Sunday, June 30, 2013

inside I feel very dreamy

From Mira Kirshenbaum's wonderful Everything Happens for a Reason, one of the best "About the Author's" ever:

In all my books they always say the same things about me.  How I'm clinical director of The Chestnut Hill Institute in Boston.  How I've written award-winning books.  How I've been a therapist for thirty years now.  This is all true, but it never quite feels like the real me.

Here are some things about me that do feel like me.  My books are on serious topics but I'm basically a happy person, and I love to laugh and have fun.  It must seem as if I know all the answers (after all, why bother writing a book if all you have are questions), but I have plenty of doubts, and the older I get, the more questions I have and the more open-minded I think I'm becoming.  I know I can come across as very practical and hardheaded, and I am, but inside I feel very dreamy, and filled with dreams.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Strange Mourning

I got to spend last night and most of today with this guy, pictured here with my sis Oprah:

Okay, there were a few dozen other people there, too, and my bestie N., who had the wisdom to get us tickets in the first place.  I'm still feeling a little soft and woozy and overwhelmed with the love and humility and sweetness this guy oozes from his every pore, and I couldn't begin to capture what the experience was like, it was just that incredible and life-changing.

But here's one little piece that I want to share because it feels big and important and is helping me to make sense of that really terrible wonderful thing that happened this spring: getting tenure.  Remember that?  And remember how I inexplicably fell into a tremendous funk after I found out I got tenure?  This thing that I had work for for six years, or maybe longer, maybe since I got into grad school, or maybe longer, since I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, even when I was a little kid, and so I learned to set goals and excel at my schoolwork and grub for the A and reach for the awards and the accolades and just crawled and clawed my way to this, the finish line, this tenure, the ultimate pat on the back, the supreme thumbs up, the marker that everything would finally. be. okay.?

And then I felt guilty because E. wanted to throw me a party and my friend J. wanted to go out for drinks to celebrate and N. (my other bestie) wanted to have a ceremony to mark this thing, and I couldn't do any of it because I inexplicably felt like I was dying.  This thing I thought I wanted more than anything happened, and I felt terrible.  This thing I was so privileged to achieve and that so many people sacrificed for me to achieve, and maybe I didn't want it?

Then I felt terrible for feeling terrible, like some spoiled rich king who has everything he wants and still finds he is all empty and bored inside.  Ew.  Who likes that person?  Anyone who is an adjunct without pay or benefits, or who doesn't have a job, or who has anything slightly more troublesome than a hangnail, should pretty much just hate me.  My life is perfect and still I felt like someone was killing me from the inside out.

In case you want to sing along with my sad, sad song:  Garth Brooks' "Unanswered Prayers," Karoake Version.

I had to make up some sort of story to explain my horrifying response to this "good news" and the best I could do was to make the joke that I was reacting to having "walked down the aisle with the wrong man," which considering our domestic apocalypse last year is not only not funny but also extremely tasteless and made everyone very uncomfortable.  What I was trying to figure out is if I was reacting to being permanently hitched to the university (my groom), and since I don't always loooove my university, maybe that was why I was upset.  It can't be me with the problem, I figured.  It must be all those crazy engineers.  Or the oil companies.  Or something.

Mostly, though, that explanation just didn't feel true.  It at least wasn't the whole truth.

Then I go to see this Mark Nepo fellow [buy this book immediately] this weekend, though, and, bam, ton of bricks, I get it.  I felt like I was dying because getting tenure was in fact a kind of death.

What died?

I think this:  the me that lived for the next goal.  The me that always ticked all the boxes.  The striving me.  The me that said yes to doing all sorts of stuff I didn't want to do in order to get the golden ring.  The me that wanted all the A's on the report cards in perpetuity.  The me that believed in things happening in a linear order, straight and neat and logical, with one thing coming after the other, until one reached the apex, was handed a flute of champagne and some applause, and then could finally feel at peace.

I all of a sudden couldn't stand to check my email or facebook or read books that didn't involve horny faeries or rapacious vampires or commit to any new projects at work.  Because the girl who used to do all of those things like it was who she was, in total, was dying.

I'm not saying that I evolved in any way into someone who doesn't care about accolades or task lists or achievement.  Not there yet.  What I am saying is that the me who really defined herself in terms of all these things started to die when I got tenure because I had made it to the top of that mountain and fuck there were no more mountains, and the view was shrouded by clouds and the champagne tasted like mud.

Maybe I am evolved, a little, because the easy answer would have been to take a breath and then simply make up some more mountains:  set some goals!  Get some grants!  Write some books!  Apply for full professor!  Count and count and count some more.  Then I'll feel okay.

But that's not the answer for me.  Not anymore.  I'm actually inclined to let the girl with all of the goals and the boxes and the As go.  Do not resuscitate.

And here's how I know I'm ready to pull the plug:  my back has been aching like a son of a bitch the last few weeks, because I have known that the girl with the goals is in a coma, and I have wanted to let her fade away, but she's got a fistful of my spine and won't let go.

I'm giving her permission to let go of me, though.  I'm telling her right now that everything is going to be okay.

As soon as I realized that this morning, the back pain eased.  The extraordinary measures ceased.  The mourning stopped.

Listen, I'm still in the muck.  I don't know what's next.  I might grasp at some crazy things, or revert, or struggle.  In fact, I know I will.  And I can hear the voices of all the angry Republicans who want to slash education funding and the armchair critics who want to bitch about tenure and the bean-counters who want to count my publications--they are not happy about this turn of events, and see it as an example of me sucking off the teat of the taxpayer dollar.  Whatever.

Because things are different.  This is a death, but it's also a rebirth.  There will be more mountains, but I'm going to figure out which ones I want to climb, and when.  One I'm playing with is how to be a more wholehearted teacher, for example.  Another is finally beginning work on a book with a colleague who has been wanting to write about living a fuller life as an academic.  I want to read more, and play with writing more.  I want to continue to work with people who inspire and delight me.  I want to be a more pleasant, grounded colleague, a more present mom, a more passionate wife.  Those are the mountains that are starting to look interesting to me now.  I might start to climb some of them.

So maybe it's this perspective that is the real gift of tenure, and the thing to celebrate.

Even if the celebration does involve a casket and a black dress.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reaching for the Sun

I'm back!  Where are you?  Visiting family?  Picking berries?  Working?  Taking care of your children?  Soaking up the beautiful light of a summer evening as the setting sun works its way through the afternoon's monsoon clouds?

Yep.  Me too.

It must be summer, because I've had time to do some reading and watching of things.  I had to ease into it, with a series of books about vampirous and oversexed fairies.  Not great literature or anything, but man, this got me through some serious jetlag and intercontinental flights, and eased me out of the crazy-ass stress that was that nutso spring semester.


Also, I'm finishing the 9th season of Grey's Anatomy.  I think I started the series last fall.  There are 25 or so episodes a season, so yes, you should be very impressed with my commitment and follow-through.  Also, if you need me to perform a thoracotomy or cut your LVAD wire, I'm able to do that.  Probably faster and cheaper than your HMO.

Also, fun!  This guy is pretty much our generation's Brando, hidden away in a little old medical drama.  Swearsville.
So, I've been excited and happy to have some fun, not just with imaginary doctors and horny faeries, but also with my own kids.  I took last week off and Camp Mama involved camping in the backyard, trips to the library, ice cream, and a whole lot of reading aloud of this series, which is so totally fantastic, especially if you have two little girls.  I mean, you should go check it out NOW.  We're anxiously awaiting Book Three to arrive at our library because Book Two ended in such a cliffhanger we were all moaning and tearing our hair out.

Good thing there weren't any naughty fairies twittering about to take advantage of us in our weakened state.

Anyway, I haven't done much work in the last ten days or so, which because of summer's loooong days has felt like an eternity, thank God.  But I have been reading some "serious," non-fairy-type things, and today I had this epiphany.

If you know me, you know I've been struggling with my relationship with my mom.  We just can't seem to find common ground and the distance between us grows greater, as they say.  I have felt mad at her for not fighting harder to overcome her physical limitations, but really for not fighting harder to be in my life.  I just couldn't seem to get over it.  I felt like she gave up on me, too.

But then, some little trickles of information come in.  Addie goes to a day camp a few weeks ago where her counselor makes sun tea for the kids, and I'm reminded of my mom, working on projects in the backyard, a huge jar of sun tea at her side.  She was so capable.  Very focused.  I think she was sad a lot, but I also had some memories of her laughing.  Then the BeeGees came on the radio, and I remembered her dancing in our basement to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.  And I remembered her sneaking me out from under the watchful eye of my stepdad to see Flashdance, and I watched her go running everyday of my adolescence, and I know that she was someone who loved to move and be mobile and who experienced freedom through her body.  And really can't anymore.

God, these little doses of compassion are a pain in the ass.

Then, today, I'm reading this:

One of the gems in this little book is that sometimes we experience painful losses in order to gain our freedom.

I repeat:

Sometimes we experience painful losses in order to gain our freedom.

It's been painful to have been let go of so completely by my mom, but, click, click, flip the lens, and maybe also she has allowed me to be fiercely independent and to make my own totally full, rich life without deep encumbrances to my past.  Whether she intended to or not, my being untethered from biography has allowed me to fully write my own story.

Not that I'm free of my mom, or want to be.  Obviously, lots of choices and feelings stem from that relationship.  But her model of motherhood, my grandmother, was much more smothering and controlling, and my mom definitely didn't do that to me.  I don't think she even tried.  I think she probably saw the wisdom of letting me go.

That's interesting.

I don't know.  We go in the way that feels the best.  Maybe I'm trying to grow toward the sun here, one tiny little tendril at a time.

Anyway, do yourself a favor, take 45 minutes, and watch this video by my guru.  It's worth it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

You guys.

I really haven't abandoned the blog, I promise.  The quick updates are:  Berkeley was great, Florida was awesome, and Sweden is about to be super.  I leave tomorrow, and then a great yawning space opens up on my to-do list, with the major thing on it being the finishing of our book on coal and communication.  I just happened to have been granted a sabbatical next spring to devote to that very job and I'm excited to have my day-to-day life be more regular and to have a major focus.

If that's how it all ends up working out.

Anyway:  Sweden.  And then my summer will begin a bit more for reals and one of my goals is to return to this space with more regularity.  I want to post pics of our new deck and tell you about Peanut and my thoughts on nutrition and show you lots of pictures of these amazing girls.  I have a 20-year high school reunion coming up, and a family reunion, and there will also be lots of laying around, I hope.

Maybe I'll even start sewing again.  Or just allow things to be fallow for a while.  It's been such a year.  I'm so happy at the moment, and you know I tend to write less when I'm super-happy or super-sad.  So you know:  happy, for now.

See you soon!