August 15th, Bob and I celebrated 34 years of happiness together. Not to detract from that happiness but to share with you what a tough start we had, today’s “A Day in the Life” post includes an excerpt from my memoir work-in-progress. Detailing the tension and strife filling the days following Bob’s marriage proposal and our announcement of our intentions, the excerpt shares a window into the world with Mama. Even after her children reached adulthood.
Remarried, but with a Struggle
Living with Mama following my divorce and dad’s death went on far too long. Yet I struggled with finding a way out. If I moved out, the cost of housing, food, gas, clothing me for work and a growing child would lead to insolvency on my part. And worse yet, mere thoughts of Mama’s reaction to such suggestion was unbearable. She had grown attached to Craig and his presence had avoided her grieving for Daddy. I stood between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
For the next 7 1/2 years, we lived like this. With each passing year, I dreaded what our environment was doing to Craig knowing what my experience under Mama’s parenting did to me. I dreamed and prayed for any chance to get my child out of this. But would it be too late by then?
In the winter of 1981, I met someone. Someone with the capacity to love me for me, with similar interests, and as alone as I was. Plus someone familiar with emotional and verbal abuses.
Our new-found relationship grew like a flash. Within a period of a few months, we set a wedding date in December of the same year. With little consideration for our three children, we focused on our dreams and hopes. We moved ahead full blast with our plans.
That is until we told Mama. And from her tool belt of antics, she pulled the “I’ll kill myself routine,” as mentioned earlier. But not in front of my fiancé or his children. She waited until Bob and his two left.
This was likely one of the worst of these episodes I had experienced. So eerily different, I turned to my older brother for help. I asked him to come and try to reason with Mama. That added to her battle cries. When he arrived, her venom turned on him.
Once she calmed down on this otherwise tranquil and beautiful Sunday afternoon, my brother left. We three who remained behind walked on eggshells afterwards. For days, this mood continued. I was so glad that for part of the day Craig was in school. However, there was the time when Mama picked him up from school. What poison was she filling his head with, and how was she treating him?
Things became more even on a day-to-day basis, and I believed it was all behind us. What made me fall for the idea she had accepted my engagement and impending marriage in the next few months?
Summer came and Bob and I enjoyed getting out with the three kids, doing things like a “family.” But excluding Mama always brought on heated discussions. So we avoided those activities and held picnics and played games in the backyard. Anything to prevent clashes in front of our kids.
In early August, all hell broke loose with Mama. I struggle to recall the catalyst behind this explosion, but it may have been the weekend Bob and I announced a shopping trip for our wedding rings. Our plan included making Craig a part of our shopping as he would live with us. Before we could get the words out of our collective mouths, Mama stood at the door, handbag at the ready, joining us on our trip. Perhaps the silence surrounding our excursion or the quiet tears rolling down my cheeks lit the spark.
With our shopping finished and the trip home no more jovial than our trip out, we arrived back at the house just in time for our evening meal. Bob excused himself to go home, and I followed him out. I had hoped he would stay, and I suppose in my heart I wondered why he wouldn’t stand up to Mama for me. That’s when I learned he had experienced similar treatment before and never wanted to face it again. I wasn’t angry as much as hurt, so I let it pass.
When I re-entered the house, the fireworks began. One look at Mama and I knew at once what was coming. The fire in her eyes blazed with heat, and I tried to steel myself for whatever manipulative schemes she had ready.
“I suppose I made a mistake in thinking I would be included as family by you and Bob. A nice little nest you’re building for yourself. He sees you as the perfect wife and a great little homemaker and mama. Huh! Wait until he lives with you!”
As always, trying to ignore her didn’t work. When I made no response, Mama’s thermostat rose. When I noticed Craig’s eyes enlarging by the minute, I asked her to stop it once and for all. Mistake!
“Stop what? Not believing in you the way everybody else does? Nobody else knows you the way I do! Oh, how I wish they did. Your daddy always deemed you as perfect too. That’s where you get that high and mighty attitude of yours. But I know all too well.”
The fight in me crumbles. Tears burn the backs of my eyes, and I sense Craig’s fear. The tension between Mama and me is so great I clench my teeth together to hold words back. And my teeth grind against each other.
“Well, say something. Or has the cat got your tongue? He’s changing you already–I can see that. I suppose he’s told you not to talk to me.”
“Oh, Mama! He’s done nothing of the sort. It just amazes me you don’t want me to be happy. Why would you have me sacrifice everything Bob and I can do together for a lifetime of manipulation and domination?” By now I should have realized these were fighting words but somehow on this day I didn’t care.
“I want you to be happy. I just want you to make the right choices and you’re not doing that. He was married before and he has children, two of them. What will happen to Craig having to live a life like that?”
“Well, if you haven’t noticed, I’m divorced and I have a son by my first marriage. I see no difference. What about you and Daddy? You both were married before and had three children between you when you married. Was that OK, and my promise of marriage isn’t?”
Mama sensed this wasn’t going well for her. As usual, she clammed up and used the cold shoulder treatment, which was fine by me. I told Craig to come with me–I had shopping to do. We left but only to go for a drive and an ice cream cone. Plus a stop at a payphone. It was time to move our wedding date to an earlier time.
When I called Bob and told him what had transpired, he agreed we should get married as soon as possible. He said he would call the pastor who was marrying us and see if the next Saturday, one week away, would work. It was a good thing we were planning a small and simple family wedding. Each year we celebrate our marriage on August 15th, not in December as first planned.
Taken in 1983 at Meyer FamilyGathering in Bickleton, WA
Copyright 2015 Sherrey Meyer
This was perhaps one of the most difficult encounters with Mama. Her manipulative skills and ability to belittle and demean did not let up when we reached adulthood. As the song says, “the beat goes on,” and with Mama it went on and on. It is my plan to share other excerpts from time to time. Likely, they will change somewhat before publication, but I’d like to share some of my story with you along the way.
Drawing on a line from the movie, The Wizard of Oz, I kept running the title for this post over and over in my head to the cadence used in this scene.
No, I haven’t faced anything nearly as frightening or deadly as lions, tigers and bears in recent days. But Microsoft’s Windows 10 soured my technology tastes just before a two-day writing conference. Hurrying home on Saturday, I planned to spend Sunday getting Windows 10 up and running, only to decide the Geek Squad would be my best bet. And then they took longer than first thought.
A Word on Windows 10
My purpose here is not to speak negatively about Windows 10 or Microsoft’s decision to upgrade to a new version of its operating system. Frustrations grew out of my haste in choosing to upgrade before all the bugs were worked out.
Husband Bob and I had upgraded his computer to Windows 10 without a hitch. Only one little problem after the upgrade finished, and it was such a minor issue it only took seconds to correct it. Why would it not go the same on my laptop?
Well, it didn’t. Nobody knows why Windows 10 chose to destroy and almost annihilate my poor Lenovo laptop. Suddenly, in the middle of the upgrade, the screen flashes as if it were a neon sign directing consumers to a favorite local pub or special event.
Nothing would make it stop or clear its throat but shutting down the computer. And nothing I tried that long Thursday evening would bring it back to life.
Earlier in the day, I backed up to a thumb drive all manuscript files as well as other projects not yet completed before attempting the upgrade.
I should have known better than to rush into this the night before my conference began. And I strongly recommend giving it some time to work out all its little issues, obviously some larger than others.
Willamette Writers Conference 2015
Day 1 (Friday)
Despite the events of the night before, the first day of the conference, including a 50th-anniversary celebration for Willamette Writers, dawned glorious and energizing. A keynote speaker Friday morning woke us up with an inspirational sharing of his own story as a writer and the truth of the hard journey writers often face.
My schedule for the day included back-to-back workshops, most focusing on the mysterious world of self-publishing. I met Carla King briefly as she facilitated a panel discussion of three writers who have self-published. Later in the day, I listened carefully to Melissa Hart‘s three-hour presentation on writing and publishing a book-length memoir. Well worth every minute spent with these two women.
I did reserve time for one writing workshop in the morning hours led by the keynote speaker, Bill Kenower, founder and editor-in-chief of Author Magazine. Listening to Bill both in the morning and in the workshop was like an instant makeover of my perspective on the writing life and where I am in my journey. Thank you, Bill!
This doesn’t include nor give credit to three wonderful women writers I met on Friday–Karen Garst, Cecelia Otto and Nikki Martin. We enjoyed conversation and chatter over lunch and drinks, and I hope to continue to connect with each of them.
I went home at the end of the day filled with motivation, encouragement, inspiration, and a notebook stuffed with notes and handouts. I determined not to even cast a glance toward my laptop.
Day 2 (Saturday)
A slight change in my schedule found me sitting in Larry Brooks‘s presentation on getting to that “true final draft.” Larry is a consummate teacher and lover of words and writing. His passion for the subject he’s teaching combined with his own best-selling books make him the perfect writing teacher.
Larry’s genre is fiction, primarily suspense and thriller stories. He has also written nonfiction but instructional nonfiction on the subject of, what else, writing. However, I had heard so much about his teaching that at the last minute I switched workshops to experience him in action firsthand.
I was not disappointed. And as Larry moved through a topic about which he gets excited, humorous, flippant, and sarcastic at times, I knew I was listening to someone who really knew his craft. By the end of the 90 minutes, I saw the connection between what he was teaching and my work in writing memoir. Following the workshop, I told him of the connection I had made and we discussed it for a few moments. I’m glad I attended Larry’s session.
Then another panel but this time with editors who wanted to share how writers should write to please editors. It was a lively and fast-paced panel discussion, including a freelance editor who also works for a local house, a traditional house editor working from home here in Portland, and lastly another traditional house editor working in-house. Their processes were very similar with respect to agents and writers, with the major difference being in their respective proximity to their personal editorial teams.
In that last session on what editors want to see, I may have met a potential writing/critiquing partner, Linda Atwell, also working on a memoir project. Networking and meeting up with new people is a huge benefit to conference attendance.
One last workshop on print design with Cheri Lasota, a young woman well-versed in book design and design software. In fact, Cheri’s knowledge coupled with her enthusiasm for writing and publishing almost demolished the six minds sitting in the room with her. There was no way we could absorb everything she wanted to share, and we were all grateful when she indicated she would email us her slides. Whew!
Another workshop was available but after that last one, it was time to head homeward.
Geek Squad to the Rescue!
After a good night’s rest, I arose on Sunday determined to conquer Windows 10 and resurrect my Lenovo laptop. After preparing breakfast and seeing Husband Bob off to church, I settled into the task. Online I found many sites offering instructions on reverting back to Windows 8.1 and then installing the Windows 10 upgrade again. These were daunting words. They meant others had met a similar problem.
I followed their instructions to the letter multiple times. Not once did I ever get a positive response. Around noon, I caved in and called the Geeks over at the Squad.
The “agent” assigned to “my case” quietly checked the laptop out with a few almost doctoral sounding hmm’s and aah’s. Finally, he tells me he’s keeping my laptop for the next couple of days. With disappointment, I left alone.
Patience has not been a longstanding virtue of mine, so Monday and Tuesday weren’t especially easy for me. I now had all this new knowledge and inspiration to complete my manuscript, but I couldn’t get to a computer to get it done. Finally, late Tuesday afternoon another “agent” called to give a status update. And late Wednesday afternoon, I picked up my laptop and gently brought it home.
But I still had work to do. All applications and software loaded on my laptop after I purchased it were wiped out and needed reloading. Guess how I spent my Thursday? After several hours, I had things back pretty much where I wanted them, and today I typed this post on my newly restored Lenovo laptop upgraded to Windows 10 and operating quite well.
⇒ Never, I say, never again will I rush into a Microsoft upgrade. In an earlier life working in a law firm, I had gone through many such upgrades, always before any bugs were worked out.
⇒ Never again will I attempt such an upgrade the night before the first day of a conference. It causes frustration, loss of sleep, and a bad start to the next morning.
⇒ Never will I miss attending the Willamette Writer’s Annual Conference, if I can help it. Too valuable to miss.
⇒ Beginning now, I will work on exercising greater patience in all areas of my life.
Do you have any similar stories to share about computer failures or upgrades or other crises happening just before a writing conference you’d like to share. Leave them for us in the comment section below. We’d love to hear your stories too.