Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cheers, Darlin'

"Write drunk; edit sober." -Hemingway

When I first came across this quote I got really excited - I've been looking for something writing related for a new tattoo and nothing was quite fitting the idea of what I wanted . . . until I saw this, that is.

Write drunk; edit sober - it is quite a noble concept, for me. I am a firm believer in the idea of one's drunk words being their sober thoughts. Anyone who knows me well, and has been lucky enough to be a witness to the shenanigans  alcohol provides for me, will tell you that I am a much, much, much more forward version of myself in every aspect. I loosely hand out my number, I dance without inhibition, I've confessed secret, ridiculous crushes, and we are not going to even get into what the drunk texting may or may not have looked like on those weekends where I should've said no to just one more shot of tequila. But isn't that somewhat refreshing every once and a while? Anyone with me out there? Shouldn't everyone get to go out on a weekend with their friends and just be? No concern of how I may or may not look, no concern of who may or may not see me dancing in this way, no concern, period, other than to have a good time.

I've thought about this quote, and thought about this quote, and thought about this quote some more; I've considered the idea that this quote is simply about alcohol consumption - that, perhaps, Hemingway created his brilliance in the haze of an amber colored drink, but this just doesn't sit well with me. Perhaps he did - I guess it's logical that he very well may have written while totally shit-faced for most of his career, but is that what this is really about?

As someone who has a degree in writing, and most recently, has become a published writer through a local newspaper, I find myself at odds with the inner voice that just. won't. go. away. She's always telling me I don't know what I'm doing - even though I've a degree and portfolio to demonstrate otherwise; she's always telling me I'll never succeed in this field - even though I've a paper sitting on my kitchen table this minute with MY name and work on the front page; she's always just yammering - on, and on, and on about how I think I may know what I'm doing, but, really, bitch? Do you really know what you're doing? And so, thanks to this little voice that incessantly spoon feeds self-doubt straight to my heart, I spend every second I am before a blank notebook page or before this computer screen questioning everything I'm pumping out - does that make sense? Will I offend someone? Is anyone going to even frigging read this?! And then I come back to Hemingway's words, I come back to the idea that this could just be a quote from a drunk man about drunk writing that happened to make him a legend - and then I fluff up my shoulders, I bitch slap that little voice in my head, and I say no!

Hemingway may have, in part, meant his words to be a token of advice for entire generations of writers to come, but that isn't everything I take away from them.
If I can take a couple of shots and start to be forthright with my feelings then perhaps I can start to become forthright with the deepest seeds of what my writing needs to put on the page.

I sit with my pencil, or with my fingers hovering over keyboard keys, and I think compulsively about what I'm about to put out in the universe before I do it and, more often than not, I end up not putting it out there for fear of what it may reveal about me, what it may say about my upbringing, how it could affect the people that read it. But, what if I wrote "drunk?" Not throwing back drinks drunk, but what if I just did what was on my heart? What if I just laid it all out on the page to just lay it out and then go back and edit? Why am I editing my thoughts and actions before they even become thoughts and actions?

Writing drunk isn't just writing - it's living. I'm not talking alcoholism, here, I'm talking about living the life that makes you feel best, saying what your heart needs to say, and just being what you need to be. This is your life, this is my life - and it's our only one.

So I'll get this tattooed on my body - to remind myself of the kind of writer I wish to be, to remind myself that writing, and living "drunk" isn't as scary or harmful as I once thought it was, to remind myself that this life isn't going to wait for me to step up and start living it.

Cheers to that . . .

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Defining Moment

Working with kids is hard. Some of you are parents, so you know how trying these little beings can be. I was a nanny for about six years before I graduated college, but I truly was blessed with children that listened when I spoke, did what I asked them, and showered me with love and affection.
I took a job with East End Community Services in August that would allow me to go to an elementary school everyday and serve bright eyed seven year olds all day. I walked in thinking I had the experience that was required - I would even go as far as to say I was cocky about the experience I was walking in with. It took about thirty minutes for that cocky facade to be shot right in the center and continue to splinter, and splinter, and splinter. I repeat - working with kids is hard.

In my first week I was quickly informed of what students were being raised by grandparents due to incarceration or death of biological parents. I was quickly informed of which of these beautiful babies was going through therapy or being medicated for molestation. I was quickly informed of which students might need some more love, some extra care because of the lack of safety they were coming from. In my first week I realized I was no longer in the middle of cornfields and a town of farmers.

There have been significant times in my adult life in which I've considered what I might say to my younger self, had I been armed with the correct knowledge. What might I say to the little seven year old who had to wear sports bras because precocious puberty had snatched her childish frame away from her? What words of wisdom would I have for the thirteen year old child who let a boy verbally berate her at every turn? What could I give to the sixteen year old who thought for sure she couldn't learn anymore about herself than in that specific year?
I come back to these moments so much more now that I am watching seven year olds find themselves and learn how to be. I watch young girls flex their muscles at being the queen bees and the wannabes. I am a witness to young crushes and hurt feelings when those crushes aren't reciprocated. I see attitudes form and flourish as nothing more than mechanisms of defense for what they face at home. I see personalities developing, internal wars being waged, burdens being shifted so they may become lighter and I start to think - what can I say to them that will make this all seem easier? What wisdom can I impart to show them this isn't it? What could I give them to ease some pain?
The same thing I would have said to myself all those years ago when I was seven, the same thing I would have said to myself a few years later when I was thirteen, what I should have said to myself at twenty-one : there's more, you'll find strength, life is about change.

I wish I could take these precious kids home with me and love on them until they realized how precious and treasured they are, but I can't. So I will set out everyday trying to make them realize that today does not define you, tomorrow does not define you, this moment will not define you.

You define you.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Great Divide

The Continental Divide of the Americas, or merely the Continental Gulf of Division or Great Divide, is the name given to the principal, and largely mountainous, hydrological divide of the Americas, that is, the continental divide that separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean from  those river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean.

I suppose I've probably been aware of the Continental Divide since I started learning about geography in school, but I don't think I've been aware of the sort of majesty that occurs within the Divide until this year.
I was listening to the radio one day, it was K-Love on this particular day, and the DJs were talking about the Continental Divide and the ways in which it mirrored how people of faith often found themselves; we can grow up in a community of faith with another person, or a group of people, and we will find ourselves in the exact same place at the exact same time and with one event, in a split second, we will diverge from where we once stood together. The water is at once a united body and in seconds will move toward the Pacific or toward the Atlantic. I found myself considering the multitude of reasons this would happen - is it the direction in which the wind blows that moves the water one way or another? Is it a death or a misstep that takes a person of faith from the path they are on into a diverged arena?

Let's take this concept and remove the faith part. It is quite possible that in this very moment, you and I are in the same arenas of our lives - 25, college graduate, single, and hard working; what will happen tonight or in the early hours before the sun stretches her arms over the hill that will take one of us out of that particular game?

As I completed my drive that morning I thought about the Continental Divide and how, whether anyone else may think of it this way or not, it was this sort of mystical, natural happening that most people probably never gave much thought to. And then I realized . . . our entire lives are stretching over, on, and around continental divides everyday; there are the physical Continental divides that exist that people may live near, but we are continually detouring our lives around emotional continental divides.

Growing up I remember my mom saying she would never forget where she was when JFK was assassinated; in those moments it seemed an odd thing to remember, but then my generation experienced 9/11 and it all became so clear; now we had a specific moment in history in which we will never be allotted the opportunity to forget where we were when the sky went black while the sun still shone. Eight grade American History with Mr. Greher was never the same. This was a continental divide. Up until that point I had never been confronted with tragedy and for days, weeks even, after, I felt this impending devastation over lost lives of which I wouldn't know existed had the attacks not happened in the first place. Not only will I never forget that day because of what it meant for our country, but I will never forget it because it was in those quick minutes that I realized life was not untouchable and that everything can change in a matter of seconds.

Everyday I find myself faced with the opportunity to learn something new, gain wisdom, teach a lesson, show someone compassion. Everyday I am on the precipice of a divide - which way will the water flow? Which direction will my choices lead me? What sort of person will I become as a result of this divide?

Growing up I remember thinking if this person isn't in my life forever I don't know what I'll do and then I grew up some more and in some instances, those people weren't a part of my life anymore, and it was sad and it was hard and I still don't always understand it, but if those people hadn't made an exit, the divide would have gone a different way and I wouldn't be who I am in this moment.
Change scares me - I am not one to shy away from admitting that, but in the past year and a half I have realized that if change didn't occur, if divides did not transpire, then I would be this stagnant version of myself in my life; I wouldn't have the friends I have now, I wouldn't have the beliefs that make me who I am, I wouldn't be the type of friend, daughter, sister, or mentor that the people around me have come to expect.

As I type this there is a continental divide moving one body of water into two and there are moments looming in my future that will both make me and break me. But that's the beauty of it, right? If nothing changed, if nothing transformed, if nothing was broken - there would be no growth, there would be no revelation, there would be no healing.

The Continental Divide. The Great Divide. These moments of tragedy, of trial, of devastation - they diverge into greatness. How these moments divide us? It's our choice.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Where I Come From

In a world that is consistently going, going, gone it is difficult to remember the blessings we've been given, the chances we've been afforded, the gifts of life that couldn't possibly come wrapped in a bow. Now, more than ever, I am counting my blessings, thanking Him regularly for what I've been undeservedly bestowed, and smiling at the fortune I receive on a daily basis in the form of seven year old babies that just want to read to me, of family members that not only plant, but water my dreams and ambitions, and of friendships that haven't been going on since birth, but that I hope to last for eternity.

It is on clear days like today, when the wind blows and causes my hair to tickle my face, when the sun shines so bright and warm you're almost tricked into thinking winter isn't looming down the street and around the corner, when the sky is so blue you have to search for those clouds making the magic X that I am most grateful, most eternally thankful, and most proud to be in the family I am in. I've written a lot about my family and I don't see the end of that anywhere in sight - they're my roots, my history, my backbone, and my heart. So on days like today, when it's bright and blue and there's the perfect amount of chill I remember this man named Max Duff - how he slapped his knees when he thought something was really funny, how, when he was serious, he straightened his hand out and pointed it at you and said, "now, God damnit!," how blue and white railroad striped overalls were his signature look, along with high lighters and a pocket watch, and how his heart and its giving nature could never have possibly be measured by any weight, time, or space.

It is on clear days like today that I am sure that where I am going is only happening because of where I've been, that being a Duff will never be something I am ashamed, afraid, or scared to admit, that the 6th of October has to be the most beautiful, vibrant day of the year because it honors the life of  the most beautiful, vibrant man of my existence.

It's been eight years, Grandpy . . . I sure do hope you're proud to call me yours.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quarter Life Crisis

For approximately the last six months I have been thinking about the ways in which I would have my quarter-life crisis; I have considered what I might wear for this impending event - how I might style my hair; whether or not to wear jewelry (clearly pearls are the only option if I decide that, yes, jewels are necessary); if mascara might be a good or bad idea for this particular occasion.
In the last week I started to warn the people I love; it went something like this. "As you may know, my birthday is looming; I have a quarter-life crisis scheduled for 9 AM on my birth morning . . . chances are you may hear me from wherever you are. You have been warned." For those of you who may know me well, you realize I am only half joking about this; for those of you who know me well, you realize that I sometimes worry a little. And by sometimes, I mean always, and by a little, I mean a lot; large, hovering, scary, gargantuan amounts of lot.

So here I am, sitting before this screen, typing to you and being a whole hour into my 25th year. Could you hear me from wherever you were today? Any sobbing, screaming, panicking mumblings over your current jam on the radio? No? I know, I'm ridiculously shocked by this revelation as well.
Here I am, a whole hour into my 25th year and, for the most part, I am smitten. Don't ask me who "he" is, because there isn't a he; I am smitten with my life.

In June I graduated from Wright State University and let out one hurricane powered sigh of relief at finally being done with my undergraduate degree. Once that sigh of relief was released I did a rather impressive squat and re-situated the weight of the world upon my shoulders in order to find a job, and a good one, and get insurance, really good insurance, and move out, immediately. Of course, none of this happened in my time frame (*sigh*) and I dove even further into panic and self doubt; it was a beautiful time, folks.
With the 25th birthday looming and no job, insurance, or humble abode of my own in sight, I was flirty pretty handedly with being a hot mess. Then, depending on what your beliefs may be, my prayers were answered, a light was found at the end of one dark tunnel, and I found a freaking pot of gold at the end of that prismatic rainbow.

Into my first hour of my 25th year I am not only a Wright State University graduate; I am not just a waitress at Holly's Cafe & Carryout; I am not simply a 25 year old girl; I am all of those things PLUS a mentor service coordinator for East End Community Services through AmeriCorps and I start on September 4th. Also? I am FREAKING ECSTATIC!

Looking back now on all the times I was panicking over turning 25 and not having a "big girl" job, not having a steady boyfriend, not having the funds to live on my own I realize how trivial I was truly being. There is a plan for me and, although I don't always like it, it's not always (read never) on my time; only His.

So I sit here before you - 25, future employee of AmeriCorps, current employee of Holly's Cafe & Carryout, single, and feeling more loved and blessed than I've ever felt in my life.

That quarter life crisis? I made it my bitch - and I'm smiling about it.

-Stephi D.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Love Letter to My Body

After reading a fellow blogger and former classmate's blog earlier today, and taking a note from her, I've decided to write a love letter to my body. Jade was a graduate student in my Creative Non-Fiction class and she did a presentation on writing your body and I really gained a lot of inspiration from her as a writer. It's something I've been working on - writing my body - and it is much harder than it first appeared; it is, however, a wonderful practice in finding beauty and peace where I didn't first expect to see it. Please feel free to check out Jade's blog here. I, like Jade, have decided to contribute my letter to the SheLoves synchroblog, A Love Letter to My Body. I also would encourage anyone interested to check out Lucy Grealy's book Autobiography of a Face for an exceptional example of writing the body; to read a preview of the book check this out.

So here is my love letter - I hope y'all send yourselves some love, too.

To my weathered canvas:
 I have hated you - I have hated the white lines squiggling in precarious places when the summer sun turns most of you golden.

I have painted you - I have painted you in morning regimes of lotion, in inks of various colors, in bite marks from forgotten faces.

I have mistreated the cover you provide me with. I have abhorred you, I have detested the ways in which you shake and curve in unsavory ways.
I have refused to see you in anyway.
I have refused.

To my curvaceous, unseemly flesh:
 I have tried to cover you, to contort you, to convert you.

I've picked you apart in the face of a mirror, I've wished for different skin, I've overlooked what you may bring to the world, what you may reveal to me.
I've overlooked.

To the parts that make the whole:
 The bad-mouthing began at a green age, the disdain not far behind.

But here we are -
After bumps in the road, after cracks in our surfaces, after tromping of certain organs:
Breathing, smiling, living.

I don't refuse so much,
I've overlooked less often.

I see acceptance in the horizon, instead of the rear view.
I whisper (okay) not (you can't)

Acceptance . . . okay, okay, okay.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Labeled As Is

Her big, brown eyes grew wide as she whispered her confession across the art gallery.
 "I don't really like this sort of thing - I find it kind of boring."

I didn't share my mom's sentiment, but this tiny art gallery in the throbbing metropolis of Troy hadn't really clasped my heart strings the way galleries usually do. It was a warm, clear day - we had stopped in - my grandma, Aunt Rita, cousin Jon, mom, and I - to see a painting of the barn on my grandparents' property. The painting was pretty; it captured perfectly the landscape that had come to define my childhood.

The towering, red barn had once housed squirming, squealing piglets, but now stood before the blue sky and green grass empty of breathing vessels, but filled with two generations of childhood memories. It was in this barn that my brown-eyed brother wore his first miniature Carhartt uniform; where he first grew those roots of becoming a country boy to his core. It was outside this barn that I fell in the affectionately coined 'poop pit.'

I was wearing new shoes and had stopped by grandma's with my mom; when you walked back behind this specific barn there was, what appeared to be, a small brown puddle right in front of the fencing. It was very innocent looking, as far as poop pits go, but if you had the misfortune of stepping into the murky puddle you were instantly made to feel as though you were trapped in quicksand. My new shoes never recovered from the pit of quicksand. Today one can go back in search of it, but they will only find dried clumps of poop. My new shoes sat in the door of the garage for some time, never again to see the light of day while on my feet.

The painting didn't give the audience any history of that depth; it wasn't able to whisper the childhood secrets to admiring strangers, either. It was merely a colorful and well-painted portrait of a barn that will only ever belong to my family. We had come to see the barn painting and now that we had I moved toward the back of the gallery. It was on a clear day with sadness in my heart, over impending goodbyes, when I first saw the large piece hanging on that back wall.

Harry Ally's Figure with Flowers #2 hung on the back wall of the small gallery - it is a physical dress molded to a canvas; it has tones of green and creme and turquoise and has sporadically placed pink carnations around the dress. My breath was stolen from my body as I looked on at this art piece. My mom and I stepped closer to further examine it and I immediately felt like Maggie Gyllenhall's character in Mona Lisa Smile looking over a large, paint covered canvas. As we walked away I looked back at it one last time and my mom whispered, with tears in her eyes, "Do you feel like a dress hanging alone?"

In a moment of complete honesty I will admit that drawing is something I've always wished was in my arsenal of talents. "Artist" is a term I've long come to understand will not be one to define me. Going into art aisles at the local Hobby Lobby and JoAnn Fabrics found me lusting after sketch pads and colored pencils that would only be filled with different colored cubes and oddly shaped daisies, if in my possession. I hesitate at labeling myself much outside of the familial or emotional relationships I occupy. I have been creatively writing since I was twelve years old and yet when people ask what it is I do waitress always comes to mind, never writer. It has become clear I have my "W's" all wrong.

In 1987 I became a daughter; a green eyed brunette emergency C-section. Daughter hood has been an interesting ride; my temperament is similar to my father's, which has proven to complicate even the most civil situations. While tumultuous situations have reigned supreme with my hot-tempered pop and I, my mother has been the single fighting force behind every right move I've ever made.

In 1990 I become a sister to my polar opposite. I think it's likely a universal truth that with initial birth of a younger sibling, the older sibling becomes elated and goes into overdrive on helpfulness to the parents; this was accurate for Zachary and I, but it promptly ended when I realized he was better looking than me and was easier in mannerisms and temperament, as well.
In January of 2003 that all changed; our family suffered a great loss when our fifteen year old blood relative was killed in a car accident. It was during the funeral service when Nick's sister got up and tearfully recounted memories of her brother; I was being given an opportunity and I wasn't going to let it pass me up. As I sat there listening to the brave hearts get up in front of the mourning crowd and share memories, I was having a quiet one of my own. Zachary and I were eight and five and at the mall with our saved allowances. In my selfish eight-year-old ways I was looking to buy for me - my brother, however, was also buying for me.
He got me a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear. As I sat in the midst of rolling tears and repressed sobs it occurred to me that my baby brother had loved me all along. Since that day I have come to treasure my title of sister - it's become one of my most favored identifiers.

In a world filled with labels, with titles, with focus on the importance of a name I find myself both in search of my title and hiding in dark corners to avoid the title finding me. In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert is in Italy and talking with friends over dinner about what "word" they are; each city has a word, each person has a word, and Elizabeth says, "Well, my word would be writer." A male friend responds, "That's what you do, not who you are."
Shortly after finishing this book I became obsessed with my "word." Simultaneously searching and hiding from that inevitable word, from that tempting title. What if I don't like the word I am? What if I don't like what my word might say about me, how it may or may not define me?

This society we live in insists upon branding, which seems to be producing a great need for definition in both our personal and professional lives. I am guilty of being in this category - I long for titles of writer, award winning author, lover, wife, successful. It becomes a question of at what length will I go to to fully embody these titles? At what point will one or two be enough or too much?

Going back to that art gallery and looking at the painting of a barn that helped me grow, looking at Ally's Figure with Flowers #2 it occurs to me that great things, great beings are not always initially deigned with a proper identifier. As "they" say - Rome wasn't built in one day and I've heard Jane Austen was a bigger success after she met her prize than before . . .

I step closer to the large, white canvas and look up at the thin straps of the bodiless figure before me. My mom's words come back to me : "Do you feel like a dress hanging alone?" Writer or waitress, writer or waitress? Sister, daughter, sister, daughter and just what is my word, Elizabeth Gilbert? I reach out to touch the canvas and then stop myself  - leaving all as is.

 Figure with Flowers #2

Monday, June 18, 2012

Have Patience, Apply Pressure, Reflect, Repeat.

It was Rick Warren who said, "God changes caterpillars into butterflies, sand into pearls, and coal into diamonds using time and pressure. He's working on you, too."  This quote really touched me in a way I wasn't aware possible. As a newly college graduated young woman, I find myself feeling situations of pressure on almost a daily basis. Thoughts and questions tumble around within my head like fresh laundered whites in a worn out dryer: Should I already have a job since I've graduated? How long will it take me to find a job now that I've graduated? Am I going to be able to accomplish my writing goals? And the beat goes on . . .

I suppose it would be unfair to say all these questions and pressure-filled situations started just a mere two weeks ago upon my last drive to Wright State University - all these questions and pressure-filled situations have been whirling and swirling around my head and existence for far longer than my college career. I am a self-acknowledged and medically diagnosed person of a panic disorder, I am disordered with a great amount of panic. Yes, it is unfair to say college graduation led me to these ceaseless questions and immense amounts of pressure. It is safe to say I've been in a high compacted, pressure situation since I hit puberty.

In a recent conversation with a dear friend I was reminded that my concerns, my worries were not trivial, as I had deemed them, in comparison to larger personal and worldly issues with the people and space around me, but relative. What is trivial in my life is monumental in another, and vice versa. I am very quick to simultaneously talk down at myself for worrying about finding a good job, meeting the right man, and finding love before I'm thirty and tell someone off for not taking my concerns seriously. "God changes . . . using time and pressure. He's working on you, too" says Rick Warren - and I buy it, I do. I know that every situation I am put through that is not "easy" is because He is testing me, He is pushing me to become the best version of myself, but I also realize that these situations in which He is using pressure and time, I am not doing anyone any favors by putting even more pressure on myself.

As I walk around in my own pressure filled bubble questioning whether or not I am making a difference in people's lives I have to remind myself to step back from time to time and 'smell the roses,' if you will. I am a nanny to two beautiful children who look forward to seeing me every week, I am a friend, a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a granddaughter, and a niece to people who love and support me unconditionally, and although I don't work full time, I do have two jobs and money coming in every month. Not so bad, in reflection.

So I will continue to walk around in this bubble of mine, trying to alleviate the pressure I put on myself and wait patiently to grow those wings like a butterfly, become a lovely pearl, to shine like that faceted diamond. And I will take pleasure, not pain, in knowing that nothing of this sort of value comes to anyone without a little time and a little pressure.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Revise, Revising, Revised.

It has occurred to me, in the last ten weeks of my final quarter at Wright State, that not only is writing, in large part, made possible by revision, but also, life. When I was younger, my mom would always say to me, "Give it time, Stephi, you're going to change, your tastes will change, your desires will change, your heart will change. You'll totally change." I remember thinking, in a state of utter horrification, that I did not want to change; my tastes, desires, and heart were just fine, thank you very much. At this time in my life I look back on those feelings, I remember that conversation, which I assure you has been had over, and over, and over again, and I realize that, surprise, surprise, mom was right.

My feelings towards re-working my writing has been, in large part, very similar to my initial feelings on any emotional or bodily change - I didn't want to do it and no one was going to make me. I have always been a girl that keeps journals; I have journals from elementary school that are filled with secret crushes that never came to be, who my current best friend was and why, and dreams I had that seemed appropriate to be writing about. When I look back on journals I've kept through the years they have progressed from secret crushes, to real life heartbreak, to poetry, and now to prayer. Since my Sophomore year of high school I have known I wanted to write for a living. Even now, having finished a degree in Creative Writing, I still answer with "I want to write" when asked what I what to do with my English degree, and still, I get a typically shocked response of "Well that's interesting . . ."
Only recently have I taken these dreams of wanting to write and applied them to actual writing. Wright State's Creative Writing program found me wholly unprepared at receiving critiques and terribly defensive of the art I put on the page. My first actual fiction class proved to be more enjoyable than I first thought, but still with an unwavering sense of dread at the idea of revision - so I simply did not do it.

At twenty-one I was facing the end of a relationship with a boy and a great deal of time ahead of me spent trying to figure out who I might be without this person, who I might be with a new person, or just who I might be, period. It occurred to me that I was going to be 'changing,' I was going to be having to partake on an adventure of revision. It is clear to me, in looking back on this time of my life, that I realize it was meant to be an entire few years filled with revision. From twenty-one to twenty-four I have changed my tastes, my desires, my heart.

My final quarter at Wright State I had the privilege of taking Creative Non-Fiction and it awakened and affected me more than I could have ever imagined or hoped for. I've always been a big reader, but memoirs and non-fiction books weren't really on my radar in a large capacity. Entering this class I expected to work more on my "craft" and walk away being thankful for workshop practices; I couldn't have been more wrong. An entire genre of writing was brought to my attention; masterful, beautiful writers were placed in front of my eyes and I found myself so hungry for essays, memoirs, anything that would fit into this genre. With each essay I produced for this class I was met with a feeling of confirmation that I had found my niche.
With this new genre found I also realized how much I enjoyed revision, for the first time in my life. With each essay I was exploring changes in my life, in my personality and I would read and re-read pieces and try to think of ways to make each word, each paragraph, each page better. It occurred to me that I had, in fact, found my place.

I won't go as far as to say that I look forward to change, I just don't think that sort of feeling is in my DNA, but it has slowly been revealed to me that change and revision aren't as bad as I had thought it to be in the first place. It is apparent that without change, without revision, each piece of writing is just a fragment of a thought and each person is just a fragment of a heart.

So I stand, or sit, before you today, typing this and realizing that, I am made possible, my life has been made possible, by revision. Lots and lots and lots of revision.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Girl- by Definiton

Hi, guys! This is my final essay as an undergraduate student! I wanted to share for a couple of reasons - this is a blog and that's the point, right? ;) Also- this was a long, long, loooong process of examination and study and reflection. I don't think I've ever put so much of myself into a piece or writing, fiction or non-fiction.
I hope you all enjoy this and I hope, in some way, it may help some of you.

Lots of love -
Stephi D.

A Girl – by Definition
by Stephani Duff

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer . . . It is potentially dangerous because it can invade nearby tissues and spread to the lung, liver, bone, or brain. Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole.

It was a clear, warm day outside and I was at my usual spot on the swings at Miami East South Elementary playground. I was sitting stationary next to a blonde haired girl I was becoming friends with.
“What’s that on your leg?”
            I felt my breath catch in my throat and I quickly tried to come up with an acceptable answer. “It’s, uh, well it’s my birthmark. You have one, too.”
            “That’s not a birthmark. It’s too round – see? Look at mine compared to yours. That’s not a birthmark, so, what is it?”
I had been caught; it wasn’t a birthmark, at all. I actually don’t have a birthmark. It was a mole in the center of the side of my right thigh and it plagued me.
It’s still there, that mole. But now I don’t wear shorts and rarely do I wear short skirts so people don’t get to see it. I suppose in my embarrassment of, what I’ve come to realize in my age, a relatively small, harmless mole, I decided to say it was a birthmark because somehow that would make it easier to deal with and more acceptable to others who saw it. In hindsight I often wonder what the big issue was about this small mole on my thigh; it is not oddly shaped or oddly colored. It is, in fact, quite normal and inoffensive as far as moles go. And what’s more, it was on a location of my body that was easily hidden. I find myself thinking of that conversation often, of that girl with whom I no longer have contact, and the shame that I felt at a piece of my body I had been born with. That mole doesn’t bring me disdain like it used to; no, as I’ve grown older I have left behind that mole on my thigh and brought my focus to other body parts, brought my self-loathing to new and unparalleled heights. That mole would never bring me fame or fortune like Cindy Crawford, but it wouldn’t hold me back much longer, either.

Many illnesses, contaminants, and injuries can be water, sanitation, or hygiene-related. Waterborne diseases are caused by organisms that are directly spread through water. Water-related illnesses can be acquired due to a lack of water for good hygiene, lack of sanitation, or increasing insect populations that breed in water and then spread disease.

When I look back at pictures of myself before anxiety gripped at my insides like hooks in a fish’s mouth, before my hair became a daily issue, before I realized what a gift it was to act, speak, and live without abandon, I find myself saddened at the loss of that child. I swipe stray tears from the corners of my eyes at the loss of the olive skinned little girl who would sing “You Make Me Feel Like a Magical Woman” into the handles of her mom’s Nordic Trak, at the loss of the little girl who thought her daddy had all the answers, at the loss of the little girl who thought she would always have forever to play lion tamer with her two cousins and her brother.
There is a picture of me at around three; I am in an unbelievably tiny swimsuit standing next to those blue “kiddie” pools that define every farm-raised kid’s childhood with the garden hose held up to my mouth for a cool drink. My hair is in pigtails; my mom often remarks on how that was a day I kept the pigtails in for a particularly long time. At twenty-four I look at the picture and think of all the ways I have removed myself from that young girl; I would never, in a thousand years, be caught drinking out of a garden hose. Water is something I must make myself drink nowadays and it is always bottled – when you’re raised in a farm county and your well is likely to include small, cut off legs of insects that end up in your glass of water, you learn that bottled water is your best friend. I’m rarely seen in a swimsuit by the eyes of anyone not related to me, let alone allowing myself to be photographed in one for historical purposes, and although I have tried it recently, pig tails just no longer suit me as I have hit puberty. Where along the way did I lose my carefree ways? When did I go from being free to being restrained by my own dislike? When did that mole become more important than the freedom to show my imperfections and tell people to take me as I am? At what point did I loosen my fast grip on my childhood? Just when did I let that final string linking me to childhood break?

Puberty, usually occurring during adolescence, is when kids develop physically and emotionally into young men and women. Usually, this starts to happen no earlier than about 7 to 8 years of age for girls and 9 years of age for boys (the average age is about 10 for girls and 12 for boys). But what if a younger child — for example, a 5-year-old girl — begins showing the signs of puberty? How would it affect her? Precocious puberty — the onset of signs of puberty before age 7 or 8 in girls and age 9 in boys — can be physically and emotionally difficult for kids and can sometimes be the sign of an underlying health problem.

At the young age of six I was diagnosed with Precocious Puberty, which is essentially a fancy way to say that my hormones were growing at a speed of light rate and they were pressuring my body to develop much before the “due date.” As a result of this, in the second grade I was the only young girl required to wear a sports bra to hide the odd voluptuousness of my breasts. While the mole on my thigh still pained me, my chest became the forefront of my obsession. I recall asking my mom if I could wear two sports bras so that I might appear to be the same size as the rest of the girls in my class.
Once I went to a friend’s house and she showed me the new “bras” her mom had bought her; they were elegant and girly and impossibly feminine with pink rosebuds and cream colored lace on the edges. I distinctly remember her look of disgust when I showed her my bras – there was nothing dainty about my Champion undergarments. I went home from that weekend getaway hideously devastated and feeling entirely “un-girl.”
My boobs continued to be problematic throughout my adolescence; girls never did really “catch up” with me as far as cup sizes go and my chest is often the butt of jokes in bars now. At this time in my life, though, I am happy to say I am a busty woman who has come to terms with her two best “girls.”

Approximately 7 million girls and women struggle with eating disorder. The average American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds. Most fashion models are thinner than 98% of American women. 42% of elementary school students between the 1st and 3rd grades want to be thinner. 80% of children who are ten years old are afraid of being fat.80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance. 51% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves if they are on a diet.

There have been many conversations in which my mom has begged me to tell her when the severe self-consciousness I harbor all began; the sad thing is, I don’t know that I have an answer. I suppose I could blame it on a handsome boy from my painfully awkward “pre-teen” years; he loved me, or so he said so – and I believed him. But what I’ve come to find is that there is nothing within the confines of a defined love that includes hateful words, demeaning names, and sexual pressure. There’s a chance these body image issues began in a second grade classroom when I was the only one in a bra and my particular bras weren’t ‘nice’ enough. I am sure that self image issues are a common feat to overcome for many adolescent females – I recall sitting across from a new girl in my sixth grade classroom; we were allowed to bring in bottles of water at the end of the school year because of how hot our classrooms go. Many of the boys in the class would bring in cans of soda, but wrap them in foil so the teacher didn’t know. One day the no longer new, new girl came in with a can wrapped in foil; we all assumed it was soda, but she revealed her secret to me at recess later that day. It was Slim Fast. We were in sixth grade and this very thin girl was consuming Slim Fast. I was not, am not, alone in this battle against my own head, but somehow I still feel like the only girl in the room, in the bar, on the campus that is consistently tugging at her shirt to cover the small pooch of her stomach, doing neck stretches so she doesn’t get more of a double chin, and going to the bathroom obsessively to check her hair. It would appear my self-loathing was sewn in a pocket of my soul from birth and I’ve slowly untethered those laces and stitches with alarming precision.
The average cost of a haircut in the 1960s was $5.00. The average cost for a haircut and color in 2012 is between $30.00 and $50.00.

At a young age my eldest cousin learned how to French braid her own hair; I still don’t know how to do this and I distinctly remember Jenna having trouble braiding my hair because of how thick and heavy my hair was. There were many nights I would sob on my mom’s shoulder, “I just want thin, wispy hair like Jenna.” To this day, Jenna can curl her hair into perfection, zap some hairspray onto it and be set for the day; my hair has to be teased, whipped, curled, and bobby-pinned into submission and then at least ¾ of a can of hairspray is required for me to make it to lunch time. Many mornings I wake up, take a shower, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, do my make-up and then stand in front of the mirror fretting. I slowly remove the towel from my just washed hair and slowly comb out the tangles that seem to always be appearing and reappearing. Once I have it to a smooth consistency I pull out the blow dryer – this is when the true devastation begins. Many mornings I wake up and think that today will be the day I will  brush my hair a certain way or blow dry it a different way and BAM! It will be everything I’ve always wanted it to be. Many mornings I wake up with wishful thinking and leave for school thinking – this is just gonna have to work. Many mornings I wake up and realize my hair is bullshit only to be complimented on its thickness, its color, the neon extensions I have in them. Every day of my life I’m underestimating what might be worthy of compliment and the mop I carry on my head is at the top of the list.

Baby ducks will need their mothers for up to four weeks after birth, for heat. After those initial weeks, the family may very well break up and disperse.

It was a dark night; we were going to visit Uncle Mike. He was a man that was not an actual uncle to Zack and me, but a close enough friend that he earned that title. A couple weeks prior my mom had received enveloped coupons and in with the coupons was a Gerber magnet. I remember it being cream colored, with the Gerber in a nice, light, pastel blue. Beneath the brand name were baby ducks in the warmest, most pleasant sunshine yellow imaginable. I carried that magnet with me everywhere – I realize, in my adulthood, how ridiculous this sounds. I had plenty of stuffed animals, but it was that small magnet I needed with me at all times. On our way to Uncle Mike’s house I held that magnet tightly in my dainty hands, but somewhere along the six minute drive from our home to his, I lost it. I recall arriving at his house, the dome light in our maroon GMC Jimmy coming on and I found the magnet to have disappeared. At twenty- four I still think about that night, about that magnet – it was never found.
The mole, my breasts, and the God forsaken thickness of my hair – they seem to all be representing things I must have some magnetic obsession with. Did this seed of panic develop at the loss of that Gerber baby magnet? Did the dwindling of that final thread linking me to the wildly carefree girl begin with the loss of this magnet? It was a dark night – perhaps far darker than I could have ever imagined.
Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

In a moment of weakness I will admit to you I enjoyed the movie Knocked Up featuring Seth Rogan and Katherine Heigl. I enjoy its raunchy, inappropriate humor, but what has stayed with me from that movie is not raunchy or inappropriate at all; Katherine’s character has gone into labor, her sister is out of town, and she can’t reach her doctor. Seth’s character arrives at the house to find her in a warm bath, with candles lit and soft music playing in the background. She quietly mentions something along the lines of “I must stay calm. If a baby is born into a stressful situation, they are wired for stress for the rest of their life.” No words can ring truer for my brother and my’s entrances into the world.
My mom often reminisces about my birth; she hadn’t felt me kick or move for about twelve hours so she called her doctor; she was instructed to come in so they could examine the situation at hand. As it turns out, I had gone number two inside my dear mother; I also had a blood clot an inch from my umbilical cord. Mom and I were sent into an emergency C-section. This sounds like a stressful situation to me; does it you? My beloved brother took a nice, easy 28 hours to come into the world. In a situation in which plans are trying to be made or times of arrival are being worked out I closely resemble a gerbil on one of those toy wheels – ever running my ass off to never really reach the end of that forsaken 360 degrees. My brother would resemble the happy turtle – merrily taking his time from point A to point B and furiously pissing off the hare living its entire life in a hurry. From birth my brother has been taking his fucking time with life. If a baby is born into a stressful situation, they are wired for stress for the rest of their life; all too true, Ms. Heigl - all too true.
The average age that an American moves out of their parents’ home is seventeen to nineteen years of age.
            Whenever questioned about my anxious tendencies and their birth, I was quick to pinpoint them to the end of high school and the beginning of college. I realize, now, how completely wrong I’ve been all along. My fourth grade year was relatively uneventful as far as school years go, but I recall being deeply terrified at the idea of having to leave the building I had been educated in for five years to move to a different one. Many a night in those final weeks of summer between fourth and fifth grade were spent crying on my mom’s shoulder. Questions, ever prevalent in the course of my life, whirl pooled in the air and in my head – what if the teachers didn’t like me? What if I got lost going from the classroom to the cafeteria? Were they going to let me keep library books out as long as they did in elementary? Always the patient, understanding woman, my Mom was quick to reassure me I would find my way, I would find friendships, and I would find a friendly librarian just as I had in the K-4 building I was leaving behind. She was right. She was right between fourth and fifth grade, between sixth and seventh grade, between eight and ninth grade, and between senior year and freshman year.
And here I am, on the precipice of finishing an entire life of education and stepping off into the world of professionalism and attempted publication and my knees shake and knock like loose, crisp leaves in the autumn night; just this morning I was discussing moving out of my childhood home with my mom.
            “No one is kicking you out, Steph.”
So many conversations have began and ended just this way – and I know no one is kicking me out, but there will come a time in my life when saying “I still live with my parents” will no longer be acceptable and will begin to be creepy, unbecoming, disapprovable. And what will become of me then? That mole, this hair, the boobs? Miniscule in comparison with the big move. How might I ever have a sleep-over with a man if I am still living with Mommy and Daddy? The horror of bringing a man here and having to decide if sex is an option just about does me in. There will be no sex – because there will be no childhood bedroom at my new place. Oh, a new place – that distant, far off dream. But who will cook my meals? Will I gain weight due to my culinary capabilities being confined to Mac-n-cheese and grilled cheese? What curd of cheese will my cellulite begin to resemble after such meals? No one is kicking you out, Steph.
Every two minutes in American, someone is sexually assaulted. One out of six American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape. 80% of rape victims are under thirty years of age.

            Twenty-one found me fresh out of a four year relationship, never having dated a 20-something-year old guy, and terrified at the “college experience” lying before me. Unlike many of my female confidantes, twenty-one did not bring me to points of drunken oblivion, twenty-one did not find me dancing in the closest club in town, and twenty-one did not see me out, anywhere, period, at all. Twenty-one found me making every excuse possible to not leave my home.
I was convinced that if I went out and there were people I didn’t know at whatever location I was, I would be abducted, raped, and left for death. It froze me in my tracks, it prevented me from experiencing a couple of years that are, I suppose, geared as rites of passage in a young woman’s life. As I type this out, I realize how terribly morbid I must have sounded when I braved voicing this fear aloud – what kind of vibrant, young woman thought this way? It is with painful certainty I answer you – one whom, long ago, lost grip on the little girl she should have been grasping to with clingy desperation.
Night-time no longer finds me inside my home, living, and barely breathing, in fear, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t always finishing my drinks before setting them down, stepping forward from strange men that come too near, waiting with bated breath.
Panic disorder is different from the normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events in our lives. Panic disorder is a serious condition that strikes without reason or warning. Symptoms of panic disorder include sudden attacks of fear and nervousness, as well as physical symptoms such as sweating and a racing heart. During a panic attack, the fear response is out of proportion for the situation, which often is not threatening. Over time, a person with panic disorder develops a constant fear of having another panic attack, which can affect daily functioning and general quality of life.

            Recently I have convinced my parents it’s time to seek medical attention for the recurring panic attacks I’ve been succumbing to. I went to a doctor recommended by my boss; I sat waiting nervously in her office – the tension of the wait was quickly increasing as I had been waiting for approximately thirty minutes. She finally came in. She was attractive, older, and had long, graying hair. She was a young, hippie girl’s dream, as far as doctor’s go. I was asked to describe my attacks to her, asked about my medical history, asked what medications I was currently taking for my disorder. “None,” I answered. She stops mid-word on the page she’s filling out. “None?” she questioned. “How have you handled this without medication?” I glanced up, shrugged my shoulders, and let a stray tear escape the corner of my eye. As I type this I realize I left the doctor’s office feeling gratification at the fact that I had not been imagining pain and symptoms for most of my life; I do, in fact, have a panic disorder. I am riddled with a disorder of panic.
            As I type this I realize that the idea of losing my anxiety, having it lessened by some degree, or not waking, walking, and sleeping with it every day is, in fact, giving me a great amount of anxiety. In her essay “One Nation, Under the Weather” Lauren Slater talks about her illness memoir: “My illness memoir has now become ill itself.” Never has someone put into words what I am feeling over losing my anxiety as Slater does in this quick moment. As I see it, my life has been very much about dealing with having larger breasts than every other girl in the room, about dealing with not really having much control over my hair, about dealing with having a mole and being shamed by it. As I see it, my life has been about obsessive tendencies – only drinking water from bottles, needing a magnet in my hand, crying on Mom’s shoulder over any big change. As I see it, I am a busty woman with a mole carrying around an anxiety disorder that has unnatural attachments with a magnet.
            And what of the magnet? It is still in that maroon GMC Jimmy? Did it fall in the ditch next to my home? Does it miss me? Has it lost its magnetic nature? Like this missing magnet I find myself lost, in the bottom of a ditch, perhaps having been cultivated by large, green, combines in the cornfield across the road from my bedroom window. I hear roots tearing when I think about no longer waking with the anxiety that has come to define me over the last twenty odd years. If I am no longer anxious, if I no longer live with the possibility of panic being on the cusp of my existence, if I don’t have roots any longer to this facet of my life – who have I let myself become? I look at the green eyed little girl with her hair in pigtails, drinking out of that water hose; she is still within me, still breathing and dancing and singing. Granted she no longer sings into the Nordic Trak handles and she realizes that it is a “Natural Woman” that Aretha sings about being, not a “Magical Woman” – she’s still there.
            The mole, these boobs, this hair? They’re with me in the quiet spaces of writing and they’re with me in the agitation that follows the panic. No one is kicking you out, Steph . . . this anxiety over not having anxiety may remain long after the anxiety itself has left the building. Maybe then I’ll reacquaint myself with that olive skinned little girl.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Something New . . .

Hey, all :) This is a short story I just completed and it's very new for me; it's the shortest piece I've ever written and it's also a point of view I've never done before. I would love comments!

Also- four more classes until I'm officially a WSU graduate :D *dances*

-Stephi D.

By Stephani Duff

            Lydia looked at her reflection in the small mirror on her vanity. She couldn’t quite believe he’d done it again. She brushed her finger lightly over the tender, purple skin under her eye; he’d never hit her in the face before.
            It had started shortly after their honeymoon – a firm grasp of her wrist, a harsh look of warning, and then it quickly escalated. Stinging slaps and hard shoves left her skin feeling the cold heat of his rage and muscles feeling the fatigue of a nonexistent work out. The triggers were not easily pinned and his mood changed swiftly; from a calm breeze to a tornado-like force. Today it had been due to dinner not being on the table when he arrived; it was almost finished, but he never gave her the opportunity to say so. Now she was here, reviewing his handiwork and he was gone – leaving as quickly as his fury came and went.
            She slid her large, Jackie O sunglasses delicately over her nose as she heard his cell phone ding with the familiar sound of an incoming text. She was surprised he had left without his precious lifeline. She walked gently down the stairs and picked up his Blackberry.
            Hey, you. Tonight – 6 o’clock?
            She glanced up at the name on the incoming text. Lola. She didn’t know of any associates of his with the name of Lola. Another text came in while she stared down at the screen.
            Let’s meet for dinner at La Piazza first . . .
            She took a deep breath and typed quickly before she lost her nerve.
            Yeah – 6 sounds great. See you then.
            She was done being a punching bag.
            Lola was pretty; she was young, she was put together, she wasn’t bruised. Lydia took a deep breath as she walked towards the table the hostess had pointed out. She took her glasses off and cleared her throat as she approached the table; Lola looked up at her with a confused, but polite, smile on her face. She pulled out a chair and sat down; she was going to need to be comfortable when she informed her husband’s mistress that he was a liar, a cheat, and an abuser. She needed to be comfortable when she informed her husband’s mistress what a monster he actually was.
            It was a beautiful, clear day. The sun was shining warmly and the wind was blowing lightly enough to keep her from sweating but not so windy to mess up her hair once it was perfectly curled. She stood in front of the mirror of her bathroom, wiping the steam left over from her shower off with her hand. She stepped back and examined her damp, naked body in front of the full length mirror; the bruise under her eye had faded to a light green that was easily covered with concealer and her arms and legs were free of the marks of his hands. It occurred to her how long it had been since her skin looked this flawless, this untouched.
            She stood in front of her closet and ran her hand along the sleeves and various fabrics of all her clothing. She flipped the light on within the closet and glanced over at the side that once belonged to him. All his finely pressed white dress shirts were gone, his leather loafers were no longer lined up on the floor, and his expensive, black suit was no longer hanging in the far right corner in its zip up bag.
            She selected a black, V-neck dress that was snug, with three quarter length sleeves; she had purchased it years ago - the tags were still attached. He would have never allowed her to wear this out for anyone to see her in it. Good thing she didn’t have to worry about that anymore. She clipped the tags off quickly and hung the dress from the molding above her bathroom door. She carefully put on black panties and a matching black bra; she couldn’t remember the last time she had taken such care in getting ready for a day. After slipping the slimming dress over her head she stepped in front of the mirror and got out her best make-up products.
            After applying thick coats of mascara and brushing blush over her cheekbones she thought back to how he was before he revealed who he really was. He had loved her cheekbones; made continual comments about how impossibly high and lovely they were. On their honeymoon he had been insistent about applying sunscreen to her face and freckled shoulders – preventative measures, he had called them.
She snorted as she pulled out her favorite red lipstick and applied it to her puckered lips. She finished curling her hair and ran her fingers through it to loosen the curls before pinning the delicate black veil in front of her green eyes. He had loved her eyes too; always talking about those exotic green eyes.
            As she stood in front of the full length mirror one last time she heard a honk from outside. She grabbed her small, black clutch and walked out, locking the door behind her. The black Cadillac shone sparkling in the sun as the driver held open the back door for her. Once they were both inside, the driver turned the car around and headed toward the outside of town.
            She saw the small green tent before she could see the line of cars parked around the headstones. A line of shiny, black, expensive cars were parked in the gravel lane as men in well pressed suits and women in well made dresses formed around the small tent. As she got out of the car the quiet whispers ceased and an associate of Michael’s escorted her to the front row seat set up for the new widower.
            As she carefully crossed her legs the horse drawn carriage came up the gravel path with the deceased man within it. She clasped her hands together and adjusted the sunglasses on her face as the pastor made his way to the front of the crowd. She spotted the woman to the right of her and quickly looked away.
            The pastor spoke of all the hard work Michael had done in his short amount of years. He mentioned the numerous foundations he and his brother had set up and helped to become successful. She was mentioned, briefly, in the pastor’s speech – how she was a loving and devoted wife and that the Lord would be the one to see her through this tough time. Shortly after, his brother stood up to speak; he spoke of their friendship, their childhood memories, their business plans and dreams that would now be unfinished. He talked about Michael in a way that led to enshrinement; he got choked up and gave Lydia a quick hug before taking his seat again.
            As the pastor led the group in a prayer she stood up slowly and tossed a rose down on the dark wood of the casket and stood there for a quiet moment. As the line of mourners wormed their way around the casket, lightly touching her shoulder, her back, whispering condolences - she lowered her head and took a deep breath. Everyone around her quickly wiped stray tears from their eyes; quietly blew their noses into soft, white tissues.
            The crowd thinned until it was just Lydia, the pastor, Michael’s family, and another woman in a tight, black dress. His brother came over to her, whispering his apologies, telling her to call if she needed anything, questioning whether she should stay alone that night or not. She didn’t speak, only shook her head and smiled politely. The man driving the shiny, black Cadillac came to her and escorted her to the car; as she went to lower herself into it she looked up and saw the woman one last time.
            Lola was standing just across the gravel path from where she stood; her thick auburn hair fell around her shoulders and her dark sunglasses hid her eyes from Lydia. Her pale skin looked creamy against the form fitting black dress and her thin, red lips stayed in a straight line. To any onlooker they were merely two different women who knew the same man. Lola began to walk away when Lydia lowered her sunglasses slightly on the bridge of her nose. Lola mirrored her action and the two women each shared a silent moment, eyebrows raised.
            Each woman got in her respective black Cadillac. The sun was setting over the quiet cemetery as each car pulled out – one turned right, the other left.    

Monday, May 7, 2012


Ever in my new obsession with my non fiction writing I am going to share my second essay . . . I hope ya'll are enjoying reading these pieces as I am writing them. This essay took a lot of internal analyzation on my part and I am happy to say I came out of it relatively unscathed. Thoughts are welcome.

Love, love, love.
-Stephi D.


By Stephani Duff

                In a recent round of questions and answers with a new guy I’m getting to know, affection came to be the topic du jour. I recall it being pretty early on in our friendship and I brought it up: Are you an affectionate person? His response was quick: Yes, I am. At least I think I am. A slight fear gripped at my throat; what exactly does he mean he “thinks” he is?

The conversation continued by each of us defining what “affection” meant to us and how we each go about being this way. I remember saying goodnight to him later in the evening and feeling a great sent of “ahhhh” at meeting someone who made me laugh, enjoyed my conversation, and was also my “ideal” level of affectionate.   

            As someone who is very controlled, or likes to think she is, in every area of her life, I made it clear to him I did not want to be called on the phone at the beginning of our friendship; texting was easier and better done at school and work compared with phone calls, and I could hand awkward silences much better via text. But what I’m actually saying underneath all these excuses is that I’m a scared little girl who still gets nervous around boys. After about two weeks of unheard of amounts of texts I asked him why he’d not asked me to meet him for dinner or anything. His response? Because I’ve not talked to you on the phone and I guess I’m old fashioned that way. I remember quite vividly almost pissing my pants because it occurred to me I was going to have to speak to this man if I wanted to ever see his face. I informed him he could call me, but not to let me know when he was going to do it. Take me by surprise, ya know? His next text came quick: Okay. Well what are your plans Thursday? I was thinking dinner. My reply: Wait, did you just ask me out over text after telling me you would only ask me after we talked on the phone? His response was what made me realize that making me laugh needed to become a top criterion for what a guy should be able to do: Don’t worry – at dinner we won’t talk, we’ll just text. That way you won’t get too nervous ;).

            As a sort of confessional moment I will admit to you I am a monogamous person. I’ve had four serious relationships that have been a minimum of eight months long, with the longest, and most recent, being four years. And while I loved each of these guys relatively deeply for my age, there was never an instance in which I’ve not had red flags. In no certain order these red flags went something like this: he wanted complete and utter control of every aspect of my life, he was physically abusive, he had a strong lack of maturity, he was just plain wrong for me.

Although I am not a highly feminine female, I’ve always been a girl who looked forward to a formal dance. My Senior Homecoming was quickly approaching and “Matt” and I were talking about colors and flowers, you know the important things in life, and he threw a fast, unexpected curveball at me.

            “You know the Feast of the Beast is that same weekend. I’d rather do that.”

            “Well, I’m not going to Homecoming without my boyfriend.”

            “Then don’t go to Homecoming and come with me.”

This – was a red flag.

Another guy I recently met, but never had anything serious with, was very interested in talking about faith; I won’t lie – I was into it. And then he informed me he was a Pentacostel and had been known to speak in tongues.

This – was a red flag.

The new guy who makes me laugh, is affectionate, and enjoys my conversation has given me NO red flags.

This – both thrills me and scares the shit out of me.

            I left for work the other morning; I had hit snooze too many times on my alarm and was running very late. It is a real pet peeve of mine to arrive at the diner with tables waiting on me so I was irritated with myself. Instead of walking to my mom’s room and gently waking her to say bye I stuck my head in the door and hollered a quick, “Bye, Ma. Love you!” Later that morning she texted me a blunt question: What’s the matter? I stared at my screen in confusion and typed back quickly: Nothing, I’m at work. Why? Her response was immediate: You didn’t kiss me goodbye this morning. Twenty-four years of kissing this blessed woman and her feelings still get hurt when she doesn’t get a kiss from her “baby.”

I was raised in a highly affection family. Mom still kisses Zack and me; we are all huggers, and I love to cuddle. There was a time when I kissed my dad, too, but I’m not sure when that stopped. I recall many a night sitting at our wooden, kitchen table and being urged to finish my meal so that I could belong to the Clean Plate Club. In hindsight I realize what often stood between my membership to the Clean Plate Club and me were veggies. My green-eyed, stocky dad would turn his head to me and say, “Stephi, if you don’t eat your vegetables, your hair won’t curl like mine!” My dad has been balding my entire life.

            On a cold night in January my family lost a son, brother, cousin, nephew, and grandson; it turned into one of the most difficult years of my life and still remains a quiet void that we all seem to dance around. Among other things, this accident has pushed me even further into my need for affection; tell the people you love that you love them, you’ll never know if it’s your last chance. How many times have we all heard this? In less than three hours on a back, country road this “saying” went from a simple thought to a cold, hard truth. Tell the people you love that it’s so; to mom, dad, Zack, cousins, etcetera, etcetera; I love you, I love you, I love you. Give me a hug.

            Being raised in an affectionate family has turned me into the sort of girl who asks early on if a man will be affectionate with me; if you do not intend to hold my hand in public, this will likely not work, but if you intend to walk with your arm slung about my body . . . well, that will not work, either. Remember that note of control I mentioned? Yeah, I’ve got this finely tuned. That is to say, I’ve got this tightly wound.

            Physical touch is not the only form of affection, in my book. It’s not always defined by kissing or continual, physical contact; that is not to say personal touch isn’t my favorite form of affection. As a nanny to a beautiful four year old, I cannot seem to quit reaching for his sweet face. I want him sitting in my lap as often as possible, I love kissing his still chubby, baby cheeks, and I live for when he asks me to “sthnuggle” with him. Most of the time he is happy to oblige his twenty-four year old nanny, but don’t you ever call him my boyfriend; our age difference is more than he can handle.

One day, while sitting at the kitchen table with me, he props his precious face on his tiny hand and whispers, “I could just look at you allll day.” My heart exploded inside my chest and I felt I had accomplished the feat of instilling in this tiny man how to talk to a lady and make her heart melt. Braden and I truly have a sacred relationship – he is beyond special to me and in the short year I’ve been with his family I have gone from employee to friend to family. This little blue-eyed man is quick to hug and whisper ‘I love you’s,’ but it is his beautiful, sprite of a sister that knows how to get right to my heart. Belle is not so quick to hug or let you k now she needs you. When I get a hug from the lovely Isabelle or she reaches for my hand on her own, my heart tends to swell uncomfortably; knowing her love for me is the same as Braden’s often becomes like a sort of revelation. Belle and Braden will forever be the most perfect versions of six and four I will ever know.

            Napolean Bonaparte wrote to Josephine de Beauharnais in December of 1795:

            I wake filled with thoughts of you . . . Until then, mio dolce amor, a thousand kisses; but give me none in return, for they set my blood on fire.

            Words can do far more for me than any amounts of flowers can; at the green age of twelve my “boyfriend” wrote me the first love poem of my life. Its title was “Sweet Nothings” and it turned me into a blubbering mess. I’m still not quite sure he actually wrote it, but I feel as if, upon receiving that poem, every man in my future was fucked because no sweeter words have ever been written solely for my eyes.

In reflection of this lone love poem and love letters by great men I realize that my main life goal, at twenty-four, has become two part; I want to become a well-known writer that touches others lives and I want to find a man who still values chivalric acts and might write a love letter from time to time.

            Through my admittance of wanting to leave a sort of record behind of having touched a life it has occurred to me that if affection is far more than physical touch, then it’s not simply a record of myself to be remembered that I wish to leave behind – I want to leave affection to the world – I want to be remembered through affection.

The written word is a history. Phone calls make me nervous, but more than that, text messages, e-mails, long-hand written letters – this is history. They are save-able; at any moment I can pull up an old e-mail, a text from two days ago, a letter from three years ago, and I will know what was said, feelings that were evident, the evidence is all in front of me. My memory is not required to go into over-drive; it can be at ease with the physical history in my hands.

            Over the summer I discovered John Green and am still left with a specific quote from Looking for Alaska: So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane. This made my heart skip a beat, my breath caught in my throat, and I knew that this sort of thought is what I wanted to instill in someone: I want to be someone’s hurricane.  And isn’t that affection?

            After their marriage, Robert Browning wrote to his wife Elizabeth:

            Words can never tell you, however, form them, transform them anyway, how perfectly dear you are to me, perfectly dear to my heart and soul.

            Twenty-four finds me still going to those chick flicks, you know the ones, where love comes quick and easy and explodes with passion in the stall of a bathroom, the backseat of a car, the seductively painted bedroom.

I sit in a front row seat in a darkened theater with a bag of delicious buttered popcorn propped in my lap. I listen as the breathing of the two beautiful actors on the screen before me quickens, then slows, and speeds up again. I find myself watching for the slip of a tongue into a mouth, for the slow graze of a fingernail across naked skin, for the delicate undressing that I’m not entirely sure exists.

I sit in a front row seat in a darkened theater and I feel my pulse quicken as clothes come off and hair is pulled and I realize how silly I’m being; I’m not the one being tantalized by Jake Gyllenhal on the big screen. I sit there, calm myself down, and glance at my girlfriend that came with me to see this romantic comedy and realize she can go home and re-enact this very sex scene with her husband, if she so chooses. I audibly sigh.

            My female relationships are key to my existence; they are the tear wipers, laugh inducers, and soft spots on which I land. Most of my friends are married, planning weddings, or seriously considering heading toward veil-town. And I’m happy for them, I love the men they’ve chosen to spend their lives with, and I’m very lucky to have them all as friends, but it’s still hard sometimes. Affection is certainly not something I expect solely from a man that may be in my life. It has become a driving force in my female friendships and an intricate factor in the familial relationships I’ve formed outside of my biological family.

I tell my girlfriends I love them regularly, I hand out hugs like candy, and I’m a closed mouth kisser with some of my close girlfriends, too. In the process of becoming close with a new friend I am quick to let them know they matter to me, they are loved, and that they are important to my sanity.

 As I’ve become more like a friend and family member to the people I nanny for, conversations have easily gone from how the kids were on a particular day to an “I’m gonna call you when I’m upset” sort of relationship. Just the other night Angela, Belle and Braden’s mom, texted me to tell me she needed me at 5:30 AM; when I didn’t answer she said she was joking; when I responded with a clipped ‘OK’ she immediately asked what was wrong and then she called me. See, this is affection; a simple answer, a silent look, an attempted quiet sigh will result in a phone call to check in, a long text making sure I know I’m being thought of, a tight hug of comfort.

            My girlfriends, as I’ve gotten older, have gone from a group of people I go out with on the weekends, to people I talk to daily, to those that come to my side whenever I need them, whether I call for them or not.

Recently I was out with a group of friends and I received a really upsetting phone call. Once I walked back inside I guess it was obvious that I had been crying because Ashley approached me quickly and asked what was wrong. Once I was able to speak without choking up I told her what was wrong and then I noticed she had tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong with you now?” She shook her head and answered quietly, amidst the bumping bass surrounding us, “Steph, you’re my best friend; when you’re upset my heart hurts.” Affection.

            I recall in Junior High going to a friend’s house and her mom was, yet again, redecorating. She had just hung a sign above the fire place that was a green, crackle painted, country looking decoration; its simple message was “Always Kiss Me Goodnight.” I remember, at the ripe young age of twelve, thinking how terribly romantic this was. If only I could be a grown woman, redecorating a room, with a husband to kiss me goodnight instead of twelve, perpetually chesty, and dealing with acne. What more did one need than this blatantly displayed display of affection?

“Give me a kiss!” “Always kiss me goodnight.” These are mantras I have found to dominate the relationship portion of my life. It is as if I stand with a clipboard in my hand in front of a long line of eligible suitors.

“Are you affectionate?”

“Were you kissed as a child?”

“Will you hold me in the night?”

Check marks will be administered for those that answer “yes” to all three and those candidates will be moved to a screening room. I would look down over the rims of my glasses at all those that didn’t make the cut and purr, “Thanks for coming out, sirs. Better luck next time.”

            Beethoven wrote to an unnamed woman on some morning of some July 7th:

            . . . My thoughts go out to you, my Immortal beloved . . . I can live only wholly with you or not at all . . . Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence, can we achieve our purpose to live together . . . Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.

            Ever thine

            Ever mine

            Ever ours.

Sweet nothings, immortal beloveds, and ever belonging to someone . . . I’m not sure it gets much more affection based than that. The control dial inside me, surely right next to my heart, spins wildly at the suggestion that men might still be made this way; at the suggestion that if my twenty-one year old brother will kiss his mother in front of his friends then there is hope for my mate and me yet.

            Twelve years old found me glancing at the antique looking sign above a fire place dreaming of a day in which I would have a man to always kiss me goodnight; sixteen years old found headstrong and unwilling to see the wrongness of a boyfriend in my life; twenty found me yearning for affection more than ever before.

            Twenty-four finds me grasping that lever on my control dial – desperately searching for that man that will desire my affection as I desire his, finding children more irresistible than ever for their uncomplicated giving of love, defining and redefining what affection means to me, what is says about me, what it means for my future.

Twenty-four finds me in a hallway staring up at a ticking clock; twenty-four years in my life, twenty-four hours in a day – is this what I am so scared of? Affection has been a dominant part of my life for as long as I can remember and I am surely one of those women that feels as if certain things must be accomplished by a certain age; why do we do this to ourselves, as a female demographic? We pick an age and then make a laundry list of occupations we must have worked through, relationships we must have tackled, diapers we must have changed; twenty-five is quickly looming around the corner . . . three months and then twenty-four will no longer find me anywhere. Twenty-five will find me, most likely, looking back on my twenty-four year old self staring up at that clock, counting the hours in a day, and wondering when that relationship might happen, when that dream book will finally find itself a home in a publishing house, when all this talk of affection will finally live up to its potential.

            Who knows what will become of the end of my year as a twenty-four year old and who knows what will become of my twenty-fifth year. For now, twenty-four finds me falling asleep at night, cold pillow against my face, whispering prayers to my Father that He is gently preparing the heart of the man He’s picked for me. And whether I’ve never seen his face before or he’s in my life already, I am sure the introduction will go something like this: My name is Stephani Duff and I’m an affection addict. Wanna hug?