Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rediscovering the Art of Discourse

Thirty days after I left the convent, I began to work at Pflaum Publishing. The day before, I’d flown from Kansas City to Dayton. Looking back I realize that the normal reaction to the possibility of a new job might be both anxiety and eagerness. But all I can remember is feeling passive and emotionless. I remember also that my parents had mixed feelings about my taking the job. On one hand, I’d have work and could then support myself and evolve a life. On the other, I was emotionally stunted.

         Both Dad and Mom worried about my well-being. After all, I would be living nearly six hundred miles away where they couldn’t watch over me. Yet they’d always wanted their children to be independent. As I was growing up, they both often said to me, “Dolores, you can do anything you set your mind to.” They always believed in me.
         But they’d never seen me in the state I was in when I left the convent. During the following thirty days, I had, however, improved somewhat, and as I started to climb out of a deep abyss of unease, I was able to relate again. The “acting normal” became almost second nature and by mid-January, I could engage in conversation with my relatives and talk with salesclerks when Mom and I went to a store together. But always it was an effort to do so and I relapsed into silence when I was with only my Mom or Dad.
         Growing up, I’d found that talking with others was both interesting and enlightening. Yet, not only was I mute when I left the convent, I also lacked any spark of interest in others. I was encased in ice. 

          Fortunately, during those thirty days between leaving and starting my first post-convent job, I decided, subconsciously I suspect, to reenter the human race. I relearned the ebb and flow of conversation. The give and take of it.
         I mention this because on Sunday, January 25, 1967, my future boss—Bob—and his three children, who ranged in age from four to eight, met me at the Dayton Airport. It surprises me still that those children, in their fifties now and living in Spain, Texas, and Kansas, still remember picking me up and what we talked about on the drive from the airport to the Loretto Guild where I was to live for the next five months.
         And what did we talk about?
         I inherited my love of baseball from Dad. Every summer evening while I was growing up, he, my brother, and I would sit on the front stoop and listen to the radio broadcast of the Kansas City Blues, which was a Triple A minor-league Yankee farm team. I’d followed baseball until I was twenty-two and entered the convent. I’d known all the names, positions and teams of the American League, and the changing stats for the Blues and the Yankees. I was a true fan.

Joe Kuhel was the Blues' manager in the early fifties.

         Of course, in the convent we didn’t listen to the radio or read the newspaper, so I was nine years out of date, but Bob’s adult children have told me more than once how fascinated they were that a “nun” knew so much about how to play the game and about the players from the forties and fifties.
         And that, truly, is the first conversation I had after leaving the convent in which I was, for a space of time, myself at my best. Not acting or playing a role, but simply enjoying the exchange of facts and childhood dreams and ideas with other human beings.
         Children have always had the gift of calling forth from me the essence of who I am.

Photographs from Wikipedia. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Loretto Guild and Dad's Advice

Back in May 2011 when I began this on-line memoir, I posted willy-nilly whatever came to mind when I sat down at the computer. However, you, the readers, seem to like the varied series I did later. And the truth is that I enjoy writing an interlocking series.
         So last Thursday I began a new one: my entrance into the world beyond the convent and my beginning, unwittingly, an editing career. This week I’m refashioning a June 7, 2011, posting I did about where I lived and my dad’s advice for working in the big city of Dayton, Ohio.

         The office of Pflaum Publishers there occupied a brick building in a rundown section of town—lots of bars; vacate buildings; men down on their luck. Several blocks away, at 217 North Ludlow Street, stood the Loretto Guild, a residence run by the Dominican Sisters for single workingwomen. The building occupied an entire block in downtown Dayton. 
         Each tenant at the Guild rented a narrow room with a twin bed, a dresser with three drawers, a straight-backed chair, a nightstand with a lamp, a sink, and a closet. We used communal toilet and shower stalls and had both cafeteria and curfew. For about five months, I found myself right at home there—the convent with amenities.

           During my two interview days in Dayton in late December 1966, the managing editor had taken me on a tour of the city. He’d pointed out the Loretto and its nearness to the publishing company. If hired, I’d exit the brick building, turn left, walk to the corner, turn right, cross the street, walk down five blocks, wait for the light, cross the street, turn left, pass a cafĂ©, and open the door to the publishing house. An easy daily route.
            Before I departed for Ohio to start my new job, Dad gave me some considered advice. “Dolores,” he said, “tell me approximately where the place you live will be in relation to where you’ll work.” My dad respected blueprints and maps, so I drew him one with both the living quarters and the workplace clearly labeled.

            “How are you getting to work?” Dad asked.          
            “I’ll walk.”
            “Tell me your route.”
            I walked it off on the map.
            “No. That’s not good. I want you to go a different way each day.”
            “What do you mean, Dad?”
             “One day, turn right instead of left. It’ll be longer but safer,” Dad said, using his index finger to show me the proposed route on the map. “The next day, turn right but walk beyond the corner, up a block or two. Then turn right and walk to the office. You'll be coming from a different direction.” His finger follows that route. “Some days I want you to walk down six or seven blocks and then come back up to the office. Change your route each day.”
            “Why would I do that?”
            “Honey, all sorts of men are lurking out there. They’ll know your route if you take the same one each day."
            “Yes . . .?”
            “They prey on women,” he said.
            “Dad, who’d want to prey on me?”
            “Believe me, Dolores, they’ll prey on anyone.”
            Despite my listlessness and lack of humor at the time, I almost said, "Thanks, Dad, for that vote of confidence!"                                  And also, despite his concern and care for me, I didn’t take his advice. No circuitous routes. Dad was right though. I did meet men. But no one “hit on” me. That’s the phrase I learned from a women I worked with: men “hit on” her.
            The truth is I’m not sure I’d recognize a “hit” if it happened. Some things just don’t occur to me. It’s often only later—hours, days, weeks, years—that the match sparks and I say, “Oh, that’s what that was all about.”  So if someone “hit” on me those long ago years, it went way over my head. 

All photographs from Wikipedia except for the Loretto Guild, which is from the Dayton Library Postcard Collection.

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.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Week's Worth of Happenings

Hello All,
My company arrived last Friday, celebrated my birthday with me, and flew home yesterday. So today is devoted to doing the laundry and getting everything back to normal. You all know how that is.  
         Also, I’m responding—by phone and e-mail—to all the birthday greetings I received. Then there’s the catching up with six day’s worth of e-mails and the postal mail that came—junk, bills, catalogs—during that time. I’m sure you all know how that is also.
         Here’s another piece of news that many of you—maybe all of you—will appreciate and understand because you, too, have received good news at a doctor’s office. Last Thursday I saw the dermatologist who prescribed the light treatments for my CTCL and is monitoring their effectiveness. She carefully examined my arms, legs, and chest on which, six weeks ago, were displayed many large pink blotches.
         “Everything on your left leg is in remission,” she announced. Then she looked at my chest. “Same thing here.” Only a single blotch on my left arm, a swath on my right arm, and quite a bit of my right leg—from the knee to the ankle—remain stubborn. But all were changing color, which is a sign they are going into remission.
         She agreed that two days a week instead of three were sufficient and concluded, “Dee, if your skin continues to respond this way, I think you’ll be able to stop coming after the next six weeks.”
         Hurrah and Hallelujah!

         Another piece of news today concerns your comments for last week’s posting. I haven’t had time to respond to them, but I will return to responding with this posting and from here on out. I enjoy responding to your comments, which always make me consider new aspects about what I’ve written.

A panoramic view of the Delphi valley in mainland Greece.
         Also, I wanted you all to know that I’ve decided to work this year on a novel that takes place in Bronze Age Greece around 1300 BCE. Last year I wrote 62,000 words of a first draft that is not yet completed. I’m hoping that the first book of this proposed trilogy will be about 70,000 words after it goes through several more drafts and a final polishing. I hope to have the manuscript in good shape by the end of the year. But I will listen to my body. Go with the flow. Live day by day. So nothing here is written in stone.
         Finally, I’m wondering if you have any preferences for what part of my life you’d like to know more about. As I summarized last week,
1.    “Of the years between birth and entering the convent after college graduation, I’ve reconnoitered only my childhood up to sixth grade at St. Mary’s Grade School in Independence, Missouri.”
2.    “I’ve shared with you the convent novitiate years as well as my first two years on mission in Omaha, Nebraska, after making first vows. But there are other stories yet to tell about teaching in Seneca, Baileyville, Atchison, and Kansas City, Kansas.
3.    “Back in 2012, I spent several months posting about getting involved in social justice issues when I was in my thirties. That leaves four decades yet to explore of my life as a single woman who established a career after leaving the convent and then retired to write and enjoy friendship.”
I’d appreciate your commenting and letting me know any preference you might have among these three time periods.
I want to end by thanking all of you for your good wishes last week when I posted about the CTCL appointment. On my birthday I found myself deeply thankful for your continuing and continual support. Peace.

All photographs from Wikipedia.