It has been a nice long slow blur.

Unexpected time is weird. I feel like all day long I'm rushing around, praying for time, and then it comes in some unanticipated format and I jump back like it's a cockroach. I think how we spend those moments says a lot about us, and in my case, it's nothing too complimentary. Tomorrow, school is canceled, and most likely will be on Tuesday, too. Hurricane Irma is doing unspeakable things to Florida. I'm still reeling from the Harvey images in Houston. Maybe when we're not bowed over our jobs or our families or our other responsibilities, we're meant to have what's known as "free" time--time free from whatever "oppresses" us, or time that's loose, unscheduled, or both. Maybe we're spending so much time staring at horrific or vapid news on our phones that we're actually getting stunted, unable to know where our reality stops and starts, unable to process it at the rate we're consuming it and so feeling, always, mildly dyspeptic. When I hear myself beginning sentences with "I read a comment on a post about a tweet"--I know it's time to touch someone's face.

*

The other day I did a phone interview with someone who was surprised to learn that I have a job. I guess this person thought I was "set" following the book deal. No, I said. It doesn't generally work like that. It made me think that maybe we need to have more widespread, candid conversations about how money actually "happens" in the writing and publishing realms--this book seems like an excellent start. And it also made me wonder (not for the first time) what would happen to my productivity if I were suddenly able to just focus on one thing. I wonder how much time would get squandered. I wonder if I would write faster, better, more. Time, like money, is a vacuum: often the more you have, the more you waste. But also: dang. What an exhilarating challenge.

*

I want to say this, and it has perhaps very little to do with the premise I'm half working within--I think I'm a far more sensitive person now than I was five or ten years ago. There's the widely accepted notion that growing older means growing jaded, and in some respects, yes, maybe. I have less tolerance for boring parties and boring people, for small talk, for cliched wisdom and sentimentality and rampant Mary Oliver quoting. I don't like being told what to do or how to feel--by people, media, or "art." But I love feeling things on my own, and I do, now, more than ever. We have a little sign taped by the front door that says "What good shall I do this day?", and I want it to be the thing that's etched into my kids' consciousnesses, the thing they eventually stop seeing because they absorb it deep into themselves, the same way I absorbed the little plaque on a shelf in my house growing up that said "I believe in the sun when it does not shine, in God when he is silent." That little plaque might be the bedrock of my entire spiritual life, simply for how frequently I saw it. Anyway. I'm more aware than ever of all the good that needs to be done; I ache with it, I feel raw with all the sadness and injustice of the world. I think I was more jaded at 29, 19, and I feel grateful for how time seems to be working in me, eroding me, not sparing me a single feeling--which goes for the good ones, too.

*

For a lot of years--the grad school years--I read books sort of defensively. I was always looking for the argument, or trying to debunk one, or sleuthing and sluicing out all the bits that fit or didn't fit around a central framework. It was exhausting, occasionally rewarding, but never what I'd call "fun." My critical thinking and research skills got sharper and sharper, but my ability to "get lost" in a book, to be set adrift--was almost entirely stultified. I'm proud to report that I think I've finally--now nearly 10 years after receiving my PhD--re-learned how to read. How to feel my way into a book, how to let it take hold of me. Of course we know how reading builds empathy, expands horizons and experience, opens minds. But how we read is also important. I try to approach an open book like an open book. I'd like to think this has helped me approach people similarly. You can read all the books in the world and still be an asshole. But to feel a certain reverence and curiosity going in--that's the difference.

*

All of which is to say: time is f'ing nuts. I'm growing older and slower and faster and sadder and happier and weirder and more at peace. I'm just getting started. 

it me

it me

life's a beach lol

Right now I’m in a car heading northwest through South Carolina toward home, having spent this past week at the beach. There’s a sad bagel in a bag at my feet and a cooling coffee that I thought I wanted in the cup holder next to me, and my kids are watching the Lego Batman movie, just purchased at a Kroger specifically for the long drive.

So far it has been a summer of Feeling Many Things, and Feeling Things More Intensely Than Usual, and I’ve been trying to figure out why, exactly, this has been the case. There’s really no theory I’ll discard completely: hormones (sure), book coming out (absolutely), weird star shit (always), kids growing/changing/needing different things (yeah), the ambition/mortality quotient (increasingly), my aging parents (true, and hard), the future, the future, the future.

At the beach, I steam-burned three fingers on my right hand and cut my left index finger with a sharp knife. I ate a lot of food and did almost zero formal exercise. I showered only to get the sand out of my hair, and wore about 4.5% of the total clothes I packed. I woke up at 5am and wrote for two hours almost every morning, napped every afternoon, and read three books over the course of the week. We gave our kids a lot of leeway—let them eat what and when they wanted, stay up late, and make certain decisions that shaped the day (pool first then beach? Bike ride now or later? Mini-golf or arcade?) Brian and I talked a lot and also didn’t talk, kept different hours, basically taking, each of us, what we needed with the time that we had. One of the things we have honed, over the course of our many years together, is how to be separate. In my mind, it’s a crucial component of marriage.

For most of my life I hated the beach. I’m a hairy person and self-conscious about showing skin and that combination made me dread, for a long time, any kind of Beach Situation. I wanted to feel what I sensed other people feeling: relaxation, release. I wanted to feel more inspired by the ocean, the vistas. But mostly I just wanted to hide in the air conditioning, fully dressed with my book and a blanket.

The summer that Simone was born, 2012, Brian arranged a week in Hilton Head for us, thanks to the generosity of his aunt and uncle, who own a condo there. Simone was less than five weeks old and Beatrice was three and we were living in Athens, Georgia. Brian, then a teacher, had the whole summer off, and I was taking a few weeks off from what had been an intense freelancing schedule to rest and recover.

Simone in the Atlantic, June 2017

Simone in the Atlantic, June 2017

That was the week I started understanding the beach. My body was still aching and swollen and my sleep was a mess but I felt the strangest joy, like someone had hit “pause” on everything that caused me anxiety and had shown me where to look: look at the sky, Kristen, the ocean, Kristen, look out, out, instead of in-in-in. What an immense comfort it was to feel so small and so powerless, after expending years of adult energy needing to believe I was in control. Call me f’ing crazy but I have not not-enjoyed my various stints in the hospital (back pain, giving birth, eye surgery) for the same reason: I can stop moving. I can give up. I’m in charge of no one, not even myself.

I know for other people this takes a multitude of other forms (drugs, yoga, etc). I’m not suggesting the hospital as a great way to take a break. But for some of us—okay for me—the motor of the self doesn’t always know when to wind down, cut off. Just because it’s time to go to sleep doesn’t mean my brain slips into a sweet kimono and starts stockpiling the dreamcatcher. The thing I seem to need most, that I’m not generally good at giving myself, is permission. Permission, that holiest of amulets, eluding women all over the world! I’m afraid to rest, to stop moving, to stop working. I’m afraid of laziness, of complacency, of becoming dull. And I don’t like to think of myself as someone who is afraid, so I double-down on discipline and self-control as a way to make myself mighty, bigger and faster and more efficient than the pin-balling fears.

Everyone who is trying hard to be strong, I think, is terrified, on some level, of weakness.

In 2014, for our ten-year anniversary, Brian and I went to Tulum, Mexico, for four days, without the kids. We stayed in a modest little hotel on the beach, with open-air windows and a thatched roof. I swam topless and I stared and stared at the ocean, the horizon, the sky, the incredible flora and fauna of the region, and I remember saying to Brian, how is it that I want to live at the beach forever? Me? I sat on our balcony drinking cheap beer and writing the final sections of my novel, and I took pleasure in every keystroke. My face felt different and my entire body felt different. I experienced love—that ancient Greek sense of agape—for everyone I saw, for the whole of life around me.

Tulum, Mexico 2014

Tulum, Mexico 2014

Brian’s aunt and uncle have been kind enough to lend us their condo almost every year since that first year, and every year has brought with it an intensification of the first year’s feelings, with echoes of the Tulum feelings. I know, I know I’m late to the game, I know how cliché it is to talk about the baptism of the ocean, the magnitude of sea and sky, the endlessness of the horizon, the miracle that is every grain of sand—but it’s noteworthy, for me, to feel it at last, to crave it, and to try to carry it with me. I harbor such a deep disdain for The Body with its pains and needs and hairs and viruses, so I’ve made a life inside of my mind, and I never thought twice about it until, over time and I think also due to motherhood, I accumulated the realization that my mind can be a leaky, creaky deathtrap, too. What a relief it is to dive out of it, to be inside my skin, to be a citizen of Earth.

We’re in Georgia now, going 65 mph. I’ve always been a really late bloomer.

On Trump and Libraries

I'm trying to remember when I first became aware of the notion, popularized throughout the Trump campaign, that intellectualism is "bad," a pustule on the ugly face of "liberal elitism." Embedded in this idea, of course, is classism, some deeply perverse misunderstanding that people with less wealth--seemingly simply by virtue of having less wealth--want simpler solutions, broader strokes, plain(er)spoken goals. The pervasiveness of this phenomenon has given us, just to name one example, Trae Crowder, whose "Liberal Redneck" persona has gone viral since 2016, precisely for its anomalousness. I have nothing against Trae Crowder. I just squirm under the assumption that poor white Southerners are "supposed to" support Trump--Trump, the man with zero political expertise, historical knowledge, military background, or diplomatic finesse, to say nothing of basic oratory skills--as the billionaire deity whose racist promises include making America great "again" (remind me when it was great for the majority of poor whites?) 

The growing disparity between the parties has become characterized by disdain vs fervor for intellectual exchange. To be a nuanced thinker, a president risks appearing "weak" or "passive," which were criticisms that Obama frequently endured. "Act now, think later...or never" is an apt summation of how Trump has treated his first 100 days. The objective of his campaign was to whip his would-be supporters into such a patriotic frenzy that they would forget to ask the crucial questions (such as, oh, "how" and "why"); they would be encouraged to relinquish any responsibility for their own research, dialog, and fact-checking, in favor of the jobs and greatness and hugeness and America-ness that would surely arrive on their doorsteps like so many winning Publishers Clearinghouse envelopes.

Desperate, disenfranchised, and sad human beings are very capable of complex thought. But complex thought is, um, hard: time consuming, uncomfortable, maddening, and often solution-less. When something shinier and easier is on the offer--even if it's a mirage--it *will* win, or I guess I should say, "win." It is a kind of ideological economics, and it is the same principle that underwrites nearly every aspect of any capitalist society. People don't eat Big Macs because they're healthy and promote long lives. They eat them because they're cheap and filling. Smarter and better-versed people than I have said it in myriad ways, but the bottom line is that we're living in a culture of rabid appetite, and Trump's campaign provided an all-you-can-eat buffet.

I don't know, guys

I don't know, guys

Now, full-bellied, the administration is making good on its platform of Zero Complexity. From education to climate change, we have been confronted by a cast of characters who seem hellbent on knowing as little as they can about the office they've been tapped to inhabit. We have, across the White House, more money than experience, more nepotism than intellect. Remember how slaves were denied access to books and education, so that they wouldn't figure out that they were human beings and not property? I can't help but think of this administration's abject rejection of intellectualism as a kind of slavery: just smile and nod at the "less government" rich folks, and pay no attention to what's happening in our schools; in Flint, Michigan; in Russia; or in Roseburg, Oregon, for example, where all 11 branches of the city's library system will be closed by June 1, because the majority of residents didn't want to pay a $6/month tax that would've prevented a funding crisis.

9 of 13 of Trump's "Broken Promises" as enumerated by Robert Reich, Newsweek

9 of 13 of Trump's "Broken Promises" as enumerated by Robert Reich, Newsweek

The cutting of arts funding and shuttering of libraries would most certainly be the apotheosis of Trump's anti-thought modus operandi. The provocation of the senses, the expansion of the mind, the opportunities to participate in civic debates, workshops, and other special events--in other words, all of the stuff that's available to us not because we're of a certain class or color or creed but because we're human beings who yearn for connection and, yes, occasional transcendence--are not valued by Trump, and he is--according to me--showing us why: because they have no immediate dollar value, because they're not concerned with the dynamics of power, and because--most frighteningly, for him--they threaten to awaken his fan base to the errors and injustices of his personal politics. 

I grew up going to libraries; specifically, the Belmont Hills Library, the Bala Cynwyd Library, the Gladwyne Library, and "the big library," Ludington. The Belmont Hills Library was closest and smallest. I loved its starkness, the white wire chairs and tables, the bright cleanliness of the space. The Bala Cynwyd Library had the kindest and most helpful librarians. The Gladwyne Library had the best children's section, which was more or less in the basement, a low-ceilinged, wood-paneled room with cozy light fixtures and little nooks. Going to the Ludington Library was a treat. In my mind, it seemed to have everything. I learned to use microfiche there. I researched my first term paper, on the Berlin Wall, in the carrels there. I worked on job applications there. Before I could drive, I got dropped off and picked up there, and felt the early flashes of adulthood as I went off course, veering from the parameters of my prescribed topic to page through books with titillating titles. 

The Belmont Hills Library

The Belmont Hills Library

These days, I take my daughters to the library at least once a week, and at least once a week, Beatrice says, I can't believe we get to take all of these books home for free. I know, I tell her. It's a miracle. It's the best of what humanity can offer. 

I think of all the free resources my libraries have offered, many of which I've taken part in: internet, a quiet place to work, a comfortable chair, umpteen classes from ESL to accounting, neighborhood meetings, voting booths, storytimes for kids, films, lectures, exhibits, to say nothing of the thousands of books and periodicals and movies and music. Before we could look it up online, we could look it up at the library. The original information superhighway, except since you have to wend your way there, learning bits as you go, it's maybe more aptly the information scenic route.

Programs will suffer, as will the people who rely on them. And I'm equally saddened by what it says about us and our national disposition, our values and priorities. America: big on wars, small on books.

My first book is coming out in two months. I know it will be exciting to see it on bookstore shelves, but the thrill of seeing it at the library will be next-level. A book at the library has nothing to do with numbers or royalties, the sorts of things that publishers need to be concerned about. A book at the library is in many ways the truest book, a book that exists for the library, for the sake of the free and open exchange of ideas and learning. 

Are we really going to let a bookless billionaire bully usurp one of the greatest institutions of democracy and egalitarianism? It feels like an eviction from a spiritual home.

 

 

On Having

Yesterday Simone and I went to Nordstrom Rack. Both girls need shoes for summer and I've had luck there in the past. I entered the store with a set jaw and a firm mindset: we were there for shoes. We were going straight back to the kids' shoe section, picking out one pair each for Simone and Beatrice, paying for them, and getting out. On the way to the shoes, we saw bathing suits, dresses, makeup, scarves, lingerie, chocolate covered gummy bears, candles, water bottles, Instax cameras, stuffed animals, Barbies, and children's clothes. Simone wanted all of it. She pointed at a bra and announced THOSE ARE FOR BOOBIES. I found zero shoes for Beatrice, and one extremely impractical, ill-fitting pair for Simone that made some kind of sense in the flurry of the moment, but that I'll be returning later this week, when I can steel myself enough to go back.

I have a fraught relationship with buying, because I have an even more complicated relationship with having. I have two pairs of underwear (among others, obviously), from the Victoria's Secret BODY Collection, that I've had since college. That's twenty-year-old underwear, folks. My underwear are millenials. I keep a pretty trim closet, and have given stuff away, inexplicably, that I really like, simply because I grew tired of having it. Most concrete items in my life weigh heavily on me--even the ones I love dearly--and eventually become a burden. 

The turbulence of the stuff-dilemma has intensified since having children. We kept our baby-stuff minimal--babies really and truly do not need much--and I was lucky to get a lot of hand-me-downs from my sister. Beatrice wears a uniform to school each day, and next year, Simone will do the same--this means that they can get away with having some play clothes and a few nice dresses and that's about it on the clothes front. It's difficult to "invest wisely" in the stuff of children, because they play hard and grow fast. A few times a year, we try to be ruthless in our paring down of the toys--especially before, say, birthdays and Christmas--but as many parents know, this is tricky, because kids become apoplectic over whatever toy suddenly isn't there. Sometimes we swap stuff out, putting a bunch in storage and then bringing them out so they're "new" again. But even when they're out of sight, they stay in my mind, bothering it, cluttering it.

I know that the key to not having a lot of stuff is to not buy it in the first place. Once it's bought, it needs to be placed. Once it's placed, the timer starts ticking: how long before this too is a piece of junk that I resent every time I see it? Kids love junk. Those party bags filled with cheap yo-yos and whistles and impossible-to-peel stickers? Those have sat on my kitchen counter for days, weeks even, before I throw them out and, when the kids ask, blame Brian.

Sometimes a vicious need to throw things out arises in me and I have to breathe through it or let Jesus/Brian take the wheel. At least once a month I want to get rid of every single thing in my house and go live in an ashram. I'm not kidding.

As for other people's clutter, or even other people's richly decorated spaces: I love them. I'm not being sarcastic. Somehow, being in the presence of other people's stuff is eminently calming to me. It's not mine, and I'll never have to deal with it, and therefore I can enjoy it for exactly what it is. Minimalism is less of a conscious aesthetic, for me, and more of a coping mechanism, a way to survive the savageries of my mind.

Edie Beale in one of my favorite photos of all time. I am never not thinking about Grey Gardens. Grey Gardens is my resting state of mind.

Edie Beale in one of my favorite photos of all time. I am never not thinking about Grey Gardens. Grey Gardens is my resting state of mind.

It's rare that I'll buy ingredients to make a certain recipe. Usually I'll let what I have dictate what I'm making, and if I am following a recipe, I'll adapt it accordingly. My mom taught me this, by example. I rarely remember my mom ever using a cookbook, and her meals were pretty much always good. On the other hand: my mom has had closets, one in each of the homes I've known, the one I was raised in and the one they moved into here in Birmingham, filled with stuff she buys and intends to give as gifts. She'll buy potholders, dish towels, picture frames, etc., on sale, and then they're just there, along with gift boxes and wrapping paper, for whomever needs a gift. The closet's inventory never seems to dip. Every time she disappears upstairs, my stomach starts knotting: how do I politely turn down a kitty cat figurine? My dad, on the other hand, is as Spartan as they come--gift-giving occasions make him visibly uneasy. I am very much his daughter.

I know, for example, that I could spend money more prudently, by using my Amex to "get points" which would make it possible for me to get other things, via the points. I have done this and it has stressed me out. If I could pay for everything using cash I kept under my mattress (so to speak), I would. Credit cards scare me. And I'm not interested in making profits for vile corporations, any more than I have to. I do use credit cards for travel and other non-tangibles, and I'm pretty grumpy about it.

What's confusing are the moments when I walk into a store, a store like, say, Nordstrom Rack, and I go into a weird fugue state and suddenly feel holes in my life where stuff should be: my sports bras are threadbare, I should buy three; this looks like a good face mask; that dress is only $25; might as well look for new sandals; what are these sunglasses doing; am I a straw handbag person; should I try on this sarong. I have thrown myself into fitting rooms with armloads of stuff, only to sit in the middle of it, nearly hyperventilating, and walk straight out minutes later, having not tried on a thing. I have ordered things online and put the unopened boxes in my closet for days, sometimes weeks, because I can't deal with the material reality of the thing in my house, needing its own space.

I have also occasionally been an adult who buys things thoughtfully and deliberately, without any kind of accompanying nervous breakdown.

You reach a certain age and start thinking more about landfills. I think about landfills quite a bit. I read an article earlier this year about how, exactly, Goodwill stores process their clothing donations, and it's true, there are many opportunities for sale or salvage (i.e. textile recycling) before they wind up in the landfill. But make no mistake: a lot of clothes wind up in landfills. Last year I attended a brilliant lecture by Natalie Chanin about slow fashion, the true cost of mass-produced clothing, and the ethics of handmade/DIY. My friend Julie Maeseele makes beautiful garments from upcycled fabric, a few of which I've been lucky enough to purchase. I did so gladly, lightheartedly, even, because I knew I was buying art that I could and would wear for a long time. Why would I give my dollars to Old Navy when I could give them to a hardworking artist?

Image via HuffPo

Image via HuffPo

Honestly, the amount of stuff in America seems more pornographic to me than, say, porn. You go into Michael's, a craft store, and there is an aisle for snacks, reminding you that you might need to eat while or immediately after picking out your glue gun. There are about twenty types of Cheerios--twenty variations on one kind of cereal. There are stores so filled with junk nobody needs that they don't even know what to call them so they call them Tuesday Morning, as though any old Tuesday morning is a good time to buy a giant fake wood sign that says KITCHEN in Italian. I know this is everyone's dilemma. I know we all see it and do our best to navigate through it. I know there aren't many of us who wake up in the morning and just buy shit until sundown. But for me, every time I make a transaction, I go through about ten steps in my head. Most of the time, by the time I come to zero, I've convinced myself that I don't really want or need the thing, and as I fold laundry or organize my desk, I'm grateful that it's not there. I am grateful for empty drawers, space in my suitcase, zero debt, lightness. But good grief: protecting the void requires constant vigilance and a lot of work.

Schwarzschild black hole simulation, aka me in a store

Schwarzschild black hole simulation, aka me in a store

Another reason I'll always return to poetry: all the blank spaces. All the room to breathe, to unfurl.

from Mary Ruefle's erasure poem, "A Little White Shadow"

from Mary Ruefle's erasure poem, "A Little White Shadow"

 

 

 

 

 

The old season dying in its throat*

I don't know when it was exactly that I got the message--how does one 'get' a message? Passing remarks, sighing attitudes, rich subtext?--that writing about one's life, one's feelings about one's life, was somehow aliterary, or at the very least, less literary. I'm starting to think about a personal essay that I've wanted to write for a while, so the 'no' chorus is loud in my head, performing all the reasons why this would be a bad idea. To be sure, I've written about myself before--here, past blogs, Real Pants, etc. Contrary to what some might be tempted to think because it is written in first person, my forthcoming novel MOTHEREST is not autobiographical or even semi-autobiographical. First person helped me inhabit the character of Agnes, and it felt good (and bad, but mostly good) to zip into someone's life, someone's skin, and navigate the world from there. It felt, in some ways, like cheating, although I don't think there's anything inherently 'easier' about writing fiction in first person. If anything, you're in a constant state of pivot, of not-me. First person, in some respects, is the closest thing to acting, to putting on someone else.

But there was a period of time, maybe college, maybe grad school, maybe not inside the classroom proper but in the halls, in the bars after class--where I got the distinct sense that poets such as Plath and Sexton and writers like Nin were sort of in-jokes, hysterical women edged into the canon for the sole purpose of being something that men--Serious Men With Ideas--could laugh at: at best, foils; at worst, amateurs, zeros. 

I mean, look at this shit.

I mean, look at this shit.

I don't think one can call oneself a serious reader or critic and feel this way, not really. I'm also intrigued by the term itself--'confessional,' as in, the Confessions of St. Augustine, with its starkly religious overtones, the admission of sin or perhaps more interestingly, the very room in which the sins get confessed. I love this notion particularly for poetry, since stanzas are just that, cubicles of language, where humanity gets told, whispered, yelled, confessed. The 'original confessors' weren't necessarily women; and yet, the genre is more frequently associated with women--their woes, their manias, their dreams deferred. I was a pre-teen when I first became aware of the outrageous popular theory that Feeling is circumscribed by women; Thinking, by men. That the memoir or personal essay or confessional poem was, at some point in the course of literary history, asterisked or demoted, speaks volumes about a general cultural discomfort with people's stories--i.e., their pain--much more so than reflecting anything at all about the artistic merit therein.

Furthermore, I'd argue: it is extremely difficult to write about yourself, to shape your life into language, into a readable format, to overcome the fear of judgment, to not flinch, to get it right, to get it exactly right, to be fair, to be true, to be bold. Alison Bechdel, Molly Brodak, Melissa Broder, Mary Karr, Audre Lorde, Eileen Myles, Jeanette Winterson--all are such examples, and these are just the great books whose spines are visible from where I sit right now, books that have lit up the darkness with their bravery, wit, wisdom, feeling

And I mean, I know men can do this too. 😏

________________

*Title of post is a line from Jenn Blair's poem "Tell" from her wonderful new book Malcontent, which I don't think I'd categorize as confessional, but who am I to say, really.

 

I love my children & I'm shocked by how often I want them to leave me alone.

A partial list of questions I ask myself regularly/consciously/subconsciously:

  • Do I love my children enough
  • Do my children love me
  • Do I love my children as much as other mothers appear to love their children
  • Do I dedicate enough time to them
  • Do I let them be themselves
  • Do I help or hinder their development
  • Are they OK
  • Are they going to be OK
  • Do they resent me
  • Do they know what resentment is yet
  • Am I paying attention
  • Am I a good mother
  • Am I a bad mother
  • How will they remember me
  • Do they understand what I "do"
  • Will I write all the books I want to write
  • Can writing & motherhood intersect in a way that isn't devastating
  • Are they stimulated enough
  • Are they too stimulated
  • Will they remember their childhoods fondly
  • Do they believe in God
  • Have I enjoyed them today
  • Are they helpers
  • Are they resilient
  • Are they happy
  • Are they close
  • Will they grow closer
  • Am I being fair to them
  • Do I treat them equally
  • Are they in a good school
  • Do they have good friends
  • Are they good friends to others
  • Am I doing my part to raise decent, socially responsible humans
  • Am I doing enough to teach them about cruelty without scaring them
  • Am I scaring them appropriately
  • Do I scare them
  • Are there things I don't know about them
  • Do I demand too much
  • Am I too pushy/controlling/stern/overbearing
  • Would my mother and grandmother approve of my choices
  • Is it possible to teach empathy
  • Am I modeling empathy
  • Did I do my best today
At the Harvard Museum of Natural History, late March 2017

At the Harvard Museum of Natural History, late March 2017

Pain Management

There's a lot of pain in my life right now but surprisingly I feel OK. I have physical pain in my lower back that has been there for a very long time and that I've come to accept as part of me, part of my actual body, and not some oppressive machinery operating outside of/atop it. I don't know if accepting the pain has made the pain better or worse. Some days the pain is more intense than others. For close to a year I emptied my wallet and a good chunk of my time at the chiropractor's. I was promised that I would be pain-free if I followed his "care plan." I'm 39 and I somehow still believe people when they make promises where money is involved. I stopped going to the chiropractor and started exercising more rigorously and with more "intentionality" aimed at my back, building up core muscles and stretching, occasionally doing yoga, along with stuff that gets my heart rate up, which reduces my anxiety and the sharpness of my emotional pain. I'm lucky to work from home in this regard. I can easily fit my exercise in after I take the kids to school. When I'm home, I'm working, but I have a timer that reminds me to get up and move every 30 minutes. I also walk the dog (lol/fml).

This is how pathetic we look when we're online

This is how pathetic we look when we're online

In nearly all ways, stasis = death. Not progressing/advancing/evolving in one's thinking leads to the death of the mind and spirit. Not moving/sweating/exerting one's self leads to toxicity within the body. And when my mind is stuck, it helps to unstick my body. 

I also bought myself my first desk chair, which isn't anything spectacular, but is at least an actual chair meant for sitting at a desk, and not some whimsical decorative thing I picked up at a thrift store. I think it has helped. Sometimes I put a tennis ball against the wall and lean my lower back into it and sort of roll it around--this offers a lot of relief. Sometimes I lay on the floor with my legs up on a chair and read for 15 minutes. Feel free to use any of these tricks.

The state of the world brings me pain, should bring any sentient person pain. I don't feel like writing any more about that right now, but I'm sickened by this administration and its criminal actions. I have to read the news, but it's tough for me to do so and then resume "normal," productive activity. I've experienced a certain blockage since November's election, and I know many other writers have, too.

When I'm not writing regularly, I feel pain, pain manifested as anxiety, self-doubt, and depression. I combat these outcomes via distraction, which I foolishly used to trivialize as something inauthentic and immature, but I now know is a powerful weapon against many modes of pain. Distraction can take infinite forms. Like stubbing your toe when you have a migraine. Like watching bad TV if that's what you need to do to feel OK. Cleaning your house. Folding some laundry. Praying if that's your thing. Eating some candy. And my late grandmother's favorite: helping someone else. Even just texting someone to ask: how are you? If that friend is in pain, take some of hers, too. Sometimes other people's pain halts our own, even if just temporarily. Sometimes we learn what we need to do when we offer someone else advice. There is no judge or jury when it comes to distraction. It is teleologic and it is yours alone.

My mom is sick, which pains me in an immediate, instinctual way, but also, I suspect, in ways I haven't fully discerned yet. The whole of our relationship glints in the garish light of her leukemia, a now sixteen-year illness that, while constant, has shape-shifted a hundred times, keeping us guessing, hopeful, relieved, in anguish. To say nothing of how it has kept her and keeps her still. Being a mother to daughters is a strange reverse-mirror, and on both sides, I worry about how I'm doing.

 

Visual potential

On Wednesday I had two eye appointments; the first was series of tests ("neuroophthalmic evaluation," if you want to be an asshole) to determine if/how my vision would stand to improve if the cataract in my left eye were removed. When I got there and checked in via this airline-esque kiosk, I was told that the doctor I was supposed to see was "out of commission." Both the receptionist and the other doctor, the one I eventually did see who never introduced himself, said "out of commission" in the same tone, like they were hooking their collar with their index finger and pulling it away from their neck, that stagey gesture. The doctor who didn't introduce himself entered the room with two other people who didn't introduce themselves and started talking about how they almost never did this test anymore.

Then he pulled up a black suitcase-type thing--something that looked like it held a camera from the 1920s--and literally blew the dust off of it. The doctor and a guy wearing scrubs who seemed like some kind of tech then proceeded to take the apparatus out and fuss with the wiring, and turn it over, and connect it to the main apparatus--the one you usually look through when you get a regular vision check-up--and grumble about how the fuse might've been shorted, and tell me again that they almost never did this test anymore, and all the while I'm wondering what they're going to do to me, and if they're going to give me their names. Eventually the thing worked, and I looked at a series of lines, and then a series of lights and swimmy dots, and the doctor was very impressed and said my vision would be greatly improved with the surgery.

Mmm, lattice degeneration

Mmm, lattice degeneration

I have "lattice degeneration" in my left eye, which makes me think of pie, so there is some risk to lasering anything off of it, and I also learned, at the appointment following this one with my regular ophthalmologist, that I have a cataract on my right eye, too, but she said we didn't need to worry about it right now. My regular ophthalmologist loves to tell me how old my eyes are. "You've got the eyes of an 85-year-old!" she gleefully exclaims. "Anyone else in your family have prematurely old eyes?" No, I tell her. I've been legally blind in my left eye for most of my life. I've fielded looks of confusion and distress about my eyes since I was a kid, from doctors who apparently like their young eyes young and their old eyes old. One time I read a study--small sample, so nothing we can claim as "fact"--about how first generation Americans seem predisposed to poor (or poorer than their genetics might suggest) vision, and also acne. I used to struggle with acne, too. Anyway. I'm getting the surgery, in April.