Cancer at 33

My body has changed a lot since last I wrote a year and a half ago. I grew a child, birthed that child through an incision in my abdomen after 24 hours of labor and 5 hours of pushing, breastfed that child, and stopped breastfeeding that child.

You think my body would have wanted a break. But it didn’t get one.

After I stopped breastfeeding, a tumor on my ovary got the green light to start growing at an accelerated pace. Three months later, the weekend of my daughter’s first birthday, I went to the hospital for what I thought was a bad case of the flu, only to find out that I had a 17 cm mass inside my body that was not supposed to be there.

At 33 years old, I had cancer.

Of course, I didn’t know I had cancer until it was gone. We knew it was a mass. I had an oncologist for a surgeon. He had a pretty good idea what it was. But no one could be sure until it came out. And it had to come out.

The pathology report said it was what’s called a mucinous tumor, exactly what my surgeon hypothesized. They had biopsied some of the surrounding tissue as well as some lymph nodes during the surgery, and those all came back negative. However, the tumor had produced some fluid, and there were cancer cells in that fluid.

My surgeon advised not taking any more steps for treatment. There may very well be cancer cells still in my body, but there’s a chance they’ll just keep floating around in there not causing any harm. Chemo and radiation don’t have a lot of success with this type of cancer. It wasn’t worth the pain to administer them.

So here I am, a cancer survivor. But it doesn’t feel like it.

I did not have the experience of cancer that one expects to have. I did not have to sit in a chair and receive poison through an IV, feel sick and tired all the time, lose my hair.

One day I had cancer. The next day, I didn’t.

To be honest, my life has changed little in the month since my surgery. Yes, I instantly lost 10 pounds, I got three weeks off from work, and now I have a 7-inch incision down my stomach. Those are all out of the ordinary. But overall, life has felt the same. I still play the same games with my baby. I still watch the same show with my husband after she goes to bed. I get up in the morning feeling like today is just another day, nothing special.

And that bothers me.

Because I had cancer, damnit. That’s not something to take lightly. And there still may be cancer cells in my body, meaning I am predisposed to have cancer again. And if it comes back, it will be worse, because I’ve run out of organs I can get rid of. Next time, it will be on an organ I need to survive.

I got lucky this time. I might not be so lucky next time.

So I’m living in two worlds now. Half the time, I enjoy the normalcy of my life, the quiet, the uneventfulness. Half the time, I feel like I need to carpe the shit out of every diem because who knows how long I’ve got until the other shoe drops.

I need to find a balance between the two.

I was talking with my cousin the other day. She is a believer and practitioner of energy healing, and while I like to think of myself as a rather open-minded person, I usually prefer to get my medical advice from traditional doctors and scientific research. But she told me an interesting story about her journey to find energy healing; she said her body pretty much shut down at one point in time, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Eventually, she came to discover that she was cutting out parts of who she was from her life, and she realized that she wasn’t being true to her whole self. Once she started to embrace who she was, her body started to heal itself.

To the skeptic, that probably sounds more than a little strange. And you could definitely call me a skeptic.

But today I had an epiphany.

Having a baby and becoming a parent is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. There were so many things about it I wasn’t expecting, and I haven’t always been able to handle it well. Ever since our daughter came into our lives, I have been saying that I will write a book documenting the surprises, the revelations, the hardships, the untold stories of parenthood. There was no “if.” I felt like I finally had my writing purpose.

But I didn’t write. I haven’t written. It’s been too difficult on many levels. I have denied that part of myself, and in doing so, I thought I was protecting myself.

It seems clear now that I was actually harming myself.

I’m not going to say that I caused my tumor by not writing. That sounds ridiculous.

I will say that the timing of the tumor seems rather coincidental in that it started to grow after I had a child, the biggest transformative event of my life. And I will say that it also seems coincidental that I’ve never felt more of a urge to write and yet I continually refused to write, stopping up those emotions inside me instead of setting them free on the page.

No one knows why one cell mutates into a cancerous one. Maybe denying a portion of ourselves emotionally is enough to change us physically.

So here I am, back at my keyboard, getting words on the page instead of bottling them up, sending them out into the world and giving them a voice instead of silencing them in my head.

Because if I don’t, it may well be a matter of life or death.

It’s my first step toward finding that balance of feeling as if every day is expendable and every day is crucial.

So to all of you out there who are currently suppressing a part of yourself for whatever reason, I urge you to let it out, let it be free, and see what comes of it.

We shall see what comes of this.

Generation Gap

I have an interesting teaching gig this semester. I have a class of high school students who are dual enrolled in my college class. Because there are so many students who are dual enrolled, they’ve arranged to have the class at their high school instead of on the college campus where I teach the rest of my classes.

Currently, these students are writing (or learning about writing) what’s called an Observation Essay, which is exactly what it sounds like: you observe something or someone and try to create meaning out of what you see. The point is to try to see something that isn’t obvious, to use one’s detective skills and analytical brain to see something everyday as something out of the ordinary.

I find a good way to get their wheels turning is for them to consider how life has changed over the years and whether it’s been for the better or for the worse. To illustrate this, we read a story which lamented the disappearing (if not disappeared entirely) tradition of sitting on one’s front porch. Technology has made it so we no longer need to sit outside to stay cool, nor are we interested in hearing the local gossip since our television tells us the news and entertains us in other ways. Instead, we’ve invested in our garages, and we move from inside the house to the garage to drive off and see friends elsewhere or find adventure outside of our own neighborhood. It was a reflection on how we’ve lost the sense of community in the places where we live.

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So the homework I assign is to investigate the generation gap between themselves and their parents, grandparents, maybe siblings who have quite an age gap. This is the first year I attempted this assignment, so the results of how it would go were unknown. Oftentimes, I feel more like a psychology major running social experiments on my students than I do an English instructor.

The results of this particular experiment were shocking.

Every essay that was turned into me the next class meeting (every essay but one) talked about what a horrible generation their generation was. They idealized the generation of their parents and grandparents. They thought people back then were nicer, had better manners, were harder workers, were more social, used their time more wisely, were less wasteful, and essentially lived life more fully.

I even had a female student, a rather intelligent and thoughtful student, admit that though women didn’t have it so great back then, at least they had all these other good things, and maybe it would have been worth it to be oppressed (my word, not hers) in order to live in a world like the one described above.

This pretty much floored me.

Granted, for two straight years, I immersed myself completely in ‘50s housewife culture while I investigated and wrote my Master’s thesis. So I am probably more educated in the harsh realities of the past than she or any of my other students are.

As another experiment, then, for the next class, I reminded my students that observation essays are not about saying what everyone else says (and everyone in that class said their generation was terrible) but about what everyone else isn’t saying. So I asked them to get in groups and try to think up reasons why they are the BEST generation instead of the worst.

You would have thought I had asked them to try to climb Mount Everest. They struggled to come up with any reasons. When all was said and done, I had maybe six legitimate reasons written on the board, and each one came with a caveat: “We’re more environmentally aware, BUT we are too lazy to recycle.” “We’re more open-minded about sexual orientation, BUT there are still a lot of people who don’t want gay people to marry.”

I had started my experiment thinking that these kids would be tickled with all the advantages their generation offered them. They have the best technology, the best health care (and there are now provisions in place to assure that they will always have health care available to them), women can literally do anything a man can do now (and she’s fighting to get paid the same for it), they won’t enter the job force during an economic depression, and most importantly, they can take college classes while still in high school IN their own high school. I mean, talk about education at your fingertips.

And the best advantage they could think up on their own was that they didn’t have to send letters anymore and wait three days to get a response.

After listening to all their reasons about why they are the worst generation, I really started believing that they ARE the worst generation. For what good are all these advantages if they don’t appreciate them or take advantage of them?

Let me tell you, they are a pain in my butt. They are always looking down at their crotches, surfing facebook on their phone under the desk. Or worse, as with this class, they look at their phones blatantly on TOP of their desk, completely ignoring me most of the time. Half the students have iPhone ear buds plugged in their heads even while I’m teaching. I had to yell at a student for singing aloud while I was in the middle of a lecture. They show up in their sweatpants and they scribble nonsense for their homework because they didn’t listen to what the assignment was so they guess.

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It makes me think that this country is on its way to hell in a handbasket if these kids will rule the world one day.

And yet these students are taking an advanced college English class while they’re in high school. This is not their first college class, either. I’m pretty sure all of those students have already been accepted to colleges. A lot of them are involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. One student even has a full ride to a university on a lacrosse scholarship. These students are, by any generation’s standards, pretty magnificent kids.

Even the troublemakers every now and again stun me with a thoughtful observation, a beautiful sentence, a poetic vulnerability. So I guess I can’t give up on them yet.

If they don’t yet realize how intelligent, how advanced, how lucky they are right now, maybe that’s okay. I mean, what kid realizes how good they’ve got it? What kid doesn’t take things for granted? What kid doesn’t need a swift kick in the butt before they realize it’s time to grow up?

With any luck, perhaps I’ll be the professor that can provide that swift kick. And I’ll wait patiently to see what good comes of it.

Writing Prompt: Lent

The bell rang, and I gathered my belongings from my locker. I can’t remember how we all met up, but as I left the middle school, I was accompanied by my cousin and a couple of other close friends. We walked through the parking lot until we were off school grounds, then we’d turn right onto the sidewalk which lined Lewis Avenue. Eventually, we turned left on Van Aikens Street.

It was the route we’d been walking together after school for years. Often we’d walk together on Wednesdays, when we had catechism class; we’d stop in the local drug store for candy cigarettes and soda until Sister’s Bakery opened and we could stop instead for an afternoon doughnut and a glass bottle of Snapple. But today was Friday, so we didn’t stop because there would be plenty of food waiting for us when we arrived at our destination.

Upon entering the church hall, I greeted my grandfather, who already sat at his table by the door, counting money carefully to balance his drawer. We set our book bags down on the stage behind the curtain amongst boxes of Styrofoam cups and plastic stirrers waiting patiently in storage. We’d walk up to the big windows that lined the wall and place our orders with parishioners dressed in white aprons, clouds of steam swirling around their heads. I ordered a grilled cheese with green beans and scalloped potatoes. I used to order the fried lake perch, but since my cousin dared me to drink a concoction of nastiness he had whipped up the previous year and I spent the evening puking up said lake perch, I lost my taste for it.

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We took our trays into the side classroom, and we had about a half hour to eat and goof off until the crowds started pouring in. A line of people would snake around half of the room, disappearing outside of the door. People would wait in the dark and the cold for over an hour for their fish dinner. Aisles of long banquet tables covered in plastic tablecloth resembled a German beer hall.

We’d squeeze along the tight rows of metal folding chairs, picking up empty plates and Styrofoam cups. We’d scrape abandoned fish and potatoes into the trash and plop the plastic cafeteria trays next to the sink with a loud crash. We’d fetch coffee for the older folks, and we’d sneak pieces of pie and soft serve ice cream into the stage hallway for a quick break until one of the adults told us to get back to work.

And there we worked for three hours straight. My grandfather happily taking customer’s bills, my mother in her red apron holding a spool of raffle tickets over her head, and me and my friends cleaning up the messes and making a few of our own along the way.

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Birthday Traditions

When I was growing up, my extended family on my mother’s side all lived within five miles of my house. So birthdays always involved a large chaotic get-together. The thing I remember most about these parties was how 25 people squished together on one side of our dining room table. And the birthday girl (or boy if it was my brother’s year) stood on the other side, separate and alone. Cousins (or annoying little sisters like me) often edged their way toward the birthday side of the table in order to squeeze in the pictures or get a good look at that delicious cake they would soon be inhaling. The group sang in unharmonious tones with big smiles on their faces, while my mother hid behind a large black camcorder that rested on her shoulder, her eyes unseen but her mouth clearly reciting the words with everyone else. The song went on forever (what family sings four verses of the birthday song?), and I swayed back and forth to the melody and rolled my eyes in humiliation at my doting family. My grandfather’s deep scratchy voice stuck out among the sweet twittering of singing. I’d eye the melting wax as it started to drip on the blinding white frosting and will the song to be over. And then it was. And it was quiet. I’d pause and contort my face to look as though I was deep in thought. Then I’d take a breath so deep that I’d hold onto the edge of the table for stability so as to not fall backwards. And I’d blow. The room became dark as wisps of smoke streamed up into the chandelier. Applause and cheering ruptured the silence. And I’d smile.

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*A picture my brother found of me edging into his birthday cake picture when we were young*

Now I live much further away than five miles from any of my family members, immediate or extended. Though my brother and I are well over 30, our mother still bakes pans of brownies for the occasion. Mine come in the mail, often squished and crumbled. She lives closer to my brother, so she’ll hand deliver his while he’s at work and lovingly embarrass him in front of his coworkers.

My brother tries to rationalize with my mother and say he’s too old for such things. But birthdays are not days to celebrate being adults. Birthdays are days to celebrate birth, not death.

Often, she’ll wrap a box from her attic filled with trinkets of our childhood, things we’ve forgotten over time—grade school drawings, Young Author entries, honorary awards given to all participants, or (for me in particular) old baton twirling trophies. These portals back to childhood help us forget that we are getting older.

The gatherings still take place every year, too, with only immediate family, though. My husband’s birthday is only a month after my own, so to help everyone save on gas, we do one joint party. The traditions of two families converge together in one grand hoorah. My mother often wants to bake a boxed cake which she would carefully write a birthday message on in frosting using grandma’s antique icing dispenser kit from the ‘50s. My husband’s mothers wants to order a cake from their local bakery, the best cakes in the town, with billowy frosting and glistening appliqués. My husband and I order cupcakes to avoid having to choose between our mothers. We set new traditions when the old ones are unable to blend together.

We no longer have the formality of the dining room table, the segregation between honored person and audience. Instead, the dining room table is covered in snacks and appetizers, which people graze on throughout the day. The cake, aflame in too many candles to count, will be paraded out into the living room and handed to us. We hold it tenderly, trying not to catch our hair on fire or accidentally blow out the candles as we laugh, while everyone sings only one verse of “Happy Birthday,” which is quickly followed by the Polish “Sto Lat,” a birthday tradition of my sister-in-law which our family has happily adopted.

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*We recreated the picture a decade later*

Likely, there will be a toast sometime in the day with a shot of Crown Royal, a holiday tradition of my grandfather’s which wasn’t used on birthdays (except for his), but since he’s passed, we mark every occasion with this token of remembrance.

It’s interesting to think about how traditions have evolved. Oftentimes, I ache for those family parties of my youth. How I took it all for granted, having family so nearby, the comfort of knowing so many people loved me and wanted to celebrate with me. And yet, as I grow older, I’ve really gotten to customize the birthday experience—pick and choose what traditions I love, celebrate in my own house with those closest to me.

I try to imagine the birthdays of whatever future children I or my siblings will have. What traditions will we have morphed or constructed by then? I want to mourn for their missed opportunity to have that exact memory I have of my childhood birthday.

I rest easy, though, knowing we can only evolve for the better and that my family will always come to celebrate, no matter how far the trek.

Writing Prompt: Scars

On my right-hand ring finger, though it is faint from its ten years of healing, there is a light circle on my upper knuckle. My college dorm neighbor offered to cook me dinner one night if I promised to wash the dishes afterwards. He cooked delectable stuffed shells, my first real encounter with handmade Italian food, for he was a student of the culinary arts (though his major was Linguistics). And they were delicious pillows of heaven as they erupted in my mouth and slid warmly down my throat. Once my plate was emptied (and filled and emptied again), I kept my promise and dunked my hands in his sink of soapy water. As I ran the washcloth over the blade of his chef’s knife, unaware of how sharp a chef keeps his knife, I felt a quick twinge. I froze. Blood began to pour from my hand. Without a word, soap still dropping from my elbows, I disappeared out his door and then vanished behind my own. I wrapped a thick paper towel over my finger while I dialed my mother. My friend, unaware in his dorm, recognized my absence, picked up the knife, saw a piece of my finger dangling from it, and instinctively dropped it back into the depths of the dish water.

While now I fancy myself educated in the use and care of cutlery, I still often slice skin that seems to get in the way of my chopping. My husband stays close by as I cut up vegetables for dinner, first-aid kit in hand just in case.

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Get it? It’s Scar. I’m talking about scars.

Coincidentally, another scar of mine is the result of a kitchen mishap. My boyfriend (now husband) and I had moved in together, and in an effort of domestication, I took up baking, for what makes a house smell like a home more than something baking in the oven? Yet I was an efficient baker, and I would be damned if I was going to bake one tray of cookies at a time. I had two cookie sheets to fill, and so I filled them simultaneously. The recipe said to rotate the sheets halfway through the baking time, so when the timer went off, I grabbed the top sheet with one gloved hand and the bottom with another. Somehow in the synchronal maneuver, I tapped the inside of my right bicep with the left-hand cookie tray and seared a long line across my arm. The cookies remained on the tray and arrived safely back in the oven to finish baking.

The pain lasted five minutes. The scar lasted five years. And when it finally disappeared, I got the bright idea to bake cookies again, which resulted in another scar of the exact nature, created in the exact same way.

I have many scars, which serve as reminders of my stupidity. For how else do we get scars than by making mistakes? Unfortunately, I never seem to learn from those mistakes.

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*Set your timer and write about your scars. What kind of scars do you have? Where did they come from? Are they a badge of honor or a reminder of stupidity? Leave your musings in the comments below!*

The Liebster Award

I’ve been quiet for a while. I know. I could blame it on the holidays or the ending of an old semester and the beginning of the new. I could blame it on a lot of things.

The truth is I was struggling with the concept of blogging. I wasn’t sure what blogging meant to me anymore. I wasn’t sure what it meant to anyone, really. I was tired of the gimmicks I kept reading about to bring more traffic to my page. I didn’t want to write blogs entitled The Five Whatevers of Whatever to get people to click. I wanted to write about what I wanted to write about.

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A dear friend and fellow blogger had long discussions with me on the topic. She had a personal blog like this one but has since abandoned it for a blog that is niched, that focuses on one subject, and that subject isn’t her. She figured people weren’t interested in her personal life. Why should they be, after all? Why should anyone be interested in anyone else’s life, especially a complete stranger’s?

So I took a break, because I thought people probably weren’t interested in my life either. And I thought that if I could take the time I was putting into a blog to write more polished pieces that may be published elsewhere, that may be more productive. And that was a great thought, but it never materialized.

In the three months of my silence, a different dear friend decided to take to the internet with her personal life of being a stay-at-home mom to a 1-year-old girl and all the struggles that come along with it like wanting to be healthy and wanting to be a good role model. And I read her blog regularly because I am genuinely interested in her life.

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Granted, a blog about those things won’t have any trouble reeling in readers. There are always moms and dads out there who are curious what other moms and dads are up to, and readers love stories about people trying to improve themselves. So I suppose I’m not all surprised to find that her blog was nominated for a Leibster Award by a fellow blogger. Although I was surprised because I didn’t know such an award existed. And then I was even more surprised that she, in turn, nominated me.

For I haven’t been a blogger now for three months, so I feel a little undeserving. And yet both she and I have been “blogging” on and off for well over a decade. Whether we own a blog now or not, whether we write every day or not, it seems to be in our blood. It seems to be something we can’t ever fully turn off. The desire to write on the internet resurfaces in us when our words have been quiet too long.

I know it often feels like everyone and their mother has a blog today. That’s probably not far from the truth. So yes, it is hard to care about everyone’s life that is shared on the internet. But it’s the personal blogs I like the best, above the informative ones, or the ones about Five Whatevers about Whatever. People these days are so willing to be honest about their lives, about their desires and their shortcomings. They’re willing to be honest about what it’s like to be human. And I think we could always use that more of that in the world.

So thanks, [Jessie](https://whereinthelife.wordpress.com/), for giving me a reason to come back to the keyboard. I’m still not sure what the future for this blog holds, but for today, I’m here.

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And instead of nominating someone else to receive this award, I’ll instead encourage all you dormant bloggers out there, the ones who haven’t written or the ones who fear no one will hear their voice, to take to your keyboard today and put your life online.

***

Apparently, part of winning the award is that I have to answer some questions about myself, so here goes…

**Why did you decide to start blogging? What makes you keep at it?** Ha, well, as you can see from this entry, I don’t always keep at it. And I don’t think there was ever a decision to start—like I said, it’s just kind of engrained in me from my college days when blogging was what you did. But essentially, what keeps me starting new blogs and writing in them is to motivate myself to keep writing and to keep facing my fears of letting people read my writing.

**If you only read three books for the rest of your life, what would they be?** Oh, God, I hate the idea of only having three books in my possession. I’m not the kind of person who reads things over and over usually. But in this case, I would want the collected stories of Ernest Hemingway, the collected stories of Shirley Jackson, and the collected stories of Grace Paley (Hemingway and Jackson are no-brainers, and I’ve been wanting to spend more time with Paley), and I’d drive myself eventually mad trying to find all the hidden themes and nuances in their writing.

**What do you do to overcome writer’s block?** I stop writing. Ha. Um, seriously, I do take a break and let my ideas kind of fester is my subconscious. Or I send a draft to a fellow writer and let them pick it apart in hopes that I get inspired by their comments (and I usually do).

**What is the most amazing trip you’ve ever taken?** I have taken a remarkable amount of remarkable trips, and for that, I’m incredibly blessed. Italy will always win, and each visit holds a unique fondness for me, but my honeymoon in Jamaica was exactly what a vacation should be. And Hawaii was a week of facing pretty much all of my fears.

**What’s the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to you?** I feel like every single day I embarrass myself at least a million times. Especially as a teacher, I’m always messing up my words or almost falling down. I’m extremely self-conscious and I can usually beat myself up for the stupidest things, but I think teaching is helping me learn how to shake things off.

**Is there anyone you used to be close with but don’t speak to?** There are a lot of people I used to be close to and don’t speak to anymore. And a lot of those instances are just because time and space created a rift. Part of me has made peace with it—that’s life and that happens and I’ll always have those cherished memories to hang on to. And part of me hasn’t made peace with it at all; I often am sad when I think about how we’re not close anymore.

**Are you more of a city or a country person?** When I was growing up in the country, I thought I wanted to be a city person. And then I was city person for a while and I thought I wanted to be a country person again. Now I’m a suburb person, and as much as I’m able to see the benefits of living in the country and as much as I hold dear memories of the country, I think I have been transformed into a city person. But it helps that I live in the most beautiful and interesting city in the whole entire world (at least that’s my opinion).

**What did you want to be when you grew up? Are you doing it?** I wanted to be a lot of different things. When I was younger, I wanted to be a dancer and an astronaut and an artist. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since the seventh grade, and I AM doing that now, and I love it as much as I expected to way back when. I also wanted to be a writer, which in many ways I am, and many ways I am not, but that’s a dream I have yet to entirely give up on.

**What do you like to do to de-stress after a rough day?** Eat comfort food, put on pajamas, snuggle with my husband. I mean, seriously, it can’t get any better than that.

**In an imaginary world where all animals are tame and you could have any one as a pet, what would you choose?** For a long time, I wanted a killer whale. I wanted to keep in our swimming pool in my backyard. Then I went into a hedgehog phase, because damnit, those things are adorable. My husband and I are on a duck kick right now. We want ducks—inside ducks that we can pet and hold and that will follow us around. But apparently they poop everywhere, so that probably won’t happen.

NaNoWriMo

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The ancient Greeks were known for calling out to the muses for inspiration. “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story,” read the opening lines of *The Odyssey.* A lot of writers like to believe that inspiration lives outside of ourselves; it comes to visit, sometimes in the least opportune of times. Some days, the words just flow. Other days, the words are stuck like a clogged glue cap, unable to trickle out even the smallest amounts. There’s really no way to know if it’s going to be a good writing day or a bad one. You hear about writers scribbling in notebooks uncontrollably, overridden by whatever story is inside them that has to come out at that exact moment. Even my mother, who has never pursued a career in writing, was overtaken by a muse 25 years ago when her mother was in the hospital dying from breast cancer. My brother says she was a woman possessed, spending every night at the kitchen table fiendishly writing words that seemed to flow out of her like water out of a faucet.

Of course, we say, that’s silly. There’s only one way to write anything, and that’s to sit down and write. Muses have nothing to do with it. They’re merely myth. And yet, when I sit down to write, I make a pot of tea, take a deep breath, and subconsciously make a plea to the muses to possess me today, to bring me inspiration, to spill my story out on the keyboard.

I think that is the appeal of one’s yearly participation in NaNoWriMo, an event where 200,000 writers toil to write 1,667 words per day for the 30 days of November. We heed the siren’s call to drop everything and glue ourselves to our keyboards to type whatever words come out of our dainty little tired fingers.

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And every day when us writers and want-to-be writers sit down at our computers, we summon the muses for inspiration, we command our fingers to take on a mind of their own, we wish for the ability to craft a masterpiece (or at least a semblance of a masterpiece which we can later edit, shape, and mold into its proper glory). We pray that whatever story lies deep within will take this opportunity to rise to the surface.

In short, participating in NaNoWriMo is an act of hope. We ask ourselves, “What if this November is the November I write something really amazing?” The beginning of the month has all the promise of a brighter and better tomorrow. Come November 1, someone, anyone could find their voice and birth their story. Every year we are given the chance to change our writing fate. We wonder, will this be my year? Will the muses smile upon me this time?

It’s hope that brings me back every year. I can have doubt and I can be afraid every other month of the year, but not November. During November, my muse makes all the rules. And my muse doesn’t know doubt and fear.

*For more information about NaNoWriMo, visit their [website](http://nanowrimo.org/dashboard)*

Writing Prompt: Halloween

The illuminated porch light—the signal that this house is open for business. There is candy behind the decorated door. One only has to ring the doorbell.

I meander slowly up the sidewalk, keeping a keen eye on the lawn decorated with cobwebs and tombstones. It is too dark to see the all the grass, and I look desperately for any sort of subtle movement, any sort of sign that this is a trap. I try to tune out the eerie music and the flashing strobe light.

My mother urges me on, pushing lightly on my shoulder with a firm hand so I keep moving forward. I am glued to my mother; the back of my quilted jacket swooshes against her blue jeans.

It is either raining or snowing if it’s Halloween in Michigan. It doesn’t matter what my costume is. It’s covered up by a bulky parka. Perhaps that’s why all my costumes were store-bought and used more than just one year. Face paint becomes incredibly important to the costume, since it is the only part that is visible.

I reach up and scratch my nose, forgetting about the thick wax-like color smoothed over my skin. My finger returns blotched. I’m sure my makeup is now smeared.

I’ve made it to the steps of the porch. I look back at the road. My dad is stalking us in the van. In the country, it’s not just as easy as wandering around to the neighbors. Neighbors are at least an acre apart. There are only ten houses on our entire street. So we take trick-or-treating on the road. The van pulls up to a new string of houses, we jump out, go door to door as the van follows close behind; then we pile back in when we’ve exhausted all the nearby homes and head off to find a new neighborhood.

My mother rings the doorbell while I hold my breath. Who will pop out from behind this heavy door? May they be a good witch, not a bad witch.

Once in our living room again, safe and sound and warm and dry, I dump my pillow case out on the carpet and take inventory of my loot. None of this would be worth it if I didn’t love Reese’s cups so much.

When I grow up, I’ll keep the porch light turned off and pretend the holiday doesn’t exist.

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Back to the Future

It struck me on October 9th when my husband posted on facebook: “Yeah, it’s something, huh? Who would’ve thought? 100 to 1 shot! I wish I could go back to the beginning of the season, and put some money on the Cubs.”

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I recognized the quote right away. We are avid *Back to the Future* trilogy fans. We could probably quote a majority of all three movies (and we do sometimes randomly in normal conversation).

The post made me laugh for a second. Then it shocked me. Because the Cubs actually were winning for the first time in what seems like forever.

30 years ago, the Cubs had the reputation of a losing team because they were a losing team. With the exception of this year, they’ve kept that reputation for good reason. So imagine my surprise when *Back to the Future 2*, which takes place in 2015, might actually have correctly forecasted the Cubs having a chance at winning the World Series.

I’m not about to suggest that Steven Spielberg and friends are miraculous prophesizing oracles. It’s simply coincidence that the Cubbies are finally get their act together during this particular season. And the same is true for the other predictions they made in the movie that have actually materialized in today’s world. Although I do find it striking the number of things they got right.

The things they got right are often unnoticeable because the things they didn’t get right are so distracting: brightly colored spandex clothes (that look a lot like ‘80s clothes), flying cars, controllable weather, hover boards, really crappy graphics of Jaws and Michael Jackson…the list goes on.

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I always find it interesting how drastically different people expect the future to be from the present. How much has life changed in 30 years, really? Why do we expect it will change so much 30 years from now?

Me, personally, I take comfort in the fact that life doesn’t change that much that fast. Whenever I get particularly down about the world or worry about what the human race is turning into, I always like to think backwards in time. The world has seen its share of bad times, and it’s always made it through. The day-to-day life of Americans has remained relatively the same. Whether it’s 1955, 1985, or the current 2015, we live in brick and mortar homes, we go to jobs in offices and factories, we watch TV, we call each other on the phone, we drive back and forth in cars on roads.

Sure, what some of that looks like has changed. Cars are sleeker. TVs are flatter. Phones are smaller and wireless. But the utility is essentially the same.

My house was built in the 1960s, as was the other homes in my neighborhood. When I look out my back window, I can’t tell if it’s 1955, 1985, or 2015. And that’s okay with me.

If I were to sit back and try to dream up what the world will look like 30 years from now in 2045, when I am 61 years old, I imagine it will look pretty much the same. Hopefully our cars will run on something other than gas, but I suspect they’ll still drive on the road. We’ll still have phones, although I’m sure they’ll become even more important and hold even more information than they do now. I’m sure we’ll still have TVs, and maybe a decent 3-D technology for them will exist by then (not that I’ll bother—3-D tends to give me a headache). And people will still go to their jobs, build brick and mortar homes, and live their lives much in the same way we live them now.

That’s not to say that I’m not impressed with the hypothesized technology that the movie portrayed. I’ve been rather obsessed with [this video](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfB7gBGhALw) that acknowledges innovations the movie was spot-on about.

It’s an odd sensation, being alive when a movie about the future comes out and then living long enough to see if that “future” turns out to be real. And while I may be convinced that the world will never look like Marty McFly’s 2015, I very well could be wrong. Maybe flying cars and hover boards will be commonplace in 2045. The only way to find out is to wait. Unless, of course, Doc will lend me his time-travelling DeLorean.

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Banned Books

When I think about people banning books, I often picture Marcia Langman from *Parks and Recreation*, in her pink cardigan and pearl necklace, standing up in a crowded room, shouting about unwholesomeness, reducing great works of literature to shameful smut.

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I am lucky enough to never have experienced a pro-censorship PTA meeting. Most of the books that I read in middle school and high school were on the commonly banned list, and I applaud my teachers from not shying away from them. And yes, those books showed instances of sex, racism, and/or violence, among other distasteful or unsavory themes, but what a lot of censorship promoters don’t understand is those taboo subjects are merely the means to discussing a more meaningful end.

*The Great Gatsby*, for example, at its surface, is simply a book about rich people partying hard and sleeping with each other. When people take the time to dig deeper, though, it becomes evident that the story isn’t celebrating a lavish lifestyle; in fact, it’s cautioning against one. Those in the story are perpetually unhappy, constantly looking for a life and love they don’t have, and suffering extreme loneliness. Not only does it question whether the American Dream actually leads to fulfillment, but it also examines class and gender issues as well as educates us about the attitude of Americans in the Jazz Age. It’s a lot to learn from a bunch of rich people partying hard and sleeping with each other, if readers are open to the lessons it has to teach.

For many years of my youth, I claimed *The Catcher in the Rye* as my favorite book. I related to Holden Caulfield and his teen angst, his constant uncomfortableness, his inability to fit in. The book is constantly being challenged for vulgar language, sexual references, blasphemy, undermining of family values, encouragement of rebellion, and promotion of drinking, smoking, lying, and promiscuity. But what teenager doesn’t use vulgar language, tell sexual jokes or lie about his/her sexual experience, and want to rebel against parents? In order to discuss a teen’s life honestly, the author has to have a character display those undesirable traits. And when I read it as a teenager, I often thought that Holden was kind of a pervert, but that didn’t make me want to be a pervert. In fact, it helped me question my own sexuality and my own experiences with the opposite sex. I was grappling with the same issues Holden was, and though I may have handled my issues differently, it was comforting to know that I was not the only one dealing with those issues; my teenage angst and urges were normal. I was not alone.

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The themes that get books banned are those same reasons that *Catcher in the Rye* has been banned. And I can’t help but assume that the people who challenge these books are the people who believe that vulgarity and sex and vices and rebellion and blasphemy shouldn’t exist. And maybe those trait shouldn’t exist, but it’s a useless belief. They DO exist, they’ll always exist, and there’s really nothing anyone can do about it.

The people who plug their ears and hum so they don’t have to hear about the harsh realities of the world are doing themselves a great disservice. Education is the most important thing a person can do with their life. By learning about the world and its people, even the less favorable characteristics, a person becomes more empathetic, more patient, more understanding with their fellow humans. People will judge each other less and help each other more. Humans are not perfect, nor were we meant to be (if we were, why would we make so many mistakes?). If I could ban something, it would be people’s too-high expectations to be wholesome.

So I encourage you, reader, to pick up a banned book today and learn something that someone else might not want you to learn. You’ll be better off for it.

*Happy Banned Books Week. For a list of commonly banned books, visit the [American Library Association’s](http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek) webpage.*