Friday, October 9, 2015

Our Wedding Story

Nearly five years ago I met a man who would change my life. Of course, I didn’t really know to what extent at the time. For a while, I thought God put him in my life to get me writing again, but I fell in love with him too. I fell in deep, relentless, all-consuming love with him, as a matter of fact. And there were so many obstacles in the way of us being together, I thought I was destined to live with a broken heart.
But then things very slowly changed. We began trudging our way up a very high mountain, which is why it was apropos that he proposed to me last fall at the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado. We began planning an October 3, 2015, wedding.
When you choose a wedding date and subsequently begin to plan said wedding, you create a distinct vision for the event. Oh, it was mapped out so very clearly in my mind: an arbor trailing with fall leaves at the edge of our woods, an aisle delineated by shepherd’s hooks scalloped with romantic tulle and hanging jars of wildflowers. The other side of the backyard would be dotted with round tables draped with ivory cloth and topped by paisley-stamped burlap squares, anchored by centerpieces of wildflowers in glass jars, candles, tiny pumpkins, pinecones and a stack of books. A dance floor would twinkle with lights as stars began to emerge in the darkening skies, and a paisley-piped triple-tiered wedding cake decorated with our monogram would provide a sweet ending for our night.
I’m a writer and librarian, and I love musical theatre; hence, I planned a “story” theme. Our programs looked like Broadway Playbills. Our tables were named for couples from our favorite stories. The hand-lettered chalkboard sign on the way out would read “And they lived happily ever after.”
But about six weeks out from the wedding, that “happily ever after” looked farther and farther away.
First, I suffered a freak accident getting a pedicure. When I climbed into the chair, I slammed my foot into the plastic faucet of the soaking basin. I cut a chunk from my right foot which later required antibiotics to treat. For several weeks, I was unsure if I’d be able to wear shoes on the Big Day! The doctor even threatened me with hospitalization if the antibiotics didn’t work. While I was recovering from that, I had an unfortunate encounter with a poisonous millipede which left chemical burns on my left foot. I’m not even making this up; I promise! In the coming weeks I also dropped a heavy gun belt on my foot and a metal keyboard tray fell on my foot too. It was looking like someone didn’t want me to walk down the aisle!
But that’s not all that went wrong.
First one bridesmaid canceled due to her husband’s medical issues. I was sad, but my motto was “The Show Must Go On!” A week after that, another bridesmaid, traveling internationally, told me she was unable to commit. So I was scrambling around figuring out how we would rearrange the bridal party. No big deal. I wasn’t going to be Bridezilla. I had it all under control. Or so I thought.
Then the bartender announced he was backing out. At that point, I thought I was going to lose it, but friends helped me find a replacement. Things were looking up for a brief, shining moment.
Very brief. Because then my fiancé hurt his shoulder playing rugby. For a while, we were afraid he was going to need surgery, but after consultation with an orthopedist, he learned he simply needed to avoid using his arm for several weeks. This was another crushing blow to our wedding agenda. He had a week vacation from work during which he was supposed to be finishing last minute projects around the house. Thank goodness for a friend who helped us finish tiling and pull the downstairs bathroom together just in time.
Two weeks before the wedding, my fiancé had a meltdown. He wasn’t sure if he could go through with it. Even though we’d lived together for two years, the financial ramifications of the union were – for lack of a better term – freaking him out. He had a terrible case of cold feet, which was sort of ironic considering my earlier foot issues (cases of hot feet?) But we sat down and discussed his fears and together we figured everything out. So I was still down two bridesmaids, but my feet were healed and I had a new bartender and an on board groom. What could go wrong now?
A week out from the wedding, the weather forecast looked okay: partly cloudy and 67 degrees. Not bad, I thought. I’ll take it. But in the coming days things began to look bleak. Devastatingly bleak.
We soon discovered that Hurricane Joaquin was heading right for us, and the Tuesday and Wednesday before the Big Day became two of the worst days of my life. The place at which we had reserved tents refused to put them up in bad weather (which, duh, was why I had reserved them in the first place.) We called around all over Delmarva and no one had a tent to spare. At that point I wondered how in the world we were going to pull this off, but then we found two tents for a reasonable price online and paid extra for two day shipping.
But the forecast worsened.
My fiancé said that he wasn’t getting married if his family from New York didn’t feel comfortable braving the storm to drive down. One by one he called his sisters and his two out-of-town groomsmen to ask what they’d like to do. The latter decided to stay home, as did another of my bridesmaids. I spent two hours biting off what was left of my nails as I waited to learn if I’d be getting married or if the fourteen pounds of frozen meatless meatballs in my fridge were going to be staying there for a long while.
We did consider rescheduling. They were predicting 5-8 inches of rain between Wednesday and Saturday with wind gusts up to 50-60 mph as a nor’easter pounded the coastline in advance of the hurricane. But trying to get 80 people together in one place with only a few weeks’ notice is no easy task. Not to mention we had a marriage license only good for another week, a crap ton of food and drink, rental items already paid for, and I had told everyone I knew I was getting married. The thought of not getting married on October 3rd was soul-crushing.
Finally my fiancé got off the phone and announced he had found a solution. Most of his family was not willing to make the trip. However, his parents agreed to come down no matter what, which was good enough for him. And all of the sudden, the wedding was on!
Because of the uncertainty and the rain, I wasn’t able to do a lot of set-up in advance. Much of the festivities needed to be moved indoors, so we were trying to figure out where to put 40-50 people (down from our original guest list of 80) in our 2500 square feet house. We decided to do the ceremony outside with umbrellas and erect one tent for the bar and at least two tables. Everything else would go inside. I scrapped my extensive seating plan (which had changed approximately 100 times in the prior weeks) as well as half of my décor. I still had my (now terribly wrong) Playbill programs and the cute wedding games (Mad Libs anyone?) I’d created along with the plantable seed-paper bookmarks we used as favors. I was committed to making this work.
The day of the wedding was just plain crazy. I ran all over the county gathering last minute things and my friends and fiancé tirelessly cleaned, set up, got food ready, put up the tent and secured it against the ferocious wind. Amidst all that chaos, we had to call a tow truck to pull his parents’ car out of the mud in our front yard. We also had to wait to hear from our photographer who had missed the rehearsal due to flooding in his neighborhood. A few hours before showtime, he assured me he could get out at low tide.
We were running out of time so I threw on my makeup, didn’t bother to fix my hair, and got into my dress without any assistance. My ladies were running around trying to get themselves together so there was not a bit of relaxation! I wore rain boots under my dress – my something borrowed.
Next thing I knew, my youngest son and my last-minute flower girl (appointed the night before at the rehearsal based on the fact she owned a purple dress) were heading into the backyard. My older sons flanked me, ready to escort me into the angry, swirling wind. As soon as we arrived at the leaf-covered arbor where my betrothed waited, there was a sudden downburst of wind and rain as if to punctuate the commencement of our vows.
The ceremony was beautiful despite the wind, rain, and shivering, umbrella-canopied guests. Even in my sleeveless gown, I felt warm and glowing the entire time, with a smile perpetually tugging my lips upward. The words my dear friend Phather Phil wrote were breathtaking, and I was completely in the moment as I looked into my beloved’s eyes and promised to be his “till death do us part.”
Twenty minutes later, we had said our “I do’s” and kissed. We headed down the aisle, a newly minted Mr. and Mrs., to the Star Wars Theme, crossing underneath a light saber arch. We had made it! Despite all the odds we faced from injured shoulders, to canceling bridesmaids and bartenders, to millipede burns, to tents threatening to blow away, we emerged victorious. And wed.
It was not the wedding I envisioned, not by a long shot. But as I told the minister at the rehearsal: “If we end up married by the end of the night, it’s a success.” It was not the beautiful, sun-kissed early fall wedding with dancing under the emerging stars I had dreamed of; it was blowing and muddy – tow trucks and begging neighbors to use their driveways were involved. We didn’t have the 80 guests I’d planned for surrounding us, but we had 30-something loved ones who proved they would be there for us no matter what.
In the end, it was not at all what I’d imagined or planned, but it was so US. We have overcome so many struggles in our relationship, and the events leading up to our “I Do’s” were just a few more to overcome. We’ve always climbed every mountain that stood in our path. I can’t help but believe our wedding day was just exactly as it should be. It was completely ours, and it was perfect. And now we are finally living our happily ever after, secure in the knowledge we can not only climb any mountain but we can also weather any storm.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Reflections on New Kids

I've been trying to get my thoughts together in a coherent fashion ever since I sat in the Grandstand at the Delaware State Fair on Sunday night with three of my girlfriends. I was offered free tickets by my friend Dawn, who instant messaged me last week and asked "Did you like New Kids on the Block back in the day?"

I'm five or six years younger than Dawn and the other two girlfriends who accompanied us, so I was the one "ripe" for New Kids at the tender age of fourteen when I attended my first concert at the Indiana State Fair. The headliner was Tiffany, but it's safe to say that the boy band from Boston stole the show. I went on to see them two more times: once the following summer when they returned to the Indiana State Fair, this time with Tiffany as their opening act, then again at Market Square Arena in downtown Indy. I believe it was January 1990. I even have the photo evidence:

I'm in the back row, second from the left, and I'm quite certain my hair has never been more voluminous.


As I sat there on Sunday, I had so many thoughts I could barely enjoy the show. Which, was, I'll be honest just okay. It was obvious they were actually singing, at least the lead vocals, and there was some straining involved at times. But they were definitely still entertaining, and I applaud them for getting out there and still calling themselves "New Kids" when they are all around 45. That takes some balls. Seriously.

I was thinking about the fact that my father escorted my girlfriends and me to the three concerts back in the day. What a good sport! It might truly be the most selfless thing my father ever did for me. We don't talk anymore. It's been about a year since I've heard anything from him, and that was after he sent me an email telling me he vowed to do better at communicating with me. Oh well. I can look back on those 2 years of him attending concerts with me and my girlfriends and really feel appreciative. I hope I thanked him enough back in the day.

Secondly, since I have sons the same age that the New Kids were "back in the day," I tried to imagine what my life would be like if I were the mother of pop stars. At least three of the New Kids came from huge families. I mean the Wahlbergs had like a dozen kids or something. I really can't imagine what it would have been like for their parents or even for the teens themselves to grow up with that kind of life. The fact that they all seem like relatively well-adjusted adults now is pretty awesome, honestly.

And thirdly...probably most importantly, I thought about the innocence I lost between the first time I saw them and the second. At the time of the first concert, I was entering 9th grade, a pudgy nerd who hadn't really had a boyfriend. By the second concert, I was at the height of my eating disorder. I'd shed forty pounds and I'd lost my virginity — against my will — but nevertheless. But even then I didn't really understand "boys" or my sexuality. I was all swoony over these semi-fictional characters on a stage, and I didn't get that they were really the same as all the other young men in my life. Now they're grown up and have wives and kids of their own. They were mere mortals after all, who knew?

They say, and I've said so many times, that "you can never go home," but Sunday night was a strange opportunity to sit in the seat my fourteen-year-old self had once occupied. I was able to channel some of the exact thoughts I had twenty-seven years ago and to recognize how naive and childlike I still was at fourteen. From my vantage twenty-seven years ago, I would have never imagined that I'd grow up to get a masters in library science, to have three sons, to get married, divorced and remarried, move to the East Coast, or that I'd become a famous author.

Okay, so I'm still waiting for that last one to happen.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Coming Out

I'm officially coming out.

Yes, I've been in the closet for most of my life. It's a big dark closet, and there's a wide range of clothing sizes hung in it. It's the Fat Closet.

I was thinking the other day about what a huge step it is for me to be able to write about my personal experiences with being fat and having an eating disorder, to even admit I've suffered from an eating disorder. But it was an even *bigger* step to boldly call my book FAT GIRL.

What's the big deal, you ask?

Well, I've spent most of my life, since about age eight, trying to disguise, downplay and hide the fact that I'm fat. It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Because, naturally, you only have so much power over how your body is perceived by others. And there's only so much you can do to conceal your blubber. It's not like you can wear a "skinny suit."

But I was in denial.

Maybe if I just didn't draw attention to myself by eating in front of people, they wouldn't know I was fat? I literally starved myself for hundreds, maybe thousands, of meals between the ages of 12 and hell, probably as late as 2014, all because I didn't want people to think I was fat because I ate a lot.

I didn't really do the whole "baggy clothes to hide my fat" kind of thing but I did, have, and still spend way too much money in my endless pursuit of fashion that will accentuate the positive and de-emphasize the negative. Like "Maybe if I just wear the perfect outfit people won't notice that I weigh over 200 pounds?"

And finally, there were years I didn't talk about it. I didn't talk about my weight, dieting, what I ate, how much I worked out (which was often excessively) because all I wanted to do was appear normal, average, medium. When I was at the height of my eating disorder, I wasn't striving to be some size 2 model-thin waif, because I know these thick thighs and big butt will never go there. I just wanted to be normal. I just wanted to not be fat.

It's like being fat was the worst fate I could imagine.

But the older I get, the more I realize that, although my weight may still be above average or more than recommended for my height, I am normal. In fact, I have been normal this whole time, at every weight I've been. I am not, and have never been, some freak with a body to be ashamed of. At every point in that range, from 135 pounds to 275 pounds, I've been a remarkably smart, compassionate, and yes, even beautiful woman.

More important is the other thing I've discovered: the demons I've fended off for most of my life are pervasive and ubiquitous. Though my story is deeply personal, the threads of it are woven through the stories of millions of other people. There's not been one person - man or woman - I have spoken with about my book who couldn't identify with Claire's -- and by extension -- my struggles.

Knowing how heavily the book draws from my own life, several people have asked me to separate out truth from fiction. Claire's family situation and her ex-husband are rather different than mine, but her experiences with weight, dieting, bullying, and fat shaming? Yeah, all of that is me. Those painful memories? Those happened. And I'm still coming to terms with them.

The biggest difference between Claire and myself? She's a hell of a lot funnier than me.

See for yourself:

It feels good to finally be out in the light.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Reader's Guide to Fat Girl

My next novel, Fat Girl, will be live on Amazon in both print and digital formats on 4.15.15. I thought I'd share a few thoughts with readers so you have some context, background, and general expectations for the book.

1. Fat Girl is full of humor. The main character, Claire Sterling, is sarcastic and cynical. Don't take her too seriously and don't be afraid to laugh!

2. Some of Fat Girl is emotional, especially when Claire shares hurtful experiences she had growing up, both with her peers and her mother. Nearly all of those memories are based on things that actually happened to me. This is the first time I've ever shared many of these stories.

3. Claire is getting a divorce and venturing out into the dating world. She shares several messages and conversations from an online dating site. The interactions in the book are nearly all actual real-life correspondence received by either me or friends, complete with horrific spelling and grammar!

4. While not technically a romance, there is a strong romantic element to the book. I'm not characterizing it as a romance because I think the purpose of the book is much broader.

5. Like Claire, I have struggled with disordered eating for most of my life. I don't think it's something from which one ever fully recovers, but writing this book has done a great deal to help me heal and form new patterns of thought and behavior.

If you'd like to pre-order a Fat Girl e-book, you may here:

Friday, February 6, 2015

Claire Sterling on Labels - an excerpt from Fat Girl

Claire writes a newspaper column. Here is one of them:

The Reinvention by Claire Sterling
I would like to take a moment to discuss with you my feelings about Fat Labels. I have pretty strong feelings about this topic having spent so much of my life as a card-carrying member of the Fat Alliance. Of course, there’s no such thing, but there really should be. Can you imagine how much we could accomplish if we all stuck together? It’s called inertia, people. Once we got all that mass moving, how could we possibly be stopped?

How many of you use the term BBW to describe yourself? Or maybe you prefer the terms “voluptuous,” "plus-size," “curvy,” “thick” or “fluffy.” I’m here to tell you this: YOU ARE FAT. Those other terms are just euphemisms. Yet they’re not really flattering when you think about it. And they’re certainly not descriptive. A good label actually tells a person what to expect, and none of those truly fit the bill. I’m going to take a moment to outline the problems with these labels:

BBW: For those of you who have been living under a rock (or maybe at the gym), this one means Big Beautiful Woman. I hate to break it to the ladies who use this term, but you’re not all beautiful. As a matter of fact, some of y’all are downright ugly. That second B doesn’t just magically happen because of the first one, or even in spite of it. And conversely, being thin doesn’t make someone beautiful either. There are loads of ugly skinny chicks out there. Just as beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, so does ugly.

Plus-Size: What the fashion industry really means by “plus-size” is “less.” Not “less is more,” but “more is less.” They can’t even agree on what plus-size is except for it being inferior to “regular sizes.” I’ve seen many sources claiming the “average” American woman wears a size 14 or 16, and by most standards, THOSE are “plus sizes.” So maybe we should start calling sizes 0-10 “minus sizes.” I don’t see that one ever happening! But I digress. If you’re buying into the Fashion Industry Bullshit by using the term “plus size” to describe yourself, then you’re basically admitting that you’re not as good as someone who wears a single digit. You are you: not more or less than anyone else. Just you.

Voluptuous: This is just the fun-to-say (and unfortunately, mispronounce – newsflash: there’s NO “M”) cousin of the elitist-sounding “rubensque.” Has anyone ever painted your nude portrait in oils? Then no. Just no.

Curvy: I actually think curvy is an excellent descriptor. However, I don’t believe rolls of fat rippling down your body is what anyone envisions when they hear the word “curvy.” Don’t have an hourglass figure? Then you don’t get to call yourself curvy. Sorry.

Thick: Thick was originally an insult for people who are stupid. Is that really how you want to describe yourself?

Fluffy: Sheep are fluffy. People are not. Unless they have a serious body hair issue.

What’s unfortunate is we have turned the best, most descriptive label for People of Size into a bad word. And speaking of “People of Size,” um, really? We are all “People of Size,” the sizes are just different. And besides, since People of Color is now commonly abbreviated POC, I pretty much feel “People of Size” may even be crueler than calling someone fat. Just like Promiscuous Nymphos (you go, girls!) are reclaiming the word “slut,” I want to reclaim the word “fat” for all of us who have a little more meat on our bones. It’s not meat, of course. It’s fat. Which is why we should just use the word. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it works.

Just call me fat.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Dark Side of Self-Publishing (a.k.a. GrammarGate)

Anyone can be a writer now.

Self-publishing one's words in the form of novels, blog posts, tweets, Facebook rants, and myriad other outlets has become commonplace. Although there are equal numbers of platforms for sharing graphics or images, never has it been so easy to disseminate one's written ideas to large numbers of people. I suppose we have the internet to thank for democratizing thoughts, opinions, and information.

In many ways, I think it's awesome that curmudgeonly editors no longer hold the keys to the publishing castle. Let's face it, if I had to rely on a literary agent or publishing house to publish my four novels, there's a good chance I wouldn't have gotten past the traditional guardians of the written word. And if I'd not had the opportunity to post my thoughts and ramblings on various blogs throughout the past eight years, there's a good chance I would have never had the confidence to put my ideas in print. Self-publishing has certainly been a wonderful development for me.

But there is definitely a dark side to the ease and immediacy of blasting our words out into cyberspace. I came across several reminders of this dark side today while exploring trending topics on Facebook and Twitter. Two happened to be on the same topic, DeflateGate. Unless you're an extreme Media Hermit, you are likely aware that DeflateGate involves the 11 deflated footballs used in the January 18th NFL playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. I should disclose that I was born in Indianapolis, so it's not hard to imagine where my loyalties lie, but that's neither here nor there. I'm much more disturbed by our deflated standards for writing than I am by deflated footballs.

One was an article in USAToday which had apparently never seen the eyes of an editor. Rather, it was pushed out in a rush after Bill Belichick's press conference earlier today. There were several errors, mostly typos. Reading it made my head and stomach hurt a little. This is a national newspaper publishing an article with glaring grammatical and spelling errors. And why? To save the few measly minutes it would have taken for an editor to fix them. We value timeliness over correctness, not only for the facts, but also for the delivery.

Another example was a blog post picked up by an Indianapolis media outlet that was written by a "mommy blogger." In her post, she implored the NFL to set some standards so that we can teach children that breaking rules has consequences and all that jazz. But she opened her blog post with the phrase "strike a cord" instead of "strike a chord." More head and stomach hurting ensued. I know not everyone out there is an English major, but I feel pretty strongly that writers should at least strive to get their idioms right. There seem to be no consequences for breaking the rules of English, but there's no outrage over GrammarGate.

I also read an article today encouraging women to be naked more frequently (obviously I have a wide range of interests!) The author used the phrase "drop trowel."  Um no. It is "drop trou," not "drop trowel." The author clearly didn't know the difference because she used the word "trowel" twice.  
And apparently an editor didn't catch that either.

Three articles, three disappointments for this Grammar Snob.

Furthermore, as an indie author, I follow a lot of other indie authors on social media. Sometimes I read particularly cringe-worthy excerpts that make me question why in the world these individuals decided that writing was a suitable career, or even hobby for that matter. And then to see that these books get sold and garner positive reviews is just befuddling to me. Do their fans overlook the obvious issues or are they completely ignorant of the poor quality of the writing, both in style and syntax? Don't even get me started about how the junior-high level 50 Shades became such a phenomenon.

I am not sure what the solution to this issue is. I like the fact that so many people are taking an interest in writing, specifically in writing complete sentences devoid of abbreviations and text talk. I like the fact that people want to express themselves publicly and to foster discourse and debate. I feel hopeful that the written word is far from dead. But I also feel sad that our standards for grammatical conventions are so low. And that so many seem not to care. Do we continue down this path? Do we let the language evolve to have different or looser rules? Or is there something that can be done to renew an interest in learning and adhering to grammatical conventions?

Now it's your turn to write. Please share your answers in complete sentences with correct punctuation and spelling! #comeonyoucandoit #goodgrammarrules (pardon the pun!)