Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fallen Off a Bit

“When someone you love dies, you don't lose them all at once. You lose them in pieces over time, like how the mail stops coming.” --Simon Birch (1998)

A week ago I woke up before dawn. It was Saturday. Once again I’d had a dream about a loved one. No, she hasn’t died and I still have many pieces of her to hold on to, but I grieve over the pieces I have lost, the pieces I am trying to hold onto in my memories at least. But I am afraid of losing those too. I have dreams of her, of she and I, quite regularly. Some are incredibly beautiful. Others are full of angst. Last Saturday, I woke up sobbing.

My husband woke up. “What?! What’s going on?!” I heard him say. I could not answer him. Now confronted with a witness to my sobs, I tried to gain control of them. My mind searched for words to respond to his question. But before I could find the words, the best thing happened. Eric pulled me into his arms and gently whispered, “Just relax”.

As one friend put it to me recently, my blog posts have “fallen off a bit”. It is a current that I hope will change. I find myself wanting to explain why I haven’t been writing as often.

I wear my heart on my sleeve. I've been warned about this my whole life by those who fear I'll be hurt. And sure, I've BEEN hurt. But not because I've been honest with my emotions. As of late, I have been pulling away from my writing and from several other parts of my life. Some of that has been intentional. Some of it has happened gradually and until recently, I was in denial. But it’s true. I’ve pulled away. I haven’t wanted to write but I think that is because I have not wanted to be honest with my emotions. Or maybe I have wanted to be honest and feel I could not be. I’ve been ashamed of my emotions. Forever a control freak, they prove to me that I am not in control. So in an attempt to change that current of pulling away from my writing, here I go, jumping into the flood of honest emotion, trying to gain control again.

Grief is a complicated issue. People say there are stages to that grief. I’ve read a lot about the subject to know that the stages do not neatly progress from one to the other. Sometimes they are all jumbled up. For what it's worth, I’ve done a self inventory. Yes, I am angry. At situations beyond my control. But anger is not a pretty emotion and I like to be thought of as pretty. Also, I have guilt. I am trying to let that go, because I know how destructive it is, but it’s not easy when you have my personality. Yes, I am sad. I have also done enough research to know that I am probably also suffering from anxiety or from depression too..most likely both. I try to be patient with myself and I am looking at resources to help me. I have always prided myself in being strong but I also know that sometimes it takes more strength to be honest in one's emotions. But as generous as people are, no one can stand being near someone who is sad, anxious, or grieving for too long. So we, the anxious and the grief-stricken, fight to gain control over their emotions, for the sake of our loved ones and the outside world of strangers or those in-between, the ones they spend their days with. Put on that happy smile. Be who they need you to be. “Smile and the world smiles with you. Cry and you cry alone”. I don’t want to be alone.

So, I have some things to work through. It’s going to take some time. I’m sorry if reading this has made you feel uncomfortable... but this one, this blog post, is for me. Truth is, no one but myself and my faith will pull me through this, although I do need to continue to look for those times when my eyes meet with someone’s invitation to share a little more. After all, as much as I want those warm inviting embraces to continue on Saturday mornings, I’d really like to give that sweet husband a break every once in awhile.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Publish? Maybe. Perish? Highly Unlikely.

I've been experiencing what some might call "Writer's Block". But what I know is that I have been arguing with myself far too much lately. Thankfully, a cloud of doubt lifted yesterday and today I am writing again.

Memoirs chronicle the experiences ordinary people have had in some extraordinary circumstances. There are the celebrity actors who battle an early onset of Parkinson’s disease (Hello Michael J. Fox!) to the writer who sets off on a quest to find purpose in life while traveling through Europe (How are you doing now Elizabeth Gilbert?), to the touching final thoughts of a dying professor (You left us way too soon, Randy Pausch). The shelves of published memoirs document the challenges of living day in and day out in a world we share with others, many of whom may never take the time or even have the inclination to “write it all down” but who relate to our challenges of body, mind, and spirit. Everyone has a story to tell. And many people truly honor listening to each other’s stories and learn from them. Whether or not those tales are published, each voice is as worthy as the next. I believe this wholeheartedly.

Although I have faced challenges in the 44 years I’ve lived, I have never battled cancer nor have I been harshly abused, poverty-stricken, homeless, or admiringly reckless in abandoning my 9 to 5 job to run away and see the world. I can relate to other's troubling tales for I have fretted over a concerning request for a repeat mammogram a few years ago. I did break away from an attack of a sexual predator at the age of sixteen. And yes, I have fantasized of running away to travel or to simply hide out in the woods behind my house THOUSANDS of times and at various ages. (I swear if someone would just find the right words to seductively pull me away from my responsibilities, I’d romantically disappear for at least a little while). I find myself thinking over the stories, contemplations, and anxieties I have shared openly in my memoir posts. Have I lived fully? Have I lived a life worth discussing? Is such a life publishable? I am looking for an angle, some lens to look through so as to focus my vision as I take stock of my life. What would the title of my memoir be? How would it be marketed? Would it sell a single copy? Truth be told, lens or no lens, my life has been blessed. It hasn’t been perfect (thank goodness, as how boring would THAT be?) but it is a good one, and one mixed with a hearty balance of risk-taking and caution.

Why do I write? Inside my soul there is a relentless hunger to live my life as honestly as I can. I make strides to do good but I mess up. A lot. But I don’t deny my stumbles or my failings. They make me who I am. Am I likeable? I hope so. But I know I don’t always make it easy for people. Still, I’m working to balance a desire to improve myself and a yearning to be more self-confident. It’s a tricky gig. I’m full of contradictions. And I suppose, it matters little in the end whether or not my voice is heard, whether my day-to-day adventures resonate with another. I hope they do; I hope my attempt to live a transparent life aids my fellow man, but I am just one woman, after all. I am one woman who as of today has not run away, who has not yet fallen prey to an addiction, who has not yet lived the trials of cancer. I don’t have Parkinson’s. I don’t plan to divorce my husband and go across the world looking for food, peace, and love. I get hungry sometimes and I let doubt creep in, but most days I fully recognize what I have here. And hopefully I am not a teacher who only has a few more months to live. Because I've got a lot more to do. I've got a lot more to say, whether or not anyone's listening.

Michael, Elizabeth, and Randy wrote amazing memoirs. But I have something to say too, even if I am the only one who hears. I am one woman who is not afraid to use her voice to tell her story, to look inward and to reach outward. Am I an ordinary person living through extraordinary times? Maybe. Am I an extraordinary person living an ordinary life? I’d like to think so. But oh who cares?! It doesn’t matter what the angle. It doesn’t matter how I classify it all. This is MY life. My voice. My memoir. But enough about me. Thanks for listening but now... It’s time to talk about YOU.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Dynamite Day

A few years ago my husband turned 44. On his birthday I began a whispered chant of “TNT ! TNT!” in honor of his turning the same number as our local cable television’s Ted Turner Network tv channel, otherwise known as “TNT”. Throughout the year when Eric would mention he was 44, I’d begin. “TNT! TNT! TNT! TNT!”. Oh, I knew I was antagonizing him, but I couldn’t help it. It must have been a very long year for him.

But yesterday it was my turn. The day began with a surprise when I accidentally turned off my alarm clock instead of hitting the snooze button. Thankfully, my daughter turned on the hall light 50 minutes later which awoke me. We managed to get out of the house at the normal time (thank goodness for a new wash and wear hairstyle!) and our day at school began.

My teaching day went well but I was antsy. At one point in my day I was correcting essays and I stopped for a minute and thought to myself, “What did I do on my 43rd birthday?” I could not remember. So I turned to the entry I had written on my blog and was a little disheartened to see that I’d written about crying in my classroom. “I cried on my birthday last year?! Really?!” I had forgotten. It had been a day of feeling overwhelmed by everything. So, I made a mental note. At around 8:00am, I thought to myself, “Here I am, 44 years old. Today I am working at my desk. I have a class of students here in study hall who have their backs to me (a new rule due to the fact that we must keep a close eye on their laptop use), and I’m correcting rhetorical analysis compare-contrast essays written by my AP students”. Hmm. Wow. That didn’t sound memorable at all.

The next block I talked with my juniors about dystopian literature (a love of mine) and early western philosophy, namely Plato’s Allegory of a Cave. Although they enjoyed the claymation video I showed them to illustrate this concept, that hour with them probably would not be memorable either for any of us. I had to improve this day! During lunch I couldn’t decide where I wanted to have lunch. I opted to give my introverted self a break and to spend time reading. Pleasurable, but probably not memorable.

The end of the day brought a quick trip to the grocery store and then my husband and I headed home. We were fully aware that the only chance we had to enjoy some birthday cake was before Paul’s basketball practice and Emma’s dance lesson. Within five minutes of getting in the door, we were yelling upstairs to the kids, finding candles, and opening up the ice cream carton. The scene was a bit frantic. I plopped a single candle into the middle of a triple chocolate truffle cake Eric had bought me and lit it. “Mom! You’re lighting your own birthday cake candle?!” my daughter asked incredulously.

Emma then grabbed the cake from me and began to sing. I looked up smiling and saw that she had left the room. “Where’s my cake?!” I laughed. But by then everyone was singing in full force as Emma led the cake around the downstairs in an impromptu parade. “Has the candle gone out?” I asked. Emma stopped the parade and her singing to double check, then seeing the candle still flickering, continued onward. Safely back to the kitchen counter, we sliced the cake, served up ice cream, and dug in. Within the half hour, we’d be off in separate directions, but for now, we were having cake and laughing together. This was a moment I wanted to remember. The world had stopped for just a few minutes. I was taking notice for future years.

The end of the day brought us back together but very briefly. My eldest girl called to wish me Happy Birthday. Soon, the hours of the day were winding down. Before retiring for the night I spotted my son asleep in the recliner in front of the tv. I whispered a suggestion that he head up to bed and went that way myself. Within five minutes, his sleepy head popped into my room. He slid into my bed and rested with me for a few minutes and we began playing a “I can make you laugh” game. It was silly but once again, the world was pausing for me.

Emma’s parade of cake, a quick phonecall from Sydney, and that rare bedtime cuddle with Paul will surely prove to be memorable. If not, I’ll at least be able to look back at this year's birthday blog post and know for certain that there had been no crying this year. Not today anyhow. In fact, my TNT birthday? It could not have been more dynamite.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Right Moment

I am not afraid of confrontation. I can take the spotlight when I need to. But sometimes when I don’t talk, it is simply that I realize my limitations to debate an issue. Other times, my silence is a matter of always having believed in my ability to capture the room’s attention and to make effective change by choosing the right moment to speak up. Those who clamor for attention and recognition of how politically or socially savvy they are quickly become ineffective in their protests and pontifications. Their voices become shrill and nauseating. They tire me, especially when I note the lack of experience or the lack of empathy they display.

I try to steer clear of political debate on most issues. It is not that I am without opinion, nor am I without courage. It is simply that in most situations I work to respect the difference of opinions amongst people. Despite who we are or what we believe in, we are the product of our upbringing, experiences, education, and influences. I truly subscribe to the idea that most people are doing the best they can in any circumstance. If someone disagrees with my stance, through conversation with that person, the reasons behind the difference in opinion is unveiled and it usually make sense to me. With this said, there are times when I find it necessary to speak up and raise concern or awareness on a subject dear to my heart, and I do, but it has been my experience that often the most effective way to make change in my environment is to talk with people one on one, rather than to climb onto a soapbox, demanding that all eyes and ears turn my way.

Several years ago I became a political advocate for our local school district’s music department. Facing budget cuts, I wrote letters, elicited petition signatures, and went completely out of my comfort zone when I spent hours at the polls talking to the public. The experience did not end with any heroics but I did my part to garner support for the music teachers and students as best I could. Years later, I spoke up again, at a school board meeting when the high school principal of my children’s school was to be ousted under the guise of politics, when in reality there was the greed of the ransom of state money which could go to the school. A good man fell on his sword and chose an early retirement. Again, I’d gone out of my comfort zone for something, or rather someone I believed in, but my efforts were futile.

So here I am again, debating whether or not to speak up, to voice my upset that the world has gone crazy. I am so tired of the shrill and nauseating voices which, in their attempts to make sense of politics, are throwing dirt at something they do not understand. I don't proclaim to understand every facet either, which perhaps is why I find it best to listen with the two ears God gave me. In the meantime, I am standing here dumbfounded. I keep taking a towel to wash my face. I should move. I should speak. Shouldn't I? No, not yet. I am confused and do not know what to do or what to say. I want to be that welcomed voice of reason but I am not sure I have it in me to debate. I realize why they are saying what they are saying; their upbringing, experiences, education, and influences have been different from mine. I respect that. And unfortunately the dirt bombs are being sent from so many different directions. Some are not even aware of how I am feeling, not that my little ol' feelings matter any more than others. I suppose what bothers me the most is that my own pained voice isn’t being heard. In my attempts to be tolerant and understanding, I have been my own confused, distraught, and exhausted hands.

Or perhaps I am just waiting for the right moment. Is that it? I hope so. And if so, I hope it comes soon.