children · joy · mortality

Creating a Life Worth Living.

Salted-Caramel-Ice-Cream-3-527x794.jpgPerhaps it’s my status as a cancer survivor, but I think about my own mortality a lot.

On Sunday, J and I walked to the Punjabi Burrito place in Fairfax (which, yes, is as magnificent as it sounds!!!).  We were having the, “So if this is really happening, what about kids?” conversation.

We’d discussed having kids before.  Within the first month of dating, I let him know that I wanted to have children if I could, that it felt really important to me.  Two years later, it still does.

Sitting eating a pumpkin basmati rice enchilada(!), I said my reasoning was still partly about sharing this awesome thing called life.  As I’d put it then, “Yes, the world is f*cked up and falling apart and dying… but it’s also amazing and fascinating and rich.”  As I said to my friend on the phone last night, “Only humans get to experience salted caramel ice cream.”

But I noticed on Sunday something new within me, a new reasoning.  I told J that the idea that once we’re gone, that’s it, there would be no one to remember, no legacy to live on, no lineage to carry forward, that it felt empty to me, or sad or like an absence.  That, with us, the branches of our family trees stretching back millennia would just end felt … like an incompletion, a void.

I said it reminded me of Macbeth: “Out, out, brief candle!”  (To which J replied wryly, gamely, “Yeah, that’s totally what it reminded me of, too.”);)

J’s concerns about having kids are typical ones: the expenditure of time and money.  Which, of course, are real, relevant, and not miniscule.  But.  So what, frankly?  All of life’s endeavors require time and money.

I told him that I wasn’t “Closed Book” on the having kids subject, that if he were truly able to lay out a vision of a life together that felt fulfilling (that really did include the pieces he wants that he’s afraid he won’t have if we have kids), that I’m honestly open to listening.

I want fulfillment, too.  I want him to feel fulfilled, too.

Our visions are not at odds, but whichever way they go will require openmindedness on the other’s part.

So: We’ll see.  This life thing is so good — and I’m so awed it includes salted caramel.

 

Advertisements
joy · struggle · TEACHING

Can’t Hardly Wait

2.14.18 cant hardly wait

In an uncanny manifestation of the maxim, “What you resist persists,” I am now an English Teacher.  Woe, that I defied this title, this job, for years!  Struggling against the inexorable pull, sneering at the middling title, eschewing a complacent slide into the profession.  (“Those who can’t do, teach.” …)

As a creative writer since youth, an English major, an English Master, a poet, blogger, and storyteller, I felt that to accept the job of English Teacher was sooo woefully predictable.  So average.  So unambitious.  So … basic.

Therefore, I skated around the pit I saw the job to be, and instead languished in all office jobs related to writing!  “Marketing.”  “Communications.”  Death.

Until the magnetic pull of what is the natural fiber of my being caught me, like an x-wing in a tractor beam.  Call it circumstance, fate, desperation, but I needed a new job, and a financially and professional flailing 30-something is not very attractive — to me or anyone else.

So, here I am, a Middle School English Teacher.

Just what I always resisted; just what I always wanted.

Middle school, I’d imagined, would be my preferred age-range (harrowing and potent as those years can be).  And I couldn’t have been more accurate.  I love this age.  Teaching this age, not being — being that age was horrible for me.  Therefore, I’d always thought that I wanted to help usher and guide upcoming youth through that awkward, excruciating time.

In this, my new and current school, my first year as a full-time MS English Teacher, I have discovered that I fit seamlessly.  My homework is to read YA literature; my day work is to discuss it.  My class work means I invent journal prompts for my students, like, “Write a Love Letter to a Piece of Nature,” or, for Tu B’Shevat: “You are a Tree.  Write at least 10 sentences.”

Recently, when I lamented to my boss that I emphatically did not enjoy or want to teach the book my 6th graders are assigned (one listed on the curriculum for years), whined that the language was too difficult for my more struggling readers, she merely replied: So don’t.

“Find a book that you truly love, that you can’t wait to teach.  And let me know.”

The end.  End of story, of lamenting, of struggle.  End of desperation.

Do what you love, the literature tells us.  Do what you love, my boss tells me.

Woe, that I resisted it so long.

 

 

abundance · joy · scarcity · time

Chunk.

chunk 8 20 17

During a professional development on Executive Functioning last week, they expressed the need for students to Chunk.  “Chunking” is looking at the big picture of an assignment and breaking it down into bite-sized chunks of Time.

Have a 5-page paper due in 2 weeks?  Here’s how you back-track and pencil in smaller tasks… so it’s not the night before with 5 empty pages before you.

To varied success, I use a chunking practice for my own time, much as I use a spending plan for money.  To write my “time plans” I sit with a hot cup of coffee, a fresh piece of paper, and (most importantly) a pencil.  From there, the first item is always, “8 – 8:05am: Coffee and Time Plan.”  And I catalogue the day’s tasks on.

The frothy thing about a time plan is that it’s…fluid.  Moveable, crunchable, expandable.  And by “frothy,” I mean “maddening beyond all belief.”  Took 6 minutes to write your time plan, not 5?  Mom call you at 8:10, during your 30-minute journaling?  Run into a friend at the store and spend 15 minutes in a chat? **Eek!**

Time plans are fluid because my day is not a Swiss clock.  I find this troubling.

When I put my time into a plan, I feel like I have order, control over my day, my life, my emotions, destiny, successes and failures. But time, and experience, are wily bitches and I can’t pin them down any more than a mud wrestler.

Because I’m scared, much as with money, that there will never be enough. Our time here is short.  Yet I don’t want to strangle life so firmly that I don’t enjoy it!

Time is not to control, but to partner with. Time is a kid running up a forest trail ahead of you, then lagging behind to witness a beetle’s progress up a leaf.  I must be open to that fluidity… but I also must have a general map of our path through the forest.

There can be side trips and cavorting in crystal streams — indeed there must be, or I shall die — but without a destination, I am too lost in the forest of life (and procrastination and Netflix).

So my task for now is to be looser with my time, to recognize the abundance of it.  To deeply know that if I aim my time in the direction of my dreams, there will always be enough — whether or not I finish my blog at 8:55am.

deprivation · fear · joy · recovery · self-love · truth

Getting the F*ck off my Knees.

On Friday night at 10 minutes to midnight sitting in my parked car outside my apartment building, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone.  I usually do this as a ‘before getting out of my car at the end of the night’ ritual.  I don’t know why.  Like I’m getting a few minutes’ alone time before I go into the house… but I live alone… with a cat. … so…  In any case, I came across a post about that evening’s blue moon, looked quickly at the clock and exclaimed, “Shit!”

I shut off my phone, dashed out of the car up to my apartment.  I took off my heels, slipped on flats, grabbed my loaner tambourine and climbed excitedly and nervously up the stairs to the rooftop of my building.

Pushing open the door, I saw before me a whitewashed roof with long pipes and what look like abandoned solar panels.  Dropping my keys by the door, I carried my tambourine to the center of the rooftop, shielding myself slightly from the view of neighboring buildings, and turned around to see the full, audacious moon before me. Then, I began to jangle the tambourine, and finally I began to sing.

…uh, what?

As I’ve come to the part of my recovery/internal work where we are instructed to “Humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings,” my mentor asked me how I’d done this step in the past. I told her I usually get on my knees and say some kind of prayer.

“Get the fuck off your knees!” she replied emphatically.

You see, I have a habit of being small.  Of minimizing myself, diminishing myself, down playing and ignoring my own needs out of fear and, mostly now, out of long-grooved practice.  This habit of deprivation and hiding causes many problems in my life, mostly because I am surely aware that I am not “meant” to be a mouse.

Being a mouse, though, often looks like me withholding my truths, not admitting what I really want from others and from myself and from life.  Things like. … I want to get married.  *gasp!*  It was near torture to say this aloud to her when we were discussing truths I never tell anyone.  It feels embarrassing to say it.  To feel it.  To want it. “I’m a modern woman, proud brave able! What a simpering, waif-like desire to have!,” goes my internal monologue.  And I wither to admit it to anyone else.

My mentor and I spoke at length that day, and she finally suggest-/insist-ed that I get a tambourine, dress up in something exciting and shout this truth, and all my others, to the heavens.

*Gulp*

So on Friday morning, two weeks after this suggestion, I finally obtained a borrowed tambourine (you’d be surprised how few there are around!).  I texted my mentor that tonight was the night!  And then I read online that it was also going to be a full moon, a blue moon in fact. This seemed most auspicious.  (For a woo-woo hippie shit chick like myself!)

The evening found me on the roof of my apartment building, fresh from a salsa lesson/live music dance in the city, in a hot dress and pulsing with feminine wiles, furtively tapping this noisemaker in my hand, trying not to feel embarrassed.

And then I began to sing.

I started softly and whirled myself into a crescendo, abandoning decorum, delighting in the jangle and thrill of the truth.  Gyrating, gesticulating, twirling around the rooftop, I sang loudly all the secret desires of my soul and my heart, echoing a refrain of, “I let go of being small!” and hammering wildly on the tambourine, an elegant, alight grin streaked across my face as I hopped lightly over the pipes, spinning around the roof until all my heart’s desires, all my tiny wishes I’m too ashamed to speak, had poured out of my throat and into the moonlit darkness.

Laughing, giddy, adrenalized, I headed back to the entrance door, calling brazenly to the bulbous moon: “Peace out, Blue Moon.”

healing · joy · recovery · relationships · self-preservation · trauma

Recalibrating the Bar.

Normal
0
0
1
521
2975
24
5
3653
11.1287

0

0
0

Surely, normal is relative. I read some of my blogs about my
past, and I think, Jesus, this is not
what “normal” people have dealt with. I listen to some of my acquaintances
share their histories, and I think, “Thank god things weren’t that bad with
me.”
In some comparisons, my life has been saner and pretty charmed; in other comparisons, it’s been dysfunctional and tragic.
Yesterday, I came home from hearing tell of someone’s tragic
past, “worse” than mine. Then I picked up where I left off in Autobiography
of a Face
, because surely the story of a
little girl’s jaw sawn off through cancer is “worse” than my own story.
And I decided then, it is time for me to recalibrate my bar for
normal and dysfunction.
I was feeling activated by the story I’d heard earlier in
the evening. I was feeling protective of the children that story was being told
to, and I was experiencing a hardening in my chest, made of anger and
self-protection against the terror of that story.
And despite the fact that things in my life have been on the
plus and minus side of well-being, I think it’s time for me to start marching
toward those people and experiences that don’t trade in trauma.
There tends to be a uniting force among those in my crowd,
knowing that we’ve, most of us, come from some kind of trauma. Wherever that
may fall on the spectrum of horror. But, we feel an understanding with one
another on the basis of a shared experience, and sometimes this unification
posits us against more “normal” folk, folks who perhaps didn’t come from that seething primordial ooze.
The problem, and I’ve contemplated it before, is that when
you trade in trauma, there’s no value in happiness. When you bond over tragedy,
how do you boast your success?
Over the last few years, my threshold for violence and gore
has lowered dramatically. Even “silly” crime t.v. shows that used to be my
favorites, I’ve had to eliminate from my visual diet. I just can’t stomach
them anymore.
As time has passed, I’ve become more aware and attuned to
when those shows or images are getting to me – when I’m cringing, or closing my
eyes – and I’ve taken note of those cues, and begun to drop them from my cue.
It feels the same to me with these stories that are around
me.
I read Autobiography
last night, despite knowing that I didn’t want to read it. The language is
beautiful, the plot is compelling; by all counts, it’s a well-crafted book. But
I don’t think I want to read any more – in fact, I know that, and I’m going to
have to decide if I heed that information or not.
The same is true with some of the stories I hear around me.
It’s going to be up to me to begin either seeking out or attracting into my
life people, not who don’t have those
stories of trauma in their past, but who don’t feel compelled to broadcast them.
Who don’t feel compelled to do so inappropriately.
I am not saying that I will only surround myself with
“normal” folks, or that the stories of our pasts are not important. I am,
however, saying that my trauma meter is full, and I need to back away from
media or people who will put it over the edge because of their own hemorrhaging boundaries.
I am, of course, an advocate for sharing of ourselves, as you’ve read over and over in my blog, but I stand behind the knowledge and hope that others click to read this on purpose, that this blog is chosen as a media source
for them, that I’m not dumping it on anyone. I also think perhaps it is time for me to begin walking farther
away from the retelling of these stories, as repetition keeps them powerful.
I don’t know what the line of balance is between honesty and
appropriateness. But I do know there is one.  

abundance · contentment · family · joy · laughter · love

Pumpktoberfest

Normal
0
0
1
525
2996
24
5
3679
11.1287

0

0
0

I’m sure I write about it every year, but as the wafts of
pumpkin spice glide out of my coffee mug, I’m moved to write about it again.
Fall. Fall on the East Coast. Growing up where Fall means a
certain smell of chill and decaying leaves. Kind of wet, sometimes, the piles
you’ve helped stuff into enormous black plastic bags that I’m sure are illegal in
California by now. And heaping them into the street, spilling off the curb, where you
and your little brother will take a bounding head-start and leap into the
center of the pile, the slightly moth-eaten leaves enveloping you up to your
shoulders, softening your fall and bathing you and your senses in its musty,
alive scent.
I noticed the leaves blowing last night, and here, they
sound different as they tumble across the pavement; they sound dry and tired,
each one brown and curled up on itself. Back East, they’re still half-alive
when they fall, some of them. So they lilt and are soft, and … colored. How
many people must write about the color of the leaves, the ombre fade of red and
orange and gold. There’s something about their display that radiates joy and
change and marks something miraculous, something that we, as humans, have the
unique privilege to recognize and admire.
Pumpkins start popping up on doorsteps. We hang Indian corn,
the same set of three tied to our front door for as long as memory serves, and three small palm-sized
pumpkins decorate our own stoop, before squirrels begin to bite chunks out of them, and a jack-o-lantern we’ve spent all day carving.
Fall begins the part of the year when I felt and feel most
loved and normal and inviting and, again, loved. It begins with
Halloween, and follows through Christmas (celebrated at my dad’s folks
house, who are/were vaguely Christian). The time of year when we feel swept up
in something, in something communal, town-wide, Jersey-wide.
We celebrated, we decorated, we invited, and we lit fires in
the fireplace, and ate my dad’s pumpkin pie. Our one time of year when my
family could gather together in a semblance of normality, and put on the most
average and happy face we could, and it was all decadent. The feeling of
it was.
The change of the season with its scent and sights, and the
length of the days, the incoming dusk approaching like a secret to encase you.
Creeping slowly closer and closer, but welcoming, the cool still amenable, coaxing and
gliding you home in the dim light, toward a mug of hot apple cider perhaps. Maybe
one of the gallons we’d picked up from our annual apple-picking trip, harvesting hoards of
apples, plucked in those wire basket poles that my brother and I would wave
menacingly at each other, slipping on fallen rotting apples in the
orchard, filling up woven wooden baskets we could barely carry out.
It’s the change of the light and the scent that’s been my
indicator these California days. It’s not the same as Back East, but there’s still the
aroma of crispness and an excitement.
I will begin to buy all things pumpkin, like the rest of
America. Like the pumpkin pancakes my friend treated me to yesterday, and the abomination
of flavored coffee that I’m drinking right now.
I will use the pumpkin ganache cookie recipe that was given
to me by a college roommate and make the pumpkin pie that my dad’s passed down
through trial and error – a recipe that would never, ever, include “Pumpkin Pie
Spice,” but itself includes about 8 individual spices, which I own expressly
for the pie’s creation.
Fall is a time of coming back to center, of reigning in the
resources. Of whittling down excess and getting the necessities done in the
light of day. It’s a time that rings with good memories, full, warm, joyous
memories. Fall reminds me of the earth, of how the natural world has shaped my
experience. And it tastes like the release of a constriction you’ve held the whole year, the exhale and inhale of a breath you haven’t dared relax to take. 
To me, Autumn tastes like love.

community · courage · fun · joy · theater

Are you coming?

Normal
0
0
1
244
1392
11
2
1709
11.1539

0

0
0

Yesterday was finally the day. I’ve been with this cast for
a month in performance now, and once, even twice, a weekend, they’ve shed their
wigs and sweat-soaked costumes and gone out to the bar.
I haven’t been. Partly because I don’t drink, partly
because it gets so late, and partly because I’ve just been kinda shy about
it. And last night, when the venue was gonna be a gay bar to dance, I decided
it was time.
Sure, it’s a Friday night, I’d worked all day, rehearsed and
performed all evening, and I had to be up this morning to sit for a portrait
artist at 10am. … but you know what? Yesterday was a good day, and I felt
invigorated.
I found out that I got cast in another production at the
theater where I’m currently running. I got the large important work project
done, with a few hiccups at the end of the day. And I finally felt like I beat
the solo song that’s been beating me all run.
It was a good day. And dancing sounded perfect. I dance like
a white girl, but I have fun doing it. Though, granted, there were other white
girls there who definitely don’t fit into that “white girls can’t dance” model!
But just the vitality and joy and jumping and ear-wide smile and circle
of friends who are together only for a brief period. It was awesome.
I used to go dancing once or twice a month. Then maybe every
other month. And now, I’m lucky to go once or twice a year. I would never
listen to the music in real life. I know maybe one of the dozen songs that gets played. But it doesn’t matter.
I toss my growing-in hair around, I bounce on the balls of
my feet, and I pump my fist in the air when it feels like time.
And it does.