Archive for October, 2008

"Like I Had Wings"

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

In memory of Lori Maliszewski

I often don’t know all the reasons why a student shows up in one of my memoir workshops. At a first meeting, I ask writers to introduce themselves and tell us what brings them to the class. They share a little piece of the truth. That’s all there’s time for.

When Lori Maliszewski appeared in my workshop at The Attic five years ago, she said she wanted to write about some recent changes in her life. And then she proceeded to do all of the assignments. It wasn’t until the last week of class that I got an email explaining one of those recent changes: “I have terminal cancer,” Lori wrote.

Lori wanted to write about her cancer, but she didn’t want to upset the other writers in the group. And she she didn’t want a pity party.

I promised her that we would have no pity party.

And so Lori began to write the story she’d come to The Attic to write.

“My mouth was dry that day when I read the piece in class,” Lori later wrote, “but as I finished up, no lightening bolts appeared to strike me down, and nobody died or even fainted. The silence was a bit longer than normal after I finished reading it but… to my great relief, most of the conversation focused on the writing. I did not feel singled out as a sick person–not one bit. I felt light, like I had wings, as if I couldn’t be grounded by cancer.”

Lori signed up for the next term of the memoir workshop and the next. She formed a group with other students and they met on their own. Lori had “the good kind of cancer,” she said. Her life would be “measured in years, not months.” And so she spent those years writing, and bringing her stories and essays to the morning memoir group.

Late last summer, I got the invitation to Lori’s book release party. Cancer: A Love Story was out from Lulu Press. I had a baby due five days before the party, but the baby could wait.

“I’ll be there,” I promised.

I hadn’t seen Lori in a few months. She was stick-thin and sick from the chemo, but she glowed joyous. She’d done it. A real book! She signed my copy Thanks for everything, xxxooo. And then I went into labor.

In Chapter Thirteen, Lori wrote:
Life has a way of reassembling atoms and molecules into something new and out of my death came a new me. I look at old pictures of myself and remember that person with both longing and compassion. I went through life for 45 years without even considering that death hid around the corner. What freedom that afforded me. Freedom to dream of a future with the belief that it would happen. Freedom to say, “I’ll do that some other day.” Freedom to never rest, knowing that I had time for that later. Freedom to procrastinate pursuing my dreams. What an innocent, lucky fool I was, completely ignorant to the possibility of a perfectly tragic ending.

Lori died on Tuesday morning–not tragically, but surrounded by her family, having had these last years to pursue her dreams.

We will miss her.

Lori’s memoir is available from Lulu Press: Cancer: A Love Story

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

An open letter from teen mama Amy Pace

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

With all the media and political talking heads yakking about teen, unwed, or single mothers these days, I have a wake up call for everybody…

I have been a teen mother. I have lived with a man just to keep my baby. I graduated from a high school for teen mothers. I have been a single mother for eight years. I know a bit about this issue. Most of these politicos and talking heads have never lived my life, never had an inkling of what it’s REALLY like to have a baby at sixteen and another at nineteen, and I cannot be silent about this subject that has, for the last few days, replaced the MISSING WHITE WOMAN headlines or CELEBRATY O.D.s on 24 hour “news.” This does not happen often. Maybe in the last year, teen moms have been on the radar, in the form of US Magazine or whatever trash people are reading these days, because of what? Britney Spears, our tabloid queen, with more covers than Princess Diana, her little sister got pregnant at sixteen, sold her story to a trashy magazine for a million dollars, and suddenly teen pregnancy is a hot topic again–that and the fact that it has, for the first time in decades, increased. If the topic of teen/single moms can only be brought up because of some chick I’ve never heard of, in a National Enquirer-type magazine, which sadly is more widely read than newspapers…..Well, I quote Thomas Jefferson: “I tremble for the fate of my country.”

I am not Jamie Spears. I am not a millionaire fake celeb. I am not Bristol Palin. Do you think either of these girls will walk into their local welfare office and wait hours, just for that extra $100 a month in foodstamps? Will they ever spend week after week on the phone with operators hired by a privatized Medicaid system, trying to find a doctor who will actually see their asthmatic child? Will they spend years fighting the Attorney General’s office for child support, waiting a year just to get to court? Will they ever try to pay for their generic can of beans with WIC coupons and be treated like a leper? Have someone roll their eyes as they buy food with food stamps after they just got off an eight-hour shift standing on thier feet, cutting nasty hair?

Have you ever heard your child scream for you as you left for work–the seventh day in a row? Have you ever had someone look at you like you were a piece of shit simply because you had a child as a teenager, stuck around, raised them alone–not because of your religion, not because of your stance as a Dem or a Republican, not because of your education, not because of your beliefs about abortion, not because of anything the media or a pastor or a rabbi or your parents or your teachers or your friends or your baby’s father told you to do, not because of what they think the right “choice” is.

I did not have my kids because of any of these reasons. I had them because they were wanted, and they are loved. They are well taken care of.

I have never been in public housing. I have never gotten cash money from taxpayers, except for $400 six years ago, which was immediately taken out of my next paycheck. I am not a heroine for the anti-abortion people, even though I never had an abortion. I am grateful for the small amount of food stamps that come and go, the kid’s Medicaid that is almost–but not quite–worthless. I have worked on my feet for nine years and never once made a living wage. At times, I have paid 50% of my income for childcare. I was born in this country. So were my kids. Don’t tell me, after all this, after all these years of being told I’m an irresponsible, selfish “Welfare Queen,” after all the paperwork, all the tears, all the humiliation, all the glares, all the hours spent away from my kids, on my feet, all the hours on the phone begging for child support, that now a single unwed mother at long last is an honorable thing–as long as you’re a politician’s daughter.

I wonder if Bristol chose not to marry her baby’s father, or if he dumps her in a couple of years, if she has to apply for food stamps–What would these same people say?

If she was just some obscure gal from a small town who got pregnant, she wouldn’t be a poster child for the “pro-life” crowd, or the “cautionary tale” for the “pro-choice” crowd. She would just be me–or one of the million other single mothers in this great country who feel alone, unsupported, ashamed, scared, and most of all, poor.

No, I don’t want a hand out just ’cause I chose to have kids as a teen, but you know what? Some steady child support, a living wage, affordable healthcare, childcare, rent that did not cost a month’s pay, and a gallon of gas or milk that did not cost an hour’s pay would be nice.

So you wanna applaud gals who choose life?

Help them.

Don’t be a hypocrite like both the political parties–CLINTON AND BUSH–who slashed support for us moms while praising our choice to carry a baby to term. Don’t pressure us to marry men who are unsupportive, abusive, or just plain assholes, just because some moron told you kids MUST have TWO parents (A man and a woman, of course), no matter what. Don’t judge us, because you know what? We have enough stress without everyone thinking bad thoughts about us. And yes, every one makes mistakes. You know you have, come on. But you know what? My kids are not MISTAKES. They are a blessing. My conservative parents have always stood by me and never once said “I told you so.” They never said I made a mistake, they only loved me and my kids, and never made it seem like they were doing us some big favor. Without their support and the support of the rest of my family and friends, life would be a hell of a lot harder, maybe impossible, with this economy, and the gutted social service programs.

In the next few weeks, as this election draws to a close, whenever the Teen/single mother issue gets brought up, just remember, what I cannot forget, that for decades–maybe forever–these experts, these politicians, these media assholes, have trashed women and girls like me. They can’t just change their minds now that it’s one of their kids.

We are not just Jamie Spears. We are not just Bristol Palin. And we need help…NOW. Vote…wisely,please.

Sincerely,
Amy Pace

Girls like me have raised presidents. We’ve raised messiahs and musicians, writers and settlers. Girls like me won’t compromise, and we won’t fail.
–Alli Crews, August 26, 1982 – June 11, 2005