We are up to day 21 of the Wordcount Blogathon 2013. I am glad I held a few ideas back for the end of the month because I am feeling a bit brain dead these days. One of the topics I’d like to explore over the next few posts is competition. When someone says the word – competition – people tend to picture an athlete, or more specifically, a young male athlete. They don’t normally think about middle aged women. Believe me, middle aged woman are very competitive.
In Overlook, the women are shockingly competitive. Stacia Curran abuses her already broken body to compete in long distance open water swims. She is fueled by guilty and ambitions. Kitty Haskell relentlessly practices her tennis strokes in order to win the neighborhood round-robin every year, she keeps track of who is in or out of The Lookers clique of popular moms, and she makes the most beautiful cupcakes on the bake sale table. Kitty doesn’t have to make cupcakes with fruit leather butterflies or decorated to look like ladybugs. She does it to one up the other women.
When you go to a school or church function, is there one women who always brings beautiful desserts or fancy hors devours? Is she doing so to express her creativity through food, or is she trying to one up everyone else?
This amazing video has been bouncing around the internet all week. As the mother of two young women, its message is close to my heart. I am trying to teach my girls to be leaders and cultivate a sense of fearlessness.
After I watched the video a few times, I started thinking about Kitty and Stacia (the main characters in Overlook). Kitty is afraid. She gave up her dreams to do what was expected of her, rather than what she wanted. She is afraid of what people will think if they find out her husband is cheating on her. She is afraid to disappoint her mother, yet she is willing to disappoint herself.
I wondered what Kitty would think if she saw the video in her Facebook feed. I think she would want her daughter’s life to be different than her own. She would think about Stacia and how Stacia is so much stronger than she is. Perhaps that would motivate her to make a change.
Parenthood has a way of making you revisit your own childhood. I was never one of the popular girls. Fifth through eighth grades were a nightmare that I survived by retreating to my room with a book. When my two daughters got to that stage in their young lives, I was terrified for them. I wished I could guide them through the land mines of gossip and mean girls, but I hadn’t learned any tricks in the intervening twenty years.
I read all the books I could find and used my psychology background to try to help my eldest daughter. She didn’t fare much better than I did. She keep her head down and got through it with only minor scarring. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, figured it out. She realized she didn’t need the mean girls to like her or accept her as part of the clique, she needed them to not target her. She came home one day with a list of accouterments to make her blend into the herd. In her middle school, camouflage was a Vera Bradley bag, tan Sperrys, skinny jeans, Hollister t-shirts, and long hair. I was resistant to her plan. She’s a beautiful, bright girl. I wanted her to celebrate her individuality, not hide behind a facade of conformity. She was right. I was wrong. She sailed through middle school without any major traumas. She had a few close friends that were nice kids and the mean girls left her alone.
So why am I telling you this? What does this have anything to do with my writing life? My daughter’s experience made me reconsider the way I do things myself. Was I making myself a target for the adult version of the mean girls (more on that in Queen Bees) in the PTA? Should I outwardly conform and save myself a lot of grief? When I started writing Overlook, I decided that conformity would be a cornerstone of Kitty’s personality. She doesn’t know who she is anymore. She dresses the way her husband likes her to, she eats what he likes, she worships where he tells her to. Kitty blends into the crowd of other Overlook moms, The Lookers. She does whatever the people in her life tell her to do, at least until her husband pushes her just a little too far.