faith · trust · uncertainty

Courting Constance

9-29-181.jpgMy tattoo came up in conversation twice yesterday.  A male coworker was having a really hard time.  He was feeling extremely riled up about the Senate hearings and as I sat in his empty classroom during the recess period, he said that he felt everything was topsy-turvy, that everything he thought was good and just in the world was falling apart.

In short, he was feeling unmoored.

So I told him about my tattoo.  I have a small black ink tattoo on the inside of my left wrist.  I got it in college, but I had first sketched it out on paper then drew it huge on my bedroom wall!  (I wanted to make sure I could live with it on my wall before living with it forever on my body.)  Two facing bedroom walls were painted lavender and the others a muted mint green.  On one purple wall, there was a rectangle of chair railing painted in white relief around where a doorway must have stood at one time.

In the center of this white frame, I sketched a sun with flames that coiled and looped with artistic sun flares.  Within the sun, I drew the sign of infinity done in a Mobius strip manner so that it curled in on itself again and again, like infinity is wont to do.

The tattoo version that made it onto my wrist is a much simplified knock-off of the intricate design on my wall, but it retains its meaning (to me at least):

The Sun, and Infinity.

I told my coworker yesterday that my tattoo represents Constants.  In the chaos and unmooring of all life, the sun is a constant (at least in my lifetime).  It is extant.  It exists whether I can see it or not, whether hidden by cloud or Earth.  The sun, as I live, is something I can depend on intrinsically and marrowly.

Infinity, in turn, is also a constant.  The idea that time itself, that lines, gravity, mechanical force have no beginning and no end — that there is something that exists that never, ever, ever ends.  That is infinite.  It’s infinity, for crying out loud!  Infinity is something to depend on.  It is always there.  Esoteric as it is, infinity is a place to hang my internal hat.

I told my coworker that there is not one goddamned thing within or without us that is constant.  Politics, morality, safety — not one of these is impermeable.  A person on the left has the same intractable righteousness as a person on the right.  One person’s idea of what is acceptable human behavior flies in the face of another’s.  What was a body that repaired itself one day is a host for disease the next.

Not one damn thing is dependable… except the things that are.  Except the choice to make goodness.  Except the choice to not be an asshole in the world.  Except the choice to keep living a life you yourself consider admirable or upstanding or moral.  There is no reward for this.  There is no morality prize.  There is no blue ribbon at the pearly gates of heaven where we can depend upon a reward for our perceived goodness.

What we have is only the choice to anchor ourselves.  I choose to find that relief, that constancy, in my perception of the sun and the inevitability of the infinite.

When, later that same school day, my students were working on a journal prompt to list at least 10 things about which they were curious, one of my 7th graders wrote, “I’m curious about Ms. D’s tattoo.”

And so I told them.  I told them that, frankly, we cannot always depend on people.  We can’t even always depend on ourselves!  And that notion can chuck us off this blue, spiraling space orb so fast that we can completely lose ourselves.

So I choose to remember that there IS something to hold fast to.  There are universal constants from which I find relief, comfort, safety, confidence.  I find ground in remembering how imperturbable a few things in these cosmos actually are.

 

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#metoo · truth · uncertainty

Benign #MeToo: Driver’s Ed

9.24.18

 

In the wake of debate, ongoing and maddening, about how women and girls “should” behave in dodgy situations, I’ve been remembering one of the least dramatic of my own #MeToo moments, one I’ve never shared with anyone until now.

The year would have been 1997 and I’d have been somewhere between sophomore and junior year in high school.  Being young for my class, there weren’t many kids who hadn’t already been liberated by their parents’ borrowed 4 wheels.  I was still 15, training to get my driver’s permit in the Fall when I’d turn 16.

The remembered image of my driver’s ed instructor is of a 40something year-old man, maybe pale haired and balding, maybe with a paunch and a cheap button-down shirt.  But, really, I don’t remember altogether what he looks like.

I do remember when I was in his car with two sets of brake and gas pedals—one on the driver’s side where I was sitting and one on the passenger side where he sat—that as we approached a gas station pump, I got panicky and began to press the gas pedal so we accelerated toward the pump!  He slammed hard on his own brake pedal and I finally remembered which foot did what.

He also had a system where he said that he could tell when lights were about to turn red.  That there was a moment when a yellow light turned a little orange, so you could time whether to accelerate through the intersection or eat the light.  As we drove around my small suburban town, he would make predictions about stoplights. …

Sometime on this particular day when I was learning how to drive, he said that he needed to stop at home for something.

While unplanned for our route, I said okay because it didn’t seem to make much difference.  It took a long highway to get there, I remember.  I drove the car into the parking lot of this subdivision, probably rental units, pale beige siding with blue trim.  And as far as my memory goes, he said it would only take a minute and to come inside with him.

So I did.  What I remember of the inside of the apartment was again pale beige walls and carpet and window-height venetian blinds of the kind you’d find in cheap condos or rentals.

He told me to sit, that he’d be right back.  I seem to recall I was on a sofa.

It was at this moment that a woman (dirty blond hair, white button-down) let herself into the apartment.  She seemed quite surprised to see me there and the man who was apparently her husband came back into the room, also surprised and perhaps flustered.

He pointed at me, arm extended, “She had to go to the bathroom.”

The wife nodded quizzically, and the man and I left back into the car with two sets of brake and gas pedals.

Now, it would be simple to label this story entirely benign, except for the fact of the lie. The mixed stories.  He’d told me he needed something from his house.  He told his wife I needed to use the bathroom (which I hadn’t and did not use while there).

What to make of this disparity?  Was there something nefarious here?

It’s impossible to know, except that this memory has stuck with me for 20 years as not quite smelling right.  It has never felt clear enough to share, its heinous nature never obvious enough or easy enough to articulate.

So, what did I do?  Nothing.  I got back in the car and drove back to school with this balding 40-something man.  Nothing more “happened,” nothing else went weird.

Was it a #MeToo moment?  What could have been the motivation of a man during his work hours to invite a 15-year old girl into his home several miles away and then lie about why we were there?  Were there other girls he made “swing past” his house?  Were there other times when the wife didn’t walk in at just that moment?

While my catalogue of #MeToo moments later plunges into the black-and-white of rape and assault, it’s this one here sitting right at the edge of gray that niggles at me.  The other experiences are clear and obvious, and have been processed with the right people.

But when it’s like this, when it’s unclear whether there was a monster teaching driver’s ed to scores of young people in suburban New Jersey in the late ’90s, that I feel most unnerved.

“Caution, Student Driver.”

 

shakespeare · TEACHING · uncertainty

V is for…

4.10.18

When I was 16 years old, my girl friend Tracey and I went to the midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Neither of us were too familiar with the movie—it was my first time seeing it ever—but we knew it was a little odd, like us, and a little verbotten.

When we arrived at the theater, the ticket taker outside took ours in hand and gave us a long, hard look.  He then announced to the hearing of all in the vicinity: You’re virgins, aren’t you?

We. Almost. Died.

Firstly, how on earth could he tell that from looking at us?  Omigod is that something people can SEE??  Secondly, what on earth does that have to do with seeing a cult film??

“Um… what?”

It’s your first time here, isn’t it?

“Ohhh… well, yes.”

I thought so, he concluded.  And proceeded to take a blue face-paint pastel and DRAW GIANT V’S ON OUR FOREHEADS  !!!  so that everyone else would also know we were “virgins.”  Immediately as we stepped into the dim of the theater, my friend and I vigorously scrubbed the V from our faces, bathed in darkness to hide the vicious red creeping upon them.

Yesterday was my first time teaching Shakespeare.

While the opening of my first Macbeth lesson plan—my “Vegas Moment” to quote Teach like a Champion—went wonderfully, as we came to the actual reading of the text, that “out of my depth” feeling suddenly swelled.  Oh god, their eyes are glazing. Quick! What do I do?

Well, first off, it was the end of that class period.  So I get to reapproach it all today.  And secondly, it is my first time.  I am inexperienced, awkward, Shakespeare’s elbow’s on my hair.

I’m stoked that my opening Vegas moment went so well (we created “fortune teller/cootie catchers” to illustrate the role of prophesy in all decisions if we knew what was going to come of us), and my students were engaged, curious, creative, and laughing.  They got the point of the exercise, and its relationship to the play.

But lord have mercy, today I go at it again.

I’ve taken enough Shakespeare survey classes to know how to read it at a college level, to read it independently, to sneak peaks at the modern English just to check anyway, because hello, Shakespeare.  But I do not know how to teach a 14-year old how to read it or how to translate it so that an 8th grader will actually care.

Yet.

I know I’ll go at it again.  I’ll walk into the classroom with blue smudges across my forehead, feeling a little gangly, a little uncertain of what parts feel good and what don’t.

But today, I’ll do it just a step to the right…;)

 

love · relationships · uncertainty

Yea, though I walk…

3.5.18

My fingertips are raw and red, nails jagged and bleeding, shorn off by my rabid scrabbling.  Come, sit with me here, he gestured, the vista of the savannah behind him.

There are two chairs in the center of this vast landscape, this depression in the wide, long plain above.  I walked here earlier with my guide and overlooked the gulf.

This is all yours, my guide had told me months ago.  It felt to me as if it were Love; there was no sign or true indication, but the sense that this whole of land below us was mine, was love.

And it was an elephant graveyard.

As she and I stood above, her a sentry, me wary, the sun came out and did something miraculous: it vacuumed all the bones into its depths.  The litter on the floor of the canyon rumbled and shook as each piece of deadness was lifted off into the air, into absolution, into white heat.  Gone.

When I look again at the earthen floor, it is clean of its detritus, the hulking masses of death and memory and intractable sorrow/horror.

We walk down in, my sentry and I.

And here, this morning, sits my beloved, my boyfriend, the one who just right now sleeps a bit restively in our bed in the other room.  In the savannah, he rests on a chair, wooden, light-colored, tall backed, and now, he gestures for me to sit in the next.

I recoil.  I panic.  I have a hardness in my heart that is now a cage of ravens flinging themselves at the bars.  I follow their panic and begin to scrape at the sides of the cliff to get up and out of the ravine.  Come, sit with me here, and my skin trembles with fear and my mind is a primal sphere of neural terror.

My boyfriend and I are looking at moving to a bigger (and more expensive) place closer to my work and housing a garage for his motorcycle.  It’s perfect in all the ways we need it to be, and I refuse to commit to it, to him, with this panic still a chaos in my heart.

He is generous and sensitive and more understanding than any of us have a right to be about my process toward commitment.

Because here is the rub:

In my meditation this morning, with the scrabbling, squalling lady that is me, I invite some other imagined man into that savannah, seat another man — an idealized, “fuck yeah,” perfect but imperfect man — into that other chair.

And I react the same.

J. has been incredibly patient with me as I attempt to parse out what of my fear and doubt and terror is about our relationship in particular and what would be, for me, the same fear and doubt and terror in any relationship.

But, patience runs thin for us both.  My “process” is no quicker because of the impatience, but the demand for an answer is ripe on my mind nearly all the time.

If a “Fuck Yeah” imagined person, a man who has some kind of qualities that I feel are absent in my current love, will arouse in me the same panic as the man who now sits in front of me, then it’s not the man that needs to change.  Clearly, it’s me.

And though both J and I have known this, and both realize that my work is to parse out the wheat from the chaff, the hurt from the truth, the terror from the path forward, this work is wearing us both a great deal thin.

 

 

anger · community · isolation · recovery · trauma · truth · uncertainty

The Look-Good.

I was with a group of close friends on Friday night, celebrating one of their “not getting drunk and sleeping with strangers” anniversaries. These are women I’ve known for nearly my whole 8 years of not doing the same, and who know me and have seen me through my best and worst. 
And I couldn’t tell them the truth. 
It wasn’t until the assembled group was about to close that I got up, walked to the podium at the front of the room and said, “This is the place you’re supposed to tell the hard things. And, things are really bad.”
I began to sob. I eeked out that 5 months ago, I burned my life down, and I’m exhausted and isolated. I told the group that I realized I had to say something when, tonight, I couldn’t hold eye contact with my friends over our dinner. That the closest women I have in my life, I couldn’t look at for too long, because if I did… they would see… and I would break down crying. 
And I didn’t want to do that. 
Because it doesn’t feel like there’s anything to do. So, why talk about it?
I told them about being an expert at looking good on the outside, and feeling like dog shit on the inside. Now, the thing about the “look good” is that, sure, who doesn’t want to look good? Especially when you are feeling crappy, sometimes it’s nice to say, Well, at least I can still pull myself together. At least I can assemble an outfit, put on a little makeup, and … look good. 
However, the other thing about the “look good” is that generally, if you look good, people assume you feel good. And that’s part of the guise of it, of course; that’s part of its purpose… is to fool people. Because if no one asks, you don’t have to tell. 
It’s a pretty little prison we wrap ourselves up in, in an effort to try to do it alone. Because, again, what else is there to do?
In my case, I’m going on interviews, auditions, tours of school, taking tests, ordering physics books. I’m going about the wildest flurry of activity, the other day, I called it a blizzard. 
All this manic pushing to get out of my current situation that I feel ashamed I got into again. Molly, quitting another job without a plan. Molly, struggling to find work, again. Molly looking into a hundred different career paths, and feeling like a strung-out shell of a person through it all. 
Because, as I said earlier: Things are really bad. 
There’s a lot of crying, a lot of hopelessness, a lot of just trying to make it through these extended, exhausting retail days. 
A co-worker I’ve been sharing some of my, “Someone get me out of here” activities with said yesterday that shouldn’t this (the retail job) feel laughable in comparison to what I’ve been through? (She knows about the cancer.) And I said, No. 
Instead, it feels like, “Haven’t I been through enough that I shouldn’t have to deal with this fucking bullshit?” That’s how it feels. 
It feels like I push and try and explore and push and try and explore, and nothing moves. 
I feel like the hamster on the wheel, working so fucking hard, and getting no where. 
I will say that this new idea to pursue teaching feels like the first thing that makes real and doable sense in all my career lily-pad hopping. So, that feels like a win, and progress, and hope. 
And in the center of that remains the fact that my feet and legs ache, right now, I’m earning half what I did when I was at my office job, I have a dwindling savings account that was really fucking hard-earned, and I have no back-up.
So. What? Why do you talk to anyone about that anyway? No one really has anything to tell you of use, except, “We love you and you’ll get through this.” … And take that to the bank. 
But, no. It’s fabulous that I have people around me, and I know there’s something to telling the truth, and so I did. When I realized I couldn’t look my best friends in the eye for fear they might see the truth of what’s happening beyond the “look good,” it was time to say something. (Though, perhaps earlier could have been better, too.)
Did they particularly have anything that shorn through the bleakness in which I find myself, again? Not really. No magic bullets. No words of enlightenment. Just simple suggestions like, Go to a meeting everyday with people who actually know you, and share about this. 
And so, I am. 
I hate it. I feel vulnerable, and I want everybody to not talk to me about it afterward — but there’s no controlling people. 
Because here’s the undercurrent of all this surface nonsense, all this struggle to stay and get afloat and to try to believe that things will change and get better if I keep doing “the next right thing,” that life will even out, that I’ll be okay…: 


The undercurrent is: I. Don’t. Know. That. (None of us do, surely.)


But, specifically, I’m talking cancer. I have a lot of cancer grief to go through, and I don’t know how. 
Partly I don’t talk about it because I feel it’s so dramatic to talk about, because I’m scared people will roll their eyes, and think, “Sheesh, enough with the cancer already; you lived, didn’t you? Move on!” 
I don’t know how to share with people about how angry, betrayed, and every day still terrified — with every cough, or sleepless night, or strange headache — about a recurrence I feel. 
I don’t know how to begin to put faith back into a universe and a universal law that arbitrarily may decide to kill you “just cuz.” How to “come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to wholeness” when everything solid was ripped from under me in an instant. 
And that’s what I’m being asked to do. I’m at the point, again, where I’m supposed to contemplate my idea of a “higher power,” and I want everybody to take their, “It’s the cycle of life and death,” it’s love, it’s community, and shove it with red hot poker down their own throats. 
Because: Fuck. You. (non-cancer having people, she mumbles mentally.)
I am going at all this activity pretty much on my own, without the guidance and space of meditation, without a wisp of a belief in the goodness of the world, or in the belief that efforts bring results. 
And it’s really hurting me. 
There’s a lot of work I’m going to have to do on this, and I feel SO TIRED. I’m so tired. Have you fought cancer and then had to go about the daily business of living, getting parking tickets and paying bills you can’t afford? And are you now being asked to reconcile that traumatizing experience with a belief in goodness or constancy in the universe in order to stay sober and not kill yourself?
Few of us have. And I don’t know how to do it, because I don’t know who to turn to. 
And so, I’m doing this — or have been trying to do this — all alone, in many ways. Sure, I’m reaching out, and the shell of isolation is cracking, and I imagine “good” things will come of it. But for now, I’m just so tired. 
So that’s what’s beyond the “Look-Good,” friends. It’s not pretty, or happy, or palatable for many, including myself. It’s sad and raw and real and really fucking painful to be where I am right now. 
And… if one of you tells me “this too shall pass” or “everybody dies sometime,” i’ll shove an iron through your cranium.

(Because it is small comfort, even though it’s true.)
adulthood · authenticity · inspiration · letting go · poetry · transformation · uncertainty · vision

Who’s Next?

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“Creativity requires the courage to let go of
certainties.” ― Erich Fromm
This is the quote of the day relating to the daily
meditation I’m doing through the Oprah/Deepak 21-day challenge.
Strangely or not, it’s what I was writing about in my
morning pages before I logged into the meditation. The idea of uncertainty, of
letting go of what’s known. And how very close to that I feel right now.
I found out yesterday I didn’t get the job I was in several
rounds of interviews and mock sessions for during the last two weeks. And all
for the better, I think. In fact, I’d reached out to an old schoolmate I’d seen
on LinkedIn had worked there to ask her thoughts. And when I wrote back that
they didn’t hire me, she wrote: You are better off. That place is a shit hole.
So there’s that!
But, this morning as I reflected on where I am, with the one
avenue I was pursuing more actively than others cut short, I find myself
without an exact destination. Which is where in fact I’ve been, but I’ve been
distracted with the possibility of this employment.
What brought me to considering the question of Who’s Next
was my bringing out an old reader packet of poems from an undergrad course I
took. I’d brought it down a few days ago; I was 22 when I took the class,
finishing up from the lost semester when I’d been otherwise engaged in a padded
room.
The day after I brought the packet down, a friend of mine
mentioned teaching again, putting together a C.V. (a teacher’s resume) and
syllabus. I went online to higheredjobs.com yesterday to poke around and see.
And again, I sort of went all blank about it. I see titles like Professor of
18th and 19th Century Romanticism or of Rhetoric, and I call myself
uninterested and unqualified.
And then after a while of poking around online anyway, my
computer overheated and shut down on me, which was probably for the best!
But, today I opened that packet labeled Twentieth Century
Poetry II, and I read the names and poems of Robert Bly, Gwendolyn Brooks, yes, even the
ubiquitous Plath. I read my margin notes, and was amused to see that my
handwriting looked as it does now.
I was interested in the poems, but I wasn’t sparked. These were the
dreams and longings of a different person. The person who ate these poems up,
who devoured and analyzed and waxed prosaic marginalia.
I remember the classroom I was in when we read Spenser’s
Faerie Queene. I remember being the one student who was really intrigued by his
epic traitorous, political poem hidden in monarch-approved meter. I remember the classroom where the professor
told us stories of the poets’ lives, who’d met who and exchanged letters, the
relationships behind their lyrics.
I remember the room for my make-up semester, on a different
campus, since my cohort had graduated. The computer lab where I wrote short
stories and saved them onto the new smaller, square floppy disks that were
actually hard.
This morning I reread the same works that meant so much to
me then, a woman who felt she had no voice, and poetry was a quiet art that
could conjure hurricanes, that could release those that were teeming in my
body.
But, I don’t feel it in the same way now. I of course want
new generations of students to hear tales of those smoky rooms where creativity
was incubated and smile in camaraderie at Spenser’s thinly veiled subversion.
But, I don’t know. Is it me? Is it me now?
There’s a quote from a Yogi tea bag I have taped over my
kitchen sink, along with all the others I felt necessary to collect. It reads:
Empty yourself and let the Universe fill you.
I haven’t ever really known what that meant, or how to do
it. I haven’t known how to let go of all I know, of all my plans, of labeling
what I know and feel and have done as relevant or useless. I haven’t been able
to answer the call of that tea quote until today.
I do feel emptied. I
feel emptied of direction, of specific ambition, of perspective on myself. But it’s not a negative
feeling.
I feel like a student in a new class, but one I don’t know
the course title to. I don’t know which of my skills will be useful in this new
class, what of my knowledge will be relevant.
I don’t know if I’ll need a paintbrush or a calculator, what I’ll grow to learn, or who will be my teachers. I don’t know who else I’ll meet in class, and who I’ll
never see again. I don’t know the iteration of myself who will be called upon to
show up here, or who will be created from being here.
I only know that this nameless class is the only one on my course schedule
for the foreseeable future, and that perhaps at the end of it, I may be able to
answer what iteration of Molly is next.

career · exhaustion · self-care · uncertainty

"Waiting" to "Pausing"

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I’m waiting to hear the outcome of my third, two-hour long
interview from Monday. I was put in a mock session of what the job would
entail, and though not mind-blowing, it would be a nice stop-gap for the time
being, I think.
But, there’s the trouble. I’m thinking about it a lot.
Trying to angle whether this is a good fit for me, if it’s better than the
unknowable, and … I’m tired.
I’m tired of the questioning, I’m physically exhausted,
emotionally, mentally. When I was on the phone with my mentor on Sunday, after
unloading and processing through a lot of muck, she began to respond, and I
stopped her by saying, hang on, I just want to finish:
then I told her all the plans I had for the week. Everything
I was going to do to support my job search, cleaning up my home, other
housekeeping style work like going down to the parking ticket office.
And when I was done with my litany, she said, Wow, it’s
really hard for you to let yourself rest, isn’t it?
And here I was thinking that my “positive action” sequence
was … positive. That it was showing I’m not slipping into despair, that I’m
keeping the jackals at bay with all my activity. Isn’t that what an unemployed
person is supposed to do? Keep busy? Do the footwork?
Even if they’re so tired they are on the verge of tears?
And so, this morning, already two cups of coffee into my
day, with plans to get out of the house and meet up with people, I went back to
bed for an hour. The caffeine kept me from sleep, but the resting was good. I
am exhausted. It’s been mentally and spiritually challenging to show up as I
have these past few months. It’s been hard, and I feel at the end of a
grin-and-bear-it period, without the relief that comes when you stop grinning.
So, … not today, but perhaps tomorrow, I’ll commit to
letting myself actually sleep in, to restore what’s been missing, and to gather
energy for what’s next.
There’s already a lot to do today, tomorrow, Friday. You’d
think being unemployed would mean a break, but I’ve got shit to do I can’t
excuse myself from. However, I can sleep in, and let myself have that relief. I
can allow it not to mean I’m lazy or going to fail or am being irresponsible.
Turns out, the most responsible thing I can do for myself at
the moment is to take extra special care of myself, even if it makes me squirm.