Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Thrift

I became fascinated with lists after reading The Pinballs in elementary school.  One of the characters, Harvey, uses a wheelchair and loves to keep different lists.  I generally prefer narratives, wordy paragraphs like fatty meat, but sometimes lists are a satisfying alternative--  Succinct and easy to read.

Most of my lists are shopping lists interspersed with to-do lists.  Library lists, song lists, address lists. One time I kept a bucket list.  Somehow, that got ripped off by someone else.

I often think of my marriage but scarcely of the players who were in it.  Although somewhat ambivalent about my childfree state, I do acknowledge the good fortune of not having children from my marriage.  For that reason, nobody has to know it happened.

It simply does not exist.  The carney who presented himself briefly as a committed party, interlopers, complicit spectators.  They never happened.  There is no finer way to tell someone to go to hell than saying nothing at all.

Occasionally, word does get back to me about the state of fictitious individuals, and there is a discernible pattern that they are living off an old bucket list of mine.  This is hardly news as there seems to never be an original thought between them.  Even my divorce was a classic cliche.

It does bring me pause.  I have a heart.  But then it passes.  There is a woman who is living a second-hand life.  I get to see how the years progress when living them out with a vacant individual.  Please accept them as compliments on me.

Enjoy the spoils.  I decided to leave empty-handed because I did not want to sort through someone else's shit.  We used to dream about selling all of our things and living life without mortgages, yards, closets of things that keep you rooted in one address.  You may have gotten the cheap furniture we picked out and the mortgage, but I got the lease.  It isn't uncommon not to know where I am when I wake up and my suitcase is never fully unpacked.  But fear is excitement with the absence of breath.

I also realized that we owned nothing of value.  Now when I see some kid in a baseball cap driving a Porsche, I am wholly unimpressed because I know any schmuck with a hint of disposable cash can buy a car at auction. Ours was a life of thrift.

So you can have Russia, Siberia, Columbia, Myanmar.  Port Moresby is the only entry point. Prune the yard of someone's precluded dreams.  Drift through the years like driving Lovelock to Winnemuca.  It's all the same to me.







Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Koto

Every year, we travel the week after Christmas.  We do not fly or take a train, although we've talked about it plenty of times, how romantic it would be to take an Amtrak to Philly or Manhattan.  Instead, we pack a rental car with our suitcases, our laptops, and a sample of our libraries and drive.  This year, we drove over 2000 miles.

We enjoy listening to different programs and this year, we brought along a Joel Osteen audio book that was a Christmas gift.  His messages, although delivered through the lens of a Christian pastor, are universal about life.  Unfortunately, I was so tired that I dozed off about halfway into each chapter, but one section of the book that did strike me was about stewardship.  Osteen relates it to god, I relate it to self-respect, but it prompted me to thing about my time, things, and finances.

Also on this trip, we listened to a TED talk delivered by Sandra Aamodt, a neurologist who advocates for intuitive eating.  That is, no matter how much we torture ourselves, we are doomed to fail any diets because of our brain function.  Rather, we should eat when we are hungry and stop when we are not.  It sounds simple, but really, we are a society with abundant food sources, so it has become a leisure activity.  This led to my renewed interest in Geneen Roth, whose book Women, Food, and God.  Like Aamodt, she also advocates for intuitive eating, but she argues that how we relate to the food on our plate is a direct relationship with god or our spirituality.

I have gained weight since I moved to the suburbs.  Gone is my rural food desert and three mile daily walks along the river.  It has been replaced by strip malls full of the standard chains and grocers.  Everything I need is within a mile of my home except the park.  My gain has been gradual and measured; I eat well and healthy, walk distances regularly.  But I do not deprive myself.

In general, I keep my weight in a particular range, what Aamodt would call a set point, so I just picked a number and bought that consistently.  However, within the first week of my husband walking out, I lost nearly 10 pounds.  Surely, if we any normal fighting couple and I saw it coming, I would have eaten my feelings, but the sudden departure felt like a death, and I just stopped eating.

Eating became a once a day task only when ravenous.  I ate whatever I pleased.  I even kept my favorite birthday cake stocked in the refrigerator.  I read a quote that when someone leaves you, decide how you will decorate that space, and I did so with healthy food and long, contemplative walks.

I always thought if I ever was a size 6, my life would be perfect.  Irony is dropping to a size 4 and your life falling apart.

Divorce is so brutal because it is about loss.  The loss of a spouse, a dream, a life, a lifestyle, a home.  I also had to mourn the loss of my wardrobe.  I gave it away to my neighbor, who was thrilled to receive new Calvin Klein and Ann Taylor dresses, some with tags still attached.

This brings me to things.  Kenji Ekuan, the creator of the Kikkoman bottle among other designs, once said, "Faced with brutal nothingness, I felt a great nostalgia for something to touch, something to look at.  The existence of tangible things is important.  It's evidence that we're here as human beings." (NPR).

I literally needed things when it was over.  I took nothing except my books, car, piano, and cat.  I splurged on a new canopy bed and deluxe mattress although made the purchase judiciously.  I bought new sets of dishes, silverware, utensils, and pans to cook up a new life.  Bedding, linens, and towels.  While the bedroom set was new, I selected antiques for my other furniture and also received gifted used furniture.

There aren't enough new dishes and new clean eating and new hand towels to clean up enough shitty feelings, though.

So now I am in this new home.  Some of the older furniture is in storage and last summer, I purchased more useful items for my home, including nice bookshelves that create a cozy and studious library nook.  But enough old was not removed for the new.

I am in the process of touching my things.  That is, I want to feel human again.  I want to feel joy.  Marie Kondo is back again with her book Spark Joy.  Admittedly, I am not finished with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but she also elaborates on our relationship with things.  Her method of decluttering is a little brutal if not neurotic for my taste.

As I organized the clothing in bins, I felt suffocated.  It was literally hard to breathe.  I will not give the clothes away because I will need them again.  This winter is a thick one, but next one may be lean, and these clothes represent the in-between.  But they were painful to touch.  They represent a woman who was hurting terribly, coming into a new style, not sure what to purchase, but needed clothing with each changing season.

They also represent a woman whose new belief is that life as you know it might evaporate suddenly, leaving you with nothing to hold onto.  So when I see a pair of size 4 dress pants and an extra-small shirt, I remember the worst summer heat, no AC, no relief, and fear.  When I fold the size 6 skinny jeans, I remember the black faux-leather boots I wore with them, and walking, walking, walking.  I am as uncertain as the ruffled autumn cardigans with the price tags still on them.

Bring it to the food on my plate.  It is there now.  There is no famine.  Bon appetite.

But I have what I need.  I have my home, my bed, my cats, my car.  There is no magical thinking.  The extra piece of fudge or set of unused boots will not keep my partner from leaving or my cat from dying.  It will, however, hamper my living.

I have a nice wardrobe of professional, well-fitting clothing in flattering colors made with quality materials.  If I run out of food, the grocery store is one stoplight away.  I have the resources I need to complete my research.  This is not a time of plenty but rather enough.

There is no magic sauce.  Roth and Aamodt would encourage mindful eating while Kondo believes in the gospel of mindful underwear folding.  Whatever it is, take the tags off, cast away the unnecessary, and learn to enjoy yourself.



Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Saint Helena

Today is the first day of winter and the solstice; I had no plans to commemorate it.  It was 63 degrees and not a single Christmas decoration is put up.  There are a few blank cards scattered across the table of snow owls.  My suitcase is halfway packed.

I was not going to mention today, nobody else knows it the way I do, and it is of relatively low importance now.  The dark days seem more tolerable with the warmer weather and perhaps for this reason and all the years between it, the details are removed.

I only have two thoughts when I awaken.  Often, I wonder where I am and always how I ended up here.  You can pick your bed but never where time leads you.  That is only a matter of acceptance.

Even though I was not going to give today another thought, nothing says "go to hell" more than indifference, I reconsidered.   The rooms, the beds, the cities, they all change, but the face in my mirror is still mine.  I thought of where I was those years ago.

I thought about the woman whose world was blighted suddenly, one minute things are normal, the next moment, it is all gone.  Whose husband would walked out suddenly two days before Christmas without so much as a lame excuse with any sort of cogency.

I owed it to her to think of her, remembering the way she coolly slipped into her basement and quietly called two attorneys to quick advice with no one the wiser.  The way she frantically searched through dirty clothes, piles of paper, the trash for any clue that would give way to an answer.

She deserved to be remembered for rising every day and showing up, she washed her hair, she applied her makeup, she pressed her clothes, she wore pearls.  There are several days she cannot remember, but she arrived each day anyway.  She was always a lady and a good lady knows when to take her leave, so she did.

That woman on this day deserves some sort of acknowledgement merely for intrepidity.  So I will.  Because then there was not enough kindness for the fall but I can embrace her fully.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Meet Me in St. Louis. . . Or Somewhere Else

Every autumn, as the days grow shorter and colder, it seems as though winter will not be all that bad, and like most labors and trials, we forget how bad they really are until they are there, rasping at our door.  

That is December for me.  Quietly drowning without thrashing, the weight of the night dragging me down steadily.  Tonight as we drove home, it seemed as though all winter is like this, an endless night we drive through with dim headlights.  

This December has been particularly disappointing for both of us.  We have had our successes and accomplishments, for sure, but there is a darker side to hope that soon we all will be far from here or there, the realization, and the futile resistance that perhaps that right here is all that remains for now.  We are so damned tired of waiting. 

So then we bite each other.  I thought I heard something that irritated me, tucked me into the woolly grey, but it metastasized, and I cannot tell you with certainty a bee flew into my bonnet.  But something in me was aroused and frankly I thought I was going mad in this dark highway of a winter.  
Our bodies never forget.  We try to forget.  If we are particularly cruel and damning, we say that whatever it was is nothing at all.  The finest way to tell a memory to go to hell is with indifference.  But our bodies remember, in their knotted synapses, and they will gladly betray us to tell a truth.  Our bodies store memories.  

I was told, or perhaps reminded, this week, of my intuitiveness.  "You are wonderfully intuitive," she said or something like it.  "Your dreams tell you so much.  You should listen to your body."  

Indeed, my dreams have been loud lately.  Running up and down stairs.  Tending to a son I forgot about.  Momentarily becoming a man.  A replay of that night, the bed in the dark, the muddled words into my good ear, the chain to the lamp, the silent and eternal howl.

I should honor the time of year.  Anne Lamont, whom I love but writes tragically long Facebook posts (apparently true of most authors on social media), published one recently about the short days and long nights, how it is "hope coming."  She relates it to Advent.  Perhaps this is something the good people who attend Sunday school are well-schooled in, but it's  news to me.  

The woman I was speaking with, who mentioned my intuitiveness, also pointed out that the days are shorter and it is a time of year we should be slowing down.  She asked what I needed.  

I need quiet.  I need answers.  I need solutions.  I need to be nourished.  I need hope.  I need faith.

I felt like a wolf caught in a trap, wild to break free.  

As we made our Christmas plans and annual trip, I realized I was fighting the futility of a memory that will be probably forever be locked inside my body.  

She asked what I needed.  "To fly on a plane that never lands."  

Trust, faith, hope.  This isn't so bad, no?  The weather is unnaturally and deceivingly warm.  I reserve the right to sit this one out again or just be quiet.  All rights reserved that I do not have to like Christmas.  

I never particularly liked the holiday.  Everyone would like you to believe that red and green are a great color combination, that giving is the greatest present, and hearing the same jingles and carols every year, over and over, is joyous.  

But it is not a happy holiday for everyone.  Bad things happen at Christmas.  Spouses walk out.  People suffer health problems.  Loved ones die.  Then you have to deal with everyone shoving jolly and merry in your face like tacky blinking lights.  Fuck that.  

My partner and I are two divorced academics who prefer the silence of the empty campus on Christmas morning, curled up under the blankets with a space heater.  Our marriages fell apart in the dead of winter at major happy holidays (different winters, I might add, so there is no confusion which side our spouses were on the fault line).  It is not the most wonderful time of the year for my best friend who suddenly lost her stepson last week.  She will leave the electric candle stay in his room.  It needs a light to shine so she and her husband will know their way home.  

The only Christmas carol I appreciate is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It is the only honest one.  


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Say You Don't Want It

I missed my period again last week.  I feel girly when I say it like that, colloquially referring to something I was taught not to talk about, it was not ladylike to talk about a feminine function.  But last week, I missed my period again. 

The syntax is off with that statement.  It makes it seem as though I missed it, like a bus or a train, that some action or inaction on my part caused the opportunity to depart.  Perhaps the syntax suggests I misplaced it, forgot where I laid it down like my keys or a coupon.  Rather, I think my period missed me.  The date came and went and it never showed.  

This is the second month it stood me up.  Normally, it arrives on schedule, but inexplicably, it declines to make an appearance twice now.  When I realize Thursday evening I have another no-show, I am tempted to page my doctor to page it, but then I realize this is only an emergency to me.  The first question the nurse will ask is if I have taken a pregnancy test.  So I decide to be prepared. 

I am pretty sure that I am not pregnant, almost certain, but tardiness breeds doubt.  Nobody wants to be the idiot who delivers a kid over a toilet because they did not consider the possibility of their unexplained weight gain to be a baby.  So I put on a jacket and some slip-on shoes and visit the 24 hour Walmart.  

I get nervous in the parking lot.  In exactly fifteen minutes, my life could change.  I will forever remember this the cool October evening that I drove through the short red light listening to sappy 70s music to purchase the test.  It does not register that perhaps it would be a July baby, just like me.  

In the family planning, or lack of planning, aisle, I pick up the cheapest box I can find, after all, I am certain this is not really happening, so there really isn't any need for a fancy digital Oracle that makes the prediction crystal clear.  A simple line or two will give me a hint; I think that is all I can stomach for now.  I inspect the box to make sure it has no damage to it, smooth, unbent, and sealed shut.  No confounding variables.  

I suddenly feel common.  I'm a feminist, a feminist scholar in fact, but somewhere in the recesses of years past, the lack of a ring on my finger makes me feel exposed.  I wish I had thought that through, slip one of the discarded engagement bands on, pretended.  But I use the self check-out aisle, then wrap the box in a box, and go back home.  

The whole ordeal seems rather messy, requiring a lot of fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination, so I opt for a used Chinese soup container and set a timer.  

I can't say the timing is great.  The circumstances less than ideal.  Not sure what it all means.  But I am pretty sure it means nothing.  This sort of thing won't happen to me.

The second line never appears.  All that is in the screen is a large, obtuse minus sign.  As in negative, negate, negation.  

I am nonplussed.  I return to writing the next section of a chapter.  I write about mothers, you know.  

I mention it casually to my partner.  I listen to him talk about his job, his career planning, our weekend plans and between proofreading and game casually mention the problem and conclusion.  No change to our status quo of careful planning, editing, pruning.  

My friend had a baby last week.  We used to go to high school together.  I remember her in her fishnets and cropped hair.  I remember her sitting behind me.  I used to have to have long hair then, I still do, and my favorite outfit was a little plaid miniskirt and tan knit sweater.  Her hair has returned to its cropped cut, but its no longer edgy, but practical, and she has three children now.

I expected my peers from high school to fulfill my prediction that most would go to college, become kindergarten teachers, and then become stay-at-home mothers within a year of marrying.  I would go to graduate school.  

But when parenthood transformed my master's cohort, I started to feel something, I don't know what, nip at my heels.  I thought I might be safe in my doctoral cohort, but my study buddy recently announced she is going off the pill.  

My Facebook account is nothing but babies now.  Once you have one and accumulating two and three, there are less ultrasound images and gender-reveal parties, more playdates and birthday parties.    

Most of my closer friends are blissfully child-free.  I try to take the approach of my co-worker, my well-read doppelganger who has a coffee mug that says, "Frugal is such an ugly word."  She believes in books, not babies.  But then again, she is still young, a newlywed, and nobody extinguished her sass.  

I agreed for another year to mentor a new graduate student who, when asked her career plans, informed me she was earning her doctorate to start a family.  "That way," she explained, "I can become an adjunct."  I know my mouth gaped slightly when she quickly added, "Or run an organization."  

I'll say I don't want it.  But the truth is, out of all the things I am certain I want, I am not sure what I do or don't want in this instance, and unlike a degree or a job or a backpacking trip, the opportunities are not boundless.  But it is difficult to discern the correct answer in between all of the cacophony of announcements, questions, suggestions, discussions, the chatter is really obnoxious, can't anyone keep it down? 

Even if I figure this out soon, another friend announced she expecting her third, three seems to be the cutoff point, so I will not be in a familiar cohort, and I remember my own mother sadly acknowledging that as a woman who had a baby in "advanced maternal age" she could not relate well to the younger moms in the play groups.  

I shop for hosiery today, I dress up everyday for work, and next to the tights and Spanx is the children/infant aisle with onesies and booties.  I melt a little as I quickly push my cart to avoid the grandmother and mother tag teams.  

As I tick off my shopping list, four boys, presumably brothers, yell and rough house in the aisle.

No.  


  






Friday, January 23, 2015

From the Ranks of the Freaks

While at a conference last weekend, I ended up staying after my panel session to speak with the moderator.  It was an attempt to save face; my presentation was not executed flawlessly as I rehearsed in front of my cat, and although the audience was none the wiser, my own awareness of floundering in my head still echoed.  The moderator was writing a book about the history of emotions based on expression.

There have been previous studies and explorations regarding the histories certain emotions, such as melancholia.  I want to know, however, about the history of loneliness.

Loneliness is probably not one of the more pleasant emotions to sit down and write a book about.  I scarcely enjoy sitting down and having a cup of tea with it.  Loneliness is the kind of bastard emotion that sidles up next to you on a Tuesday night when you have popcorn and wine for dinner.  I kind of want to throw up in my mouth thinking about it.

Loneliness is also a feared contagion, which is why you certainly never admit to it.  It is the kind of thing you catch when you are not careful, shame on you, so  take it somewhere else.

It is not photogenic either.  Take a snapshot of loneliness for Instagram or Facebook and you will get no likes.  It makes everyone else uncomfortable, exposing that our lives really do not look like our Pinterest boards.

I woke up yesterday morning with a terrific thought.  I am about to turn 37.  In five years, of course, but do you know how quickly those five years will come?  Just five years ago, I was a wife beaming about her good fortune in life.  Now, I have been living alone for three years.  At the onslaught, I would have imagined that three years of alone would include the zenith of zen, wisdom, and acceptance.

It never really gets easier.

Maybe if I lived in the hipster, urban part of the city near the university, a block or two away from the historic theater that shows 99 cent films or the galactic themed diner, that is, closer to a demographic that holds graduate degrees, attends gallery openings, and runs small-scale nonprofits, I might celebrate my solitary.

But I live in the suburbs.  That means I live under the siege of ultrasound photos of baby No.3, family portraits, mommy blog recommendations, and new home construction.  Apartments are for transients; home ownership is the gold standard.   Clearly, I lack the requisite 2.5 kids, evident by my coupe and apartment.  I could sign off of social media, but given that I am writing a dissertation and work from home, that would pretty much limit my social interactions entirely.

Emily White of The Daily Mail (a totally reliable and informative news outlet) writes about loneliness as a taboo.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2019545/The-loneliness-epidemic-Attractive-successful--years-EMILY-WHITE-felt-profoundly-Why-honest-problem-blights-lives.html

She aptly explains how loneliness is viewed as an undesirable flaw and discusses the stigmatization of it, pointing blame to the increasing isolation of society similarly described in Bowling Alone.

White further explains that the stigmatization of loneliness compounds the condition.

Know what else compounds loneliness?  Bad advice.  Be a "friend" to yourself.  "Enjoying" your own company.  "Leaning in" to your solitude.  Advising the leper to engage in more social activities. That one really irritates me.  As a PhD candidate writing my dissertation, which is the Moby Dick of my research, while working on a research study and consulting on the side leaves little time to commute from suburbia to funky town for tapas and Decembrist covers.

It would just be easier and kinder for everyone to get real.  That mothering two toddlers under the age of three is not endless days of crafts and organic chicken nuggets; it's lonely.  The two mutts you adopted from the shelter:  because you were lonely.  Reposting the photo of the "love of your life" from your wedding day five years ago:  Because marriage can be lonely.  Showing off your engagement band over and over, because you "love being in love":  You would do anything to avoid being lonely.

That is the sucker punch that loneliness delivers.  No matter how much we do to avoid it, it still finds us in sexless marriages, hollow friendships, useless newsfeeds, laying in the empty side of the bed left vacant some years ago when he left for greener pastures. 

The only solution, I suppose, is if I were halfway across the world, tripped over the international dateline, sprawled head first into a depaato downtown.  I recall the distinction between alone and lonely.  It was ten years ago while window shopping after dark in Hamamatsu; it seemed every store was playing Akon's Lonely.   It was the sort of solitude for which I wept because soon enough it would be abandoned with a boarding pass home. 

I still pine for it today.