What’s In a Pen Name?

pen name3So today is my birthday.  Not a particularly special one, but one more in the can.  Entering my 58th year today – in a few years, I’ll be 60.  Well, in three years to be precise.

My husband is 60 on Sunday.  Sorry, honey, I know.  Who wants to be reminded of that birthday.  Even if 60 isn’t what it used to be (or 57, for that matter!)  You did notice, smart reader that you are, that our birthdays are exactly two days apart.  Not that we planned it that way, but it is curious.  Yet in my dating life, it wasn’t so curious at all, as I knew a lot of people born in October and November.  For some reason, I gravitated towards them or they gravitated towards me.  My first husband’s birthday is a week before mine, too.

Statistically, October is a big month for birthdays – which must have something to do with the fact that January is a pretty cold month in the Northern Hemisphere, so people get busy indoors.  With the predictable result happening in October.

Not that I mind, but it’s crowded in our family.  My son was complaining the other day about this – all the birthdays are this month!  For him, that’s his sister, his girlfriend, his mom and his dad and his step-dad, and than in very early November, his two step-brothers (who are twins).   That’s a lot of birthdays.

So enough of birthdays – they happen, we’re lucky that they happen as they mean we’re still here and that’s that.  They are just one day a year and for most folks who don’t share my birthday, October 24 is no big deal (unless you work at the United Nations, then it’s also their ‘birthday’ or anniversary day of their founding, so you probably know about this day, too.)

I’m still at work on the novel and gearing up for NaNoWriMo which starts in about a week.  I’m going to use scrivener this year to write book two of my series.  Of course, I haven’t yet finished book one, but I’m pretty close.  So I’ll probably bang that out at the beginning of the NaNo month – and if you don’t tell, neither will I.

And along with all this writerly stuff, I decided that I’d like to maintain some separation between my fiction writing versus any non-fiction writing I may try to publish.  So for that, and for the fact that my real name is boring, I’ve picked a pen name.

I should back up a bit.  I’m a bit loosey goosey on names anyway.  Most women are, quite frankly.  After all, traditionally we are the gender who actually changes our name upon marriage – and less often changes it back upon divorce.  Names have a fluidity for many women that men cannot begin to understand.  Well, after all, we do live in a patriarchy, or so I’m told constantly by young third-wave feminists.

In fact, some of them are giving a rasher of shit to George Clooney’s brand new wife for changing her name to his.  She’s already gone so far as to have her name changed at her law firm in London – I’ll bet she even got new business cards with the new name.

Because some people are making a deal about this, I applaud the new Mrs. Clooney.  She wishes to give her husband this gift of aligning herself to him in this way.  I know . . . why does she have to align herself to his family?  Why doesn’t he choose to change his name to hers?  Well, in this case, he’s too well known by his name and she is less so by hers, which is probably part of it – but okay, I’ll go with patriarchy as the primary explanation.

We’re living with this a bit in our own family right now.  My step-son and his girlfriend are having a baby in March, a boy.  They’ve had the name discussion – not just first name – and agreed that the baby’s last name will be my step-son’s, but that the middle name will be a family name from her family (although not her last name apparently – she’s using another family name which can double as a first or middle name.)

There really is no reason why this baby has to have my step-son’s name, obviously, or even hers.  Parents can, legally, pick any name they want for their child, and that includes the last name.  But almost always babies get their father’s name – yup, there’s that patriarchy again.  Sorry – I guess in this way it’s real at least in the Western world.  I’ve no idea if this is the same elsewhere, although I’ve been told that in Japan if a man marries above himself in class, he often changes his name to match his wife’s family name, which serves as career enhancement.

And in our own house – I am finally in the process of changing my name to match my husband’s.  I did it once in 1981 when I married for the first time.  It took awhile and it was a real pain, the memory of which obviously has lasted longer than the marriage.  When the ‘Publican and I got married in 2006, I had a private practice under my first married name (I didn’t revert when I divorced because I had a child), so until I retired a year ago, it never occurred to me to change it to my husband’s.  People knew me by that name – I had a whole adult identity tied up with that name.  Although boring and somewhat common, it was mine (okay, and a whole lot of other people’s too).

But when I retired, I re-thought it.  My reasons for keeping my first ex-husband’s name – not really that relevant anymore.  Most of our family knows me as either that name or as Mrs. Husband’s name.  So why not just go for it?  And The ‘Publican liked it too, even if he never wanted to force me to do it.

Well, I’ve not done that much to effect the change, but I know what I need to do which includes dealing with both the DMV and Social Security Administration, neither of which I’m really looking forward to.  But it’s on the list and rising higher there, so it will be done – just about nine years later than usual.

So . . . back to the pen name.

Once the decision was made,  then it became what should it be?  And you know, it was an easier choice than I thought it would be.  I wanted the last name to be my father’s last name – or as we quaintly put in the patriarchy, my maiden name – and then I wanted to use a variation of my middle name which also is a variant of my mother’s name.

This honors the people who gave me life and is probably not as common a name as the one I carry around on a daily basis, and it’s a nod to the patriarchy, too, I guess.  After all, I’m going to use my father’s last name as my pen name, and yet, change my every-day name from my first husband’s to my current husband’s.  Brother – I need some re-education somewhere, I guess!

My actual middle name is Suzanne (yes, my mother’s first name is Susan, so Suzanne is a variant of her name.)  My pen name is Susannah.  Just a more musical sounding variation.  And a slightly different spelling.  I’ve always liked Suzanne as a name and when I was a kid I experimented with dropping the Laura and just using Suzanne.  That never stuck entirely, but I’m fond of the name and I’m especially fond of the variation of Susannah.

My maiden name is Brewster.  I didn’t realize what a common name this is in England until I visited for the first time many years ago and saw it splashed on manhole covers and on the roads of London.  I think the company either built the roads or, at the least, quarried the asphalt that made them.  When I was growing up I didn’t know anybody with the name, of course, and for some reason I got teased for it.  It’s obviously not any worse than most last names and is a whole lot better than a lot of them, too.  Yet, as a child, I was called “rooster” and, oddly, “booster.”  Okay, that’s not awful, but couple this with being a fat kid with glasses, and it was just one more thing to be unmercilously teased about.

I was glad to shed it upon marriage.  I never looked back, even when I got divorced and there was the question right on the form – “restore wife’s former name”.  Nope.  I was keeping this name I’d married into.  Although to be even more honest, it wasn’t even the real name of my husband, but his middle name that he’d changed to legally.  He was born a Smith and he couldn’t stand how common that name was, so he took his middle name as his last and picked a new middle name.  His father wasn’t too pleased about it, but other family members understood.  I was never Laura Smith.  I probably would have ditched that upon divorce!

I did say I was pretty loosey goosey about this stuff, right?

So . . . Brewster was a name I didn’t like as a kid, but was stuck with, and now I’ve mellowed about the name and, as an only daughter who didn’t pass on the name further, I decided to revive it with a pen name.  I guess if I get a book or two published, that will be a legacy of sorts that honors my dad.

So after all this buildup and meandering, I introduce my writer persona, Susannah Brewster. 

Now, back to writing!

Writing101 – Day Twenty Prompt

Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.

It’s the final day of the challenge already?! Let’s make sure we end it with a bang — or, in our case, with some furious collective tapping on our keyboards. For this final assignment, lead us through the history of an object that bears a special meaning to you.

A family heirloom, a flea market find, a childhood memento — all are fair game. What matters is that, through your writing, you breathe life into that object, moving your readers enough to understand its value.

Today’s twist: We extolled the virtues of brevity back on day five, but now, let’s jump to the other side of the spectrum and turn to longform writing. Let’s celebrate the drawn-out, slowly cooked, wide-shot narrative.

How long is long? That’s entirely up to you to decide. You can go with a set number — 750, 1000, or 2000 words, or more (or less!). Alternatively, you could choose your longest post thus far in the challenge, and raise the bar by, say, 300 words, 20 percent, three paragraphs — whatever works for you.

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So here’s the truth.  Although I have a lot of stuff, I don’t “treasure” most of it.  Frankly, considering the way I treat many of my objects, someone could reasonably say I treasure almost none of it.

That’s a bit harsh.

I did read a few others’ entries to get an idea of what they treasured and as I always am by other people’s honesty, I was in awe.  And like many of you, what I really treasure most tends towards the abstract and ephemeral (my marriage, love, freedom, my intelligence, a great cup of coffee).

Maybe I’m late in posting this because I was really rather embarrassed by the one thing I treasured.  It seemed petty, and privileged.  And having recently been called “privileged and condescending” my thinking went along the lines of – “you can’t write about that – how privileged and condescending of you!”

My inner critic is a bitch.

But bitch, sometimes you have to be happy with what you have.  I am blessed to have this and everything else in my life.  I don’t know if it’s just plain luck that I have it, or as a result of hard work and choices that I and others made, or a combination of both, but for sure I’m blessed.

Let me tell you a little story.  Really.  I promise.

I got married for the first time in 1981.  I know – some of you weren’t even born then!  Strange, huh?  Even I think that’s a long time ago, but when I was living it, at age 23, well, I was 23.  So I was young and the world seemed to stretch out infinitely, as it always does for a 23-year-old.

My husband and I didn’t have any money.  And there wasn’t anyone to pay for a wedding, so we made our wedding invitations and announcements, an aunt of his baked us a cake and someone else did the flowers, and I wore a nice but flowered dress.  We had gone ring shopping at a local jewelers and he had bought me a pretty gold ring that had potential to be modified for diamonds in the future.  He wanted to design his own wedding ring, so he opted not to get one at the time, which was fine since I couldn’t afford a ring for him.  I think my gold band (which wasn’t plain by any means) cost around $450.

We were married for about seven years total.  At the end of the marriage, no diamonds had been added to the ring, and he never got a ring for himself.  What we had to show for our marriage was our son, who was two when we separated, and a lot of debt.  We never owned a house or had any other financial assets.  Our son was truly our only asset.

I was single for almost two decades after this.  Single’s great – I highly recommend being single.  Actually, I recommend being single before getting married, if you can work it out.  I obviously have lived portions of my life backwards.

I thought I was an old maid at 23 and was wanting desperately to get married, so when I was asked, I said yes.  It wasn’t a terrible marriage, but I was young and he, although five years older, was also not terribly prepared for it either.  We both loved our son, but not each other.

Being single after having been married is much more problematic.  I did enjoy it, parts of it, and blessedly, I never became bitter over men and relationships.  I knew so many women for went through a long protracted “men are pigs” phase and some who never went beyond this.  But in fairly short order, I was able to meet people and date on occasion and even have a boyfriend or two.  Most didn’t meet my son as he was growing up.  I had a few more serious relationships over the years, but none took beyond the dating phase (even the one I have written about on this blog never got to the living together stage).

I met my current (and last!) husband in 2004.  I almost didn’t meet him at all, actually.  When people ask us how we met, I usually am open about it and will be here.  Why not?  You won’t judge me, right?

We met on match.com.  There, I’ve said it.  We are one of those couples. Just not as photogenic.

Now to back up a bit, I have to say that I was an early adopter of online dating.  When all my friends were saying, “oh my god, you’ll meet serial rapists and end up in pieces in dumpsters” (maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic), I was having coffee with nice but not eligible matches.  I learned the art of saying, “I don’t think we’re a match” and meaning it which was a way to not have to say, “it’s not me . . . it’s YOU.”

And I got to get rejected some of the time, too.  I’m not that fabulous, after all.

The fact is – most of the guys I met online were perfectly nice.  Some were abject weirdos, true, but the vast majority were just guys working in places where it was hard for them to meet women.  And I certainly didn’t want to date in-house, either.  Lawyers?  Forget.about.it.

So I learned a lot about the online world – how to navigate it, who was a possible, who wasn’t and a million other little things that only online daters learn.  The big one – the one I tried to adhere to 100% of the time – was “meet early.”  I had a few occasions early on of forming emotional attachments in the online sphere prior to meeting and then being terribly disappointed when I finally met them.  Or there was zero chemistry in person, and here I was acting like a silly schoolgirl online or on the phone (or worse, much worse.)

The other little rule that most women know of is what I call the two-year rule.  Which is that most men need about two years after a divorce before they are a decent catch again.

So when I got a wink from my future husband, I read his profile and it was – recently separated, in the process of divorce.  In other words, not even worth meeting for about, you know, the next 24 months. 

Not that he was looking for another wife or anything.  He was online to meet someone nice to go to dinner with.  I’d been at the singles game a whole lot longer than him, obviously, and was open to a re-marriage, but that certainly wasn’t his initial intent.

So we wrote back and forth once or twice and then I did the “let him down easy” email, saying I didn’t think it was a good idea since, of course, he was so newly single, blah blah blah.  He wrote back and said how disappointed he was in reading this and had looked forward to getting to know me.

Life is funny, isn’t it?

Because at the time I was flirting and writing online with future husband, I was also sortof dating a guy I’d been hung up on for quite a long while, and also, to add to the mix, kindof dating another guy, a lawyer! (ooooooh, those damn lawyers – so pesky).  Actually sortof was a lawyer, too – but when I was dating him, he hadn’t quite passed the bar yet.  Sortof was “perfect on paper” – divorced, yes, but as long as I was – with only one child who, like my son, was mostly grown up.  Kindof was divorced over two years with two younger kids.  So both of these guys were much more suitable than future husband was.

But sortof had another girlfriend (that’s why he’s ‘sortof’) and really wasn’t available to me.  And kindof?  Well, kindof and I had a so-called romantic weekend away which he mostly spent on the phone with his ex-wife, reminding her to do this, and helping her with that, and playing referee to the kids.

After the end of that fiasco, I re-evaluated and re-considered, and said yes to a phone call and then yes to meeting future husband.  I figured it couldn’t have been quite as bad as these two knuckleheads, sortof and kindof.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t as bad.  In fact, it was good.  And got better over time.

In 2005, he asked me to marry him and I said yes.  And he inquired as to whether he should surprise me with an engagement ring, or should we go together to buy it?  My answer was “I think you know me by now.”  Nodding he said, “we’ll go shopping together.”

One of the fun things about living in a big city is that they have all these districts, and Los Angeles is not alone in this.  Downtown, where I’d worked off and on for many years, has a wonderful jewelry/diamond district.  My elderly Aunt B has bought many a piece of jewelry from there, and it’s known that if you want a bargain, you go to the district and “never buy retail!!!”  First rule.

I’m sure they do surveys of who are the primary vendors in terms of country of origin, but after having spent some time wading through the shops and open air stalls, I would say it’s someplace vaguely from the Middle East – either Israel, Lebanon, Iran, Jordan, even Armenia, too.  Probably a fair number of Turkish vendors.  It’s quite the experience to shop there.

We did do a few smart things prior to shopping – I looked at a lot of ring styles, and schooled myself on diamonds and other stones, and then we went retail shopping at the mall to get a feel for prices and styles that were “off the rack”.  I found one ring designer that I liked and even found a style that I loved.  The retail store that carried his work had the ring and it was pretty expensive.  Of course, the expense would include adding the main diamond to it.

So that was the background and then we hit the diamond district.  Eventually we found a shop where we told them what we were looking for and what type of diamond we were looking for.

This woman was amazing – she found the designer online, the ring design and basically she made a slightly different, but similar, ring for me.  As she showed us diamonds, I saw one that I liked and then she showed us a bigger diamond.  The bigger diamond was slightly over two carats and the price was significantly higher.  I knew it would look better in the ring and with my hands (since I’m not a small woman), but it couldn’t be my call to spend more money.

But future husband said yes.  Immediately and without hesitation.  He could afford it and he wanted to buy it for me and that was that.

So it was a few weeks later, we went back to try on my ring and I’ve worn it ever since, even before we got married as I opted to have a single ring that is both engagement and wedding ring, not a separate engagement ring.

My ring is one of, if not the most, treasured physical possession I have.  It is beautiful and unique (main square two carat Aascher cut diamond with two sapphires and pave cut diamonds in a white gold setting) – I have literally never seen a ring like mine anywhere.  It looks at once antique and vintage (that’s the sapphires, as they were used a lot in rings in the 1920’s), and very modern.  And it fits me to a T.

Yes, it cost a lot.  And I don’t care.  I am blessed to have been given it by a man who I treasure and love (even if he pets me sometimes a bit too much).  And yes, I bought him a wedding band, too, although the cost for his band versus my ring was on a magnitude of about 50 to 1.  I got the better end of that deal, I guess.

But I think he’d say he got a good deal, too.  For after a long marriage to a woman who he had loved and treasured but who had many demons of her own that got in the way, he was just happy to be in a marriage with someone who laughed at his jokes and enjoyed his company.  Who appreciated him and allowed him to be his most creative self.  Etc. etc. etc.

So we both got a great deal.  I had to take a chance on someone who didn’t look so “perfect on paper” but was perfect for me, and he had to amend his sights from just dinner to a lifetime of dinners.













Writing101 – Day Nineteen Prompt

Okay – a Challenge?  Well, for someone who isn’t too keen on publishing free writing – yep!

At least 400 words (oh….that’s hard…..yeah, right.)

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So I was writing in my journal this morning about competition and what I think about it.  I’m still unclear.  I don’t consider myself a competitive person because I never was athletic or played sports, but of course, that’s a big fat lie.  I continually compared myself to others in the classroom.  With grades and test scores and all that stuff.  In fact, it was so toxic to my sense of self, that I think I’ve been putting up a big defense against it.  Telling myself I’m not in competition with someone else.

But it’s right here in my house.

Hubster is writing, too.  We have a joint blog but I don’t write on it a lot anymore – I’m over here writing away.  Since he’s also writing everyday, he’s actually written and finished a first draft of a novel.  It’s pretty good for a first draft – I’m reading it right now.  And I’m kindof jealous.  I’m also proud.  I’m also happy for him and even for me – if we can sell this, great.  Maybe make a few shekels – maybe not.  Plus, he’s had fun with it.

But mostly, I’m in awe.  He’s shipped something.  I’m not so great at that.  I guess, in a bigger sense, now that we’re both retired, we’re trying to find good things to do – and some of them cannot be the same things.  I’m trying to practice my writing although I don’t have any end game in mind.  I’m not working on a novel.  I wrote over 50,000 words on one a couple years ago during NaNoWriMo, but I’ve never finished it.  I just wasn’t sure about it, after all.  Who would read it, I wondered?

And maybe that’s part of the problem – part of my sense of jealousy or competitiveness and comparison.  Can we both be good?  Can we both just use writing for whatever reasons we use it?  Do we even have to like what the other person writes?

I’m the one who wants some space – he comes over and touches me, pets me.  I like it – mostly.  But sometimes, like a little kid, I’m like – too much!  Leave me alone.  I don’t want to be left alone entirely, I just want a little bit of breathing room.  And now we’re both writing?

I’m not going to figure out the ins and outs of marital stuff in one writing, I know that.  It always feels dense and uncomfortable and faintly irreligious – I love this man.  I do.  But I need to spend time alone.  I get up earlier now to go downstairs, to write in my journal – behind a closed door.  He writes in his office, behind a closed door and I type away upstairs.  Usually that’s enough space, but sometimes . . . it just isn’t.

I wish I had a good template for how much togetherness was optimal – how much we can do the exact same thing and have it be our own.  And not be each others.  I don’t have that template.  I lurch forward and backwards – come closer, go away.  Leave me alone, I miss you.  I get withdrawn and then I approach.  He looks hurt when I pull away – then I come forward and repair.

I want my work to be better, but then I realize how petty and childish that sounds.  Then I want to retreat and just stop writing entirely.  I want to keep mine secret, so he won’t read it.  But he’s not invasive.  That was my mother.  She was unable to give me any privacy and that’s not the case now.  I guess I do tend to judge him guilty for her earlier crimes.

Okay.  So he’s not my mother.  You think I’d know that by now.  But there it is – it’s an old feeling.

He’ll probably read this.  I don’t want hurt feelings over my own bullshit, so I hope he keeps it in context.  My best self wants him to succeed – and wants me to succeed, too.  My worst self is petty and feels wanting and scared.  I don’t want to operate from this self and sometimes I do.

I hate that I’m human some days.