Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ode to joy; or, Happy Opening Day

Opening Day. For baseball fans it is a holiday. A day to play hooky from school or work and head out to the ballpark; or at least, to stay home and watch baseball on tv. For the past several years I have had to teach on Opening Day, so I would put the games on in my classroom. At the beginning of each class I would tell my students about Opening Day and the hooky tradition. Inevitably one or more would suggest that I would still have time to make it to Oakland or San Francisco if I let them out early. Silly students always trying to get out of work. Even if only for a few hours.  I would use Opening Day to talk about traditions--national, religious, and personal. Usually, I would tell them stories about the joys of baseball and ask them to share their own stories. Then we would return to work with the Yankees, Giants, or whomever was playing that day flickering on the wall behind me. The day would mostly return to the normal lecture or discussion except for the interruption of occasional gasps of surprise or joy when a player did something amazing.

Happiness can be elusive. I remember being at a party as an undergrad, listening to a guy talk about his struggles with depression. I was listening intently the way that women do when they are into a guy. For the most part, it was the standard tortured-soul conversation like those that earnest english majors have in between quoting snippets of their favorite books and poems; but, there was one moment that has left its imprint and I remember quite clearly. He said something about seeking hapiness. I looked at him and leaned close, as I like to do when I think I am about to say something interesting or profound, or when I want to signal that I am into you. I said, "Fuck happiness. Seek joy!" He didn't get it, so I tried to explain, but between the booze, the noise, the night, and an unfortunate denseness on his part, it was futile.

What I meant that night, and what I now hold to be true is that happiness has an expectation of permanance. Joy is sudden. It is bright, and totally attainable. We have these sudden moments of brightness, warmth, and peace all the time: this is joy. It doesn't take a lot of work to attain as there is a multitude of opportunities for joy in the little things: And baseball is all about the little things. It is about sitting in the sun with friends eating stadium food and talking about your lives. It is about collectively holding your breath as you watch to see if what will happen on the field. It is about rising as one with hundreds (or thousands) of other people to praise or boo. Baseball is sunshine, green grass, sunflower seeds, and a couple of hours without care. It is caring about where your favorite player postions his feet, how far a small white ball can sail, and who catches it. It is about being carefree for a few hours in the sun. It is numbers, lines, statistics--ridiculous and otherwise--fences that are designed to be malleable. It is joy, personified: And that makes me happy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

kat fight; or, engaging in a class war with myself

Warning: I come across as really snotty in this post. But, for some reason, I am okay with that.

I am having a small identity crisis. Well, it is prolly a part of the larger identity crisis that is a constant for me. But lately, I have been wanting to do something that I have always looked down on. An act that is the territory of folks on Jerry Springer, girls on trash tv, and the people in bars that I always feel sorry for. You see, a friend of mine has been hurt by his partner and I want to kick her scrawny ass. Okay, so that is prolly overstating it, but I would like to tell her off. For the first time in my life I really understand the idea of sending a nasty email, calling and chewing someone out, and other acts of emotional vandalism.

When I was in the fourth grade, Laura Mitchen was so angry at me that she stood up in class and called me a bitch. I remember being shocked that she would use such language in front of a teacher. A teacher! I don't even remember being hurt by her slander. I just felt so damn sorry for her. Ashamed for her that she would behave in such a vulgar manner over a petty disagreement (I can't even remember what happened). I do remember the image of an angry Laura standing up beside her seat in the back of the class framed by the light streaming in from a bank of schoolroom windows. Standing tall, her hair disheveled, without style, overly thin, her face red with anger as she spat out that ugly epithet: BITCH! Laura was the tallest girl in the school and like most from Hayfork she was poor, unkempt, and distinctly labor class. The emotional impact of being publicly attacked like that struck me as such a low moment for her that I have never forgotten it. None of the characters in any of my books would ever have done what Laura did. Well, okay, maybe Anne of Green Gables, but she would have been very sorry later, and prolly wouldn't have used that word.

My sister is family and I love her, but she is very much a product of the labor class that she lives and works in. My parents both come from poor working class backgrounds. My grandfather on my mother's side was a journeyman handyman without any real trade. I know that he bought junk and fixed it up to sell, but other than that, I am not sure he ever had a real job. My grandfather on my dad's side was a logger. He lived hard, worked hard, and apparently drank hard. My family definitely lives with a chip on their shoulder and the swagger of those who are quite proud to have escaped the effete fate of the manor born. I became middle-class in attitude and personality through books and education. I chose PBS, literature, and the classics because I did not want to continue the blue-collar life lived by my ancestors; and because of it, I am the black sheep. My sister, however, reminds me of that background often. Last week, she told me a story about getting into it with a "friend" at the bar. Apparently, she called her "friend" a tramp. When the girl asked her why she would say that, that they are supposed to be friends, my sister answered, "Well, because you are a tramp. I am just being honest." I cringed.

I am not perfect. I am a product of my milleu. In elementary school I got into a showdown with Annette Maroni. She was two grades below me and  even then, I must have been 11 or so, I felt sort of silly "fighting" with a child. But, really, she was six inches taller and in a story that one could not make up it turned out that she was actually older than me. When she was supposedly 16, her parents found her birth certificate when she was applying for her driver's license and discovered that she was actually two years older than they thought. Yes. Two years. I never really understood how the mix-up occurred. They said it was due to a divorce and some confusion about records. I was so embarassed by the whole idea of not knowing your child's age that I tried not to talk or think about it much at the time. She came to me one day and asked my advice about taking the GED. She realized that she would, through no fault of her own, be nearly 21 years old as a senior. But, during our playground spat we all thought she was two years younger. I was yelling at her in the way that one was supposed to do these things. Posturing. Threatening. There was no violence other than verbal, but the boys were chanting my name and Annette backed down and I was declared the winner. Of course when I got home I was horrified with myself and it still ranks among my most embarrassing moments.

My friend is also not a perfect man. I have known him for several years and frankly some of his relationship blunders have been noteworthy. He is not always honest with himself, or with the women he is seeing. However, I am his friend, and I hate to see anyone get hurt. As a joke, he suggested that I send his heartbreaker a nasty note (email) and I replied that I would like to do more than that. However, in reality, I don't know what to say. I only met her once. But, I do feel the urge to say something. My tounge can be sharp and I know how to cut if I need to. I just don't see myself as the kind of person who would/could/should do so. Maybe I should ask my sister to do it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

more of the same; or, after the crash

Last week, after receiving my rejection from UNR's doctorate program in English, I sort of half-jokingly asked for suggestions for how to "radically change my life" on my facebook page. The responses to my query (no offense to anyone who may have posted) were a surprise. For one thing, they weren't all that radical. Get a haircut. Change your diet (which I translated as "lose weight"). Get therapy. (Yikes.) Oh, and then there was the person who advised me to "get a doctorate" a bit of advice that was as ironic as it was unintentionally painful.

The advice was mainly about the kinds of things that no one really wants to be advised to do. Sort of like how I imagine those who find themselves on a makeover shows feels. In reality, I was really hoping for a lighter type of response. Become a roadie for Josh Groban. Only speak in proverbs. Begin referring to yourself in only the third person... you know, fun stuff. Instead, it became incredibly clear that folks genuinely thought that I needed to make some pretty solid life changes.

I am no stranger to change. I traffic in self-help and introspection. I am nietzchian in nature. I am constantly tearing and stripping down in order to rebuild. So much so that recently I have begun to think that perhaps I need to stop with the deconstruction and begin to build. Part of my reasoning for wanting to return to grad school was to finish what I had started. I rarely do that you see. So, a part of me thinks it is slightly hilarious that this time around applying to finish my PhD was one of the most mature decisions of my life; that I genuinely felt like I was on the right path for the first time in a long time. That decision is unfortunately one that is out of my hands.

As to my present, I have a job, and while it is part-time, it is still a job; so, I will continue working. I can apply to other PhD programs next year if I wanted to, or full-time community college jobs, or maybe another MA. Or, I could do something else. Right now the possibilities are a little overwhelming. Or, I could just get a cute haircut, and some therapy.