For All the Amazing Women in My Life

This month is National Social Work Month, which is something that probably only social workers and people who work with social workers know about, let alone celebrate. It is also Women’s History Month. Not so coincidentally, the social work profession is dominated by women — 82% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are a lot of different explanations for this, from the fact that women were instrumental in creating social work as a field, to the idea that social work is women’s work (which some men want to change). All I know is that I happen to be surrounded by women most of the time in my daily work and this month I get to celebrate them twice.

I also happen to be part of an all-female writing group. This wasn’t by design — this was just the writing group that I ended up in after years of being part of various other writing groups. But one of the things that all the women in my group have in common is the desire to read and write about smart, capable, and complex female characters. And that is in part because we wanted to read characters that felt more like the women we actually know. Okay, so maybe the women in our day-to-day lives weren’t involved in secret all-women spy agencies, other world conflict surrounding a teen girl, or San Juan Island murder mysteries, but they are all smart, capable, and complex.

The other thing that this month holds for me, personally, is the reminder of some of the amazing women I have lost along the way, including my grandmother and mother, both who died in March (though in different years). There may be more blog entries this month than I normally would schedule just to try to get a chance to talk about everything that March holds for me: celebration, community, grief, and legacy.

I am very grateful to be a part of these communities, and to be surrounded by amazing women as a social worker, a writer, and a friend. The women in my life have shaped who I am in ways I am still discovering. They have taught me to be kind to myself, to take risks, to push boundaries. They have lead by example, and made me want to be an example as well.

So to each and everyone of them I say: thank you. I wouldn’t be here without you.

Cider

Cider Love: An Introduction

Dear Readers,

Let us start with a confession: I do not like beer. In fact, for the longest time, I did not like the taste of alcohol at all. My first alcoholic drink that I remember ever fully trying was a Zima my elder brother had procured for me. I was maybe 16 or 17. I made a face after every sip of the blasted theoretically fun and fizzy drink and followed it up with another sip of soda to drown out the taste. I only made it half-way through the bottle, after which my brother swore I was intoxicated and started cussing up a storm (I did not cuss in those days) but I believe this to be an exaggeration stapled on to the story over the years in order to give the tale some flavor. The drink certainly had none.

There were other forays into the world of alcohol, but all with similar outcomes of choking down the stuff with bewilderment that drinking was such a popular activity. Then someone gave me a mixed drink, blue in color and sweet-and-sour in taste, filled with more sugar than an 11 year old at a birthday party, and my taste buds began to shift. It was a needed shift as I had spent much of my early twenties feeling like a social pariah, the odd one out who never played a game where the point was to force your opponent to drink alcohol likely tainted by a ping pong ball or quarter, who never bought a pitcher of some pale yellow substance to share with friends in some sort of bonding ritual of bad decisions, and who spent every party trying to hide the fact that I was the one that consumed the last of the “mixers” which is why everyone was now doing ill-advised shots.

Then a dear friend handed me a bottle and changed my social drinking life forever: a bottle of Magners Irish Cider. You cannot imagine the complete relief I felt after discovering that there was an alcoholic drink that I actually enjoyed, and that came in a pack that I could buy and bring with me to parties. No more would I have to try to find that one beer that tasted the most like (filthy, gross) water and shove lemons and limes in it and nurse it with the same enthusiasm formerly reserved for eating Brussel sprouts. No longer would I have to buy a six pack of whatever beer I happened to last see a commercial for and present it to the party like an entrance fee while only actually consuming the fruit punch flavored water I brought with me.

No, in Magners I had found that rare beast of party-acceptable beverage that I actually wanted to consume myself. It didn’t even matter if no one but me drank my proffered prize – it just meant more cider for me. I also had a reason to prefer one drinking establishment over another based on how they answered this question: “do you have any hard cider?” Bottle or pint in hand, I could walk among my fellow drunken revelers confident in my ability to fit in with the throngs while also remaining somehow unique, which is the ultimate goal of most twenty-somethings.

My palate for alcohol has sophisticated since my first sip of Magners, and the discovery that I liked both wine and whiskey has ensured that I can always find a drink appropriate to the social occasion, but my love of hard cider as a category has only deepened. Thus, every month I will pick one cider to review for you, my dear readers, so that you may share my enthusiasm for all things fermented apple.

Next month: Magners, my first cider.

Libation-fueled love,

J. M. Phillippe

More Than a Day Job

I didn’t start out life wanting to be a social worker. Honestly, I had no idea what a social worker did, and certainly never had any aspirations to pursue a career in the field. I had graduated with a dual degree in English (creative writing) and Journalism, and was convinced that I was on the Jack London/Hemingway journalist-to-novelist path.

Life, of course, had other plans, and where I eventually ended up was public relations. I am sure there are people for whom public relations is the right career. I am not that person. I was searching for something more than the long list of crappy day jobs I’d held throughout my twenties, something different than the marketing-focused writing I was doing, and someone suggested that social work might be the right way for me to go. It was a two-year professional masters degree. There were licenses to earn that would eventually put me at the “can have a private practice” level, and all my experience working in various types of jobs over the years would be an asset in the field.

So I did my research and discovered that social work was actually a very interesting and varied field, with clinical work, community organizing work, and even jobs in the for-profit sector. There were tons of different populations I could work with, in a huge range of job titles, but it was the clinical parts that appealed to me. Social work has been described as psychology meets sociology, or possibly, applied psychology. Clinical social workers are less interested in how people got to where they are than helping them make the changes they need to make for a successful future. Most social workers want to put themselves out of work. That is, the goal is to get our clients to a point where they no longer need our services because whatever goal they came to us with has been achieved.

For me it ended up being the ultimate day job, because it doesn’t feel like a day job. I currently work for an agency that serves families who are at risk of having their children placed into foster care. I do family therapy; it is the most challenging work I have ever done. And yes, it is rewarding, but not in the way most people think of. Like being a writer, the moments that make it all worth it are more sporadic than people want to admit. But they are there, and they are amazing.

Whenever I told people I was a freelance writer, they would sort of nod along and ask me how it was going with a tone that suggested that it probably wasn’t going very well. To be fair, in my case they were probably right. Now, when I tell people I am a social worker, those who have a sense of the field usually make some sort of comment along the lines of “I don’t know how you do it.” There is usually a sense of oh, you’re one of those really socially minded people who like, helps other people. Well,  yes. I am. And yes, it is hard. But also, it’s a job. I’m not a saint. I collect a paycheck, too.

But if it sounds impressive, I’ll take it. 😉

Writer, capital W

Writers write. It is the most passed on wisdom of every book, blog, article, podcast, interview, or novelty mug about writing. Writer’s write. They do it every day. They do it with a passion and a drive akin to that of breathing. They write because they cannot help themselves; they would be lost if they could not write.

If you can be happy doing anything else, the famous quote goes, then do that. Don’t write because you merely want to or think the lifestyle would be nice. Write because it is in your blood, because you can’t help yourself, because you are so driven. If you are not driven, if you are not writing every day (EVERY DAY!!) then don’t bother calling yourself a writer. You’re a hobbyist, a poser, something else, something scornful. You’re not a real writer.

Impostor syndrome is alive and well among writers, that feeling that somehow whatever it is you are doing, it’s not enough to claim the title of Writer, capital W.

I don’t write every day. I have never maintained a consistent writing schedule. My journals and diaries over the years go from daily entries to every-so-many days, to weeks, even years later with quickly scratched out “since last time I wrote, all this happened” summaries. And yet, since I was 8 years old, I have called myself a writer. Well, I called myself a writer until some point in my late 20s, maybe around when I turned 30, when I realized that I was not writing every day, or very much at all, and that maybe, maybe, I should give up the title.

These days I call myself a social worker, thanks to the degree I earned, the license I obtained. I have found in this title, this new identity, markers that fit me very well. Social workers are great at giving help but horrible at asking for it. Social workers solve everyone else’s problems, but not their own. Social workers analyze, and over analyze, and then question the biases and prejudices that fuel those analyses. They are sensitive (perhaps overly so) and they care a great deal. But they are also jaded, cynical, have seen too much. They press on anyway, with a dogged optimism that they never bother trying to reconcile with their cynicism. They hold both together at the same time.

But I have never abandoned my first dream, my first identity, of being a writer. It has become my self-care, the comfort of a story, the pleasure of a well-turned phrase, the peace that comes with getting into the flow of a narrative, and letting it carry you away.

And now I am happy to announce that I may finally have a new chance to make a claim on an old title. My book, Perfect Likeness, has found a publisher, and come this September I will be impostor no more!