Friday, November 30, 2012

What we all share

So my participation in NaBloPoMo crashed and burned. But I learned a really valuable lesson in sticking with it as long as I did. The lesson: it's not that hard to write more frequently and I enjoyed doing so. I hope to keep up more frequent posts from now on--it's rewarding to push myself to think and write and interact. I actually like blog writing, and I'm not sure I did before NaBloPoMo.

I went missing because life intervened and I had no time or words to write.

I had a friend--I'll call her M--who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She was a fighter. I didn't know her well before the diagnosis because we were just colleagues. I knew her to be a great teacher, a sweet coworker, and a hard worker. After the diagnosis, we became friends. She was encouraging of my starting a family late in life. She told me wonderful stories of her own path through motherhood. I didn't see her often, but I stopped by her house for tea several times and I was part of her email list, the list of friends to whom she sent updates on her fight against cancer and her attempts to rejoin the working world. For six years she fought. At one point, her doctors said that she was most likely cured, that the cancer was gone for good, and that they didn't expect to see her back. A few weeks later her left leg started hurting and it was cancer. Back. Spreading.

I saw her at a party about two months ago and she looked great. She had just had a new set of scans done and they looked really good. No detectable cancer. She talked to me about maybe coming back to work. But things went very quickly downhill and a new set of scans found that her liver was shot through with cancer. She went on hospice about two weeks ago and within a few days, she was gone.

She died on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Her funeral was on Tuesday. It was incredibly moving. I'm not Catho.lic but I found the full mass and even the open casket to be profound. It brought home the point that M was no longer with us. Her body was here, but SHE was gone. And she left us with so much.

I wish I had known her better. I wish she had been able to come back to work on a part time basis. I wish I could see her smile. Her daughter spoke at the funeral and described her perfectly. I sobbed quietly as I listened. For her and for me and for everyone who will have to face the loss of a loved one. Because we all will. We will all bury someone we love, if we haven't already.

I never spoke with her about it, but her daughter said that she had made peace with death and that she believed she was going to serve G*d in a new capacity. I hope that's true. I hope G*d exists and that he welcomed her with open arms. I have no idea what I really believe--my beliefs are all sketchy and agnostic in nature. But really--if there are people who deserve G*d and life after death, M is among them.

In other sad news, another close friend lost his father on Thanksgiving evening. He was at our house when he got the news because he and his partner had come down from NYC to celebrate the holiday with us and M's family (we hosted a big buffet dinner for 13). His father had been quite sick, had just had bypass surgery and was not recovering from it well. But getting the call was a shock nonetheless. One minute we were sitting around the living room having wine and laughing and then in the next, we were comforting a grieving friend who was coming to terms with the sudden loss of his father.

We will all be there. Grief is something all humans share. We owe it to each other to be good at comforting our loved ones in their time of need. I know we're not. I don't feel particularly good at it, though I'm not shy about trying. I'd rather be awkward and present than hiding from grief and pain. I think it's vital to be a witness to people in their time of need and to let them know you're there for them, whatever they need.

I think we need classes. Required. Perhaps at the high school level. To process the fact that we will all die and that we will need to comfort others. Let's see: math at 8:00, physics at 9:00, english at 10:00, and death and dying at 11:00. Sound reasonable?

I'll return to lightness again soon, I'm sure. It's part of the cycle of life: deep sadness, awkwardness, silliness. Laughter is such a normal, real reaction to death. I remember a close friend who told me that right after her father died, she and her sisters started laughing. Giggling. They couldn't stop it and it wasn't disrespectful. It was relief after a long struggle with cancer.

If you can say a brief prayer of thanks for the life of M, if you're a praying sort, please do. She was a lovely woman and will be missed.

Friday, November 16, 2012

crawling out from under a rock

Baby E is finally better. The double ear infection is on its way out. But in its wake, I've gotten walloped by a migraine, or something like a migraine. It's a massive headache that is barely eased by a big dose of ibuprofen, and I mostly want to lie in bed and feel sorry for myself. Today is better then yesterday so I can only hope that tomorrow will see some relief.

And now I'm going to crawl back under my rock, or in my bed (supposed to be working from home, which I'm interpreting as occasional email answering and doing not much else). Hope all is well with everyone else.

Oh, and great news about Pam and Blood.signs. I am relieved she's continuing on. Such great writing.

More tomorrow or whenever my brain isn't throbbing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


There is a great prompt for Friday's NaBloPoMo and I'm going to jump ahead and answer it. Here's the prompt: Would you buy your dream house if the price was right BUT you also were told it was inhabited by ghosts.

Answer: No. I'd pass.

I'm not a big believer in the supernatural, mostly because the prospect of it is too frightening to imagine. Even so, I wouldn't take the chance, and if my subconscious got too wrapped up in considering ghosts in my new fancy house, I'm sure I'd see things that were not there and hear voices that were mostly in my own mind. Just for my own sanity, I'd have to pass on the dream house.

I do have at least one possibly supernatural experience to share, however, even though it might make me seem crazypants. I don't think I've shared it here before. Many years ago, a family friend (Mr. G) died of a brain tumor. I had known this man since I was in third grade and he died when I was in my late 20s. I hadn't seen him much since high school, but he and my mother were very close, so I had heard a lot about his fight against the tumor over the past few years. When my mother called to say that he had died, I made plans to come home for the funeral and felt quite sad, in large part because I knew he was leaving behind two grown kids, a wife, and his best friend, my mother, all of whom loved him dearly. I loved him, too, even though I didn't really know him as an adult. He was the kind of man I knew I'd someday want to marry: kind, curious, smart, open-hearted.

The night after his death, I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night to find Mr. G sitting on the end of my bed. It felt clear as day and I did not feel at all like I was dreaming. I can even remember the sensation of the foot of my bed being pressed down by his weight, and my blanket tugged a bit where he sat on it. When I awoke, he was in the middle of a sentence, so I'm not sure how long he'd been there. He never moved around the room or addressed me directly. All he did while he visited was talk. It was like he had to get some things off his chest and I was supposed to just listen. I remember nothing of what he said. Mostly, I was annoyed by this visit. I had been happily asleep and wanted desperately to get back to it. I asked him to leave a few times, but he ignored me and kept rambling on. He wasn't upset or angry or sad. He never even looked my way, in fact, but stared off in space or at the floor while he talked. I remember drifting off to sleep a few times, and each time when I awoke and saw him still chatting away, I felt annoyed and hoped to fall back asleep again soon. At some point when I woke up again from one of these little naps, he was gone and it was almost morning. He had been there for hours.

I've had many dreams in my life, some of which felt quite real at the time. But I've never had another situation quite like this one. I don't know how to explain it, but I would swear to you that he was there. He sat on my bed and talked. And then he went away. I've never been visited by him again and have no feeling that his ghost exists or is haunting me or anyone else.

I called my mother the next morning and when I told her what happened and how it felt, she burst into tears. She said she had a strong feeling that it wasn't a dream and it was him. Earlier that night, in fact, she felt like he came to her but left quickly before they had a chance to talk. Her theory was that perhaps he felt like he could talk to me, and that because we weren't close, I was a safe person to process some things with before heading away for wherever (or whatever) the next world might be.

If someone else told me this story, I'd be certain it was just a vivid dream brought on by the intensity of his death and my feelings about it. But I was there. I don't know how to make sense of it. I don't actually believe in ghosts, I swear. I just believe that Mr. G visited me before he was fully dead and after his body had expired.

Other ghosts? They're almost certainly fictional. But I'm not buying a dream house with ghosts in it, just in case.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Derailed and A Note For Pam (two posts in one)

1. I got derailed yesterday and didn't post because E spiked a sudden fever of 104.7 due to a double ear infection. Came out of nowhere. One day, she had a normal runny nose (it had been hanging around for a couple of days--I thought it was on its way out) and then boom. Fever. Pediatrician visit. Amoxici.llin. Feverish baby. Sleepless night.

So yeah. Posting wasn't at the top of my things to do list. Fevers are so strange. I get that they're a productive phenomenon. It's the way the body is actively fighting infection. Yet a high fever in a little child is so scary. I've been alternating tylen.ol and ibu.profen and it's coming down. I think after another dose or two of the antibiotic she'll be on the mend for real.

2. On another note, I'm very sad that one of my favorite bloggers, Pam from Blood.signs, is closing shop, even though I completely understand why it's happening and I respect her need to do what feels right. Unfortunately, her blog went private before I had a chance to post a comment saying thank you, and I don't know her personally to have contact info to say it via email.  I can't imagine that she reads my blog because I was not a regular enough commenter to be on the radar. And I'm not a very consistent writer, so even if she knew who I was, I'm not sure she'd come by a second time to read my sporadic posts. On the off-chance that she stops by here for some reason, I want to say this (and if you know her and can pass it along somehow, I'd be grateful!):

Pam, you were one of the first bloggers I read on a consistent basis and you are an amazing writer. Our paths have been quite different in some ways (not the same kind of IF journey, not living in the same part of the country, not the same family configuration, and so on), but in other ways, your story has often felt so similar to my story, specifically in terms of the relationship between you and your mother. It's been a wonderful thing to read your words these last four-plus years and I am grateful for all that I've learned as a result of your writing. You've allowed me to think about my own mother, my own childhood, in new ways. Such a major contribution to my life, and certainly, to the lives of others.

And more than that, I've truly enjoyed your writing. It's often beautiful. It's sometimes hard (both in the sense of being difficult and in being rough edged). And most importantly, reading your work has always been worthwhile. Thank you for challenging us readers to keep up. I know you'll continue writing, and if you do so in any public way, please do let me know (contact via rachael623 at gmail dot com). I would be happy to continue reading whatever you have to say in whatever genre you choose to say it.

So thank you. Blood.signs was well loved by this reader, and I hope to have the opportunity to read your words again.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

learning curve

My husband and I were talking today about how we've probably learned more in the last three years than we had in our entire lives (except for the amazing first year of life, when we all probably learn more than the rest of the years combined). In three years, we've bought a house and moved in with each other (we lived separately until then). We've had two children and have figured out how to do basic child care (neither of us had ever spent time with a baby until W arrived....I had only changed one or two diapers before 2009, in fact). We've survived a few health crises, including W's week-long stay at the children's hospital when he wasn't breathing on his own properly. We've dealt with a serious decline in my father's health and well-being (a story for another time, but it's taxing, to say the least).

There's a lot left on our plate, of course. We're still learning every day. And we are a bit worse for the wear. But we're still here. We're still attempting to make it all work. We have learned more these last three years that I could have ever anticipated.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Not much time to write, but thought I'd share a quick experience before heading off to bed (and to make sure I keep up with this month-long posting extravaganza).

We had a date tonight (!) and saw a concert. I won't tell you the musician, but it wouldn't matter anyway because he's not a popular guy. He's a musician's musician, if you know what I mean. Serious guitar players would have heard of him. My husband is the one who knew him, and so that's why we got the tickets. I had no expectations. I've heard about him through my husband and other musician friends, but couldn't recognize his voice or one of his songs if I was being paid a million dollars to do so. I don't even know how to describe the style: maybe blues, maybe a bit of bluegrass, some rock and roll. It was genre-less. In fact, even after the concert tonight, I'm not sure I know one of his songs, and that's a little odd, right?

Turns out, the concert was really great. Sure, the music was good. But what really blew me away was how generous this guy was. He had a backing band of guys with him (two guitarists, one violinist, a drummer, a trumpet player, a saxophonist, and a mandolin player), and essentially, they just threw around melodies. The main guy played the starring role, in a sense, but mostly because he made sure that the other guys all got the spotlight, and when he liked what one of them was doing, he'd keep the spotlight there, he'd yell "play it again," and the younger musician would have his moment in the sun.

As I watched this go on, I realized that this is really what good teaching is. Yes, it involves sharing one's rich knowledge of a subject, and it means controlling the classroom environment. But mostly, it involves being generous and allowing students to be in the spotlight. It means calling out their strengths, forcing them to push themselves beyond where they think they're good, and then stepping aside when they get there.

Friday, November 9, 2012

a mundane Friday

Yo, NaBloPoMo is hard! I don't think I'm interesting enough to post every day. I'll keep going, but seriously...I'm not cut out for this kind of blogging intensity.

I went to the dermatologist today for my yearly checkup. I was blessed (hah) with fair skin and so I have to have someone look over my entire body to make sure that there are no spots or things changing that need attention. I come from a long line of pale people, several of whom have had spots and freckles removed over the years (including both of my parents). This year was the same as usual: nothing to worry about, see you next year.

It was so routine that my palpable relief is a surprise. I've mentioned before that I don't always have great interactions with doctors. I don't know why. I believe in modern medicine, so I'm not the kind of patient that comes in with crazy remedies to suggest or self-diagnoses to push. I follow directions well. I'm relatively smart, so I understand most of what a doctor or nurse is saying (and I'm actually interested in what they're saying--I geek out at how the body works and how medicine addresses problems). Yet I still experience a bit of white-coat syndrome before and sometimes after a doctor visit. It's like I'm clenching internally, and once the visit is over, I finally relax and can breathe again. I don't even realize I'm doing it, in fact. I hadn't really thought about the dermatologist visit until I got there, and yet I clearly had been more freaked than even I realized. Interesting.

Other than the derm visit, I did very little today. I "work" from home on Fridays, which means that I should handle some business via computer and maybe do other things to prep for next week, like grade and read and write up some notes. But the doctor visit kinda wore me out and I spent the rest of the day puttering and doing some grocery shopping. I had many plans (organize photos into albums, do several loads of laundry, prepare meals for the weekend). None of them happened. Why do I set myself up for failure on these Fridays? Something to think about. Maybe next Friday I'll plan nothing. Nada. And then perhaps I'll actually get something done.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

keeping my hands full

When I picked up baby E from daycare yesterday, one of the infant room teachers said "you're going to have your hands full with that one." I chuckled and finished packing up her things, but then asked,"wait, what do you mean by that?"

Apparently, baby E has a strong personality and does not easily move away from things she wants. She's not mean or tempermental about it, but she's certain of herself, even at the ripe old age of 13.5 months old. She's insistent.

It's true that this could mean that her teen years will be trying, and this is what the daycare teacher meant--she imagines that E will continue to be a strong personality and that parenting her will be a challenge. For the most part, I think this is an exciting thing. I'm glad that she's strong-willed, as it's something I often wished I was, especially when I was younger. I look forward to knowing this little girl into her young adulthood (G*d willing), and if she's a challenge, so be it.

Ultimately, this brief exchange reminded me again that this parenting thing is an ever-evolving set of challenges. Just when I get to know one stage, W or E will move right out of it, leaving me to adjust and change along with them. Not a new revelation--I've known this since the early and sleepless days of W's babyhood--but it's a truth that never stops catching me off-guard. Parenting is like a mental form of yoga in which we bend and twist, thinking we're doing a great job, only to remember that yoga isn't about "winning," but is about continuing to bend and twist.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

post-election hangover

First, I am feeling quite relieved, both that the election is over and that the people I hoped would win mostly did. I'm especially thrilled about the same sex marriage amendments passing in Maine and Maryland, and that Minnesota voted down an amendment to exclude same sex marriage. Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that the disturbing discourse about rape and women's bodies was rejected with the defeats of Akin and Mourdock. As a feminist, I am thrilled all around.

Second, I like this article on Slate about how there is still lots of work to be done. Obama's win may be a clear victory, but it doesn't mean that he's necessarily doing everything right.

Third, normal life can now resume. I spent too much of yesterday with my jaw clenched. I couldn't move away from the fact that a major decision was coming and I had nothing (other than voting) to do with it--it was out of my hands and yet I couldn't wait to know what would happen next. I didn't make it to the gym on Monday because I was so overwhelmed with the looming election, and I'm not going to get there today because it's starting to snow and I'd rather snuggle in at home for a bit. But tomorrow. Tomorrow, normal life can resume. It's an exciting prospect.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

my first act as president

What would be your first act as president? This is such a great question (it's the prompt for NaBloPoMo).

There are so many possibilities, but I think I'll go with this one. I'd immediately push (again) for and end to the Defense of Marriage Act and I'd reiterate that I'd support any and all measures to ensure full legal rights for same sex couples to marry. I know there is little the president can actually do at this point to make it happen (it has to be a legislative process, if I understand it all correctly), but I'd make it one of the very first things I'd  talk about in the hopes that things might move forward.

I heard an interesting interview on NPR's Air the other day on which the person interviewed proposed a national draft in which all young people, male and female, college student and non-college student alike, would be eligible for the draft. If they were drafted, they'd get lots of benefits for their service (free college education and other great benefits for life, like special mortgage deals). Further, they could choose whether they'd do military or non-military service, and military service would offer the very best deals (non-military would be good but not as good as military). And to appease the libertarian types, there would be a third option in which someone could opt out of the draft altogether, but the deal would be that they'd have to take a penalty in which they'd never be eligible for government-backed things like student loans and special mortgages through the FHA.

It just sounded great. I have no idea if this is a feasible option and I'm sure I'd be pretty annoyed if my college plans were disrupted for a few years in order to do domestic projects (I'd certainly choose non-military service). But it seems to me that this is one solution to the problem of fighting wars in which the wealthy and privileged among us get to opt out altogether. I've been horrified at the fact that we've been fighting wars for years and young people have died to protect this country while the rest of us take a pass and watch reality tv (myself included). And like any other big program, once people got used to it, it would be normal and part of our everyday lives. I'd be happy if my kids had this option, I think, and while I'd certainly hope and assume they'd choose non-military service, just because I'm not really ever on board with war (except in extreme circumstances), I'd like for them to feel invested in their country and their government in a way that most of us don't feel.

Monday, November 5, 2012

tomorrow's the big day

I'm not terribly shy about my political leanings. I'm on the left. Pretty far left, in fact, although I am not so far left that I don't find common ground with people in the middle and on the right, even. I've known many--too many--lefties who were so hardcore in their beliefs that they couldn't relate. I do relate. We're all humans. We all have beliefs and hearts and minds, and while I can't often understand why someone from the other side thinks as they do, I respect them for having those ideas and for caring about the political process enough to take a stand. In fact, I sometimes have more trouble with complete middle-of-the-roaders than I do with people on the other side. Strange, right? The lack of taking a stand is what gets me.

It seems to me that in order to have a true participatory democracy, we need to have true respect on all sides, and that's certainly lacking in today's political discourse. I don't watch or listen to much of it except for a little Jon Stewart when I have the time and have remembered to DVR it. I get most of my news from NYT and NPR in the car, and I feel relatively well informed.

It's probably clear where my vote will go, then, when I step into the booth tomorrow morning. And I will be hoping that the other guy doesn't win--I feel a bit terrified at the prospect. It seems too close for comfort all around, though maybe superstorm sandy will remind people that the government is necessary and that taxes go to support real people who need that support in times like these.

I hope this doesn't drive away any of my three or four readers. But if I'm going to blog, I'm going to be true to myself. And I'm not expecting to change anyone's mind here. Just trying to state where I am and what I believe, in short.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

sunday blahs

It is COLD today. I went for a very long walk with W. He was on his tricycle (it's got a thing on the back that I push because he's otherwise not very good at sticking with it for long). The intention was to do a few laps around the block, but it was so cold that I wanted to keep moving, so we wandered out of our neighborhood and explored some nearby streets. All in all, we were outside for almost two hours and he was a real trooper. He not only wanted to keep going, but he even got off the bike and ran a bit the way toddlers do. I love toddler running--it's so free and open!

But since we got back around noon, I've settled back into what I often call the Sunday blahs. The week is upon us, with all its lunches to be made, sippy cups to be washed, commutes to be made, and work to be done. It's the last respite. It's not that I don't like Sundays. I do, sometimes. But with little kids around the house, my fave Sunday activities are impossible (reading the newspaper and doing the crossword in a leisurely fashion, for ex, or taking a long afternoon nap...oh how I miss napping!). Instead, we're trying to have a peaceful day while gearing up for the week that is coming.

In short: all is well here in our little warm house. Sunday blahs are fully in session. And I'm huddled under a blanket blogging and reading blogs for a while before the kids wake up from their naps. Hope you're having a peaceful (maybe less blah-like) day!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

mommy outsider (a one woman pity party)

Yesterday, I went to daycare because they were having a halloween parade--the kids all wore their costumes and walked around the parking lot while we parents went crazy and took pictures. Sweet.

But it was also bitter for me because I came face to face with the old feeling of social exclusion. I was chatting with the other parents in W's class, people I've known now for almost three years. I see them at pick up and drop off and occasionally at birthday parties and other non-daycare events (the few that exist). And I mostly like them. But I feel like such an outsider. Today, one of them referenced the fact that she texts with one of the other mothers and I realized that I don't have either of their phone numbers. None of them text me, and I got the sense that sometimes they all get together with their kids without me and W. I've tried to make overtures on occasion, but they seem not to pick up on those moments and so I'm not invited.

It's like high school all over again. I left feeling totally hurt, sad, and confused about how else to get into this little community of mothers who seem to like each other. And maybe they just don't like me.

Part of me says: this is ridiculous. Adult women aren't like high school girls and they're probably not excluding  me on purpose or out of spite. But it still is what it is. I'm still on the outside and not only am I hurt by it, but W is being left out of some social events that he might really enjoy. How do I get in without seeming desperate? I really think I've done all I can. I even came home after the parade and thought that perhaps I'd look for them on FB to share pictures from the parade, but didn't find anyone (not sure I have their names exactly right....not sure if they're even on FB).

I'm sort of surprised at how painful this is. I actually thought that these women and these kids didn't get together much outside of school, so I imagined all this time that we'd eventually build an outside-of-daycare community when the kids got a little older. Turns out it already exists, just not with me in it.

I am socially awkward. I know it. I often can't think of what to say and I don't know how to connect with people. I find it hard to relax in settings with new acquaintances. I do best when someone seeks me out, pushes past my awkwardness and just befriends me, whether I like it or not. Most of my friends, in fact, have evolved this way: they've chosen me and I've embraced them, making eventually for a lovely friendship. Once I become friendly with someone past that initial awkwardness, things usually smooth out. For some reason, I'm having trouble finding that post-awkward sweet spot.

Friday, November 2, 2012


I spent many years living in a small town in the middle of a midwestern state when I was in my 20s and early 30s. I expected to hate it. I grew up near a major city in the mid-atlantic region and even though we rarely spent time downtown, it was always an option. And because we were near a city, we got all the benefits of city spill-over (lots of good movie options, plenty of restaurants, great shopping, easy public transportation). I grew up thinking that everyone had these things. Oh how wrong I was.

In fact, I loved living both in the midwest and in a small town. There was a strong sense of community there, perhaps because we all had nothing else to do but hang with each other. I felt like my friends were actively part of my life--I saw a friend or two (or three) every single day, either at my house or at a local coffee shop or in the grocery store. It's true that there was nothing to do. We had one movie theater with three (maybe four?) screens, we had one Tar.get that was updated to a Super Tar.get right before I left, and we had very few international restaurant options: one Indian restaurant, one sushi place, and a couple of Chinese take-out places, largely because it was a college town. I could walk everywhere and there was a sweet little downtown that had antique stores, brewpubs and bars, a bookstore, a thrift shop, coffee shops, a wonderful public library, and a river to stroll along in the afternoons.

There was something very empowering about living in such close proximity to other people, too. That period of my life was the most politically active one to date. I cared about my town, my community, and my fellow midwesterners. When a tornado warning sounded, I climbed into my bathtub with my cat knowing that everyone else was doing the same. We were all connected, somehow.

It was also cheap. I mean really cheap. I rented a huge Victorian house, alone, for $325/month. Two bedrooms, huge kitchen, big dining room, great living room with a beautiful fireplace, two bathrooms, a front porch, and a backyard. How was that even possible? Answer: it was small town America where prices were low and there weren't very many bad landlords out to get as much cash as possible.

I may be romanticizing it all now that I live back in the same metro area where I grew up. Its true that there were other factors making that period of my life so lovely. I was in grad school, and that fosters immediate community. Of course I had many friends around me at all times--we were all taking classes together, we were all in the same kind of emotional and intellectual cauldron, and we were all bored, to some extent. We needed to have parties to fill up the long hours between tornado sirens and dissertation writing.

I wouldn't go back to a small midwestern town again. It feels like that part of my life has ended. But I wish there were elements of that life that I could have now. So perhaps the best option for me would be another small town, this time in the northeast or mid-atlantic region, that was no more than an hour away from a major city so that I had options and urban life spill-over. Technically, this is what I live in now, but the little town I'm in does NOT have a clear identity. It's more like suburban sprawl. There is no sense of community, really, and no real town center. We can't walk anywhere. When my car is in the shop and I'm not at work, I'm stranded at home--there is literally nowhere to go.

I would love to be more adventurous and to have said that I'd like to live in Costa Rica or Rio DeJaneiro or Paris. I'm not that person, though. I'm sort of a homebody, someone who likes having a little nest and a place to call my own. I DO have that, at least. My nest is mine and it looks like me, it contains my loved ones, and it's where I can relax. In the end, that's really all I need.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Gotta start somewhere

I decided to try NaBloPoMo for November. Am I crazy? Apparently. I almost a non-existent blogger as it is and now I'm going to try blogging every day for a month?

For my first post, I'm sticking (loosely) to the prompt: What is a favorite quotation and why?

This is not my favorite quotation--I can't even imagine choosing one quotation and naming it favorite--but it's a quotation from a poem I love, and I've read it multiple times in the last few days because I'll be teaching it this afternoon in my undergraduate class on women in literature. It's from Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck," which is a poem that I read to be about a woman who is diving into the ocean to see a wreck, a ruined piece of history. Instead of mythologizing that wreck or spending too much time imagining what happened to bring the ship down, or telling stories about the relics that remain on the ocean floor, she wants to see the wreck as it is:

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

What I'll explain to my students is that this poem is, perhaps, about how Rich wants us to see beyond stories, especially stories that have left women behind and off the page, obscuring their contributions to famous "wrecks" in history and achievement. Rich wants us to envision ourselves (women, in particular) as explorers, not as people formed by old arguments and ideas, but as people outside the old system. Starting fresh, more or less, not without history but without hangups about history.

Or, as Margaret Atwood said about Rich's poem, "The wreck she is diving the wreck of obsolete myths, particularly myths about men and women. She is journeying to something that is already in the past, in order to discover for herself the reality behind the myth, 'the wreck and not the story of the wreck / the thing itself and not the myth.' What she finds is part treasure and part corpse, and she also finds that she herself is part of it, a 'half-destroyed instrument.'"

When I'm reading it today, I'm not paying much attention to the existing story that says that this poem is a vital work from the second wave feminist movement. That it's about hacking away at old myths of men and women.

Instead, I'm gravitating toward the diver's desire to see things as they are. To strip away emotion and myth and to really SEE the damage, the "threadbare beauty," and the wreck itself. To appreciate a thing for what it is rather than what we say about it. To stop telling stories and to just be. Without mythologizing or providing a running narrative of what should be or what might become.

I feel like I'm often telling stories about myself, not in the sense of lying or of pretending to be someone I'm not. I hope that at the ripe old age of 43, I'm not doing that in a public way anymore. I used to play fast and loose with the truth when I was young. When I was a teenager, in fact, I spent a year or so telling my friends that I was dating John Stamos and that he and I went on secret dates in his limo, hiding from the press (which is why they couldn't meet him or know more about the relationships). I was so terribly ashamed of being relatively poor and uninteresting that I invented a life I thought would work to make me into a person worthy of friendship and love. It never crossed my mind that they wouldn't believe me. Or worse, I found that some friends played along. Maybe they were deluded, too (I think this was the case with one friend, someone who had invented a life of her own and perhaps somehow understood my desperation). Or, as is most likely, they didn't want to hurt my feelings by suggesting that I was lying. I wasn't who I said I was at all. Eventually John Stamos and I broke up--I was sad for weeks about it--and I returned somewhat to more petty lies about my home life and who I really was.

But today, I live more as I am. I wear less makeup than I did in earlier parts of my life so that I look like my real self and not a socially-acceptable creation. I say what I mean and I think before I speak, both of which make me feel more true to myself than not. I give my attention more fully than ever before, by which I mean that when I am with a friend or my kids or even myself, I am mostly there, in the moment. I'm not daydreaming about what I'm doing later; I'm present and am soaking in as much of the interaction as possible.

Being just Rachael is easier than dating a fictional 1980s-era John Stamos. It's closer to being with the wreck, to being the diver seeing the ribs of the disaster and the threadbare beauty of the boat's contents.

I wonder, though, how to apply this concept throughout my life and not just in a few hard-earned places. In my relationship, for instance, I fall back on old myths and stories about who we are and how our marriage is plagued by seemingly insurmountable problems. I see him as he has been, not as a person who he is right now, someone who is also trying (I think) to make things better, even if he's going about it in a different way than I am. I don't always (ever?) see him for him. I see him as I believe him to be.

In my academic writing, I berate myself for being a terrible scholar. I tell myself, in that mumbling interior voice, that I have no new ideas, that I never really did, and that I should settle for being just a teacher because that's what I'm good at. The worst version of this story goes like this: Rachael, you're really good at asking provocative questions of other people and at nodding your head and making supportive noises at the right time, but you're not really very smart at all. You're pretending to be smart--and you're totally getting away with it--but there's no real intellect behind that pretense. It's a good thing you're a good actor in the classroom. This is a terrible story to tell oneself. Why cannot I not give myself credit when it's due? Why do I persist in seeing the myth of my academic self and not the actual flawed but fully interesting scholar and teacher that I probably am?

. . . .

Just got back from teaching.  I don't know if I was just "off" today or if they were genuinely unmoved by this poem, but I had a really hard time getting discussion going about this Rich poem. Sigh. It wasn't a total wash--one student came up at the end of class and told me that she'll be writing a response paper about it because even though she didn't get it when she first read it, now she thinks she has something worthwhile to say. That's a bit of success, right? I'll take it.