Writing a book is a process. Reinventing yourself is a process. Not many people know that Rita Hayworth’s Shoes was actually both for me. I was able to share my story in an awesome book by Barbara Machen and Jennifer Pate called The Mothers Of Reinvention, which just came out (and which I’m excerpting here). I helped Jen and Barb shape their thoughts and ideas into book form; they helped me by opening my eyes to the importance of having a place for ME in motherhood (there is one, you know, buried among the rest of the letters there). A true MUST for moms! (P.S. Their Webby-Award Winning web series Jen and Barb: Mom Life is also informative and fun!)
Mother of Reinvention: Francine
Best Advice: No matter what seems like it’s holding you back, whether it’s time or money or lack of support, the only thing ever truly standing in your way is you. Get yourself moving in the right direction and miracles will happen.
I think like most women, I have reinvented in stages throughout my life. But the most significant one came when I became a mother. I had always wanted to be a mother, but I think like a lot of women, I didn’t have a realistic concept of how much my life would be affected by it—both times. I was literally thrown for a loop with each child. I love my children with all my heart, I love being their mother, but because I was dissatisfied with other situations in my life, namely my professional life, I felt dissatisfied across the board, and it infected my happiness at home.
While I have always wanted to be a novelist and screenwriter, I’ve done mostly nonfiction–mostly ghostwriting other people’s books. You don’t generally get paid unless you actually sell a complete work of fiction or script, so I always worked where the money was, and dabbled in the other world “when I had time.” So while I started writing Rita Hayworth’s Shoes before I met my husband, for many years all I had completed was the first two chapters. But it was in the throes of motherhood that I realized I had to get it done.
Especially after my second child came along, I felt like was operating like a machine, completing mindless task after mindless task, and churning out books that had nothing to do with me. On top of that, the recession hit us hard. Scarily hard. Clients stopped paying me on time and some stopped paying altogether. So I had to work twice as hard at a job I wasn’t loving to make half the money, whenever it came. It sucked. I internalized it all. I felt horrible about myself. I gained weight (30 pounds after giving birth) and stopped caring about it.
I knew I loved my husband and daughters, but I was so frustrated and bored and just felt trapped in my life. I was a fat, frumpy machine, just going through the motions and making everyone around me miserable–when I saw other people. My husband works crazy hours and travels most of the week. I didn’t see friends because I had no money to pay a babysitter or to go out. And I didn’t want to see anyone anyway because I had nothing to talk about except what a loser I thought I was. Between taking care of my children and house and trying to corral impossible finances, combined with soulless, “pro bono” work, I had nothing for myself. My husband always encouraged me to go and find something for myself, but I always found a way to talk myself out of it because, of course, I had no money and I had no time.
One Saturday morning, I was ghostwriting a sex manual and also drafting a book proposal on personal finance, plus working on copy for some random catalog, making the kids breakfast, doing laundry, and the getting the kids dressed for the day when my husband came downstairs and told me he was thinking about going out to shoot some hoops. Something switched on in me and I don’t know what it was about that exact moment, but out of nowhere I was just like, “No. You can’t. I’m taking a walk.” I grabbed my iPod, slipped on a pair of flip-flops, and took off. I walked for half an hour, listening to my own music, feeling free for the first time in years.
Then something remarkable clicked in my brain while I walked. I could feel the cobwebs starting to clear. It was like I had just stumbled upon an attic. In that attic was a trunk called “Rita Hayworth’s Shoes,” which just popped open. Plot lines started racing through my head. Characters I hadn’t thought about in years starting speaking to me. I finally found a place where I wanted to be, where I felt alive, and I realized I had to go there again and again. I was addicted.
The next morning, I got up at 530am, put on a pair of sneakers this time, and walked again. Every day after that, I got up at 530 and walked more and more. My story started becoming more clear. Ideas were popping into my head I had never before imagined. My awesome husband came home from work one night with a new pair of special sneakers for me, which came with a special chip I could sync to my iPod and track my progress. I started walking one mile a day, then two, then three. I started a Facebook group to get fans for a book that was only 2 chapters complete and I kept walking and writing in my head. I’ve never been a good sleeper, and now, instead of spending the hours I was up in the night watching TV and worrying, I started writing.
Within 6 weeks, I had completed a draft and dropped 20 pounds. I felt great for the first time in years. I really began to enjoy my family more because of it. I enjoyed going out in the world again because I felt I was a worthy part of it. I was the woman who wrote the book about the magic shoes! I was someone aside from my husband’s wife and my children’s mother.
This reinvention has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and on so many levels. Most importantly, because I am a better human being, more connected to my true self, I am a much better wife and mother. I am able to play with my kids and connect with my husband as the fun, happy person they deserve to be around, and that has made all the difference!