I’m an individual.
I’m getting married later in the year, and as of now the only things set in stone are the location—the woods behind my mom’s house—and that I will not be changing my name. These two things are probably the least challenging items on my Wedding Planning with No Money to-do list. My mom’s house sits at the front of eighty acres of field and woods, complete with a pond, rope swing, and a meadow. And it’s free. As for changing my name, it’s not up for negotiation.
My future spouse and I have been together for a little over six years. Before we got engaged, we had discussed the idea of marriage and kids and all those pie-in-the-sky tidbits, going so far as to keep a mental checklist of potential baby names (Aloysius, Odafin, Roscoe). We may have even had the name change discussion as early as the first year of our relationship, and it has never been an issue.
Until now. Seven months to the wedding and now he tells me that he wouldn’t mind actually maybe it might be cool if I took his last name, or at least hyphenated the two. His logic seems to stem from three basic concerns: our theoretical future children, his family’s opinion, and his own pride.
In the case of our possible children, I guess I can see where he’s coming from. It is just a name, but there is a sense of belonging or not belonging that goes along with a name. Hyphenated surnames are increasingly common, and in our case that would saddle our children with a sixteen letter surname—seventeen if you count the hyphen. The go-to whenever I suggest this to someone outside of my immediate family is that my children won’t be able to fill out their names on standardized tests. If their biggest problem is that their last name won’t fit in the bubbles of standardized test, I would consider myself blessed. And at some point, those tests will have to conform should hyphenated surnames become the status quo.
My fiancé’s family is another issue. He was raised by his grandparents, and they are very, very white, upper-middle class, and very conservative. His grandfather passed away a few years ago, and his grandmother has since relinquished the role of “head of the family” to her oldest son. When we first started dating, his grandmother did not like me. She was, quite frankly, suspicious of me. I am from a low-income single-parent home, my (absent) father is a Native American with mental health issues, my youngest brother has a different father and was (gasp!) born out of wedlock, and the icing on the cake for her was that I have tattoos and piercings. It didn’t matter that I was an excellent student or that I was attending a great school on scholarship. She did not like me at all. For her, appearances matter. I often get asides from her about being a “proper” wife, the primary instruction of which is to “be sweet” no matter what. She has expressed her disappointment with our decision to have a secular wedding, and while my fiance respects his grandmother’s opinion greatly, luckily he has not been swayed by her in this particular matter.
Pride and his family’s opinion go hand-in-hand. My fiance’s mother has always been a bit of a mess, hence his being raised by his grandparents. Although born with his biological father’s last name, his grandparents changed it when he was 11, and he holds them and their family name in high regard. My fiance has not said it outright, but I think that he views my decision to keep my name as a rejection of his name, and consequently, his family. I have not mentioned to his family that I do not intend to take their name, primarily because I do not want to further alienate myself from them. While I may not agree with everything they say and do, I essentially don’t want to take shit for something that I don’t think is their business in the first place.
A lot of the above reasoning goes back to one thing: a man’s pride in his own name and the desire to essentially conquer others by placing that name on them. A friend once told me that everything we do is political. For a woman to keep her last name—her maiden name, if the term could be more condescending—goes in the face of hundreds of years of western tradition. In the western world, historically, families have the same surnames, but it’s a history that only acknowledges the patrilineal heritage. Yes, my last name is my father’s name, but it’s also still my mother’s name, and my sisters, and when I get married, I am not shedding them like an old coat. I believe it is possible, and I know many women before me have proved it true, to be married and not appropriated by your partner. For me, marriage is about an equal partnership, and to change my name would render the partnership inherently unequal.
Let me be clear: I want to get married. I do not, however, want my identity subsumed by another person, even if I love that person and want to spend the rest of my life with him.
I went to Philadelphia for the first time this weekend and took a bunch of pictures on the camera my mom bought me for my birthday.
Now I can’t figure out how to them off the camera.
The Creative Process Unfurled.
I’m outlining a novel in hardcopy. I’ve been mentally outlining it for weeks, maybe even months, but I have the hardest time sitting down and actually devoting my full attention to it. I’ve got about fifty scraps of paper with paragraphs, pages, and dialogue all floating around my purse, and I think it’s about time that I actually try to make some sense of it.
The most difficult part, for me, in writing something of substantial length, is finding a cohesive structure. In my shorter works, I’ve always structured them in advance, but in something that I hope to tentatively take the form of a novel (though I’d be satisfied with a novella or even an unusually long short story), I’m approaching the structure rather blindly. Recently, I’ve taken to experimenting with fragmentation and first-person narratives, both being tools I avoided for years, for one reason or another. I completed a story that utilized both about a year ago, and I’m particularly proud of it. In many ways, I felt the story was more fully realized within the characters than the action, something that may seem obvious or commonplace, but for my own work, was something fairly new.
For this new project, I hope to incorporate a fragmented narration into the more traditional structure, but I’m not even quite sure which of the characters’ side I’m on yet, so it really could go anywhere from here. I’m excited to write it all down.
The stories they’ve told! (1942), Photo: Office of War Information, Library of Congress Archives.
Some Rich Guy Wants to Date My Mom.
- Me: He treats her pretty well most times. But it's not a good sign if she has to keep reminding him she's not for sale.
- R: He's a rich douchebag too used to having his balls licked.
- Me: While that may be true---no, you're right, I kind of hate him.
- R: Duh. He's rich. We hate rich people.
My mother’s a saint, and other things you should know.
My mother is eternally positive. I’m not exaggerating. Her life experiences are riddled with examples, but I’ll use a more recent one to illustrate my point:
My mom’s the alternative education teacher at a small-town high school. She’s the only alt-ed teacher at the school, so she gets the kids who have kids, the kids whose parents suck, the kids the system has failed, et cetera. She has a passion for her job, and she loves her students—my foster brother Jacob came into our lives through her classroom. Yet she can’t afford health insurance through the school—and it’s a public school. She is a state employee whose paycheck cannot cover health insurance for her or my siblings—much less rent, food, and bills.
She recently went out and got a second job, at the only grocery store in the small town where she works. For the first time since I was a baby, my mom is a cashier girl. When she told me that she was getting a second job to help pay the bills, I was sad. I may have to work three to four jobs every week just to make ends meet, but there’s something completely unjust to me about her having to do the same. She’s been there, done that; she’s worked so hard for so long, and I want that to be enough for her.
She didn’t feel the same way. After her first shift (which followed the full school day), she sent me this text message: “Just finished my first day at the grocery store! I love it here—there are so many people to talk to!”
The idea of karma is, at this point, drilled into my brain forever. On the one hand, it can feel like one of those bullshit tactics to get you to behave, not unlike the looming threat of Hell—though significantly less fire-and-brimstone-y. But on the other hand, it’s not confined to theology—the idea that you reap what you sow is not culturally/religiously singular, and it can still function within a secular world.
When I was very young, my mom told me that in order to lead a happy life, we have to continuously put out positive energy, positive thoughts, and in the end, that goodness would make its way back to you, like a boomerang. She went on to say that while bad things happen to good people (and many bad things had happened to her), it’s her prerogative to keep sending positive vibrations into the world, with full faith that something good will come to counteract the bad.
I believe it. Sometimes (in fact, often) I’m rather incredulous in regards to her endless well of optimism, but it doesn’t change the fact that I think she’s right. I remind myself of this every time it seems like “just keep swimming” just won’t cut it.
And she’s usually right. More often than not, there’s something good just around the corner.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You’re my hero.