Wednesday, March 12, 2014

At the Corner of Random and Whatever



I've started no fewer than four blog entries in the last few days and none of them have panned out into anything worth a full post. I'm going to claim grading fatigue after reading and marking 180 English I benchmark essays in three days time. According to Web MD, I should now have the brain function of a woman with a penchant for sucking on car batteries.  Herewith some samples gleaned from a recent dumpster dive into my brain:

*How do I express my real thoughts about hot-button issues without generating a Category 5 Shitstorm Alert from at least three people in my real life? Once I observed an elderly woman directing her husband into a parking space and I described her impatience with him on a previous blog. Because it was my blog and I thought their interplay was amusing. I was immediately pilloried by a guy I knew from college who said I was making fun of old people, which was not even true and certainly not at all the intention of the post. Needless to say I did not give him the location of my current website.

This kneejerk enmity is actually a much bigger problem on Facebook, since I seem to have absolutely no trouble getting 159 people to weigh in with their favorite kind of pie in a span of 30 minutes. However, even this lame conversational thread will immediately be followed by an exchange of gunfire and an argument started by an old acquaintance who will claim that President Obama's alleged love of pecan pie was a direct result of his influence by the pecan lobbyists. Then someone else who knows me but does not even know the author of the pecan comment will attack said commenter and I start to wonder if there is ANY topic that won't initiate a Shiite-variety response, because apparently none of us is even allowed to have an opinion on anything unless we have personal and documented experience with that particular thing. Which is weird, because I thought the very definition of opinion meant that it didn't necessarily require experience.

Meanwhile, I have a total of 16 people who profess to read this blog and only eight of them comment regularly. Maybe if I wrote about pie every day...

*Spring Cleaning. By this I mean the literal kind where I begin hauling out unworn/ill fitting clothing in bags designated for Goodwill, beating rugs on a clothesline and attacking every cobweb with a shop vac. And... the figurative kind where I distinguish the difference between those people in my life who are authentic (read: here for the long haul) and those who are merely familiar. There's a lot of dead wood in my life and I'm currently busy using all of it to build a bridge which I will promptly set on fire.   The unfortunate result of this will be a greatly reduced circle of friends, but it's my belief that people have to earn that designation and I've been far too generous with it in the past. Case in point: Do not use the amount of time my job requires from me to justify how busy YOU have been--and thus-- explain why you haven't returned a text or call from me since November.  My watchword for this year is going to be reciprocity. I refuse to participate in relationships (face-to-face or on social media) where reciprocity is not at work. Ain't nobody got time for anything else...

* Recent staff meeting reminder: Apparently, it is now considered bad form to use all capital lettering on any word in any email communications (for any reason) with parents of students. Downtown authorities are calling this a bridge too far because it's like we are shouting at parents and their delicate feelings. Even when they deserve it.  Whatever. I'm over it.

*I gave up wine for Lent, but I actually started it two weeks early. Not because I'm worried about being an alcoholic, but because wine touches off my grim attraction to every salted food in the house. Kosher dills lead to cashews which lead to popcorn. Popcorn is the gateway drug for kettle chips and I'd rather be caught driving carpool in a pair of parachute pants and a Hello Kitty! shirt than live life without kettle chips. Is there a medic alert bracelet for this?

*Impending birthday realizations: 1) Four years of teaching at the New Jack City/Hamburger Hill of elementary schools did not in any way prepare me for dealing with middle-class parents who believe in a world where formalwear dances are un-ironically held for 7th and 8th graders and terms like "date" and "corsage" and "grinding while you dance" are used.  I do not understand why they need to have this experience so early. 2) It occurs to me that I will never know what it is like to live in New York City or spend any length of time in a respected and well-paid profession (Rosie O'Donnell calls this "sick Oprah money". Yes, please.) Those ships have sailed and I'm sad about both of them. 3) Every recent picture of me suggests a relapse photo from High Times magazine. (Disclaimer: If you have a friend struggling with addiction, please pump the brakes on your personal umbrage. I'm not addressing anyone you know.)
4) Personally, I believe that the Tea Party movement is nothing more than a clown car full of maniacs with a bad case of road rage and every time I see a treasured friend quote them on Facebook I lose the will to live. Then end.




Monday, February 24, 2014

Babyland



My parents met during a game of "42" with friends when my father was a college student and Mom, whose parents were unable to afford higher education, was working as a secretary. Despite my father's difficulty with small talk and the fact my mother-- her hair done up in cage rollers-- was clearly not dressed for romance, they eventually fell in love anyway.

A little more than two years later--on February 24th-- they would be headed to the hospital in the same little college town where my father was a fifth year engineering major. Married only eight months and completely inexperienced in the ways of birth control, as only a naive Southern Baptist girl (and her husband) of the 50's could be, my parents became...parents.

For about 24 hours.

Perfectly formed, my tiny sisters very quickly slid into the world with our mother drowsy from medication, but awake, and our father in the waiting room-- pacing, smoking and getting a head start on his future ulcer. Born far ahead of schedule--three months early--they were already in respiratory distress. Medical knowledge being what it was in 1957, there existed no real expectations for their survival. They were, and would be thought so even now, dangerously small. Whisked away the minute they were born, the obstetrician decided that my mother would become too attached to her dying daughters and then become even more upset, should she be allowed to hold them. As if carrying them inside her for six months wasn't enough of a connection.

And so they were whisked away as soon as they took their first shallow breaths and my mother, whose thought processes were so saturated with shock and grief that she could not raise a protest, was denied even the briefest glimpse of their round faces and rosebud mouths or the chance to briefly touch their outstretched fingers with one of hers.

 It was my father who would return to my mother's bedside and report the death of their first child later that evening and then then next day, the second one. Women in those days remained hospitalized for at least one week after giving birth and my mother's trauma only guaranteed this. With the help of their minister's wife who found tiny white burial dresses, my sisters were laid at either end of the same infant casket and my stunned young father would be required to grieve for them alone. Surely there were friends there to help him as he selected the grassy patch where they would be buried. A section of the cemetery for death's youngest victims.

Babyland.

As the oldest daughter by default, I was always cognizant of the role that chance played in my birth order, but when I was younger I confess that on more than one occasion I gave voice to the notion that my mother didn't speak out loudly enough for herself or her daughters when her male doctor allowed himself to make such a permanent decision for her. I thought her weak for not insisting that those babies graves be moved when father graduated college and they moved three hours north. And there were even times I questioned how much she could love me--and the two sisters born after--if she could leave behind the first ones. It was an asshole thing to think. I know that now.

As a parent I've learned that you get your guts ripped out a million times...not only on behalf of your children but--sometimes--you get them torn from you by the very ones to whom you gave life. Life is happy one moment and tragic the next. And if you're lucky it evens out eventually. You may walk away from the place where sadness is entombed, but motherhood has taught me that you don't ever forget it. Even on the days when it looks to the outside world as though you're having the time of your life.

It took strength for my mother to come home from the hospital and store away the evidence of anticipated motherhood and again--after my dad graduated--to pack up their tiny apartment and drive with him away from the sunny spot where their daughters lay--named-- under a simply lettered headstone. And then to return years later when my younger sisters and I would attend and graduate from our father's alma mater. Surely the proximity was bittersweet for her. I don't know because she's never said.

Last week my mother, the same woman who was able to pick up and move on after losing children she would never meet, kicked cancer's ass and I was there to see it. What I once thought was her lifelong denial of life's gravity was actually something else entirely: the desire to briefly acknowledge that sadness and death exist and then turn away from the shadows to face the sun.

And after a lifetime of being known as my father's daughter, I find myself envying the power my mother has had all along. Why in hell did it take me this long to see it?







Sunday, January 26, 2014

That Which Shall Not Be Named

Quicksand, according to a recent public radio program, was a concept that used to be one of the most frightening to kids in previous generations. It appeared in books and movies, unexpectedly swallowing the occasional lost traveler or a villain on a getaway horse and its latent threat was reflected in the artwork of schoolchildren as the cosmic punishment for those who didn't mind their parents about staying in their own yard. 

 The guy on this program was talking about how present day kids don't know anything about quicksand and thus, have no fear of it. It has almost disappeared from the national consciousness. As a little girl I remember feeling vaguely bothered by that something in nature which could bury me slowly. However, the most terrifying combination of words for me was not then organic, but a thing crafted by humans. The iron lung.

 Originally, I visualized an iron lung in a literal way in that I assumed doctors replaced the old organs in your chest with heavy metal ones. Like an internal iron maiden, minus the spikes. Imagine my learning that an iron lung wasn't something they put inside you, but a terrifying machine in which you were placed. This news was difficult for me--a dedicated claustrophobe--since I screamed every time my mother helped me pull a sweater up over my head in an attempt to remove it. Indeed, the idea of being trapped and sealed inside a metal box which purported to breath for you was--despite its helpful purpose--nightmarish to me. Photographs of smiling, disembodied heads on pillows did nothing to dispel my fear of being contained in such a way that I could not see my own hands and feet or in any way extricate myself from its strong metal confines. In short...a complete loss of control over my own life.

This past week my otherwise healthy 78-year old mother was diagnosed with cancer. 

The woman who lived through the deaths of twin daughters before giving birth to three healthy ones and who remained strong throughout my own dad's recent health trauma is now the focus of our worst fears. The mom who read Uncle Wiggly to me, taught us to make bread by hand and value the feel of sleeping with a cool and crisply ironed pillow case beneath my head went to the doctor and came back holding the "C" report card that in no way guarantees a pass. In fact it frequently does not. And even though the word is ridiculously commonplace these days, the weight of its mantle is still mercilessly heavy. 

 The superstitious whisper it because of the fear it imparts. It is--like the fictional Voldemort--that thing which shall not be named. It is the sound of the other shoe dropping. The dark train pulling into the station with its accompanying ominous screech of oily brakes. It is--for me--the iron lung of all diagnoses. I am not ready.

I am so. Not. Ready.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Notes From Foot Prison

Six weeks in and I'm still living life as "Frankenfoot". Still sitting with my booted appendage elevated when I'm not moving or hobbling around on two crutches until two angry callouses the size of small potholders have bloomed on either side of my torso. Still wearing only the pants that will fit over my boot as well as shirts or sweaters long enough to cover my expanding ass, given I can't exercise....let alone hurry to get anywhere.

I miss running, yoga and long walks on the river. I miss taking the stairs instead of the elevator and having my shoes match. I miss not having to consider every bite of food I put in my mouth for fear that I will continue to outgrow the one pair of pants that still fit me, after which I throw in the towel, take a second helping and pour myself a glass of wine. I feel like I'm standing still. Like a manatee in a Medic-Alert bracelet for falling risks, even though I've never fallen before.

I realize that all of this is temporary and that at some point I will no longer look like the relapse photo of a middle aged burnout after a hard weekend at Medieval Times. I will get rid of this food baby and get pedicures and wear skirts and feel all the feelings and not just the negative ones. I need some way to burn off the whatever that builds up after 9-10 hours of work every day.

In the meantime I drive to work and see runners on their morning route as they crest a hill all flush with endorphines. I check out Instagram where every yogi in my studio seems to be in competition for having the most obscenely comical number of handstand selfies that make me think in terms of #lookatme , #lookatmesomemore  #seemyawesome and I am resentful.  Like the custodians at my school who have opted not to sweep the classroom floors anymore but--instead--use giant leaf blowers to make a half-assed pass at the accumulated debris, I am not doing everything with my whole heart.

How do the contemplative nuns do it? The robed monks in their remote Tibetan silence? I've been still too long. I feel a cuss coming on and it's directed at me because the moment my foot touched ice on that parking lot crosswalk I had just finished mentally mocking a woman who was attempting to scale some frozen steps in a tight little skirt and high heeled boots. The words were still hanging inside their thought bubble over my head when I hit the ground like a wet sack of applesauce.

And the rest is history and x-rays.




Thursday, January 2, 2014

Low Hanging Fruit



Recently a notebook containing folksinger Woody Guthrie's New Year's resolutions was published and--despite the length of each list--his goals for the future appear charmingly simple: To brush what teeth he might have left and listen to the radio more. To help win the war, change his socks and "dream good".  It got me to thinking that maybe the resolutions I've made in the past did nothing more than set me up for certain failure. Like a kid jumping into the deep end of the pool with no floaties on.

Perhaps there's a way to simply get closer to the things I want without actually guaranteeing to achieve them. Proximity has got to be better than nothing and in recent years? Nothing is exactly what I've achieved.

So...instead of promising to lose 15 pounds, I should simply say that I will just try to successfully zip  any of the pants I have on.

Rather than vowing to be kind to everyone I meet I'll just aim for reducing the number of times I go "Full Metal Jacket" on people who irritate me. In short, almost everyone.

Plan for one day out of every weekend where I am not parked on the sofa wearing institutional soft pants while thinking up new Pinterest categories related to food.

Take care to check for nearby witnesses when I audibly refer to school district administrators as dream killers.

Stop looking like the Crypt Keeper will now give way to Buy some moisturizer. And then actually use it.


What I've realized is that not only is the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but that you will run barefoot down that same rocky avenue wearing kerosene pants. That means it's difficult to repeatedly make elaborate plans for your own self-improvement and then follow through.  Wouldn't limiting the scope of one's expectations--at the very least--shorten the journey? For me, Woody's intention to shave more shines like a weak but steady beacon in the night.

And the idea of starting a journal solely for recording resolutions like the one Guthrie created sounds like an admirable goal and, because I'm a teacher, the image of a fresh notebook of clean, blank pages is especially appealing. But I don't want to get ahead of myself.

And isn't that, after all,  a goal in and of itself? Judge's ruling, please!









Friday, December 27, 2013

Postscript

I've been feeling churlish of late and I know it's because I'm basically Gorilla-glued to the heavy boot that is helping to stabilize my broken right ankle for the next--Jesus, take the wheel!--six weeks. Now daily movement constitutes a humbling experience for someone like me who cannot even stand to walk in the general vicinity of slow people because: 1)  I am easily irritated by slow walking 2) I don't like being late to wherever I'm going  3) I fear that walking slowly forces me to appear aimless, and 4) Again with the irritation.

It's worth mentioning the irritation twice simply because there is so much of it. However, because I've also been referred to as a "Type A personality" twice in one week, it appears that I'm going to have to pump the brakes on my sucky attitude with regard to my sudden medical house arrest status. Toward that end, I've lovingly assigned a name to my boot and it will henceforth be known to all as Lurch. For reasons I should not have to explain.

Christmas Day was a jumble of emotions. On the side of GOOD: Having all the kids home at one time for 24 hours. On the BAD side: All the food! Lord Jesus, lead me to someone whose love language isn't fried, smothered in gravy or doing the backstroke in a pool of melted butter. And the conveyer belt of sweets (Not to mention the loving little gifts from students at the beginning of the holiday) is going to force me into an impromptu case of the "diabeetus" or simply render me all trembly from  the sugar shakes. As soon as I stop eating. It's all made worse by the fact that Lurch does not allow me to generate the body heat necessary to burn more than a calorie every other month. I do what I can by crying hysterically, but tears don't weigh as much as sweat. It's a scientific fact, people. Look it up.

In other news, I learned that it is possible to nearly burn down your house by putting two slices of bacon into a microwave  (One that has an unfortunate habit of resetting itself so that 7 minutes becomes 70) and then wandering off and forgetting about it. Exhibit A: The smoking mechanical heap currently gracing our courtyard outside and Exhibit B: The smell of burning plastic throughout the house.

And this puzzler: A childhood friend of my husband's came by on Christmas Day evening and brought a small gift wrapped package that he said was specifically for me from his parents. They wanted--no--insisted--that he give it to me. Behold: A kitchen sponge for pots and pans. 



Because nothing says We are thinking about you during the holidays, special person, like an implement for removing stubborn food particles from cookware.

I cannot even begin to speculate why they wanted me to have this. Nor if they meant to suggest what this gift implies when you consider that my husband and sons received maps and music CDs. It's important to add that both of these people really do like me and neither is currently suffering from dementia. I confess that I'm stumped.

And finally....some advice from me to you. If you decide one evening to surf the internets in hope of ordering some sweaters that will spruce up your jeans-only work wardrobe while your bum ankle heals and you do a search for "oversized bohemian sweaters for women"? Please confirm that the sweater you ordered is not being manufactured in China and modeled on a very petite Chinese teenager and that said sweater is not being shipped from China. Why? Because what looks oversized on a headless photograph of a female model whose country of origin is not known for its tall citizens, will--in fact--fit  easily inside a quart-sized plastic mailer and the result will not be at all flattering to your 5'8" frame.

 I am now the proud owner of a sweater that would look perfect on a Cabbage Patch Doll.  Hope your Christmas was merry. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holding Pattern


In years past my Christmas Eve day was often a flurry of last minute wrapping the crap out of gifts, five trips to the grocery store and cleaning my brokedown palace of a house in anticipation of a traditionally major family celebration, the preparation of which rendered me just shy of being Liza Minnelli crazy.

Today, however, I'm settled in front of a Christmas episode of "That Girl"  while eating celery and drinking a Pinterest recommended fat cell flush of ice water, cucumber, lemon, lime and mint. Not because I'm attempting a different kind of nervous breakdown--but because I broke my ankle two weeks ago in an epic fall in the icy teacher's parking lot and--in the process--lost most of my dignity and self respect. And most of my mobility.

It's a terrible time to be sidelined and it's tempting to express my despondence by lying on the sofa huddled in a slanket while hopped up on butterscotch schnapps and Tramadol. Instead I'm crutching about with my black boot which is the fashion equivalent of pantyhose and white sandals and somehow getting it all done.

I'd love to whine about everything I can't do for the next two months, but I'm too medicated to move and it's not the season for whining anyway. Merry Christmas, readers. The art of blogging may be dying, but I'm going to limp along regardless. Take care.