Category Archives: Marlene Samuels

August 30 — Compromises We Make for Family

by Marlene Samuels

About two months ago, I got a note from a long time friend describing the newly funded research project she was about to launch. While I know I was supposed to be totally thrilled for her, I may as well have gone off to suck lemons. A tenured anthropology professor at a huge eastern university, my friend is considered an expert in her field. So, what put me into my very bitter funk?

Attached to her email was her academic vita–ivory tower idiom for resume. Pages and pages and pages! Besides the four books under her belt, she’s also published more than three-hundred journal articles, monographs, and textbook chapters. Do I care that in probably no more than 500 scholars in the world will ever read her work? You bet I do!

I ought to be happy for her, right? Wrong! Instead I became obsessed taking a mental accounting of all the compromises we make for our families, spouses, parents, and offspring. But in order to minimize my nagging guilt about not having joy for her, I also considered that I ought to itemize all the life choices Dr. Anthropology had to make to so much “career path” accomplishment.

That got me moving along the regrets tangent–the notion of what could I have done, how much I compromised, and sure there really was, and still is, an awful lot of that. While I was decorating homemade fudge birthday cakes with gummy worms, my friend was poring over anthropology journals in the library, perhaps way into the wee wee hours. When I was hiding from my kids in the basement toilet just to get a five minute private gossip session with a friend, maybe Dr. Anthropology was trying to find a friend with whom to have an acceptable, politically correct gossip session–one that wouldn’t result in violating university ethics codes.

Now, in view of my comparatively paltry accomplishments, I have come to admit the surprising. There’s something indescribably magical about ascending the commencement dais of a renowned university, extending my hand forward to receive the PhD I’d worked on for so many years between carpools and snow days, between orthodontist appointments and paintball parties and looking out into a sea of faces to find my husband and two teenage sons, simultaneously teary-eyed. “Welcome to the ancient and honorable company of scholars.” says the university president to me.

“Hey Yo! Mom, way to go!” my younger son jumps up and screams then gives me the high-five wave.

Marlene is a sociologist and writer,earned her Ph.D. and M.A., from University of Chicago in Social Science and teaches research methodology to non-fiction writers. She’s completing a short story collection and co-hosts www.expendableedibles.com and www.expendableedibles.com/blog.  Her writing has been widely published. Visit her writer’s website, www.marlenesamuels.com

April 20–Appreciating Freedom As We Witness Opression

by Marlene Samuels

Several months ago I participated in a thirty-day gratitude challenge initiated on FaceBook by a close friend – not exactly the most original of ideas. Numerous sites had posed similar gratitude challenges at the time. But it did get me thinking about gratitude on a regular daily basis–both the concept and the reality. Every single day, for an entire month, those of us who agreed to sign on took one challenge: “write about something for which you’re grateful today but that’s different from the gratitude you wrote about yesterday.”

Gratitude–so what exactly is that? Within the context of our complex, high stress, western life styles, too many Americans take for granted the most obvious – albeit intangible, gifts of our lives. Yes, it very well may be cliché to say, “I’m grateful for living in a free country,” or “I’m thankful for my health,” especially when, during our conscious hours, we’re bombarded with messages that prioritize material acquisitions.

During my gratitude challenge, writing about a different gratitude each day became progressively more challenging – a total surprise to me. Suddenly, one day mid-challenge, I really got it! I grasped how much we assume our freedom is a basic human right, an entitlement, simply just a part of being alive. Few Americans have grown up without it.

The first week, the posts were overwhelmingly trite and superficial. One participant was grateful that the car dealer had his new car on time, another for an Aruba vacation, a third for having won a bet with his wife. But as the gratitude challenge calendar clicked forward, war and unrest erupted across the Middle East. And during the remainder of our gratitude challenge, it seemed that all our posts evolved – thankfully! Gone were the materialistic pitches. Expressions of gratitude for living in a free country began to dominate the screen. Each post – while different from those posted the prior day as required by the rules – elaborated upon gratitude for freedom. Amazingly, it seemed there was no end to the ways in which we can be grateful for the freedoms we tend to take so much for granted.

I’m an independent sociologist and writer and teach research methodology to non-fiction writers. I’m completing a short story collection, have published essays, short stories and food articles. I’m co-host of www.expendableedibles.com and www.expendableedibles.com/blog. Contact me through my writer’s website, www.marlenesamuels.com.

March 16 – Life’s Curveball

by Marlene Samuels

Today is a curveball day. I spend it contemplating an age-old philosophical question: If we knew the day on which we’d breathe our last breath, which day was to be our last on earth, would we do something special or differently? And with whom would we spend that one very last day?

I’ve read volumes about writing techniques–where and how to find prompts and about the importance of writing regularly, an activity both serious and worthwhile. We must make regular dates with ourselves to write just as we’d schedule lunch with friends or meetings with colleagues and wouldn’t be quick to cancel. One writing guide even advises, “Write as though it was your last day on earth.” But today, my “curveball” day, I really have to challenge that one! If today was, in fact, my very last day alive, would I really spend any part of it writing?

 Today is a day on which I accomplish nothing tangible or that on the surface, looks productive. A “curve ball” day, I summon every ounce of stored knowledge about being a truly compassionate friend, supportive at a time when I myself have a need to be understood and supported.

My very long time friend (I’ll call her Marsha), ten years older than I, calls to relay unhappy news. Her husband just died, just–as in “just a few hours ago.” But he didn’t fade away, he didn’t suffer, wasn’t ill or elderly, or in an accident. Nope, not at all! He literally and simply just died, stopping right there in his tracks, ones that almost were ski tracks. It’s a beautiful day where they live. They’re in the mountains of Idaho. They’ve finished an entire day skiing in sunshine surrounded by majestic scenery. In the parking lot Robert puts their skis in through the SUV’s hatch. “My feet hurt.” He says. Thud, he falls over. He’s dead.

Well traveled, vigorous and adventuresome, they braved remote regions; Rwanda to see gorillas, the Yukon Territory to camp near polar bears, Patagonia to stay with gauchos crossing mountains by day on horseback along terrifying ridges. As Marsha describes forthcoming challenging trips, I ponder the inherent dangers. They could be mauled by bears, killed by rebels, die falling off a horse or tumble over cliffs. Why at their ages are they doing this craziness I ask? And when at home in Idaho, they hike, bike and kayak during summer and ski in winter.

Today I obsess about life’s tenuous nature. Today I consider the extent to which we take for granted that we’ll be here next month, next week, even tomorrow. We’ll take care of ourselves beginning next week, we’re too busy today. We’ll call that close friend we’ve been neglecting, hug our husbands, kids, or grandkids.

Tonight my husband and I are going to a movie we’ve been meaning to see. If Robert knew it was his last day, surely he wouldn’t have spent it any other way.

Marlene Samuels is a sociologist and writer interested in adoption issues, the changing American family, and aspects of regrets and subsequent choices. She has published short stories, essays, memoir and teaches research methodology workshops. Currently, she is completing a short story collection. She is co-host of the culinary website, www.expendableedibles.com and has published food related articles as well.