It’s My Very Own Hollywood Coming-of-Age Story

Once when I was in my mid-20s, when I first moved to Madison, when I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer, I volunteered my services to a local nonprofit. My job was to lay out their magazine. The magazine’s topic was something I hadn’t studied and it used words I hadn’t heard before and didn’t understand such as hegemony,  pedagogy, and pluralism.

I worked with the female head of the organization and another male volunteer and felt completely out of my league intellectually. Other times, when I would visit the woman’s home, in a wealthy area of town to work on the project, I felt socially out of place.

As the two talked I would try to keep up and use the words they did, but since I wasn’t accustomed to speaking in the way they did, I used words wrong. I said the word “impasse” once to mean “stuck” because of computer problems and was corrected in a way that I have never forgotten the nuances of the words since.
It's a pretty old story. A common Hollywood movie, actually. At first I was thinking of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, but the me now will not pretend that I've actually watched that movie. Click To Tweet
After the project was complete the head of the organization took me out for dinner at a restaurant downtown that I had never been to. She knew the owners and walked around as if it were her own home, introducing me, although I mostly looked down at my shoes.

She ordered a plethora of appetizers, asking me which of the ones I thought would be tasty. I had no idea what anything was on the menu, much less what would be good. The prices shocked me and, although I thought she would pay, I calculated the costs in my head, wondering what my portion might be and if I had enough credit on my charge card.

I had never imagined I would eat in a place like this. The fanciest restaurant I had been before was the Cheesecake Factory, paid for by my bosses at my past job in Chicago. As the food came out and we sampled from this and that, she only took a few bites of each. I followed her lead doing the same, though I wanted more and my own interest in good food was born.

But though I wanted more of the delicious food, I didn’t want more of the experience. I felt so uncomfortable around the woman and her colleagues that when I had to drop off the last layouts of the magazine, I slipped them in between the glass and her front door so I wouldn’t have to see her again.

She heard me and opened the door. I made an excuse about it being late and she invited me in, but I declined. I just didn’t feel comfortable.

Since that time, I have learned a lot.  I still don’t know many of the words in that magazine, but I know a lot of other vocabulary and concepts that probably seem just as abstract and boring to others.

I’m not the same person I was then because I know more about myself and what is interesting to me. I don’t know that woman anymore, but I know I don’t have to be the person I thought I should be when I was with her. I don’t think she’d make me uncomfortable anymore.

It’s a pretty old story. A common Hollywood movie, actually. At first I was thinking of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, but the me now will not pretend that I’ve actually watched that movie. I’ve also read enough to know that not everyone likes that ending. So I started thinking about my favorite coming-of-age and social class movies and here’s my list:

  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • Ladybird (2017)
  • The Way Way Back (2013)
  • Into the Wild (20017)
  • Good Will Hunting (1997)
  • About a Boy (2002)
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
  • Say Anything (1989)

See, I told you I could be all abstract and boring! Are you abstract and boring in this way too? If you are into this kind of stuff, tell me below. What are your favorite coming-of-age movies or movies about social class?

Analyzing Your Dreams by Looking at the Most Common

Once, before I was married, I had a dream that I had met the man I was going to marry. I was so excited until my family ate him. Turns out he was a chocolate brownie.

Have you ever had that dream? Probably not, though I once heard that Louie Anderson had a dream he was embalmed in butter. I’m the 9th of 9 kids and he’s the 10th of 11. Coincidence? I think not.
But what about the more common dreams we all share? Why do people seem to have
such similar dreams when our sleep, experiences and our brain states are different? According to studies, there are 55 common themes that all people, across gender, country, and culture have. I was going to list the first 10, but 55 isn’t that many, so I decided to list them all. I grouped some of the similar ones together, so the list is a little shorter than 55:

  • school, teachers, and studying, failing an examination
  • being chased or pursued
  • sexual experiences
  • falling, being on the verge of falling
  • arriving too late
  • a living person being dead, a person now dead being alive
  • flying or soaring through the air
  • being frozen with fright
  • being physically attacked
  • being nude, being inappropriately dressed
  • eating delicious food
  • swimming
  • being locked up
  • insects or spiders, snakes
  • being killed
  • losing teeth
  • being tied up, restrained, or unable to move
  • being a child again
  • trying to complete a task successfully
  • being unable to find toilet, or embarrassment about losing one
  • discovering a new room at home
  • having superior knowledge or mental ability
  • losing control of a vehicle
  • fire, floods or tidal waves, earthquakes, tornadoes or strong winds
  • wild, violent beasts
  • seeing a face very close to you
  • having magical powers
  • vividly sensing, but not necessarily seeing or hearing, a presence in the room
  • finding money
  • killing someone
  • seeing yourself as dead
  • being half-awake and paralyzed in bed
  • people behaving in a menacing way
  • seeing yourself in a mirror
  • being a member of the opposite sex
  • being smothered, unable to breathe
  • encountering God in some form
  • seeing a flying object crash
  • seeing an angel
  • being an animal
  • seeing a UFO, traveling to another planet, someone having an abortion
  • being an object
  • part animal, part human creatures
  • being at the movie

I would guess I’ve probably had half of these. How about you? I’m surprised about some of the ones on the list, and some that aren’t. I regularly have the dream where I discover extra rooms in my house even though my house is not extremely small.
It’s fun to think of all the ways we are all mixing and matching common dreams in a million different ways. You can also see the one dream you had that you thought was pretty weird, is probably pretty normal. Click To Tweet
It’s fun to think of all the ways we are all mixing and matching these common dream themes in a million different ways. It’s also good to look at the list and see that that one dream you thought was pretty weird, probably is pretty normal.

I don’t think we need a handbook to analyze our dreams. Usually, I just ask myself what I think it means and I can figure it out.

As for that dream about my imaginary fiancé, I suppose it meant I was hungry when I went to bed and was wondering if I would ever find my own pan of brownies.


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Chocolate Brownie on White Ceramic Plate
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Are We There Yet? How to Avoid Burnout on the Way to Your Dreams

If you are a creative type, someone who likes to write, draw, record music, or has dreams of creating your own whatever, chances are at some point you may feel a little burned out. Dreams take a long time to achieve, at least that’s what I tell myself.Fire burning off the road in the distance

When I recently found myself feeling burned out, I wondered how I could keep myself from losing steam. So here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re passion is starting to flicker.

Do you remember what you are trying to accomplish? Is it still relevant?Do you need to revise your dream? Do you have a set of goals for achieving it? Do they need revising? 

What exactly are you trying to accomplish? Has it changed? Did you start out with one dream and has it merged into something else. Maybe you originally interested in a certain type of writing, but now find yourself interested in something different. If your desires have changed, have your goals for achieving them changed? If not, maybe it’s time to think of some new steps to get to your new goal.

Are you still having fun? Are you pushing too hard? Do you need a break?

Are you still passionate about what you thought you were passionate about? As with the above, this question is designed to help you fine-tune your dream. If you used to really enjoy yourself, but now you find yourself slogging along toward your goal, you might need to refine what it is you are working toward or how you are working at it. If you thought you really wanted to be a poet, but find that it isn’t resonating with you, you could try a different type of writing and see if you like it better.

Sometimes you just need to relax. I find myself pushing too hard sometimes where I become too serious. It starts to seem as if everything in my life depends on writing, submitting, and being published. But when I try so hard, it isn’t fun anymore. This is where I find myself now. Here is a list of some ways I’ve thought about taking a break from writing and submitting:

Game board with start and finish
Game board image from
  • Make a collage
  • Color or draw
  • Read a magazine
  • Read my old writing for ideas
  • Write longhand instead of on the computer
  • Read a book
  • Organize and declutter
  • Take a walk
  • Go to a museum
  • Listen to classical music or music in another language
  • Play music
  • See Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way  for ideas on the Artist Date

Are you not doing enough? Do you need to do more? What can you do differently?

Conversely, you may feel like you’re not accomplishing anything because you’re not going anywhere. If you have taken a break for too long, make a list of ways you can get energized by your dream again. Think about questions 1 and 2, to see if there are new ways or new directions to take.

Have you noted your successes?

One way to avoid burnout is to notice the signposts and successes along the way of your journey. These don’t have to be all external. Reward yourself for trying new things, putting yourself out there, and for the confidence you’ve gained. You can also reward yourself at the beginning of a month for keeping on your way toward your goal.
Notice the signposts and successes along the way of your journey. These don't have to be all external. Reward yourself for trying new things, putting yourself out there, and for the confidence you've gained. Click To Tweet

Rethink rejection and letdowns
If you put yourself out there with your dream, there are bound to be some letdowns. Things won’t go as quickly as you thought and people won’t always react as you expected. Allow yourself to feel down, but don’t stay there. Think of each of these disappointments as part of the journey. Try not to take it personally as being a criticism of you, but as something you can learn and grow from so that you can get better and get closer to your goal.

Map it out – but enjoy the journeygoals map successes and areas for growth

Finally, remember why you wanted to pursue your dream in the first place. It was something that made you happy and that challenged you. Map it out so you can reach your goal, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself along the way.

I hope you find these questions helpful to help you reignite your passion as it ebbs and flows. But I want to hear from you. Let me know in the comments. What do you do when you find yourself feeling frustrated or burned out? How do you keep yourself on track for the long haul?

Happy Halloween: The Devil in the Details

Happy Halloween! Let’s talk costumes.

What’s your favorite memory about a costume? Was it homemade or store bought? As the youngest in a family of nine, mine were definitely homemade. I remember my brother setting out as Abe Lincoln in a top hat made of an oatmeal container. Our witch’s dresses and hats were handmade and often hand-me-downs.

In honor of the holiday, I’m sharing this old story about one memorable costume I wore, fashioned by my dad. I wanted to be the devil and my dad thought a real pitchfork was the perfect accessory.

Whatever you choose to be in Halloween, I hope you enjoy it and that you have a great day. May your pillowcase be filled with only good candy and no toothbrushes! (What? You mean your family didn’t use pillowcases to collect your treats?)

Memoir Contest Winner: Honorable Mention for Catherine Lanser’s Costume Accessory

Post #181 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett Catherine Lanser brings us her memory of a childhood Halloween costume from a time when homemade costumes were more the rule than the exception. Thank you, Catherine for this one submitted to our October 2011 Memoir Writing Contest.

Researching Education in America While Reading Educated

I used to stand by the fence and cry as the school bus went by.

I remember my grandma telling me about how her dad wouldn’t let her go to school. I don’t remember the details of where she was or how old, or even if she had attended any school at all, but I believe she went until eighth grade. I also remember how sad she sounded even as she talked about it decades later.

I was thinking of her words this week after reading Tara Westover’s Educated. After a bit of research, I think I must be right that she attended at least until eighth grade. My grandma was born in 1898, and about half of all students attended school. Until the 1940s and 1950s, many did not attend past grade school.

This chart shows percent of people completing only 8th grade, 12th grade and at least 4 years of college in 1940, 1960 and 1991.

In fact, many people didn’t even attend school at the turn of the 20th century. This graphic shows how overall school enrollment rates have increased from 1900 to 1991 for 5- to 19-year-olds. I chose these four dates to match up as closely as I could to the generations of my grandma, parents, me, and finally, Westover.

Overall school enrollment for 5 - 19 year-olds over time

Educated: A Memoir

You likely have heard of Westover’s story because of the fact that she didn’t attend school. She was raised in a large Mormon family by survivalists and father who didn’t trust the government.  Her father kept his children out of school. They were not homeschooled but made to work in his junkyard and with his mother as she prepared essential oils and served as an unlicensed midwife.educated book cover by tara westover

She was taught to distrust standardized medicine and even though the family often had serious injuries from car accidents, scrapping, and severe burns, they used mostly tinctures and salves to heal them. Westover and her siblings also experienced abuse by one brother.

When we see how common education has become over the years, it is shocking to hear of a person who is so cut off from the mainstream, and who doesn’t receive any education. In order to get out of the chaotic environment, one older brother taught himself calculus and went on to college and urged Tara to do the same. She did, studying for the ACT, teaching herself, and was accepted into Brigham Young University when she was only 17.

She had never attended a class, written a paper, or heard of many common historical events such as the Holocaust or the Civil Rights movement. Others she would learn, such as standoffs in Waco or of the nearby Weaver Family at Ruby Ridge, had been filtered through her father’s eyes.

Almost unbelievably, she overcomes all these obstacles, even as she finds the other students at BYU to be too loose and immoral, calling them “gentiles” and not real Mormans. She eventually continues studying at numerous prestigious universities and even obtains her Ph.D.

She becomes like the most of us, a statistic. In my own family, we would have hopefully made my grandma proud, first with graduations from high school by her children, college graduations from her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren who are obtaining advanced degrees, and who are or soon will be doctors.

In Westover’s family, three total siblings went on to advanced degrees. But in doing so, they were not praised by their parents. She writes how her parents and her other siblings have disowned her, not for her formal education, but for who she had become in the process:

“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind.”

Though I don’t think I ever thought of education in those terms exactly, it seems like a noble goal to me. I would hope never to take the opportunity of education away from anyone.  The book made me appreciate all the chances I have been given to learn, even those I didn’t take that seriously. Now I can see that only a few generations ago things were very different.

Resource for Graphs: 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait

One last thing …

Vote for me for audience favorite! I’ve been named a non-fiction finalist in the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities Pen 2 Paper contest for Without a Net

Voting closes November 3.