Paper Chasing In The Sooner State

So far my week in Oklahoma has exposed me to a few things that I was not prepared for. I watched the Bedlam Game between Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State University. I learned that I like the Sooners because if I don’t I could get shot. I heard actual use of the phrases “y’all,” “cussin’ and raisin’ heck,” and “hellcat mad.” I watched a turkey get fried, learned that you soak cowboy boots in the bathtub and wear them wet in order to break them in, and became acutely aware that Baptists do not dance – ever. I ate cranberry salad that had marshmallows in it, and tried Indian food for the first time. It has been exciting and strange, but above all it’s been educational.

For a state founded on a history of hard work, dust, sweat, and tears, Oklahoma has work ethic. Coming from Portland, where a small, but still way too large, population of young adults wastes their time doing nothing, buying retro clothes, snorting lines, growing ironic facial hair and looking apathetic, this red-blooded ‘Merican-ness is refreshing. If it’s between cowboys or hipsters, I’ll choose cowboys anytime. Same goes for frat boys. (Go Sooners.)

In order to try to understand where things go wrong between this red state and the blue that flows through the streets of Puddletown, I decided to start with those who make up the work force of this area of the south-central US.

Anonymous employee and staff opinion surveys are some of the assessment tools that the Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce and OKCBusiness Magazine use to gauge the list of “Best Places to Work in Oklahoma.” Tate Publishing made it on among the elite, ranking an impressive number two on the list. As a writer, the publishing world fascinates me, and a Christian publisher based out of a town called Mustang seems like an ideal resource for the hard working professionals that keep the intellectual oil of Oklahoma pumping. Tate Publishing has a staff of only one hundred people, but operates as a main-line publisher of book products, audio books, and music. Every year they select only 5% of the thousands of manuscripts that are submitted for publishing. Moreover, Tate gives back to the state by generating interest, revenue, and professional prestige, not to mention the jobs that they create that often attract the best and the brightest graduates of local schools. Keeping with the traditions that they hold dear, the company regularly contributes to the community by sponsoring non-profit groups and assorted philanthropy projects year round.

Rita Tate thought that she would become a lawyer when she was in high-school. After graduating college with a degree in Speech and Communications she became a speaker and a writer, eventually publishing a book with her husband, Richard Tate. That experience pedaling their pages sparked the Tate’s interest in the publishing industry, and from that tiny flicker a company was born. Seven years later, Rita Tate can regard the company that she helped to create with quiet pride. “As I face retirement I look back and discover that every job, every challenge, every relationship impacted the choices I made to help establish this company. I am doing exactly what to do, and the best part is, I’m doing it with my family at my side,” she says.

There is a quote in The Grapes of Wrath: “The migrant people, scuttling for work, scrabbling to live, looked always for pleasure, dug for pleasure, manufactured pleasure, and they were hungry for amusement.” These words, and the plot of the book as a whole, deal with the way that Oklahomans, and Americans in general, have struggled and will continue to struggle to varying degrees throughout the course of history. Yet, no matter how tough times are, we always need diversion. A company like Tate Publishing exemplifies the union between a toiling mentality with the enjoyment of books. But that’s not to say that the universality of what they produced can’t be traced back to the trials and tribulations of their great state.

“The state shaped my outlook on work because Oklahomans are made of tough stock, [with] a deep, strong work ethic. We possess something intangible, yet so evident: true grit,” says Rita Tate, who is also a native of Oklahoma. “Maybe it is the natural disasters, the tornadoes, the Dust Bowl, the Murrah bombing, those experiences that made headlines across the country when “the Oklahoma standard” became a measuring stick for the rest of the nation on how to handle life’s greatest challenges.”

Although I’ve only been here for a little under a week I can say that Oklahoma’s main export isn’t cowboy boots, or styrofoam, or even rabid football fans, it’s thick-skinned, assiduous stock who might lack some of the glossy ambition of city folk, but more than make up for it with their ability to buckle down and persevere.

AinsleyDrew at gmail dot calm. Thank you to everyone who donates!

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Labor omnia vincit

Oklahoma’s state motto is “labor omnia vincit,” which translates to labor conquers all things.

I’m here in Norman, visiting Simon’s family for the holiday, and I’m trying to absorb as much as I can about what it means to work in the Sooner state.

So far the key words I’ve picked up are “oil” and “agriculture,” with cowboy boots and Republicans being the state’s largest exports. I’ll get back to you on what happens with Curly and Laurey in the surrey.

Parent Trap

My parents are awesome, and since I’m opting to go to Simon’s house for Thanksgiving — which means that not only do I miss turkey with at least one half of my chromosomal makeup, but I’m also going to Oklahoma again — I decided to dedicate this post to the two people that made all my fucking up possible: mom and dad.

Working and having a family is hard. Once you hit your mid-to-late twenties your peers start to settle down and nest, which is usually followed somewhat understandably, yet always shockingly, by breeding. Since there seems to be a sort of baby boom in my age group I decided to look up some info and ponder what it‘s like to work and work. I mean work and parent.*

Now, take this from where it comes, I’m a bachlorette whose ovaries are on layaway until Obama’s second term. At least. I’m not opposed to having photographs of my dog in my wallet, and coupons for Fancy Fridge tacked on my fridge in place of macaroni art. I’m not against to the domestic life, per se, I just don’t think I’m ever going to tire of writing all the time, ogling everything that walks by, and just basically not answering to anybody but myself. And occasionally Simon.

One thing that seems pretty sensible for stay-at-home parents to do is not go crazy. One way I would try not to lose my mind when having handfuls of Cheerios tossed at me mid-keystroke would be to network with other parents who are in the same position.

“It can be difficult to stay focused when being a stay-at-home parent is such a demanding job, and the lure of relaxing in front of the TV is strong. Network with other work-at-home parents – internet forums, for example, Storknet, are a great resource for this. Swapping childcare with a friend can be a good solution even for parents of young children and babies,” I read on a popular working parent website.

I’m pretty sure that my version of “networking” would be a hysterical email asking if it was normal for me to feel that watching my child pick his or her nose was far more important than a deadline. I have no idea how stay-at-home parents do it. Scratch that, I have no idea how parents do it. To try to figure it out, I clicked on Storknet. Let me just say, it is badass. Some of the better threads that I read included tidbits like:

“Just because I work out of the house does not mean that I am a stay-at-home mom. I suppose if I was only working part time, and worked when the kids were not around, I would consider myself one, but I work full time, and run a house and manage four children. How many men do that?”

I can understand her frustration, but I actually have more friends who are dads. They balance their work and their kids, they make time to be caregivers as opposed to just looking for childcare. They are tough, enjoy vagina jokes, and yet know how to burp a baby. These men, to me, are superhuman. They also automatically seem ten years older than me, even if we are within three months of age.

Apparently it’s just as hard for the gentlemen. For single fathers, there’s the site that boasts the same resources and forums, only for fathers who find themselves playing Mr. Mom. They seem to have the same sentiments as the so-called fairer sex. One forum member writes:

“How do you guys keep up with the house work?

I get up at 5:45 am, shower, shave, and otherwise get ready for work. I usually skip breakfast. 6:30 I leave for work. I will usually swap the clothes in the washer over to the dryer. I get home at 6:00 pm. Change out the clothes in the washer, start dinner, while running water into the sink to wash dishes. Check my email while I watch a little TV. Between commercials I wash and rinse the dishes and work on dinner. 7:00 pm we usually eat. Then toss the dishes into the sink and let them soak. 8:00 pm I watch a little TV with my daughter until bath/bed time. 9:00 I hit the sack and start all over.

The only “free” time I have is Saturday and Sunday. Again, most of it is spent cleaning inside and outside. Unless we venture out to the store or off for some weekend trip. Then I end up doing double time during the week. So again, I ask, How do you manage to get everything done? By the time I finish one thing its time to start on the next. I need a solid week of free time to get this place up to par.”

Simon and I are at that age where our friends from high-school find us on Facebook and within one click we see the differences between us and our peers. We have skateboards, they have SUVs. We have roommates, they have mortgages. We have blogs, they have kids. We have two-loads-of-laundry worth of passionate sex, they have…kids. There are trade-offs. But certainly we realize that parenthood is the most demanding job that there is. How human beings balance penurious offspring and professional output is a riddle I cannot begin to fathom.

My mother was a stay at home mom and my dad was a ninja. (Note: my father’s actual occupation requires the same amount of precision, focus, dedication, and a totally rad outfit.) I think that my parents did an okay job balancing what they needed to do to not go insane and to remain on top of their individual games. For my mother it was…making sure I didn’t eat paint chips, preventing complete gender confusion, and taking me to Church. But for my dad it was making sure that we lived comfortably and happily, and that he provided for the both of us. He brought home the bacon, and my interactions with him were generally limited to watching football on Sundays. (So much for avoiding gender confusion.) After my parents split up, it was kind of a free-for-all. My mom worked and I hit puberty. My dad still had his intense job, but now visitation which interrupted his thoroughly enjoyed newfound bachelorhood. These days, I write in my house for a living and I can’t imagine owning a beta fish. How the hell do you people do it?

“Get children involved from as young an age as possible so that everyone in the family helps keep the household running efficiently. Try to clean up soon after mess occurs so as to avoid a build-up of stressful clutter and large cleaning jobs,” are ways of staying glued, according to Christina Katz, in Writer Mama [Writer’s Digest Books, 2007]

Sure. Okay. I get it. All of these websites emphasize the importance of asking for help, prioritizing tasks, and understanding that chaos is the new stability. But I think the thing that I find so perplexing as I stare at my high-school track teammate’s eight month old twins, is the idea of how to balance self and life. Simon and I struggle financially. We want to write for a living, and we also want to become esteemed authors. Our shared goals are what make our wholly dysfunctional relationship fun and – hopefully – invincible. But we both really value our time to ourselves, and the stupid little things that we do to enforce our identity. When you have kids, I think that your alone time is pretty compromised. Again, this is coming from a woman whose body has only been  home to several piercings and a fair amount of tattoo ink. Both of us are only children, the first time I held an infant I was twenty-two. (Totally freaked me out. I kept thinking I would break it.)

Basically the point of this post is to say thank you. An article I read while doing some research said that mom’s aren’t really doling out compliments to one another nowadays. So this is coming from a non-mother to moms and dads alike, I look up to you. Parenting is impressive enough. And when I get tired of the single life, maybe I’ll try it out. But until then I have you to be jealous of.

Drop me a line, AinsleyDrew at the gmail one. Thank you for donating! It makes my parents proud.

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*Some resources for working parents:

  • Work-At-Home Moms Magazine, whose design is dreadful, but whose content is valuable. Includes job opportunities and information on work-at-home scams.
  • Robyn’s Nest: The Parenting Network
    Includes a broad array of information, including legal specifics such as the Family Medical Leave Act, and information on traveling by plane when you’re pregnant. [Note: I’m from New York, so when I read about anyone named some variant of “Robin,” I immediately think of Robin Byrd. NSFW.]
  • The MomLogic community is pretty incredible. It seems to be the go-to place for resources and entertainment for the parenting brigade.