Chicago Tribune homepage last night that Joyce Brothers had died, my heart sank. I never met her, never had an exchange with her, and yet she helped me a great deal. She showed me the way, and she helped me sort out my head at a time when I was struggling. If I am ever asked what the five most important books of my life are, her book The Successful Woman would be on that list.
One day in 1990, when I had finished graduate school and was searching for my first job in the U.S., I was wandering about the Chicago Public Library's main building downtown, utterly stressed out and distraught about how I would manage to have a career and a family. And there, on one of the display shelves, I spotted the title The Successful Woman - How you can have a career, a husband and a family - and not feel guilty about it, published in 1988. It was just want I needed.
In The Successful Woman, Joyce Brothers shares how she and many other prominent women managed to be happily married, have a child, and a high-flying career. It presents many lessons learned, practical advice, psychological insights, trade offs and regrets - her main regret? That she felt having a career meant she could only have one child.
In my family, I was going to be the first woman to work full-time and have a family. My German grandmother was educated and worked as a teacher, but once she was married, she only worked during the war and post-war years when she had to. It hadn't been a choice. My American grandmother married young and was an excellent housewife. My mother was proud of the fact that she did not "have to work" once she was married, and she only embarked on reinventing herself as an opera singer once we children were about to leave the house. (She was thus a great role model when I reinvented myself as a writer in mid life.)
At the time I happened upon Joyce Brothers' book, I was still fairly new to the U.S. All my friends were fellow graduate students; I didn't yet have older friends to advise me like I have now. So Joyce Brothers, in her practical way, became my role model. This book, with its many examples of successful dual-career marriages, became a road map.
One example of a lesson I picked up from her: marital trade offs. When you go on a trip by yourself (be it business or pleasure), and your husband minds the home front, then you owe him one. And vice versa. One of her other marital insights (I'm not sure if it's from this book or another): Marriage is the salt of daily life - if it's right, it makes everything so much better, but if it's not (i.e. too much or too little), it spoils it. Thankfully, it's been right for me. My husband and I are going to have our 25th wedding anniversary in June.
So thank you, Joyce Brothers. You showed me my life was possible when I doubted it the most.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Monday, May 13, 2013
|with my parents at age one|
As part of my "Create" motto for this year, I've been reading Julia Cameron's Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creatively, and I have found her books on creativity most inspiring (more on that some other time). A passage I read this weekend inspired me to just do a simple creative project that had been sitting around for a long time: Finally putting the black and white paper photos I have of my first year of life into the little Italian-paper-bound album I had bought for them.
The passage read, "The creative journey is characterized not by a muzzy and hazy retreat from reality but by the continual sorting and reordering and structuring of reality into new forms and new relationships." (Julia Cameron, Walking in this World, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2002, p. 137)
What better way to "sort, reorder and structure reality" than to organize a photo album? Thankfully, this one was going to be small enough (it took me about two hours to complete) since my dad took mainly slides, and so the number of actual prints is limited to those he sent to his parents in Germany (my parents lived in New Jersey when I was born) or to later photos, such as the one above, that my grandfather took when we moved to Germany when I was a year old.
As I glued in the photos and, in particular, when I came across two poems on yellowed onion skin that my grandfather had written for me, I was struck by the realization how fortunate I have been to have always had so much love in my life, and that that love was expressed and preserved in such tangible ways that I can touch it again, so many years later, when both my father and grandfather have been dead many years. I also realized, as I tucked those poems into photo corners so they could be taken out again and fingered and read, that I was creating a little birthday present for myself. My birthday comes later this month, and this album is more than an ordered piece of reality, it's a neat little package of love.
So here's to little tangible creative projects!
Monday, May 6, 2013
|Patience, the trees seem to say, we're not ready to be green yet.|
My kids have been into Yoda lately, thus my inverted title, but I really feel that Yoda's wording is appropriate for this mantra a writer must tell herself over and over: "Patience, you must have."
Last Wednesday I finished an essay, or rather I got it to what I think is close to its final form. I read it out loud to myself, one of my editing rituals when a piece is in one of its later incarnations. I ran Word searches for my writing foibles - starting too many sentences with "And..." or overusing "a bit." I edited some more. And then I felt this eagerness to submit it wash over me, especially because my Outlook calendar was reminding me of several submission deadlines in early May. Oh, it was so tempting to say, "It's done, and I'm sending it out!"
But no, I reigned myself in. I know that every piece needs at least one final look over from another pair of eyes, usually my daughter's, who is an astute editor (She's been especially keen on picking out all my non-parallel constructions.) This particular piece had been hard to put together as it is an excerpt from my memoir manuscript that I'm trying to rewrite into a standalone piece, and for that to work, I really need someone else to look at it, even after the umpteenth revision. So I sent it off to my writers' group and am patiently (!) awaiting their feedback. Hopefully, hopefully, they will tell me it's good, it's done, and they will have only minor editing suggestions.
However, once I do submit this essay, more patience will be required as weeks, if not months, will go by before anybody responds, let alone wants to publish it. So, patience is definitely the name of the game as a writer.