Thursday, April 10, 2014

A New Era Begins in Dayton, Ohio


After leaving the convent on Saturday, December 24, 1966, at age 30, I collapsed in my parents’ living room in front of the television. There I sat—all day and through the night, unmoving, my mouth gaping. Staring. I later learned that my mother considered having me admitted to the mental ward at the Sanitarium Hospital in Independence because she was so concerned about my inability to communicate.
         On Tuesday, December 27, I got a call from Washington, D.C. Sister Mary Dennis, a convent friend teaching at Catholic University, had recently met the owner of Pflaum Publishing. He’d asked if she knew anyone with a background in teaching and theology who could also write and edit.
         She asked if I’d be interested. I had no idea what editing was. The term was new to me. But I was so lost in a sea of malaise that I mumbled, in a voice that hadn’t been used for three days, “I guess.” She then called Bill Pflaum and set up an interview for the following day in Dayton, Ohio.


         For the trip, my pregnant sister-in-law loaned me three winter skirts and sweaters. Mom and I visited Jones Store to purchase underwear and a coat, shoes, purse, and hat. Mom bought the last item because at that time all well-dressed women wore hats when they traveled. So, wearing my black, brimmed, felt hat, my green, nubby winter coat, and my high-heeled leather pumps, I flew on a TWA jet to Dayton on Wednesday, December 28.


         In 1966, passengers alighted the plane out on the tarmac and then walked across it to the terminal. On that day, the wind gusted so insistently across the barren airfield that the lower half of my coat and my skirt flapped up against my thighs. For eight years, my lower legs had been covered by a black serge habit and simply showing them made me self-conscious.
         Now, to have my thighs revealed almost shamed me and so I stumbled across the tarmac trying to hold onto a bulky purse while pressing one hand across my thighs to hold down the coat and skirt and the other hand on my head to keep the wayward hat on. I was bent over like a doddering, arthritic alien. And everything did seem foreign to me—the clothes, the makeup, the plane, the legs that looked liked debarked sticks below my knobby knees.
         Joe Kneeland, managing editor at Pflaum Publishing, met me in the terminal. As he approached, I let go of despair, lassitude, passivity and turned on the spotlight within so that I began to act. I knew what normal was. I also knew that I was nowhere near normal at that time. But I could act, and so for the next two days I did.
         I acted all through the interviews. I acted as I wrote the children’s stories they wanted. I acted as I met each new editor at the publishing house. I laughed at the appropriate times. The truth was I charmed them—or so they told me later.


The University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, USA.

         But then Joe drove me out to the University of Dayton to take the MMPI—the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. According to Wikipedia it is “the most widely used and researched standardized psychometric test of adult personality and psychopathology. Psychologists and other mental health professionals use various versions of the MMPI to develop treatment plans [and] assist with differential diagnosis . . . .”
         I couldn’t “charm” this inventory or “ace” it. I’m quite sure that the reason Pflaum took three weeks to decide to hire me is because I came across as mentally unhealthy—imbalanced—on the MMPI. And so I sat for over twenty days, gaping at the television. Then, in late January the publisher called and offered me a job as an editor on My Little Messenger for grades one and two. I would earn $6,500 a year.
         And so a new era in my life began. Peace.

Photographs from Wikipedia.

50 comments:

  1. I can see the walk across the tarmac, the terror you squelched. How you moved on. Such a wonderful post.

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    1. Dear Susan, I'm glad you can see that walk. I can still remember so well the wind battering my body and me trying to hold all my clothing close to my head and legs. I don't think I ever wore that hat again. Peace.

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    1. Dear Fishducky, thanks again for all your support. Peace.

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  3. Dee, that was so courageous to go to an interview like this, and having to fly to get there. It shows that you were stronger than you thought. A salary of $6,500 in those days was a good one. I look forward to reading your adventures in publishing.

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    1. Dear Vagabonde, I find myself surprised that you use the word "courageous." When I think of this, I don't feel courageous. Mostly I just remember being numb. Yes, that salary was a good one and it enabled me to save so that in 2 1/2 years I could go to grad school. Peace.

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  4. You are brave. I have read that those "personality tests" are still widely used although they are unreliable.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Dear Janie, as I said to Vagabonde, I don't think of being courageous or "brave." Mostly I was a walking zombie until the moment came to perform. And perform I did. Peace.

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  5. How brave you were. And I am not surprised that you charmed the interviewers. It was, and is, a part ot the truth that is you. You might have thought you were acting, but I suspect you were just bringing a different part of yourself to the surface. Perhaps not at the time a big part, but a very real piece of you anyway.

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    1. Dear Sue, I was so mixed up at the time--so in shards--that I wasn't sure I even had a personality. And when I write about the past, I try to present not what I think or feel now, but what I felt then. I think you're right about the different part of myself. At the core, I believe I'm a good person--my mother was the model for how I respond to people with openness and acceptance. That is part of me. The thing is at that time, I had to simply put aside the zombie-like existence I'd been living and bring to the fore what I knew about being in a relationship with people. Peace.

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  6. Thanks for sharing such a private post. Take care of yourself.

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    1. Dear Munir, I was so battered and so mentally unhealthy at the time and writing about that may, I hope, help someone someplace accept the truth of his or her own sadness. Peace.

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  7. How interesting. Your post has made me try to remember what I was doing in December 1966. I was in Washington, D.C.at the time and going through some trauma myself! I remember those tests and highly resented having to take them. Your story is an inspiration to us lucky enough to read your blog...

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    1. Dear Broad, I'd be so interested in learning about what you were doing in D.C. and the trauma you were in and the tests you took. I'd never even heard of the MMPI and when I was sitting at the table at the U of Dayton's testing department I can remember reading some of the questions and wondering why the testers were asking "this!" or "that!" Wondering, "Does somewhere really do this?" when what was being asked seemed strange or alien to me. Only later did I realize that the inventory was testing for imbalance. Peace.

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  8. They called it walking the walk and talking the talk, back when I needed the act to get on in a man's world. Elephant is correct; it's a real part of you that really is ready to learn the job.

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    1. Dear Joanne, I remember those days also. Taking on what were considered to be male managerial traits so as to make it in a "man's world." Peace.

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  9. And, I remember the hat. Did you have gloves, too? I did.

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    1. Dear Joanne, I don't remember wearing gloves then. I may have, but what I remember best is the coat, the wind, that over-sized handbag, and the hat. I did wear gloves for Sunday Mass all through grade and high school. Peace.

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  10. I wonder if they give those tests anymore?

    I don't know how you went to that interview days after leaving the convent and going through all that you did. However, that is the person you are. No matter what terrible thing that has happened to you, you manage to move on. I guess you are a very good actress, but I know you have paid a price.

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    1. Dear Arlene, according to Wikipedia, the test is still given. In Janie's comment she said that it is considered by some to be unreliable. But I really know nothing more about it then that I took it and found some of the statements strange.

      A psychiatrist once said to me that I had the strongest sense of survival she'd ever encountered. And so for me it something has to be done, I do it. Meniere's helped me recognize that trait in myself. And yes, think I have paid a price for acting fine when really I was deeply depressed. Peace.

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  11. I don't know how you could have embarked on a new career so soon after leaving the convent. However, that is the person you are. You must have been so broken, yet you packed your bags and went down a new road. You are a strong lady, Dee, but I think the price you paid must have been hard.

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    1. Dear Aleen, here we meet again! I really don't think of myself as "strong"--the word you used--or brave or courageous, the words used by two other commenters, I think of myself as simply doing what must be done at the time. Often, when I read the comments left on my blog, I'm surprised at what readers got out of a story. About what they say about me. Surprised and gratified and pleased. But mostly astounded! Peace.

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  12. Kept putting one step in front of the other and avoided the rubber room lol was there anything good on tv?

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    1. Dear Pat, you know all I can remember is seeing the signal static in the late, late night and early morning hours. I sat and watched static! Peace.

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  13. I love the way you write, and how much courage it took to start over, with something new.

    I really need to make for time to catch up.

    Peace be with you. :)

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    1. Dear Juli, I've gotten behind so many times with reading blogs and I'm behind again this week, but I hope to catch up this evening. With your family and all its doings, I think it would be really easy to get behind. Peace.

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  14. I know you don't like the word brave but that is how I see what you did. Most of us would still be sitting on the couch with our mouths open instead of jumping feet first into the equivalent of a fire by comparison.
    I could really see you on the tarmac.

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    1. Dear Arkansas Patti, you know I suspect that most of us do what we have to do. You certainly fit that category. As the saying goes, "you just keep trunkin'!!!" Peace.

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  15. I can feel your malaise and despair through your writing, Dee. What a survivor you are, indeed. I'm glad you have been able to communicate how you felt with such vivid imagery. I felt I was there on the tarmac with you. :-)

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    1. Dear DJan, remember that adage--"Necessity is the mother of invention"???? I had to get a job and support myself and so I simply invented the person the publishing house wanted. Thank you for your kind words about my writing. Peace.

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  16. Your resilient spirit is inspiring Dee. Always putting one foot in front of the other.

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    1. Dear Michelle, I like that word--"resilient." I'd like to think of myself that way. And I do see that I was resilient when it came to the Meniere's although there were many dark days. And what these comments are helping me see is that I was a survivor after leaving the convent also. Resilient. Thank you. Peace.

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  17. Hello on a gorgeous, spring day in TENNESSEE. Wow---after the long and bitter winter we had this year, Spring is even more inviting and lovely.

    I always enjoy reading your story... You are a fantastic writer... I remember (as a young gal, right out of college) getting my FIRST job as a teacher ($4110 salary)... I was teaching high school --and was only a few years older than the students... What an experience... BUT--I put on my 'know it all' hat --and convinced everyone --but me--that I was ready...

    We are now home 'again' --after our 5th trip since the end of February.... Seems as if we visited five different states --although the trips weren't planned for that reason... ha... BUT--as I always say, it's great to be home... I did publish a blog post today--so check it out when you have time. Have a wonderful weekend.

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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    1. Dear Betsy, thanks for sharing the story of your first teaching job right out of college. I think we can all play the roles expected of us. It's just that playing them for many years takes a toll. But I suspect you quickly became an excellent teacher, filled with enthusiasm for the subject and the students. Peace.

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  18. Reading this shook me up. What an incredible thing to do while you were so upset. But then as I write this, I just remembered that I came to America to get rid of my agoraphobia. Something I guess most people afflicted with this condition wouldn't even dream of trying to do to get cured. I forgot about that, because it cured me. I hope in your next post you will tell us that your brave move helped you too. What a story and what a wonderful writer you are.

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    1. Dear Inger, if I'm remembering correctly, last year for the A-Z contest you wrote about coming to the United States. Is that right? If so, did you post about your agoraphobia? If you did, please let me know about the post so that I can read it. Thank you for enjoying my writing. Peace.

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  19. As I read this I could picture you walking across the tarmac holding your hat and your coat trying not to show too much of your legs...........

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    1. Dear Jo-Anne, I'm so glad that the words came together as I wrote and that you could picture me so many years ago as I felt so alien. Peace.

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  20. You are a natural raconteur, Dee. I love your descriptions.

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  21. Dear Annie, thank you. My brother is a great storyteller also. I think it's the Irish in us! Peace.

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  22. I somehow didn't previously realize you were just thirty when you left the convent, Dee. I can only imagine that you'd feel completely stunned! I would think you had been in the convent just long enough to make that an overwhelming part of your identity, and at 30, we don't often have anything separate built up inside to hold onto when we take away something that's been so integral. You just continue to amaze me when I think of all that you accomplished upon forging a new life away from the church. I am going to enjoy this next series! ox

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    1. Dear Debra, yes, I entered three months after my 22nd birthday and left nine months after my 30th--so it was in the convent for 8 1/2 years. Your words simply amaze me because I don't see anything amazing about my life. I must say, you're good for my ego!!!!! Peace.

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  23. Strong. Brave. Courageous. Amazing. These are what and who we often are when we think we aren't, Dee. To do what you did, wear the clothes, get on the plane, move your feet, at such a juncture in your life was a courageous act, especially in a time when you were emotionally paralyzed.
    I wonder if the church has gotten better at transitioning nuns out of the convent. Do nuns who have left their order help others nowadays?
    As others have said, I, too, am looking forward to hearing more of this chapter in your life. I clearly remember taking this test, which I sometimes think they still give just to see if an applicant will take it. How fascinating, and so "Dee", that Phlaum saw and felt something in you that said "she's the one" and what an interesting turn of events it must have been for you at that time.
    I'm so late at reading this, Dee, and it is late at night here, so, forgive both the lateness and the choppiness of my writings.

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    1. Dear Penny, you always seem to have the accurate word to fit a description I've given. So "emotionally paralyzed" exactly sums up where I was at the time. About the Church today and transitioning nuns. I think that few leave now because those who stayed are certain of their vocation. And the ones who enter are older and are "vetted" much more wisely. During the last few months of my being a nun I kept acting as if all were normal in the classroom--in fact I did some of my best teaching at that time, or so the students later told a nun who interviewed them. But I was so sick.

      So you took the test also. I didn't even realize at the time that I could refuse to take it. I was simply on automatic pilot! Peace.

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    2. That is good to hear, Dee, and probably so for those going into the priesthood as well. I am so grateful you eventually healed, and went on to teach in other ways and do so many other good deeds.
      Oh, gosh, years ago we never questioned anything like that, especially we women.
      Peace to you as well, dear one.

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    3. Dear Penny, I'm not sure what kind of screening is being done for the priesthood. I have heard that many of the young men entering are extremely conservative.

      Learning to question and to take charge of our own lives seems to me to be part of the maturing process--at least it was for me. Peace.

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  24. Sorry I missed this. I get so tied up with A-Z and my chickens and gardening that everything seems to suffer a little. How well I recall the MN Multiphasic. I started out life as a psych nurse and when I worked in the clinics of the old Hennepin Co General I had to correct the MMPI . A bunch of us figured out how one could beat the thing. Too bad we didn't know each other then. Haha

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    1. Dear Manzanita, I wish we'd known one another then for more than this one reason! There's a surety to you that's never been part of my make-up. I'd like to see such surety in action. Peace.

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  25. Dee, I'm openmouthed at the strength and courage it took you to go straight from years in the convent to facing the stress of a job interview in a completely alien environment. I know you feel you did it as though on autopilot, but that can't have been the case otherwise they wouldn't have hired you. You were and are a remarkable woman.

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    1. Dear Perpetua, when I think back to that time and "see" the scenes in this posting, I find myself feeling great compassion for that young woman who was so lost. So in shards. I embrace her as I've tried to embrace all the "Dees" of these postings. And that is the wonder of writing an on-line memoir. I've been going back over my life. I've seen the arc of it and I'm grateful for the goodness of it. I'm also grateful that somehow, I was able to learn from these experiences This learning has helped me become someone who can relate to many others. It's that St. Paul thing--being all things to all people. At least that's what I hope. Peace.

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