The Interview

The Interview

Most people really hate interviewing for jobs. I don’t. I have had maybe ten interviews in my life because six of those I was hired from.  I moved, and had life changes that forced me to go elsewhere.  I have always gone into every interview with the thought that I have nothing to lose and maybe an acquaintance to gain. Each meeting is an opportunity to market yourself to not only a potential boss, but to a potential client, or community contact that might benefit you in the future.  First impressions are remembered. I learned a lot from each interview experience.

A smile, Eye contact, clear thoughtful speech, and a calm demeanor will make you appear smart and approachable to the interviewer. Being honest but also keeping in mind what the interviewer wants to hear is important. But being prepared is as important as the interview itself. Make sure you investigate the company. Look them up on line and on the Better Business bureau website. This ensures you have something to talk about with the interviewer when they ask you if you have any questions for them.

Be prepared for common questions such as the following:

  1.  Tell me a little something about yourself.

This is not your cue to tell the interviewer what you had for breakfast, or why you wore blue today. This is your chance to tell them what kind of worker and human being you are going to be if working in their organization. It’s okay to tell them you are a married mother of one living near their workplace, and that you have been employed steadily for x-employer for so many years. It is a good idea to tell them if you are involved or support any charitable organizations or alumni associations, and if you do volunteer work. It is the time to tell them any special skills that might be important to the current job, or if you recently were relicensed at a skill.

2.  Why are you leaving your current or previous employer?

This can be a hard question to answer if you are leaving because of disputes with coworkers or employers. It is a good idea to use a political hat when answering the question. Use a tactic of answering a question but maybe not directly the question asked. Explain that there were differences of opinion in ethics of the ways a client was handled that made you rethink your purpose with the company. Perhaps you felt that your skills were not being utilized in your current position and there was no opportunity to expand those abilities in your current place of employment. Maybe it was a matter of money? Don’t say that. Just say that there is no opportunity to advance in the company or that you were seeking benefits that were equal to your skill set that were not utilized in your current position.This is an answer without skewering a specific person at your work.

3.  How will hiring you benefit my company?

This is a question that always make me cringe because there are so many ways you can answer this wrong!  I came up with a solution to this question. I may not know the company well, but I know me well, so I answer this way:

I give 100 percent when I am on the job. I show up on time, I work effectively and efficiently completing tasks on time if humanly possible. I respect those around me who do their jobs well, and learn from them by asking questions. I help others who are struggling if I can make their load lighter. I do not take shortcuts to sacrifice getting a job done right the first time. My goal is to make a difference and leave at knowing I did my very best to deliver work I can be proud of at the end of every day.

This is a long-winded version of what I have said on job interviews but it easily meets most employers ethical standards. The other questions I have been asked include those about my skill set, or how I would handle a certain situation. It is hard to address questions about a specific scenario, but they have one thing in common, a challenge.  The question about what would you do if– is meant to find out how you handle a challenging situation and if you will handle it with sense and maturity.

I usually go with what I think the interviewer wants to hear and what the job description tells you about the company. If you will be hiring into a bank and they ask you what if…..and it involves an unhappy customer that answer is very different than how you would handle a bank robber!  These answers need to focus on your ability to handle stress and a mature answer should include reasonable thoughts.

Example: Remove the unruly customer from the main lobby if possible and invite them into a closed office where you ensure them a manager will address their complaint straight away while doing so in a respectful and humble manner. This gives the person time to cool off and feel important. Also, offer that you would certainly follow the institution or company guidelines on situations such as this. That let’s them know that you respect the policy of the company as much as using common sense.

Interviewers are not trying to make you answer foolish questions or trick you into saying anything terrible. What they are doing is looking for someone special with common sense who meets the requirements, shows up to work, and works hard for their paycheck. It is your job to convince them at the end of the 30 minute meeting that you are that person they seek.

Social Media: Do not post on Facebook, Twitter, or any websites, any derogatory information about a previous employer even if the company is on the 5 o’clock news! It doesn’t pay to burn your bridges or damn a specific person on public forum because some day they might be the only person around after you have fallen and can’t get up! That’s called Karma. Use your heads people! Many employers today seek the employees out on social media sites. If you are posting graphic pictures, or posting drunk comments on Twitter,  you may be cutting off your chance to a better position.

Follow up:  When is it appropriate to follow up after an interview? You should ask at the interview, usually the end, if the decision of hiring will be by a certain date or when you can expect to hear of any decision. This is appropriate and will likely get answered more readily than upon a call back. It is important that you get the name of the interviewer and an email address, or a business card from the front desk.  This allows you to send an email in 24 hours thanking your interviewer for their time and for the information about their services. This shows your respect and appreciation to the interviewer and gives them a chance to remember who you are while they are interviewing others. Respect goes a long way to keeping your encounter current in their minds. If a week has gone by, it is acceptable to call for an update. If you get no response, it is reasonable to think you need to move on to the next interview someplace else. Good Luck on your interview process, and remember that you have nothing to lose!

 

 

 

 

Right and Wrong

 

When I was young, I had one of those moms who was loving, sweet, patient, and taught me all those wonderful things a lot of kids are not privileged to learn. She taught me the value of being loving to all people, and to love unconditionally. She taught me how to act with moral respect, and meet certain good ethical standards of demonstrating fairness, dignity, and respecting the individual rights of others not to act in those ways.

As I grew into womanhood, I met many people who did not have the same belief system, and who had no real pride in themselves exampled by the way they treated others. However, for the most part, I found that the place I lived was filled with kind and helpful people. I was raised in Indiana, where they coined the phrase, “Hoosier Hospitality”. I experienced this many times with flat tires, car wrecks, and stressors of life when others, most I did not know, reached out and helped me with all their heart.

Unfortunately, my current work place, in another state, is one of those places where I have encountered behaviors that I find unethical, and actions that my mother would have spanked me for.

In this place of business, we work on a quota based system of completion of work. In one instance, last week, my work was stolen from me and another took credit for it, followed by a supervisor that excused that behavior, and I was hurt and very angry. My supervisor apologized but stated there was no recompense because there was no violation of any company policy. I was perplexed by this “law of the jungle” mentality in an advanced society. I thought hard about why people find it necessary to use others, or take advantage of others in order to advance their work or position in life. Then I searched for definitions of ethics, morality, and the behaviors attached to those beliefs.

I found the definition of morality, listed by Webster as: “The differentiation of actions or behaviors between those that are distinguished as proper or improper”. The definition of Ethics followed as: “Ethical behavior tends to be good for business and involves demonstrating respect for moral behavior of honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity, and personal rights.” But I didn’t really have to look those things up to know the difference between right and wrong, because I was held to a high moral and ethical code of honesty and love taught by my mother and father.

I also know from my childhood lessons that people who treat others poorly to advance their own position in life are to be pitied. Those people have a poor self-respect, identity issues, and usually a spirit that lacks depth that makes it impossible to be appreciative of others. Understanding does not resolve my anomosity toward this person’s actions, nor will it prevent him/her from doing unethical or immoral acts to others. However, understanding can help me to be proud that I have enough education, personal ethics,and enough morality that I will not stoop to any actions that drop me to that person’s level of indignant behavior. Age does that, makes you mindful of your actions.
I also have gained an understanding that I have a choice. I have a choice whether to accept the consequences of someone’s bad behavior or to stand up against it or remove myself from it. I will do both. I began searching for another place to work, which is an unfortunate because I was starting to like my job. Someone told me, “You will find unethical behavior everywhere you go.” Yes, I guess that is possible. However, I have to decide what kind of behavior I will tolerate or condone, and what kind of treatment I will allow to effect my life. I have chosen not to work hard for a company that allows and even encourages unethical behavior in order to advance the financial bottom line. That decision has led me to some great opportunities within 24 hours of making that mindful choice.

I have to meet my maker some day to be judged for every single indiscretion in which I knowingly turned my head and did not do anything to right a wrong, or help another. I have to face judgement for actions that define my weakest moments when I was not at my best. I have been successful in many areas of my life because of my values and my honesty. I have chosen to take a sometimes hard road but have never been disappointed by the blessings that God has given me as a result of my choices. Unlike those who find success by standing on the backs of others, I chose to rise above with pride and hard work, and I can look in the mirror and never feel ashamed.

She Talks to Chickens

She Talks to Chickens

So, I found a few poems I wrote about seven years ago. One of them, a little morbid, but it was for a project in poetry….She Talks to Chickens…..was requested for a poetry reading a few times and has been stretched and cut a few times over.  So I decided upon finding it I would share it. Country folk who grow and eat the food they raise get it. People who primarily eat food bought from stores and have never set foot on a farm may find it a little to ‘real’ for their taste. If you are sensitive, or work for PETA, don’t read any further.

 She talks to chickens,

Here chick- chick-chick—

Slipping on wet stones,

Her yellow plastic coat hangs stiff like an Easter basket.

Dappled legs bare between the coat and her husband’s rubber boots.

Strolling in a yard that smells of wet chicken feathers, dirt and rotten eggs.

Hunger waiting impatiently in her kitchen.

Little fingers peel hot potatoes with dull knives.

 

She spies the bird with two and a half wings,

Incessantly scratching at weed roots.

Three toed pfft -pfft -pfft…unearthing and pecking,

No longer a layer– It’s time.

 

Her voice calm against the grey day.

Here chick –chick- chick—

 

Feed thrown from her left hand,

Here chick- chick- 

 

Right hand holds the axe.

Here chick–

Left hand trades feed for two dancing feet in one swinging movement,

Head to stump…Swish and…Thump! 

Feet still scratching.

Three wings hang quiet against a yellow plastic coat.

Black rubber boots Squeak – Schritch – Squeak – Schritch on a stone path,

Small puffs of steam open from warm red drops hitting cold wet rocks.

 

Missing Books

I miss my bookstore. I miss being surrounded by the words lived by others.  They dreamed and imagined and put all their creative being at a moment of time onto a page, not knowing if it would ever be read.  I had a few cases of old collectibles and even some first editions in my bookstore. It was a used bookstore and writing center I opened in Columbus, Indiana.  Was it successful? Not really. I barely broke even by the beginning of year two, but it was heaven.  Six thousand books on the shelves, but Heaven for me was getting in a box of old books from a person cleaning out their garage or basement from their mom’s house. The books smelled old and musty. Covers were tattered with years of moving, shelving, and moisture wear. Most had not be read for years or at all. I had walls and floors filled with shelves and books. Every genre, every price, all cherished. I arranged displays every few weeks, developed writing classes, and helped local school kids create their first book.  It was such fun to use my love of writing and reading to share and teach others how to appreciate stories.

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I closed my book store 2 years after I opened in order to follow my husband to Texas. I cried a lot that week because it had also become a stopping point for several friends and other book collectors like myself. Packing was emotionally painful but friends and family made it easier.

I proved something to myself in owning a bookstore. I proved I was not a very good business person. I loved my stock too much and sold it too cheap. I paid to much for the used books I bought from customers. I paid too much attention to the books and not enough to the business of books. It was stressful and hard work since I was the boss and employee. Hiring a few helpers to relieve me for a half day here and there did help. I gave it my all and my heart. It did not disappoint but did not pay the bills either. It was a blessing to have had that opportunity.

Now I get my book fix by going to the library or a used bookstore and standing between the stacks, just reading titles. I pick up the oldest and most awful looking book on the shelf and read the first line on the first page and smile. The book is shelved again and I move onto the next. Sometimes I see a book inscribed by someone with love, dated and signed. I imagine the recipient reading it and I wonder if they ever read the tightly cracking book. It was obviously deposited on their shelf for years before feeling enough time had passed to not offend the giver by passing it on.

Books are so very personal. We pick books based on our experiences, our needs, or our values. The books on our shelves often represent our wide variety of interests or beliefs. The colors of the cover, the writing on the book jacket, the first line of the first page, all are a tactile addiction for the bibliophile.  That’s why I am almost ashamed to admit that I have an e-reader now.  It just made more sense with traveling often through airports. However, I still prefer the joy of holding a paper book in my hand.

While I don’t think I would ever want to open my own business again, it was a great time in my life that I will never forget. It combined my favorite things in life; books and sharing that love of books.

See you in the stacks!

Three Divisions of Story Writing

The following is an excerpt from my new book due out later this year called,  “How To Write a Book Book: For the 1st Time Writer”.

In studying literature and masters of teaching literature, I understand there are many books about plot and story structure. You will find most on the internet when you look up the word plots. One author of classic literature offered a list of 69 plots (Kipling), and a master of literary dialogue states there are only two types (Aristotle): simple and complex. A plot is really just a fancy way of describing the details of characters and action inside the beginning, middle and end [also Aristotle] of the story.

In my opinion, there are three ways divide these plots under story structure headings so they encompass all of the plots mentioned by the masters while simplifying them for the beginning writer.

  • Global Plot Structure
  • Character Plot Structure
  • The One Motivator Structure

The Global story structure deals with a global event that acts upon the characters abiding within an environment. Examples of these types of stories would include:

Apocalyptic Themes; Countries at War or in Conflict; a New World Order; Alien Invasion; A part of the country after an earthquake; Global Warming; Worldwide shut down of Internet; Pandemic or Mass Epidemic.

These stories usually have a cast of characters who live or try to survive an event effecting everyone in their environment.  The best of these types of books have been adapted to movies. Those writers include: Stephen King (Under the Dome) ; George Orwell (1984); George Stewart (Earth Abides); Charles Dickens (Tale of Two Cities); and John Jakes (North and South). The characters are motivated by the event in some way to meet a challenge, find someone or something missing, or proceed from one point to another in order to survive or thrive. The event has shifted character’s focus and changes ordinary activities of daily living, forcing all the characters to adapt.

Global novels usually have lead characters that hold more central action but they share the challenges of the environment with all the characters. Global stories are usually filled with complicated character archetypes we will study later.

Structures of the Global story will often lean towards opening the book with the action of a global event within the first few chapters by narration or through dialogue. We will cover the methods of plotting of these types of stories in my chapter called Plots and Plants.

The Global story will involve many characters but include snippets of their past and focus on their participation with others to meet the challenges of the global event. The character driven structure may seem close in description, but in itself is set apart by the depth of the character description and invention.

The Character driven story will revolve around one or two central characters trying to meet a challenge. The challenge can be complicated, and seem insurmountable, but the writer will add motivations to keep the reader involved and the story moving forward.

This type of story will see a change in the main character’s attitude in some way. His growth or change may be mental, physical, or emotional through interaction with other characters or the environment. The story is most often written in first person, with little to no omniscient narration. It is more focused on the characters than a larger event or environmental change.

The specific difference in this story type is a focus on how the main character responds to challenges or events and how their lives change because of them. The Global event story has a larger focus of effect on a cast of characters resulting in changes rippling out to change a social order.

While the character driven story can take place in any genre (romance, thriller, science fiction, mystery, adventure, adolescent, non-fiction, and erotica), the global story often can fit into many of these genres at one time.  Example: Under the Dome by Stephen King could be considered a global story within a genre of science fiction, thriller, mystery, or adventure.

The character driven story is the most common plot structure for book writing. Most classical literature reflects fictional stories of characters that face specific challenges that test the moral or mental tenacity of him or her. While the main character is a central focus in character writing, there is another type of character offered in the next division called The One Motivator.

The One Motivator structure (most often adventure genre) focuses all supporting characters to interaction with a thing, animal, or inanimate object. The thing or object is often hidden, or creates havoc. If it’s an animal, it will be the primary focus in the adventure or it creates the motivation for all events and characters actions within the story.

Examples of the this type of story would be Jack London’s Into the Wild [one of my favorite books as a teenager]. This story is told by the narrator from the point of view of the dog and his masters through the book. The environment becomes a character along with the dog to create a challenge of survival for both the dog and the characters around him. Most people would place this book in the characters structure, and under the adventure genre, however I disagree because the narrative is omniscient and the environment plays a major role in the action of all the characters second only to the dog. The story only partially falls into the character story and partially under global, so it fits better into the One Motivator story.

Another old story that resembles this structure is that of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (Published in 1929). It was later to be a movie staring Humphrey Bogart. This is a mystery with a slick detective and the thing focused on in the story becomes a falcon statue of some value. All the characters actions revolve around this treasure and their quest to obtain it. The greed it creates thus creates the desire, deceit and changes the moral character of each player in the story. The story is told in a narrative voice with description of the character’s actions and dialogue. The falcon is the One Motivator of this story structure.

The One Motivator structure can be delineated from character and global stories in one way…the thing, animal, alien, or object takes on a life of its own.  There are always several characters involved who rotate around this motivator for all action. The motivator is on the page at all times in some form. It is worth saying for future reference in plotting that the One Motivator structure will be more commonly seen in writing screenplays for film and stage than in book writing. [This is probably why The Maltese Falcon was easily adapted to the movie screen.]

Knowing about structure is important to help you define the limits of your story and the voice you want the reader to hear on page one. It forces you to focus on what story you are going to tell, and how it will unfold from the beginning to the end. Setting up structure is part of plotting your work. For the beginner, this is often intimidating but with key elements for structure, style and hints on plotting options, it becomes much easier.

Plotting can be helpful to some people but hinder other writers.  Stephen King states in his book, On Writing, that he does not develop plots but instead just tells a story. He goes onto express that you either tell a story or you don’t, so just tell it.  I must agree that any plot is simply a beginning, a middle and an end with interesting stuff in between to keep the reader turning pages. Some writers go to great depths to plan every moment, a lot of the dialogue, and even page numbers and chapters into programs that keep track of plotted sections of the work. However, this kind of detail can be a daunting task to undertake when you are trying to develop your first novel. Instead, I will offer a list of plot points that should be included in planning, a few ways to use diagrams or software to help, and basic ways to use plot points that fit into the three structures I have described in this chapter.

I will address what kind of writer you are in the next chapter to help you define your inner writer and style. Knowing this will help you decide the best way to approach your book project and how to finish it!

 

 

 

 

 

Newest Contest Entry

Newest Contest Entry

I am home sick and have to sit upright because of congestion, so I write. I would rather do this than watch television while I cough and try and heal.

I am offering up a copy of my latest entry to Pipeline Script contest. The deadline was today so I just made it in. I encourage everyone who wants to take a chance on writing to enter contests. Some will offer feedback that will help you revise and improve your efforts on other projects if you can take constructive criticism. I include this email I got after entry to show others a little about what to expect, and offer the name so you can investigate the contests offered throughout the year.

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Hello,

Thanks for entering the 2016 Book Pipeline Competition, presented by Script Pipeline.

If you uploaded your entry online, including the synopsis of your story, your submission is complete. You will receive an emailed receipt of the order as well.

If you did not upload your entry, please send direct to entry@bookpipeline.com any time between now and our final deadline of December 1st. Should you plan on submitting later, kindly email our coordinator so we can make a note of such in our records.

*all entries must include a brief synopsis of the story. No length requirements, but 1-2 pages is typical. This can be sent at any time, and we’ll add to your submission.

Accepted entries include:

• Novels
• Non-fiction
• Plays
• Graphic Novels and comics
• Book proposals or pitches (fiction or non-fiction)
• Short stories
The final deadline is December 1st, 2016. Semifinalists are posted to the site in March 2017. Winner and finalists are selected by the beginning of April, however we’ll send out updates should those final announcement dates change.

Every entrant will receive brief, general feedback on their submission, specifically on the material’s adaptation potential, once results have been announced. Comments are sent direct via email after final judging is completed in April 2017.

For those who do not place in the competition, a notification is sent, but please check the site for results in case you miss the email.

In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to reviewing your work.

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Script Pipeline Admission                          Sherry G. Traylor

12/1/2016

Description of Work and Characters

Unhinged is a young adult novel written about 12-year-old Vernelle Friendly Walker, her two younger sisters, Roz and Gigi, and their mother Esther. Vernelle is convinced her mother is crazy because she constantly talks of being a dancer when she can’t walk in a circle without falling down.

     Vernelle describes their existence as gypsies because her single mom seldom stays in one place more than six months. Nell and her sisters have visited most of the 50 states by viewing them from the back seat of an old Dodge Dart named Barabbas.

     Vernelle has dreams of living in a real home where she doesn’t have to be her sister’s babysitter any more. She narrates their story from her diary where she describes her life experiences with a dark sarcastic wit. Her normal abnormal life is about to change as her mother has decided to pursuit her dreams of being an entertainer without her daughters. Vernelle is about to find herself in a permanent home that may be too stable and requiring a little too much discipline. Vernelle discovers secrets about her mother that changes her understanding of who she is and what her future holds.

     This story would transfer easily into a television pilot, Netflix movie or mini-series, or a motion picture. It would fit the genre of a family comedy with the voice of the main character holding the narrative of this story somewhat compared to Laura Ingalls leading in each episode if she had an extraordinarily dysfunctional mother, an unstable life, and was a girl with a sarcastic wit. The subject of homelessness, single motherhood, and transient families make this story common to a large audience in America today.

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Unhinged

By S.G. Traylor

Copyright © 2016 by Sherry G. Traylor

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written per-mission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

Birmingham / Sherry G. Traylor — First Edition

ISBN 978-0-0000000-0-0

Printed in the United States of America

 

For all those of us who never really grew up and for those who do a good job pretending you did.

 

Chapter 1: Gypsies

I have no doubt that my mother is nuts. What woman other than one with loose screws would name their first baby Vernelle Friendly Walker?

She even named our old Dodge Dart Barabbas and told us he was always dirty to hide his scars, whatever that means. She was given the name Esther Graceful Walker and was born in Cedar Vale, Kansas to a German Baptist preacher. She was on her own at fifteen when she got pregnant with me and ran away from home. She had no choice, as her father was so embarrassed by her that he made it impossible to stay. Now I am twelve and I can’t imagine ever being pregnant, much less knowing my dad.

I am sitting on a creaking bed in another shabby low-price motel staring down at a yellow-brown stained carpet while mom works as a waitress at a no-name cafe.

I am not alone in my mom’s gypsy world as my sisters also have weird names. My sister who is ten is Rosalyn Bountiful Tobin. Georgiana Kitty Johns is my seven-year-old sister’s name. They suffer just like I do with names that require nicknames so we aren’t laughed at. I go by Nel, then Roz and Gigi. I call my mom Esther, because I am sure that she can’t be my mother because she is too weird.

When other girls dream, they are being chased by monsters, lost in the woods, or are crowned a queen. In my dreams, I have my own room and bed, an address, and a mother who cooks and cleans and does not need looking after. This week we are at The Country Inn near Lake Charles, Louisiana. The town name is Davenport, and we are staying in one of the motel rooms free as mom works at their cafe nights and cleans rooms on the weekend.

I write in my journal every night just as I am now in case I ever need proof of my mom’s insanity or if they find us dead from boredom in a seedy hotel room. I am convinced that something in Esther’s childhood unhinged her. She cannot be trusted with children–well just consider our names. She calls me Nellie, which I hate! I always correct her and she still does it. That is partly why I call her Esther. She doesn’t like that either.

She has blond hair and blue eyes like Gigi, with a decent shape for a mom. Roz has curly hair and has pretty skin like Esther. Mom dresses in very tight clothes for her jobs. She says it is to get tips, but she brings home new boyfriends she meets at her jobs too. She has a long row of boy-men with scruffy faces and work boots; the kind of guys that don’t last any longer than our addresses. On those weekends she gets good tips, we have a great week to follow. We have our rent paid, eat good, and sometimes we go shopping for clothes or necessaries.

I don’t look good in the same clothes as the girls and mom. I am boy-skinny, tall, and have dark skin, eyes and hair. I look like I’m adopted. Esther says I look like my father. Whatever. I don’t know him and never saw a picture. My hair is dark brown, curly, and if I don’t brush it, it gets stringy looking. So most times I just keep it in a ponytail. I am kinda a tomboy in looks but boys don’t like to read or write like I do. I would rather be alone, sitting in a tree, or just writing in my journal than doing anything else.

By my age I should be in sixth grade or maybe fifth. I don’t know cause I have been in three schools this year. I spent about a month not in school because we weren’t in that town long enough for me to enroll. I am good in reading, writing, and in biology (because I like to dissect things) but nothing else.

Esther kind of thinks school is a waste of time for girls. She didn’t finish high school and she says that she gets on fine. But seeing how we don’t have a house, own anything of any value, or even have a cell phone, television, or clock between us…I think an education might be a step up. I try to get to school if Esther forgets to enroll us. I have walked the girls and myself for miles to get to a school so we can learn something. Most people are helpful to kids, but a couple cops tried to arrest me as a runaway before. Then I tell them where my mom works and some of my story and they feel sorry for me and let me go.

I spend a lot of time at libraries. Since I have to babysit the girls while Esther works, I walk them to a library if we are close enough. That way we at least learn something.

Chapter 2: Davenport

It’s only our second day in Davenport and my second day writing in this journal. It is only a one-subject notebook I found for a quarter at Goodwill, but it will do. My pens are always hotel pens. I have a stack of them from all kinds of motels. Some of the hotel pens have very little ink and don’t last very long. Best Western has the best pens, so I always keep those when we leave.

Mom worked her first day in the kitchen last night right after we got here. She had to clean the grease trap and mop the floors in the diner. She didn’t get in until about 1 am and woke me up when she jumped onto the bed smelling of grease. I am up early since I got shoved out of our two double beds by Esther’s snoring and the girls kicking and rolling like tornadoes in bed. So I am on the stuffed chair with my legs dangling over an arm and a pillow behind my head writing about our lives.

I nearly fell off the chair when the phone rang. It was Ms. Neffler, the owner’s wife asking for Esther. I asked if I could give her a message. She told me that room 12 in the motel needed cleaned, sheets changed, and all the cleaning stuff was in the room. She said to leave the dirty sheets and towels in the bathroom floor and she would pick them up at noon and do them. There would be $20 in the room in an envelope for us after the work was done.

I tried to wake Esther but she was passed out. Instead, I saw Roz was awake and asked her if she wanted to go with me to do something. She agreed, dressed quietly, and we snuck out of the room.

Roz complained that she was hungry, so I pulled a lint-covered dollar from my pants pocket that had been there for a while. My emergency dollar was from errands I did at the last hotel we were at. I took out the trash in the lobby for a week to get two dollars. I used one of those to buy SpongeBob toothpaste at the Dollar Store for the girls.

We went into the diner and a pretty waitress with a name tag “Lou” asked us what we wanted.

“Do you have any day old donuts you can sell us cheap?” I put the dollar on the counter and she smiled.

“I think we can manage something.” She came back with a plate of two big chocolate donuts and two glasses of milk.

I thought Roz was going to choke she ate so fast.

“Slow down Roz, you may have to wait til supper to eat again!” I scolded her.

The waitress looked sad at us and she disappeared into the kitchen. She came back to the counter with a white lunch sack and handed it to me.

“My treat. Make sure you share with the others.” She had already heard about us from my mom I was guessing. Esther had a way of making everyone think we were so bad off that we were starving to death. Although we had very little stuff, we never really went a day without something to eat. To me, that wasn’t bad compared with kids in Africa.

“Thanks!” I smiled as we finished our milk and hopped off the bar stools to head to room 12.

“What are we doing Nel?” Roz asked.

“We are going to clean a room for mom.” I said.

“Oh. Is she coming?” Roz asked.

“No Roz, it’s a surprise. We are going to let her sleep and then after we clean the room, we will give her and Gigi these donuts.” I said as we walked.

“Oh!” She seemed a little disappointed.

As we got to room 12 of the long row of rooms, the old blue drapes were drawn back and the door was cracked open. The number 12 was hand painted black on the green door. The paint on the motel and on the doors was cracked and peeling. The roof sagged a little but at least our room didn’t have this noisy of an air conditioner. It rattled like it would get up and walk away any minute. The room smelled dank and smoky.

“Okay Roz, you grab this vacuum and start running it over all the floor. I will go to the bathroom and clean it.” I said.

There was a small box with cleaning spray and rags, a new roll of toilet paper, a duster and dusting spray, and a stack of clean sheets next to the box on the chair. I took the box into the bathroom that was surprisingly clean already. There was one wet towel on the floor. I threw the towel out of the bathroom onto the floor and began spraying everything down before grabbing the rag. Then I left my shoes outside the bathroom and climbed into the bathtub in my bare feet. I scrubbed the walls and the tub good. The sink was barely dirty and quick to clean. After I rinsed everything with water, I used a new rag and with the spray I cleaned the floor on my hands and knees like I saw Esther do a bunch of times. This erased my dirty feet marks I had left on the tile as I worked my way backwards out the door. I stood and looked at my work and started sneezing from the spray.

Roz had finished the vacuuming and was pulling on the covers to get them off. I folded the comforter and put it on the chair with the pillow. I helped and in minutes we were done. Putting the sheets on was easy but the pillows were a little too big for the cases. We beat them into the pillowcases and covered them up with the blanket. We managed to get done in only 30 minutes according to the digital motel clock on the table. I took the envelope with Esther’s name on it and pulled out the twenty-dollar bill.

“Wow! Cool.” Roz was excited even though I knew the money would go for food.

“Let’s get the donuts back to the room.” I said. It had been an hour since we left.

As we got near room 24 at the end of the property, I heard Esther cursing. I opened the door and she was pacing around the room and Gigi was on the floor playing with her dolls. “Where have you been?” Esther stood with her hands on her hips.

“Mama we cleaned a room and got 20 bucks!” Roz waived the envelope in her face and she grabbed it away from her.

“Oh did you?” Esther seemed a little less angry.

“Here’s breakfast.” I handed her the bag, walked past her and went into the bathroom to soak in the tub. It only took Esther a few minutes to knock on the door.

“Nellie honey, thanks for doing that but always let me know when you are leaving, okay?” She said.

“I tried but you were passed out and Ms. Neffler wanted it done right away.” I said.

“Well…leave me a note then.” She said.

Day two ended with her working all evening again and me babysitting…again.

Chapter 3: My Family

Esther was the only child of Tom and Eve Walker who lived in Cedar Vale, Kansas. Apparently, they lived outside of Wichita somewhere. Esther only said not so nice things about her father and little about her mom. She only mentioned her father when she was mad and yelling at me about something. It always ended with “if my father were here he would…”

I wonder as I sit here on a stool outside room 24, what the weather was like in Kansas. I am up early again, waiting on the others to get it together. It is Saturday and we are supposed to go to town to get stuff today. Lou at the diner said it is hot for late May. I went there a little bit ago for cold milk. It only cost me 25 cents for the glass that I drank down quick. I know that Lou just paid for it herself but I still gave her the quarter. I found the quarter when I was cleaning the room yesterday and stuck it in my pocket. I heard the “brothers keeper” sermon from my mom last night when she got home because the girls were still in their clothes. Whenever she was mad, she preached much like I imagine her dad did to her growing up.

Neither one of the girls wanted to take a bath and had no clean clothes so I guess that was my fault. She said we would get the clothes washed up today at the 50 cent Laundromat in town. It was an excuse to go to town for her cause I would be the one doing laundry. Esther was bad at laundry. The clothes were never clean, smelled sour, or not dry enough when she did them. She left a load of clothes in a washer once and decided not to go back after them because she was tired. I couldn’t believe it.

She gave me the thirty dollars she made the last few days to hold for her because she knew she would spend it. She still had the twenty I gave her for room cleaning though. I hoped it would go for meals today and tomorrow and not for junk. By the time the girls and her were ready it was nearly eleven in the morning. What a waste of day!

I bet my grandparents had been up for hours in Kansas by now. Mom said they had animals and several acres of land with cows when she was a kid. She said they were a few miles outside of the main town that had a gas station, a general store, a post office and a barbershop. She hadn’t been back there for years, or at least since I was a baby. They never saw Roz or Gigi. I wondered if they wanted to see us.

We all piled in Barabbas and headed to town. Davenport was a joke really. It was a little more than a dirt street with five or six buildings. There were about ten people wondering around and going in and out of places. We went into a five and dime store. Before we left the motel mom made us put on our dirty clothes and smudge our faces. She often did that before we went into a store. She told us not to look too happy and not to ask her for anything.

By the time we left that general store, we had free ice cream cones, a stick of hard candy, a toy whistle for Gigi and Roz got a new pencil for her sketches. Esther was never ashamed of taking free things cause she said it made others feel good to give us stuff we otherwise couldn’t afford to get. I knew it was just what she learned to do to survive when she was fifteen and on her own.

Next we went to the laundry where we washed all of our laundry up. Well, I did it while Esther and the girls played hand games. Gigi went around gathering up lint from the dryers and said she was going to make it into string and weave it into a warm blanket or a hat. She was a typical seven year old, making up stories. When the first load was dry, we all went into the bathroom and changed into the clean clothes and then washed the clothes we had on that stunk. It took two hours to get it all done and I was pooped.

We were back at the motel by supper with a bag of clearance foods free from the grocery store manager and a six-pack of pop that we usually didn’t get. Our little frig in the motel could only hold the sandwiches and one can of pop so the other cans stayed on the top of the frig. I put away our clothes in the cheap broken dresser where our of black trash bag luggage is also stored.

When it was time for Esther to leave for work, I was again assigned to babysit with instructions for the girls to get good bathes and fresh underwear we had just washed up that day. Day three of same old same old.

Chapter 4: Summer Travels

     After Esther had a few rotten tip days and got tired of the boredom of the “po-dunk” town, we were on the road again north. Roz is getting on my nerves lately. She has started whining continuously about every little thing.   She hates riding, she hates our snacks, she hates our car, she hates her clothes, and she hates the noise our car makes when we stop. Then she dramas up her complaints with, “I want to die.”

     So today, after being in the car listening to this for hours I said, “Roz, I swear if you don’t shut up, I am going to grant that wish!”

     She was quiet the next four hours but refused to look at me. No big deal. Gigi and I played I spy and the license plate game for the next few hours.

     Esther says our car has character because it was first thing she ever bought herself. She bought it before she even got a license to drive. She said she only paid $200 for it and worked for that cleaning out a poop filled barn for a farmer. It was parked outside the farm for sale and she knocked on his door to buy it without a penny in her pocket. She was only 15 years old. She said she slept in that poop smelly barn for a week and the lady living there gave her two meals a day while she stayed. Her parents were used to her disappearing for days so they didn’t look for her. She drove the car away 8 days later on gas she has siphoned from their tractor.

     The Dodge Dart has dull vinyl brown seats, rips and cracks in the seams, and a roof liner that sags. The outside is covered in dents from hail, and has a scratch down one side from the front to the back. It made squeaks like a mouse as the engine ran and when we slow down it squeals like a cat screaming.

     Roz told Esther once that our car is broken and we need a new one. Esther said that just because our friends get old and ugly, we don’t get rid of them.

     We were on our way to Tennessee for a new job that Esther heard about at the diner. It was a new dinner theatre opening.

     Esther thinks she was meant to be a dancer. She was always dancing around the rooms we stayed in, jumping and kicking her legs high. I think she’s nuts. If she ever becomes a real dancer I will be a lion tamer.

Chapter 5: Parents

This is such a long boring trip that I have been writing in my journal for an hour. Gigi is sleeping so I have to do something quiet. Gigi was the only kid of us who knew her dad. We were in Washington State eight years ago when Roz was two and I was four. That’s when Esther met George, a cook in a seafood shack. She waitressed there. (I don’t know if that is a word by I like it.) If Esther flirted with the manager, we skipped a month of rent since we lived upstairs in the attic turned apartment. We smelled like fish all the time.

When George Johns asked Esther out on a date, I remember him as a pretty normal person. Roz was around two then and we got stuck with the owner’s mother to watch us when Esther and George went on a date. Beatrice smelled like men’s cologne and menthol like you smell in muscle creams, all the time. She had missing teeth and a wig that would hang off crooked most of the time. She gave us chocolate and set us in front of the television until mom came home. I guess with me, I always remember smells first because each place we go has such loud smells.

Esther liked George a lot. He was older, had grey hair and a big belly from tasting his food. He was nice to us and even asked Esther to marry him when she got pregnant. I think that’s why we left. They broke up several times and we stayed in motels but they made up and we would go back to his apartment. We lived with George until Gigi was two. George wanted to get married. Esther didn’t want to marry any man she said. She said they would try and boss her and she had enough of that from her dad growing up. We packed up and left one morning after George went down to open the restaurant. Mom threw all our stuff in black trash bags and we loaded up our car and were out of there in less than an hour.

It was on that trip; from Washington to I don’t know where, that Roz had a serious accident. We were driving along and Roz was jumping around the car like usual. She never would sit still in the car and was so flexible that no belt could hold her down. A truck pulled out in front of us and Esther swerved the car into a ditch. Roz was thrown into the front seat from the back and hit her head on the dash. She had a bloody nose and was knocked out.

She had a headache for days. We didn’t have any money or insurance to go to the hospital, so we stayed at a motel and put ice on her head and neck and gave her Aspirin. She slept a lot. When she felt better, she had a lisp and sometimes messed up her words in sentences.

Ever since then Roz draws a lot and is quieter since she has a funny lisp when she talks. She won’t talk at all to strangers.

Esther says that Roz got the devil knocked out of her by God for not minding, but then my mom is the one who can’t follow rules. As I write this she is chattering about being a dancer in this show in Tennessee. She doesn’t even know if she has a job yet and she thinks she is going to be famous. I just roll my eyes and ignore her.

She has two left feet and falls down walking across the room. Even when she dances in the room to music she is clumsy. She spills stuff on people when she brings them food, and once she dumped a piece of blueberry pie on a man in a suit. She acted like it was his fault.

“After all, who wears a white shirt and orders blueberry pie?” She said.

Another look into the mind of my mother Esther Graceful Walker. She really doesn’t have a clue and here we sit inside a car ready for the junk heap driven by a woman with no license, no insurance, no money, and no grasp on reality.

“Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke.” -Lynda Barry

Relationships are work. Love is work. Sometimes it blows up in your face! Dating is gambling. You are gambling when you give your love away to every guy you date. I made that mistake for years. I thought if I emptied all I had to give on every man I dated maybe he would recognize the wonder of me and we would be perfect. What cinderella world had I been raised in?

I can’t believe that in this advanced age of exposure on media that young women still have a silly dream of a man she can change, and a young man who thinks she won’t change. Going in with no expectations at all other than friendship and getting to know the person should be the only plan of dating. If you begin developing feelings, talk about it. If he is in it for sex, and nothing more, the talk of feelings will speed him on his way and clear your path to a better man. Women still confuse love with sex, and men still do not.

Shred that list of what you want in a man ladies because it is ridiculous. A man is not a grocery store. Nobody is perfect! It took me ten years of blind dating and two divorces to wake up to the fact that love is what should come after. After friendship, after respect, after you have developed some trust and really know a person for a while. After he has seen you without makeup and crying over a sad movie. After he has seen you throw a tantrum in public. After he has seen how you drive, can’t parallel park, and order your food in drive-thru –in an annoying way. After you have called him at 2 am to come over and kill a wasp in your house and he does it. After you have met his friends, he has met yours, and you survive the teasing. After he has attended a family function with you and he calls you the next day anyway. After you have experienced holidays together and apart and still he calls. After you send him to the store with a feminine product on the list and he gets it. After the first time you vacation together after a long drive and little sleep. These are the things that test the honeymoon type of love in a new relationship. Lists don’t prevent love disasters or guarantee a perfect partner.

Women don’t really seem to feel they have value unless they have a man. It seems some credit all they are and who they should be to that man.  I have heard women say, “If I don’t give in and have sex with him by the third date, he won’t ask me out again.” Okay, then take yourself out. He is looking for a woman to conquer, not to keep.  There is no timeline on sex and love. If he puts a time line on it, remove the watch. You are way more valuable than the man who measures your love by the sexcapades you offer.

Sometimes love is just what you fill holes with in your life. There is not enough love to fill most holes in your life. This discussion brings to mind the following poem by Margaret Atwood.

‘Love’
“This is a word we use to plug holes with.
It’s the right size for those warm blanks in speech,
for those red heart- shaped vacancies on the page
that look nothing like real hearts.
Add lace and you can sell it.
We insert it also in the one empty space on the printed form
that comes with no instructions.
There are whole magazines with noth much in them but the word love,
you can rub it all over your body and you can cook with it too…

When we have a crappy job, or little self respect, love can fill that life hole for a while. When the love drifts away, we feel empty. The secret is to patch the holes in your life before you create a relationship that may or may not work.  Relationships don’t fix other complications of your life, it adds to them.

How do I do that? You find your way through like every other human being, with the help of other human beings. People in your family, friends, religion, meditation, or giving to others to climb out of your inner space. It takes energy and effort to fight off the demons of loneliness. I learned I sure as heck couldn’t fight those demons by sitting in my room with a television and a bag of chips. That only adds to the loneliness and depression. Taking advantage of those close friends and family by talking, living, and being, can help. I leaned on God heavily in my darkest times. When I felt unloved and negative about my life, I leaned on God, read the bible, and listened in church. Slowly, eventually, it sank in that I was already good with God. I didn’t need a man to be loved or accepted. I had God, I had family, I had the ability to rise above self-made circumstances and climb out of my head to help others. Actively seeking a passion outside of sex and love was fulfilling to me and helped me to patch the holes in my life.

After patching those holes, I drew new people into my life that supported my goals and did not require my surrender of all that I am in order to be loved. I found love, real love…after.