Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolve; or, it's a lot like hope

The first New Year's Eve that I can really remember was when I was 8. I was with my parents at a friend's house. He was a teacher who really wanted to be a politician. He ran for State Assemblyman when I was a junior or senior in high school. He lost. On that New Year's, when I was 8, I was wearing pink pajamas with a walrus on them. We had dinner, I don't remember what, and we watched movies. My dad's friend did not treat me or my brother as children so there were no kids movies. We watched Shogun. I remember my mother trying to shield my eyes from a scene where a warrior was killed by a vat of hot tar. We didn't watch any of those NYE shows or countdowns, there were no toasts or resolutions, and by midnight I was asleep and the new year rolled by unmarked and unnoticed.

I sometimes think I slept through my childhood. As a girl with big ideas and dreams living out-of-place in a small town with a mission to crush forward thinking, I found few bright spots. NYE my junior year of high school seemed like it would be one of those bright spots. I was a part of the "Just Say No" club on campus and as part of our mission to help students avoid drugs and alcohol we sponsored a New Year's Eve party. The theme was black and white. I had taken a special trip to Redding from Hayfork an hour-and-a-half away to buy the black sweater and a white skirt and shiny white heels to copy an outfit I had seen in a magazine. I had crimped my hair and put on makeup and was far too overdressed for the modest little gathering. I remember as I dressed thinking that this was the night my life was going to start. I arrived at the house of another of my dad's friends, another teacher, only to find that most people were wearing jeans and t-shirts and few of them had bothered to wear the theme colors. My visions of this great shining party and how this was going to be a beginning of the life I imagined faded. By the end of the night I had covered myself with a borrowed flannel shirt. I don't know if I was cold or if I was covering the raiment of hope that those clothes marked. At midnight we toasted with plastic glasses and apple cider. No one made any resolutions.

It was not until I was in my 20's that I began to make New Year's Resolutions; and then, I embraced it. I can even count myself amongst those few who can claim to have kept a few. I had a very satisfying NYE. For some reason, most NYE's just fizzle. I think it is a night with too much expectation attached for success to be inevitable. It was in Tulsa, Oklahoma when I had some pretty great friends and I lived in an art deco 1920's loft apartment in the *cool* part of Tulsa. My roommate, Krista, a woman who would later tell me we could not be friends because she was pregnant and that I was so "mean" that she "didn't want [her]baby to know me" (ouch), was throwing a dinner party. In spite of how our friendship turned out that night was a stellar NYE. We had a formal dinner party. Black-tie. We toasted with expensive champagne that none of us could afford and lived like Gatsby for the night. I am sure that event cost us all our paychecks it was such a show of extravagance. We wrote out resolutions on parchment with india ink and sealed them in envelopes to be opened the next year. Of course we thought we would meet and dine every year. But, like a lot of promises made to each other by twenty somethings we never did. But, the act of making resolutions did stick. I remember writing out these promises to myself as if the ink was fulfilling each promise just by the act of writing it down. I don't remember what I resolved, but I remember thinking that this, this was what NYE was supposed to be like. I may not have ever met up with those friends again (good riddance, actually) but I have written out my NYE resolutions every year since.

All those nights seem long ago now. And, in some ways, I suppose both literally and figuratively they are. Last year I made my resolutions, wrote them on parchment, stuck them in a envelope, and then threw it away. I decided I was tired of fighting to keep them. I thought they seemed like the same promises I had been making my whole life. I decided it before I had even finished making them. Later, on flight to Las Vegas, the mecca of NYE, I told friends that I had made a decision. That I wasn't going to pursue my resolutions any more. That I wasn't going to try anymore. That I was tired and needed to rest. So, I said I wasn't going to make resolutions any more. They nodded and said nothing.

Until this week, I was sure I was still done with resolutions. With the exception of working on my finances last year, I really stopped trying to make my life better and just lived without any real focus. But then, something, I am not sure what (I think it actually may be the television series Doctor Who, but that is for another day) has forced me to realize that I can't sleep through life. That I have done enough of that for a lifetime. That in some ways while 2013 was an easy year because I didn't really challenge myself too much, it has been the hardest year of my life because I haven't really had any thing to hope for. So this year I am going to make resolutions. And I am going to keep them. Well, at least as well as anyone does, or I ever have.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Karma; or, just what the doctor ordered (and no not THAT doctor)

Sometimes there is human drama that unfolds without the help of people, and sometimes it is the fault of our own making. Yesterday, in a story of karma that will only be slightly satisfying because it involves children falling ill, and no one can ever feel anything but sad and worried when little ones are sick, a story that should have been about caring for sick kids became a lesson in humility.

My niece is three and the sweetest of charmers. Her parents (my brother and his ex-wife) divorced about two years ago and are not really on speaking terms. I won't take sides, but only to say that I am on the side of the children. One, because that is the side we should always take, and two, because between the pair of them, there are no heroes in this relationship. Anyway, this story, as I said is about her being ill. My sister brought a nasty bout of bronchitis as her "plus one" to Christmas dinner and all week most of our little band of family and friends has been suffering in varying degrees. The hardest struck, as most often is the case, are the oldest and youngest. My niece, it seems, might have been the sickest of us all.

Yesterday, she returned from her split custody with her mother back into my brother's house. She returned sick and only got sicker through the night. Finally, around 3pm or so she was sick enough for my brother to take her to the doctor. This was a pretty big decision because he has no insurance and would have to ask his ex-wife to use the insurance she has for the kids. It turned out to the right decision because they immediately sent that poor sick little girl to the emergency room because her little lungs were shutting down. As I said, my brother, her dad, does not have money, insurance, or even a job, so he had to contact the girl's mother for her insurance information. Most people would think that the important thing is to take the poor dear to the hospital no matter whose insurance foots the bill... well, not her mother.

All this to say, to sum up, if you will. That the poor sick and terrified girl who was being treated at the hospital was met by a mother who decided that it was more important to take her father to task as deadbeat (kind of true), who could not take care of the daughter and if it wasn't for her insurance the little girl might have been even sicker (kind of true); rather than to nurture the child and make sure she was okay and unafraid she began a screaming tirade in the halls of the hospital. A story that is sickening (pun intended) not only because I imagine my poor little niece was already scared, and that her screaming mother calling her father (the one trying to comfort her) names did not make it better. But, worse still, I imagine such a ruckus was discomforting for the rest of the patients as well.

To make this long story more clear. The ex-wife (and I deliberately do not call her mother because here she was clearly more busy being an ex-wife than a mother) tried to take the child. It was like a Jerry Springer episode, but sadder. Finally, my brother saw a policeman in the hallway and called him over. The doctors, nurses, patients, and the child all said that my brother was trying to take care of her but that the girl's mother was out of control and told her she had no right to take the little girl away from her dad just because she was sick. But wait. Because there is more.

Just when it seemed that the ex-wife could not have been any more sanctimonious and judgmental about my brother's parenting skills, her phone rang. It seems that the ex-wife's daughter, a new baby from a new marriage, was also sick. She was at home with a different father and he had called to say that the baby was very sick and was running really high temperature and could she meet him at the emergency room because he needed to use her insurance. In effect, he was doing the same thing with her child as my brother had done with his. The doctor actually laughed at the irony of the mother accusing her ex-husband of making the little girl sick while she also had a sick child at home, before realizing, like I said in the beginning, that however a delightful story of karma this may be, sick children are never a good thing. Even if they do teach you a very public and humiliating lesson.

Today, thank goodness, it seems that the little girls seem to be doing well. Well, as much as they can hope to be with such parenting.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Smothered: or, Life is Pain... anyone who tells you anything different is selling you something

When I was 19 a friend gave me a card on which she had written, "Comfort murders the passion of the soul." She told me that she could tell that I was someone who is torn between life and fear. I did not know what she meant. I was young enough to think I would always be brave. But, now years later. After a life full of disappointments, I know what the quote meant too. In Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly calls it the "mean reds." Others Angst. Anxiety. Panic. But, for me I usually just call it "antsy." Today, none of those terms fit. I feel like I am clawing at myself from the inside just bursting to get out. To go. Anywhere. These feelings grip me at times. This voice that tells me I am wasting my life. I am living too safe, or not at all. Usually at night. I can still this panic by watching tv, playing a game, sometimes online shopping. I just numb out until I am calm. But, I am murdering my soul.

It is my own fault, really. I have removed my distractions one-by-one; stripping away all the things that keep me from really thinking about my life. I am on a break from work, my biggest distraction. I have taken a deliberate vacation from facebook and its numbing capabilities. I have given up the vices I embraced for so long: shopping, gambling, drinking, eating, anything to escape this feeling... all these things that were meant to mask the fact that my life is not what I want. Or need. So. Without these things, the question becomes, how to soothe? How to still the clawing thing that is so desperately screaming at me to *Do Something* to pretend that I have not waited too long.

Change is slow to come. And in reality it is these numbing things that have allowed me to endure. But in embracing these comforts I have dug a hole. I have layered my life and my body with so many layers of safety to avoid being hurt. The real danger is not that I am seeking comfort, but that these distractions have become my life. I am surfeiting on my own comforts. It takes these moments of panic to remind me that there is more. That I want more.

I used to know that the possibilities of change that is fomented in these moments of crises are good. When I was younger I listened to these voices and I would leap up and make changes. I used to know that I am supposed to feel this way because without it, I will accept. I will stay. So, no. I am not going to give in and numb this pain. I am going to feel it. Because, if I don't it will only get worse. And it is this angst. this panic, this clawing desperate thing is probably the only thing that will force me to live. The comfort offered by these distractions is actually worse than the pain I am trying to avoid.

So, if it takes moments like these, words like these, panic like this to throw off the layers of comfort I have so carefully smothered myself with, then so be it.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

sleeping in the bed you've made; or, a metaphor

In June, I made a "no spending" challenge. The challenge is simple: I cannot buy anything for one year. There are exceptions of course, food, necessary hygiene products, and other sundries. But, no new clothes. No new toys. No unnecessary trips. No nonsense. I am trying to make sensible decisions about money and finances, something I have never really done. And as they say, any journey of 1000 steps begins with one step, and for me, learning how to curb my spending and getting out of debt is the first step.

Three months into this challenge, I am learning things about why I spend money and what I think I am getting. For instance, I love to shop. It is one of my most favorite activities. With each purchase I am not just buying an object, but feel like I am building a life. I imagine what I will do wearing that sweater, and it isn't just the sweater I am buying, it is the experiences lived in that sweater that I am buying. But in reality, it isn't the sweater that makes good times. Those good times don't need props to happen. It doesn't really work that way. I am also really good at getting good deals. Coupons, sales, fashion steals, I am a maven. However, you get what you pay for. And what I paid for was a party dress: not a party. A poster of France: not France. Uncomfortable shoes that are not taking me anywhere. It's just stuff. It's not a life. I do see the importance of having nice comfortable appropriate clothes. It's just important that I see them more practically.

It is not just the psychological aspect to shopping that I am dealing with now. I am also dealing with the consequences of buying the wrong things. Cheap things. Frivolous thing. Impractical things. For example, that duvet cover I bought last year that was such a good deal? Well, it turns out it was very cheaply made. The purple color has faded to an awful brownish mauve color. The "cream" leaf print has grown dingy (probably from the purple dye bleeding into it) and is now really more the color of old socks. The cover has shrunk and has permanent wrinkles that would likely not come out even if I did iron it--which I am not going to do.  In short, my bed looks sad, old, faded, wrinkled and tired. In the past, I would have just bought a new one. But now, I have to just live with it. There is nothing really wrong with it, it is just unattractive. It will keep me warm for several more winters.

The unintended consequences of the choices I made without really looking far enough down the road--or without looking ahead at all--are the ones I am living with now. The material side is easy to see. Last year I bought a bunch of flats from a popular chain store, one we all know the name of (it rhymes with Bold Mavy), that makes cheap clothes that aren't really meant to last very long. In a year, I have worn out the black and brown ones, and now I am left with silver, green, and of all things orange. Those silver flats that I bought without really thinking are not so great when you have to wear them all the time. God only knows how silly I will look when I am left only with the orange. Sigh. Those clothes I bought on clearance that fade, shrink, and lose their shape over time are not such a great deal in the end.

 So here I am--on my journey to trying to get my financial life in order so that I can have a future--walking in inappropriate shoes and last season's jeans, thinking about how many times I just made a decision that felt right in the moment, but wasn't really built on any sort of plans. One thing I do know, when this year of no spending is over, I am going to shop much more wisely. For, if I am going to take this journey of 1000 steps, I should at least have some sensible shoes I can walk in.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

poems; or, turning to art when everything else fails

I haven't read much in recent years. Yeah, I've read for work. And, yes, for me as an English professor even just reading for work is probably more than many. But, for me, by my standards I haven't been reading much. My books have been replaced by TV, and facebook, and nothing. I do try to remind myself to read, and recently, thanks to a classroom assignment, I have been craving the comfort of poems. There is something about poems that offer a balm when no other curative will do.

In my Critical Reasoning class we turned to poetry last week to talk about 9/11. In the end, we read an essay by Mark Doty which asks whether or not art can console. In reading their responses today it interesting how this discussion was accepted. I had a student who has been completely disconnected and distant become invested and passionate. I had students, who were willing to at least attempt to try to do the work I asked for, turn surly and responded to the assignment with anger. It was hot and cold for almost everyone. There were few neutral responses.

Today, I woke in a funk. It was one of those days. Those days when life appears at its bleakest. I felt old. And alone. Relationships that I have been clinging to as a lifeline suddenly spiraled out of control as if they had been cut free from the other side. The realization that I have lost hope in even finding something to hope for weighed heavy. From the bottom of this hole, I was looking for light, any light. And today, that like came from poetry. In such a time, it seems that the answer to my own classroom question, "Can Art Console?" is yes. Yes it can. Here is the poem that I am thinking about now.

Book of Memory
By Rebecca Hazelton
In my seeing there was a blank and he filled that blank
with words, there were words for darkness which made it lift,
there were words for cover which ripped them off,
there were legs that crossed and hearts that crossed,
promises red and read, and the pluck of banjo had a name
for that twang, and the way he called the world into notice,
that had a word, too. Once I saw I couldn’t unsee
and the worst was that the light glaring from the letters
left blue haze under my eyelids. There are no photographs
of this time, and I can only go by what others
tell me: I was blurred and erratic, I drew a circle
of white chalk around me and called myself inviolate,
I watched for horses on the horizon, my walls
were under siege from smaller men who called themselves
heroes. They say I reached over the balustrade and picked
up the tiny ships and threw them over the edge of the world.
I tore my hair, cut one breast from my body and plattered it
as around my fortifications one man pulled another man
behind his chariot. If they say that’s how I was,
that’s how I was. I have no words for the one in the mirror
who apes me every morning. She’s not the one I remember
imagining as a young girl. There must be a way to unsee
how I tap the glass and she taps back, and which wall,
which Cassandra weeping—everything I saw I spoke to his ear,
and the wall crashed into place between us, the horse
had a bellyful of it, the blank was full of small soldiers,
and he turned from my beauty and said my name.
Do you have poem that is on your mind these days?

Friday, August 30, 2013

bread and cheese; or, the memory of eating

This week I was on my own for the first time in a long while. My family had gone out of town and I was responsible for only me. I could cook and eat whatever I wanted. I could watch tv, or read uninterrupted, I could, of all the luxuries denied a caretaker, just sit quietly. Life on my own was vastly different than the one I live on a daily basis. While I did still have to mind the chores and tasks of three houses. I felt free of the burden of other people's preferences. This freedom mainly showed at my table. For the first time in a long time I only had to please me. I could buy what I wanted. I could eat what I wanted. On shopping day, I wandered through the market just choosing whatever appealed tom me. I didn't think about meals or planning, or who won't eat what, I just bought what I wanted. I ended up with a basket full of fruit, cheese, wine, and bread. It was not until I had to cook for my family's welcome home meal did I even realize that I had not bought meat.

This week turned out to be one of luxurious indulgences: British television, re-reading poetry from my college days, Camembert and blackberry sandwiches, honey and figs with wine, bounteous salads. It was also a week of nostalgia as each bite seemed to be laced with memory. For reasons that I cannot explain the freedom this week returned me there. To being 19, to a year spent at a vegetarian Seventh Day Adventist College where I was introduced to so much of what is now at the core of my identity. It was a seminal year for me and much of who I am was formed there. It was the first place where I felt like I fit in and was accepted and understood. The first place where the tastes cultivated by a childhood of reading classics and watching the BBC were reflected in the lives and ways of those around me instead of feeling utterly fictional.  I can honestly say it was my first *happy* year. That can be a powerful experience for anyone, but for a girl who had grown up in a community that felt too small, too unsophisticated, and just too wrong it was a rare feeling.

As I age I see bits of myself from every place I have lived come leaking through (the mountains of northern California, northeast coast of the US, New York, Boston, Oklahoma, London, both sides of the Sierra Nevadas, and more). My love of all things whole wheat and sustainable are from a childhood spent on a small family farm eating our own homegrown produce and meat. But on top of that is another layer of tastes and flavors that is not shared by my family. My grocery basket and my menu for those three days was an unintentional homage to that year.  As I traveled on a nostalgic journey of tastes this week I began having flashes of memory.  Memory that can highlight preference and predilection to it's exact birth. Unlike my vague sort of knowledge that my appreciation for all things country comes from a childhood in the country, I can remember exact instances of identity formation, the second of inheritance or penchant in a memory of cheese, fruit, or wine.

The career I have chosen, English professor, is in entrenched In that year in Boston, I began the year majoring in Psychology. A career that I probably am well suited for. But, I changed my major to English after falling in love with an English major. I can remember lying on a grassy slope, after a picnic of fresh fruit and cheese, with my head on his knee as he read classic poetry to me. To this day, there is still a magic in poetry that is measured in those memories. In a classroom full of students I have to rein in a visceral feeling that is more about the timbre of a young man's voice than any academic or literary value. That lovely spring day commingles with new words and sounds of the Romantics and the sensual fluttering of the wind on my hair, his hand on my belly, and the taste of brie and apples on our tongues.

One of the inheritances of living a life so different from your own--even if only for a year--is in cultivating a desire for things out of reach. For a woman of no means, I have an unhealthy desire for the good life. I was exposed to wealth and class after rubbing elbows with people who had money, family money--which, as I learned, is a vastly different kind of money altogether when a friend brought me home Martha's Vineyard for a holiday weekend. I wonder now that I was not insulted by my first lessons in the ways of the wealthy, Perhaps, it was just so obvious to me--and to them-- how much better it all was that I wasn't worried about letting go of the old ways.

In that brief weekend I cultivated a taste for expensive clothes, salty sea air, and fancy chocolate. We were shopping for clothes for dinner (mine were not suitable for the social events) I was trying on a sweater and my boyfriend's sister had bought chocolates. I remember her offering me a bite of French chocolates and I said, 'I don't like chocolate" and she replied, "I don't think you've had THIS chocolate." She was, of course right. And to this day, I am still a snob about chocolate. That whole weekend was like that. I learned to stop relying on my own past experiences of the world and did not refuse anything after an afternoon lunch at sea. Before that, my only exposure to sailing had been on my cousin's fishing trawler and the smell of the docks was overwhelming to me. It became obvious to me that I hadn't been on "this kind of boat" before. I can still close my eyes and feel the ocean below me, the soft fabrics of expensive fabrics enveloping me as I feasted on figs and wine mixed with the smell of the sea.

There is likely a lesson here. Something about life and Carpe Diem. Something important about how we only get one life and taking advantage. But for now, I will just be satisfied with enjoying this last bit of bread and cheese washed down by the remnants of the last bottle of wine, before I need to make hamburgers for dinner.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Two Steps; or, Unlearning

This week was a tough one. As is so obvious, it almost does not need to be said, change is hard. When faced with the same set of circumstances it is likely that we will respond to them the same way each and every time. I did that this week. I had a minor emotional setback when I learned that some people, who were not very nice to me, and, in fact, cost me on so many levels as to remain forever uncountable (especially emotionally & professionally), were living  by all accounts a happy ending on par with fairy tales and Disney films.

I don't really know why people do what they do; every time I feel I have finally figured out human motive, people do things that I cannot figure out at all. This week a woman I went to graduate school sent me an email (out of blue, we are not friends) updating me on people from my past. It read as an indictment of my past mistakes. And, buried in the middle was a little nugget of gossip that brought back worlds of pain and humiliation. I was overwhelmed, struggling, and finally went under. At the core was jealousy and bewilderment that someone could feel the need to send me an email that was essentially salt on an old wound. A salty shower that felt intentional.

The pain was only part of this story. It was my reaction that is the topic here. You see, I am not living my ideal life. I am struggling with money, health, and happiness. A quicksand of depression that does not need stoking by past "frenemies." I could not control the message, but I lost control of the even the things within my grasp in the way I responded. I fell back on my standard coping strategies: Eating and spending money. Coping strategies that have in some sense led me to be in the situation I am so desperately fighting to get out of. At the end of the week I am two steps backwards from where I was a week ago. Money carefully hoarded is spent, and spent in ways that cannot be undone. Healthy eating and exercise were abandoned and replaced with the emptiest of calories masquerading as comfort.

But really, while for a few days the binge-fest numbed me to my pain, it didn't solve anything. The marriage of a past flame to his mistress was not undone. My life didn't improve. Past wrongs remain wrong, past wounds are still scars, all is as before. Except my little nest egg is smaller, my road to health and exercise a little longer. This lesson to control my world in the face of emotional attack is a hard one. One that is more about unlearning a lifetime of using food and money to numb me to the world rather than just dealing with the pain, than it is about change.  This lesson is important because I cannot predict what people will do, but I can control how I respond to them.

Oh, and I can delete emails, instead of reading them. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Writer's Block; or, doctor heal thyself

Currently, and for the past five years, I have earned a living (sort of) by teaching writing. The irony of this is not lost on those who know me because, when I was in college I was a struggling writer--I don't mean struggling writer as in a writer who is poor and trying to get published--I mean I would struggle to write my essays.  I was a bright student who had a lot to say. I could, as they say, talk a good game, but my essays were always a little disappointing. Part of my problem was that I was really good about talking about literature and ideas, so when it came time to write about it my professors (all good writers themselves) expected great things. And really, I delivered average things. But for the most part, the problem was that I didn't know how to become better.

The struggle to become a better writer was made worse for me though, in that I cared--really cared--about what my professors thought of me. The essays I was turning in were not just assignments, they were litmus tests of my abilities, a tangible measure my self-worth right there in black and white. To exacerbate the issue, I was in a field--English--that valued writing above all else. It almost didn't matter how brilliant the ideas and theories were when I shared them verbally, they were not brilliant until I could write them down. My desire to please and because I wanted to go on to graduate school, I would take critiques of my writing very seriously. When a paper came back to me with a litany of failures, I would go to the teacher's office and ask for help. The thing is though, I never really got any useful advice. I mean they would try, but in reality they would just end up diagnosing my ills without being able to offer any cures.

There were professors who were better at helping than others. There was one who was a big help, but he got a new job on the East coast and moved away. Another who likely would have been amazing, but I was intimidated enough by her to be too scared of accepting her help. Of course, in one of my many lapses of judgment the professor I chose as my mentor was particularly inept at teaching writing. He was great at other things--like being charming--things that would be of little help in my career, but writing, not so much. He was quite good at identifying errors; he would point to my flaws and say, "There is your problem." I would ask how to fix the problem, and he would just repeat that it was wrong and needed to be made better. I remember one tearful conference where he just kept repeating all the things that were wrong and I would say, Okay, but how do I DO that? Finally, he just slammed my paper down, shouting, "I don't know, you just have to figure it out!" and walked away, leaving the paper on his desk. Now, years later, I can accept that I was asking him to do something he couldn't. A pattern in our relationship that would end with a similar conversation, with much higher stakes, that would lead to him walking away from me for good.

There was a level of shame to struggling with writing that led me to believe that there was something wrong with me. I was convinced that there this was magic thing out there that some people had and some didn't: And I just didn't. Then one day I was talking to a friend who was a couple of years behind me in school. She was frustrated with her writing. She showed me her paper and told me that her teacher (my mentor) just kept telling her all the things that were wrong with her paper, but he wouldn't tell her how to fix it. I looked at her paper and I saw the errors, but for some reason I could also see what could be done to make it better. I think it was because it was a level lower than me, I was able to just *see* how to revise it. I gave her a couple of real, practical solutions for ways to rewrite the essay. The light bulb went on: There are tricks to this. A couple of days later when I saw her again, she told me that she had done what I suggested and that her paper was better! I felt so good about helping her that day, that it felt a little like I had helped a younger version of myself.

As I continued through school, I would pursue writing instruction whenever I could. Now that I teach writing for a living I have learned to separate the task of writing from the value of the ideas, and from the value of a person. I tell my students that writing is a communication tool, and it can be learned. When my students come to me and they ask me how to fix their flawed writing I have tangible practical ways to teach them. Some of these tools I learned from taking classes in teaching composition, but many of them I have developed on my own. My favorite days are those when I can hand back an essay to a student and they can see their writing has improved. It is such a rewarding feeling

It likely does not take a psychologist to know that as I teach these struggling writers, I am teaching my past self. I am erasing my own struggle one student at a time. The reality is that I am a better writer now, nearly ten years after I graduated from college, than I have ever been. In learning how to teach others, I have taught myself. Sometimes, I think about that struggling writer I had been, and I want to sit my younger self down and show her a handout on topic sentences and paragraphing. A handout that has her name on it, because she wrote it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Money; or, freedom quantified

It seems a little silly, but I have had an epiphany about money. Mainly, that if I had a lot of it, my life would be better. I know, I know, what kind of epiphany is this? Is it really just a fancified version of common sense? Well, yes, but really, isn't that what epiphanies are? Common sense all gussied up? At its core, my epiphany is that I need money, but more than that, it is that I *have* money, I just keep spending it all. So, the plan, as it were, is to save my money. All of it. Seriously, like ALL of it. When I have enough then I can afford the freedom I crave. The freedom that I buy in tiny amounts each year. So, the plan is essentially, to buy my freedom.

In order to save money, you have to make money. I have a job. That is the good news. The bad news is that I am part-time and really don't make all that much money. Well, at least not for the amount of work that I do. But, again, there is good news in that I love what I do. So, that is more than many people can say. I don't make a lot of money, but I am not destitute either. I am not sure I want to talk about exact numbers here, as that doesn't seem wise. But, I am above the poverty line. So, that is good. So, I do have money coming in. I could also be doing other things to make more money (tutoring, freelance writing, editing, get another part-time job).

The second part of saving is managing how much money goes out. I don't have too many bills. I have some accrued debts. Credit cards and student loans. The credit cards need to be paid off ASAP, but the, student loans just need to be managed.  Something that I haven't really been doing. I have been sort of taking the ostrich approach and pretending like they don't really exist. Doing just enough to keep out of trouble. The reality is that I will never pay them, but still, it hurts my credit rating to ignore them. The credit card bills can be paid off in a couple of months as long as I don't charge more. That is the key right? Don't spend. Okay. So, that will be new, but I can do it. I need to buy a car, so that will add a payment, and thanks to Obamacare I need to find some sort of health insurance. What I don't have to pay right now is rent, electricity etc. Anyway, boring discussion of the minutiae of my spending aside, once all of this is managed, I figure I will have about 1000 dollars left over (most months). A little more or less in others.

To save this money will take discipline. I have already decided that the number one sacrifice in spending will be my precious vacations. I travel about four times a year. The trips range from visits to see friends, to short car trips, baseball vacations, in locations near and far, from Vegas, to NY, Europe, and more. This is the biggest budget buster, so it will have to stop. At least for now. I realize that the reason I travel so much (besides my natural wanderlust) is that I don't like my life much. I don't have my own place, so I have to share with other people. People I don't like all that much all the time. Today, my brother and his kids came over for breakfast. He comes over when he doesn't have the money or the patience or the desire to feed them. So, they were here for two hours. In that time, I cooked breakfast for 7 people, entertained a 10 year old, and a three year old, watered the garden, took care of the dogs and cats, and more. Within 20 minutes of their visit I was fantasizing about getting away.

But here is the thing. The Payoff. If I can save at least 1000 a month for three years I will have nearly 40 thousand dollars. If I can save more I could have 60 or even 80 grand. With that kind of nest egg, I can do what I want. For a very long time. This is the big picture. I hate my life. But because I don't have any money I am stuck here. So, in trying to take little escapes (travel, shopping, gambling) and other expensive coping strategies I am guaranteeing being stuck. So, small sacrifices now will payoff big later. At least that is the plan, for now. I may find myself deciding after one year, to take the money and run. But, at least if I haven't spent it already, then I can.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Return; or, writing is hard.

Writing is hard. Anyone who writes, and many who don't, know this is true. I know it is true, but I also know that it is my calling. Well, at least people keep telling me it is. When I talk about my life, my journey, my wandering through wildernesses, my struggle, people listen for a while, then they say, "You should write a book." In my dark times, and I have plenty, I imagine this is a polite way of telling me to stop talking. But, usually, I think, they mean that I have something to say. And that I should say it.

Yesterday, I was talking to a student who has returned to school because her marriage had fallen apart. Well, technically, it was torn apart and then crumbled from underneath her as her husband left her for a younger, slimmer, more successful woman. She was talking about how hard it was to get used to the idea that she just wasn't good enough, young enough, enough enough to keep a man who had committed to love her no matter what and as she spoke she was near tears. As we talked and shared our experiences she said to me, "You know, this class saved my life. Actually, you did. You should write a book, you have things to say, things that people need to hear." Ignoring her would be hard.

Yes, writing is hard. I know it's hard because not only do I dream of writing for a living, I currently teach others how to write. And they tell me, pretty much daily, that writing is hard. But, you know what? Being poor is hard. Teaching writing is hard. Having less independence than I need is hard. So, maybe, just maybe, writing isn't as hard as not writing.

When I was in my early teens I kept a diary. I poured my heart into it; sharing all my secrets, dream, and adolescents fears. One day, I found out a family member had read it. Not only had they read it, but some of the things I had written about were against our family's rules and I was punished. In my mind, I wasn't punished for sneaking out of the house and attending a junior high dance. I wasn't punished for slow dancing to Journey with that boy--the one that I would have risked more than being grounded for the precious few minutes spent in his arms--no, to me, I was punished for writing. And so, I stopped keeping a journal. But, I couldn't stop writing. I would write stories and secrets on scraps of paper then destroy them.

Life is hard. It is the lesson we all learn. It is repeated by children and adults this idea that life is hard. So, if life is hard, then writing about life just might be the most difficult task imaginable. But, again, for me, silence is harder. I try. I try to not write, but life is hard and I need to have a way to deal with the difficulties of life, and  more specifically, the difficulties of my life. So, not writing makes my life harder.

So, here I am. Full circle. Writing again, because it's hard, but because it's harder not to.