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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Looking for Mr. Byline (Writer's Digest)














SWF (Spectacular Writer of Freelance) – 30s, dead stringer for Anita Shreve, with shapely similes and long, flowing prose – seeks Editor for perfect binding, possible long-term masthead relationship.

Likes:
Long drives to think up “think pieces,” rewarding collaborations, easy on the redlining.

Misses the feel of free issues in my mailbox before they hit the stands, the look of my name in 36-point boldface serifs. I know you’re out there, climbing a Mount Everest of queries, my quality mate with a circulation in the millions. And I won’t stop until we meet.

It’s been forever since a real writing credit has made my heart flutter and account balance rise. Need a good one to make my family and comrades insanely jealous. A marriage between us might clinch the next National Magazine Award or someday birth baby anthologies.

Dislikes:
No commitment-phobes. Ready for Frequent Contributor stauts.

Take note:
Been burned in the past by Speculative Seekers who lured me into “opening a vein” and submitting 2,000-word pieces, then cast me aside with nary a call nor kill fee. Fed up with rejection.

My last byline was a wonderful cover, but turned out to be a one-write stand. Follow-up e-mails for future dates went unanswered.

Qualifications:
Prefers next clip to come from a financially secure soul mate – that pays on acceptance – with at least a couple of dollar signs prefacing name in Writer’s Market. But will give my anecdotes away for free for a well-regarded monthly.

Must be willing to tell the world about us. Hate the byline not giving.

Child? No problem. Glossy, slick Playboy-types not wanted. Need a portfolio I can show the grandkids one day. Low-brow rags need not apply.

Local gazettes are fine, national pubs even better. The New Yorker, crème de la crème.

I’ll admit, my backstory is checkered. Have changed tenses mid-sentence. Self-published lurid novel in hopes of shock-value fame and fortune. Took the book out of print. Thankful that’s all in the past and under a pseudonym. My CV is clean.

Interested? Will sell all rights for the perfect match. Serious takers only – please use the enclosed SASE to say, “Yes!”

The essay originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

From One Mom to Another


"Hey Paula…" the desperation in Kasha’s voice screams louder than her son in the background.

"Do you want to go somewhere?"

It’s the warmest and sunniest day of the year so far, a gift better than chocolate for two homemakers like us.

"Yeah…" I pause, mulling over park locations in my mind. Will it be the quiet splendor of Naturealm? Or the hustle and bustle of Fort Island, a primary-colored paradise for kids? Nope. A day this magnificent calls for only one place. "What about Hinckley Reservation?"

"Where?"

Like an eager tour guide, I watch Kasha take in the huge waterfall at the park’s entrance. The sheet of gray liquid rushes over the lake’s edge like a wide curtain hinting at delights to follow.
"This is beautiful," she says.

Our first stop is the cozy boathouse down the hill, where we sip coffee and bribe our kids with Skittles to buy a few minutes of blessed peace. Mid-morning fog lingers atop the tall pine trees.

"This is the life," I say, reclining in a plastic Adirondack chair.

Getting up, we pass a throng of women and children hanging around the lookout deck. "Does anyone have a dollar?" a lady asks frantically.

I dawdle with my two preschoolers, eavesdropping on her friends’ responses: "No," one says. "I didn’t bring any money with me," the others say.

Reaching into my stroller’s net pocket, I fish a dollar out of my wallet and slip it to her. "From one mom to another," I whisper. "Awww…" they all croon.

"So, do you want to head back?" I ask Kasha, hoping against hope she’ll say no.

"How long is the whole thing?"

"I think about 3.7 miles."

Kasha looks ahead. "We can walk it."

What a precious jewel. In this strange land of stay-at-home motherhood, where lonely moms stand around playgrounds and ignore each other, I’ve found a mommy soul mate.

Pausing, plodding and praying, we circle the entire lake and end up back at the waterfall. Crossing the bridge, I notice the same group of mothers picnicking on the grass, their children frolicking nearby in the shallow creek.

"No water," Kasha calls from behind me, stopping.

Is that a command? I continue on, fighting against my bossy older sister, whom Kasha has now morphed into.

Suddenly, one of the moms hands me a dollar. "Come join us," another calls from her spot on their blanket. Wow – in a world of closed mommy cliques, this is like the cheerleading squad inviting me to sit at their lunch table.

I shoot a glance at Kasha, standing off in the distance.

"My friend doesn’t want to get in the water," I shrug. It’s bad enough that I’ve pressured Kasha into letting her son play with mine in the creek; for me to join the other women at this point just might send her over the edge.

Inching away with one eye on my babies, I approach my seething buddy.

"Those moms said we can use their beach toys…" I venture.

"Hmmph."

"What time is it?" I ask.

"One o’clock."

Then, giving her an out for her declining mood, ask, "Are you tired?"

"I’m ready to go," she snaps.

We dry off our kids and argue the merits of preparedness versus spontaneity back to our SUVs. Our first semi-fight. I try to make sense of the situation. Surely all this anger isn’t over a little water. Am I being inconsiderate? After all, Kasha has been up since before the birds – and is probably reeling from a mean case of PMS. I should cut her some slack.

"Sorry you didn’t like the water." I extend my soft tone like an olive branch into her open window. Kasha nods and sweeps her jet-black hair off her neck, shooting me a look that says,
"Unforgiven."

I give up. How on earth do you have a real fight with a woman and remain friends? These aren’t my career-focused, childless 20’s when I could steal a friend’s man and barely blink. No, these are my family-focused, repentant 30’s and I need all the good women friends I can get. Especially mommy friends.

My brows furrow with consternation as Kasha trails me home. My cell phone sings and I scurry to answer it.

"Hey Paula?" Kasha’s voice is soft and relaxed. "I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. That park was really nice."

I smile big, glad that we’ve come full circle. Just like our journey around the lake, where my one-dollar investment returned so much more to me in kindness.

"Water under the bridge," I say, extending love and forgiveness. From one mom to another.

Paula Mooney is a freelancer writer who lives in Akron with her husband and two young children. Write to her at
cpmooney@aol.com.

This essay originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Akron Family magazine.

Friday, December 16, 2005

June -- Cleave Her?



"My mother works," my sister Amber and I bragged to our Tartan-skirted classmates at St. Edmund’s Parochial School. It was the early 1970s, and after a short stint as a housewife, Mommy answered the clarion call sounded by women who marched the streets and set their bras ablaze in garbage cans.

"You need to get me something," was her ironically anti-feminist demand to my father upon choosing to reclaim her career. That "something" turned out to be a secretarial service – my mom’s very own two-room office in a musty building with dingy skylights.

I liked being the daughter of an entrepreneur, not a docile, housecoat wearing, kitchen-bound frump, which is how I envisioned my friends’ homemaker mothers. But at school day’s end when all the students filed out the forest green gates surrounding the yard, Amber and I were often the last ones left, looking fearfully into the distance and crying.

By 1999, my derogatory view of at-home mothers hadn’t changed much, as I steered my cart around groups of them chatting idly in the aisles of Tops, thinking to myself, Get a life, will you? I hid behind the accouterments of my business success: pure silk pants, both a Nextel walkie-talkie phone and pager clipped to my waist. The truth was that those women already possessed something I wanted desperately: children.

Cut to a labor and delivery room two years later. On April 29, 2001, at 7:24 p.m., my son was suction-vacuumed into the world, gaining me entry into the exclusive and theretofore elusive club of motherhood. My husband and I spent the first two heady and exhausting weeks doting on our baby – then Chris returned to work without me. In the shower, I dropped my face into my palms and sobbed at the thought of not immediately going back to corporate America, my daytime home for the previous decade.

As my scheduled time off drew to a close, I bristled at turning over my precious newborn to the leather-jacketed girl at the day care we visited, so instead I walked into my boss’s office and announced that I wasn’t coming back.

"You’re going to have to return all the maternity leave pay," she said, furious, her disappointment going beyond monies owed and my abrupt departure. Sitting in her corner office, I felt a new barrier besides her hulking brown desk erected between us.

I had just defected to the enemy’s side in the so-called Mommy Wars, what some claim is media-hyped enmity between moms who work outside the home and those who don’t. Yet I became living proof of its existence, lobbing holier-than-thou thoughts toward all working mothers – Amber included – that said, "I’m doing the right thing and you’re not."

Just keep living, the old folks say. I did, and after the birth of my daughter in the winter of 2002, I tossed out a bottle of painkillers (so as not to swallow the whole thing in my loneliness and despair) and with it, my staunch ideas about what makes a good mother.

I felt as schizophrenic as the word "cleave," which all at once means to separate or adhere to a thing. That was me – some days Mrs. Uber-mom, tucking the fitted corners of freshly laundered sheets onto the beds with glee, while others, a screaming lunatic plotting her escape, murmuring incessantly, "Is this what I gave up a $72,000 a year job for?"

God, if I should have a job, drop it in my lap, I prayed, and out of the blue I got an e-mail from my old boss asking me to come back.

"I’m kind of afraid to tell you all," I announced to my group of homemaker buddies, "but I’m going back to work." One asked plainly, "It’s for the money, isn’t it?"

Returning to cubicle land after a three-year absence was great – I enjoyed lunches unencumbered by kids, big fat checks with my name on them, and the fact that some other overworked soul was in charge of my little ones. But after eight months, I grew weary not pursuing my life’s calling, and returned home with newfound determination to pursue it when my contract ended on the last day of 2004.

Nearing the close of 2005, I’m thriving in the neutral territory between the two extremes of martyr mom and corporate dynamo. It’s a world that makes room for 2 a.m. writing sessions and 2 p.m. naps. I am June Cleaver, tidying the house and swiping on lip gloss before "Ward" comes home. I’m also Barbara Billingsley – the actress and real-life mother of two who played the iconic character – occasionally fleeing "More juice!" commands in order to fulfill a part of myself that motherhood cannot usurp.

Paula Mooney is a freelancer writer who lives in Akron with her husband and two young children. Write to her at cpmooney@aol.com.

This essay originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of Akron Family magazine.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Becoming Daddy's Girl

I am 8 or 9, all lanky arms, knobby knees and budding breasts. It’s a rare occasion because my father is actually home, not working his late shift at the post office or decorating a stool at some local tavern. Enamored by his sheer presence, I recline my head on his shoulder while he zones out on the sofa watching TV.

My mother saunters by, surveying the situation. "That’s my husband," she says to me, pausing in the kitchen doorway, pointing at her chest for emphasis. Both Daddy and I gaze at her for a few seconds of shocked silence. As meaning descends upon my adolescent brain, I lunge up the thinly carpeted burnt orange staircase to my bedroom.

Early American Discord is the décor that permeates my childhood home, my room being no exception. It is a sad and lonely space with slanted walls pierced here and there by squirrels trying to claw their way through from the attic. It’s the same vantage point from which I listen midnight after midnight for the sound of my dad’s key in the front door. Once I hear him enter and double-lock the deadbolt, I know all is right with the world and sink into a deep sleep.

Advance half a decade later. I’m about 13, fully developed and fast. I’ve taken the bold step of inviting my boyfriend over, and we are relaxing on chaise loungers on our backyard patio. My dad’s been home a lot more often – not just due to retirement, but I suspect his being there also has something to do with the quaint corner neighborhood church he’s been visiting lately. I stare up at the lone window in the back of our brick house, wondering if he’s watching. Wondering if he cares now.


I long to be a Daddy’s Girl, one of those cherished princesses who say stuff like, "No guy could measure up to my father." Though Mommy works tirelessly to feed my Baskin-Robbins obsession and Daddy to keep a roof over our heads (squirrelly though it may be), I crave more. Especially since my mother openly confesses to complete strangers that my sister is her favorite and my dad – up until this pivotal day – plays the role of Equal Opportunity Ignorer.

It is the perfect chance to test my worth. Leaning over, I kiss my boyfriend. Within seconds, my father marches out the kitchen door and down the sidewalk towards us, his large hands swinging like weights attached to pendulum arms.

"You’d better leave," Daddy commands.

"Okay, Sir," the boy says, darting off.

"Who initiated the kiss?" Daddy asks.

I roll my eyes and mumble, "I don’t know."

More than two decades later, my 36-year-old self realizes that my pangs for a protective and caring father began to be satiated with that event, but it was like tossing a cracker crumb to a starving person.

It would take many years for me stop blaming my problems on my dad’s aloofness and appreciate him for the things he did right. These days, Daddy is an 84-year-old widower. Gone are his robust build and wavy lush hair. They’ve been replaced by a withering frame draped in flannel oxfords and a near-white horseshoe-shaped mane of unintentional dreadlocks surrounding a freckled scalp.

We greet each other nowadays with warm hugs and pecks on the cheek, knowing full well that his time to "go to glory," as he puts it, is nigh. My hunger has changed from a deep, gut-wrenching rumble to a niggling need for a snack now and then, fed when I travel home to visit him.

One recent trip filled me to overflowing when Daddy and I worshipped at that same little corner church together, where he’s now an elder. After service we waited in line to speak to the pastor and shake her hand.

"Thank you," I say, admiring the woman’s gang of thick black ringlets gathered away from her face.

"This is the one you prayed for," Daddy says to her, motioning at me. And there, beneath the arched altar and stained-glass windows, I had an epiphany. My father, the original International Man of Mystery, had cared enough about me to tell someone else. Worried enough about my misdirection in life that he sought help. He had thought of me on days when I no longer thought of him.

So maybe the fact that I left my wild-child days behind wasn’t just happenstance, but a result of my father’s petitions on my behalf. This thought dawned on me right there in the sanctuary. And finally, as a grown woman, I feel like a well-fed Daddy’s Girl.

This essay originally appeared in the June 2005 issue of Akron Family magazine, and when I warily sent it to my dad wondering what his reaction would be, I was quite pleased that he was so proud he took it to church and showed his pastor.

Visit http://paulamooney.blogspot.com for some daily levity and life-giving love.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Motherless

by Paula Neal Mooney


Monday morning. I had just begun to shift from weekend to work mode when my parents’ home number appeared in the Caller-ID display box on the black phone in my cube.

"Hello?" I answered, cheerful yet quiet.

"Where’s the body?" Mommy asked someone in the background.

Ah…my quirky mother, Thelma O’Neal Dobbins. Only she would unwittingly start a conversation that way. Obviously her own mother – my beloved "Gran Ruby" – had ended her battle with diabetes and old age. I figured Mommy was calling to give me the news.

"Hel-lo-o?" I sang, ready to offer my mother the same solace I did six years before, when her father died. Lived a long life…Not suffering anymore… I was totally prepared.

"Yeah, Paula? Your Mommy died last night." For those words, I was totally unprepared.

"What?"

"Your Mommy died." Suddenly I heard the difference in their voices. I was talking to my mother’s sister, not my mother. And she was telling me something I could barely comprehend.

"How?" my cool collectiveness dissolved into a whining falsetto.

"Heart attack. In her sleep," she said, spitting out the facts with the staccato of a seasoned crime detective. "Let me know what you all are gonna do."

I hung up and dialed my husband Chris’ extension. When it rolled to his second line, I jogged up a flight of stairs to his cubicle. Taking one look at my distraught face, Chris said through the receiver, "I’ll call you back."

"My mother died…" I broke down, covering my mouth with the palm of my hand. My other hand flew to my belly and I bent over like one of those men in old-time footage taking a cannonball in the midsection.

We rushed to our house to book flights to Chicago and pack bags. Staring at my mother’s picture on the wall, I promised, "I’m coming, Mommy."

The futility of rushing to the dead didn’t escape me, until I realized it the living I was really swarming to. The first thing my father said to me was, "We need you."

It felt strange to be greeted in my childhood home by Daddy and my relatives, but no Mommy.
The person I was most like – flesh of her flesh – whose voice and signature I could emulate to a tee, the one I even chewed like, had disappeared into ether.

After Mommy’s body was lowered into the ground and my aunt wailed with grief, we all went home. A few days later, I called my mother’s phone just to savor her voice on the outgoing message. Now, nearly six years later, I finally signed my name on a list for a grief recovery workshop, hoping to unearth all the pain her death – and life – caused.

It’s so easy to focus on the negative. Yes, the things Mommy did wrong could fill a tome (check your local bookstores circa 2008 for my scathing memoir). But for now I will focus on the positive things she passed on to me during her 68 years on this planet. Like how she taught me the 23rd Psalm. Or how she read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with such animated glee, it rivaled any modern day Pixar picture.

Perpetually stooped over wiping crumbs and dog hair off the floor, Mommy was a natural born cleaner. Strong with muscular mounds astride her shoulder blades, she didn’t think twice about mowing the lawn or shoveling snow when Daddy slacked off.

Not just a workhorse, my mother was smart too – interpreting a French phrase or two while being a taskmaster for proper English. Just let a participle dangle from my lips or a negative double up in my mouth, Mommy quickly corrected it — much to my preteen chagrin and adult delight.

I catch glimpses of her now and again, in the nappy silver hairline of a woman at church, or in certain mannerisms my son displays. They are messages from beyond, like the shooting star I saw soon after Mommy’s death. And the song that came to life on the radio back then, the chorus of which had swirled around in my brain beforehand for days: "All right now, baby it’s all right now."

Paula Neal Mooney is a freelance writer. Visit her blog daily at http://paulamooney.blogspot.com to make her smile and see those stats increase!


This essay originally appeared in the October 2005 issue of Akron Family Magazine.

Paula Neal Mooney