I got this quote in an email from a fellow MIA member yesterday morning, and I haven’t been able to pry it from my brain: “I bargained with life for a penny…only to learn dismayed, that any wage I would have asked of life, life would have paid.” The author, Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948), was a poet, literary critic, and compiler of anthologies. She was also the only female founding member of the Poetry Society of America, and she worked on the editorial staff of the New York Times for ten years in the early 1900s, as well.
I know it sounds crazy, but I feel immense pride when I think about women who were writing, publishing, and professionally employed in journalism before my grandmother was born. I know that Jessie Rittenhouse was a pioneer. She got her degree, went to work, and became well-respected in a male-dominated, intellectual field in a time when what she was doing was the exception rather than the rule. I am impressed by her gumption and wonder what might have made her choose such a non-traditional life for herself. After all, she didn’t bother getting married until she was 55, and she never had children.
I have a feeling that perhaps she did not so much intentionally choose that path as her talent and drive chose it for her and along the way she merely continued to raise the bar for herself. I examine the excerpt from her poem and I think that she clearly understood that she was the architect of her destiny. Her successes, taken within the context of the time period in which they were accomplished, were a direct result of her asking more of her life than her contemporaries were likely asking of theirs. While her college classmates were keeping house, she was hanging out with Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot and reviewing their poetry.
I think the reason that I am so affected by Ms. Rittenhouse’s poetic words, however, is because they embody the entire reason I started this Moms Into Adventure group. I realized it was time for me to ask more from life. I started down a different path than I originally had mapped out for myself and for a while I felt lost, but then I realized that my slight shift in direction didn’t have to mean that I had necessarily sacrificed all my dreams for myself. I still had those dreams. I still wanted those things. I was just traveling a back road to reach them.
When I think about what I want out of my life before it’s all said and done, it goes beyond having family. I know. I know. Having my beautiful and precious family should be enough for me; our culture indoctrinates us early with this idea, and I feel a tad bit uncomfortable knowing that I need more. I’ve always been a bit on the greedy side, though. I have perpetually asked life for more than a penny’s worth and now can say in all honesty that I am happy with who I am. When I ask more from myself, I rise to the occasion. When I want something, I find a means to get it because I am nothing but absolutely determined to have my way. When I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, I somehow find a way to pull myself out of the chasm. I refuse to believe that I can’t have what I want. It might take me longer than anticipated to get it, but I will get there. I know it. When it comes to my dreams and goals, I have patience and perseverance.
You can gain none of life’s prizes without being brave and perhaps ruffling some feathers along the way. You know Ms. Rittenhouse’s mother was constantly railing on her: “You’re an old maid. Why don’t you settle down? Get married and give me some grandchildren already.” But her determination to walk her own path and ask for more than a penny’s worth made her powerful. Asking life for what we want is always a worthwhile venture, even if it means we encounter some opposition. I’ve long said my greatest fear is getting to the end of my life and realizing I’ve lived someone else’s. So, I’m going to continue asking for the things I want from life. I’m betting I’ll get them, so I’m going to be bold, up the ante, and enjoy taking home the whole pot.
Maybe it’s the appalling lack of sleep I got last night due to relentless and excessive wind gusts, but today I feel myself oddly compelled to write about Star Wars. The Star Wars saga permeates our house. Action figures traverse the staircase. Countless Star Wars encyclopedias litter bookshelves and tables. A two-foot tall Imperial AT-AT Walker stands sentry in the family room. Our daily conversations are peppered with words from worlds that don’t exist, worlds like Tatooine, Naboo, Alderaan, and Geonosis. And, at least once a day I am sure I use the term “gunship.” I have no one to blame for this complete Star Wars infiltration but myself. I introduced my boys to it. And now, two years later, my 9 year old is as wrapped up in Star Wars as my male classmates were when I was 9.
As an adult, I admire the series because George Lucas is a genius. He just is. He created one of the biggest franchises ever. He has not only vision but the talent to turn his ideas into a reality. Even if I didn’t care for Star Wars as a story (which, by the way, I completely do), I would still admire George Lucas simply for his creativity, meticulous attention to detail, and skill at bringing his ideas to fruition. So, honestly, I don’t mind that my boys are completely addicted to Star Wars. I don’t even mind that every Friday night, without fail, I get hounded to let them stay up until 10 p.m. so they can watch a new Clone Wars episode as it airs. Because, at the end of the day, I know that through the series there are valuable lessons about life, loyalty, friendship, good and evil, and human nature.
What I like best about Star Wars, especially when thinking about my boys and their impressionability, is that the females kick ass. There. I said it. If you must, please forgive the profanity, but seriously…”kick booty” or “kick butt” just makes the characters seem weaker than they truly are. I get so depressed seeing females cast merely as the hot sidekicks in action flicks. Princess Leia has intelligence, determination, and attitude in spades. She may be tiny, but she’s not about to get relegated to the background. Jedi females Aayla Secura, Adi Gallia, and Luminara Unduli are wise and skillful in battle; they are considered equals by their male Jedi peers. And, the villainous females, like Asajj Ventress and Aurra Sing, truly personify the Shakespearean phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” I love them all. But, what appeals to me the most is that my boys see them and recognize them as powerful in their own right.
Call me crazy, but that’s how I want my boys to see me too. That is one of the reasons that I take on these adventures and that I push myself to achieve. I don’t want them to see me merely as a means to obtain clean laundry and awesome chocolate chip cookies, although I am that as well. I want them to honor that I am capable in many ways. I want them to believe beyond the shadow of a doubt that I am intelligent, strong, determined, and powerful…a force to be reckoned with. If I do my job then perhaps by the end of my time with my sons, they won’t think of me as a strong woman but remember me instead as a strong person.
So, as I sit here today coming up with a loose training plan for the upcoming spring and summer months, I think of those Star Wars females. I envision applying my inner Jedi to achieve great personal successes this summer, no matter how difficult the challenge might be. I imagine using Jedi mind tricks to convince others to watch my children so I can spend hours in my bike saddle. And, I know that by the end of summer 2011 when I have achieved all my short-term goals, I will be even more powerful than I am today. Go forth with Jedi strength and kick ass, my friends. May the force be with you.