Tuesday, August 22, 2017

permission

I will not be teaching this year; I prefer to call it a 'sabbatical', evoking a noble adventure, instead of a 'leave of absence', which sounds like illness, defeat, or sad emptiness. It has taken a significant amount of mental energy for me to first decide this is a good idea, then to talk about it aloud, then to discuss logistically with the people affected, and finally to make a formal written request. I enjoy imagining I'm the rebellious type who lives by a sassy "Better to ask forgiveness than permission" philosophy, but in reality I tend to be a rule-following pedant. However, as I have approached the half-century mark of my life, I'm ready to take a break from some tendencies.

Many people (women - let's be honest about who tries to please everyone else all of the time) talk about giving themselves permission to say "No" more often - no more taking on unsatisfying jobs, no more spending time on unnecessary tasks, no more saying or doing or pretending to be something they aren't or don't want to be. These are very important considerations, but as a woman + parent, I long ago allowed myself to say [FUCK] "No" to any activity or behavior that did not directly impact my children's well-being and/or might result in an arrest, but what I haven't done as much is say "Yes" to the things that make me feel good. Vibrant. Successful, purposeful, necessary, alive. See also "Potential Midlife Crisis But Shut Up Because Your Judgement Isn't Helpful." I might still have some issues to work out.

My main motivation for the sabbatical was to be present for my daughter's Senior year of high school (much to her now-horror; I'm hoping she'll be grateful later. Stop laughing). I realized when my son was graduating that I'd either missed or scrambled to be involved in many little events & opportunities throughout the year, and I determined to not let that happen with my last child. I know who I become when I'm trying to Do All the Things for family + school + self and she is unpleasant, and since I'm now on the verge of turning 50, I feel the need to get better at this Living Life Fully gig. There are so many small, beguiling things I realized I've wanted to do with my time for decades and am determined to use this one year differently. I will turn my unstructured blank-canvas days into masterpieces - some will be be fuzzy Monets, some crisp Vermeers, some wildly spectacular Jackson Pollocks & Hieronymus Boschs, others bewildering but fascinating DalĂ­s. 

This year's Yes goals, in no particular order:


  • Volunteer for causes I love - Band Boosters, 2018 Senior Parents, Portland Film Festival, OPB pledge drives (I CANNOT WAIT TO ANSWER PHONES), finding solutions to homelessness
  • Read more - I have a ludicrous number of books hanging out waiting on my nightstand, dresser, table next to my livingroom recliner; follow me on GoodReads and send encouragement, maybe let's create a book group?
  • Weeknight events - more concerts, collage nights, poetry readings, book signings
  • Audio book recording - I've already looked into the [very intimidating] paid world and blanched at the requirements, but have found some ways of reading aloud for fun/free
  • Reader's Theater - a local director encouraged me to try this low-key version of acting; terrified but excited
  • Travel - Keeping eyes open for opportunities to visit new places without spending a lot of money I won't have
  • Baking - whatever, whenever; it calms me and I'll want that often, I suspect
  • Writing - I've already begun to attend to my blog more often, trying to harness thoughts into a theme people might be interested in, but I'd like to investigate screenwriting, more poetry, or short story crafting
__________________________________________

Permission is a dastardly thing. It wants you to think it is necessary, that it is the only way you will be able to accomplish what you wish. But you are in charge of your life - some parts feel unchangeable but don't let them guilt or worry you into believing you aren't in control - sometimes it's only a matter of changing the question from Can I? to How can I? 

And it might take 50 years, which is okay.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

memories dull the edges of my mind

I wasn't exactly a mean girl when I was younger, but I was definitely an accessory to mean girls. My little sister might say I was an actual mean girl sometimes, especially regarding possessions. But, for example, I maintain that since I'm 9 years older than her, most of the Barbie stuff was mine before it was hers so how can I be accused of stealing that tiny copper pot and besides, she's known where I keep it not locked up, in plain sight AND I'm pretty sure I've offered it to her many times in our adulthood and she won't take it. So anyway, on the periphery of mean girlness. Moving on.

Lately (which, in an almost-50-year old's brain means "in the past 20 years") I've been giving increasingly more thought to the usefulness of memories. As someone who writes & reads and encourages others to do the same, I realize the importance of memories but after having had a few instances of my very vivid, certain memories turning out to be completely unverifiable with the people involved, I am now wondering what is their real purpose if they're ultimately unreliable? 

First, the case that basically invalidated most of my 6th grade year. To set the scene, I silently but forcefully disliked nearly everything about my teacher that year: he was old, he made us run and play sports CONSTANTLY, he called my mom to admonish her for letting me eat a Pop Tart and orange juice for breakfast every morning, and each week he would dump desks that he deemed 'messy.' Now, as a lucid adult + teacher myself, I can make these adjustments: he was only about 40 that year; we ran and played soccer maybe twice a week; that is a pretty terrible diet for a preteen girl [but still, I felt bad for my mom because she left the house to work at 5:30am so not her fault I was/am still no good at nutrition]; and while I would never shame students, I do promote neatness in my classroom.

The parts of this teacher I did happen to like were his constant encouragement of my writing skills and praise for my tidy desk, which leads to the first memory I had that was blown to smithereens a few years ago: I saw the name of a boy tagged in a former classmate's 6th grade photo and immediately remembered him sitting quietly next to me at the back of the classroom, waiting for that teacher to come down the aisle to dump his desk. Every week. I had offered many times to show him how to organize his books and pencils and tissue box, reminded him to throw out crumpled papers & empty snack bags, actually rearranged his things myself + told him breathlessly, probably harshly (mean girl tendencies) when it was time to CLEAN HIS DESK! I'm starting to sweat again right now. In my twitchy memory, this kid sat with almost amused resignation, as our menacing teacher moved Gestapo-like toward us. 

I immediately sent this guy a friend request and waited, heart thumping, for him to accept so I could find out that he had fully recovered from this obviously horrible and humiliating treatment 30+ years ago. Except that when we did reconnect, he had zero memory of this situation. Nothing. In fact, he sent me a photo from his law office where boxes and papers were stacked impetuously around the room. And, inexplicably, beyond that, he said our 6th grade teacher was one of his favorites - they had gone running and rock climbing with other classmates on weekends; they'd kept in touch for many years afterward.

What?
After a tiny spark of irritation that I had spent so much mental energy trying to needlessly defend this kid's dignity for decades, I realized my own standards of what makes a good experience and solid relationship clouded my perceptions of what happened for him. (Hello, productive counseling sessions). That is, if that teacher even really dumped desks - how can I know for sure? I'm afraid to ask my friend, the classmate who posted our picture in the first place.

But then last week, I found out another situation I had been involved with (this is where the almost-but-probably-an-actual mean girl thing comes in) has apparently not lived on in the psyche of a key player. 

The summer before our Senior year, a friend & I decided to call a pay phone outside the Safeway. (I'm presuming all of my readers are old enough to know what a pay phone is, and understand why calling it randomly would be considered a fun thing to do during summer break in a small town). I think a couple of harried adults answered and hung up before we hit the jackpot with a couple of boys from our high school; we immediately became spectacular improv artists weaving elaborate storylines for ourselves: a couple of hot 18-year old girls from Las Vegas visiting our cousin. The details were embarrassingly, painfully silly and unbelievable but we had a captive, willing audience.

Fast forward to weeks later, after we've called these boys many times at their homes to talk about increasingly outrageous nonsense while somehow never being able to meet up with them in person, and school is starting so the Las Vegas girls have to return home. We promise to call again though, and that's when things become actually terrible - we notice in the halls what these guys wear then claim to have had a dream about them in those outfits, or we remark on something someone at our [pretend] school said or did, which happened to have been exactly what we saw one of our boys did that week.

Finally, because I wasn't a mean girl at heart, I decided we should stop. But also, we needed to tell them the truth. My reasoning, I (think) I remember very clearly, was that they would be confused & sad if the Las Vegas girls just stopped calling them. Somehow it seemed better in my mind to expose their utter gullibility face-to-face. To be fair to young stupid me, I saw myself as the bad guy in this scenario and thought of the reveal as more of a confession (and absolution, of course) of my crime. Regardless, I told "my" guy during a slow dance at school and he laughed. Again, young stupid me considered this a good sign - I actually wrote in my journal that I thought we were going on a date shortly after that, though I'm pretty sure he never spoke directly to me again. And for the last five years, he has not accepted my friend request on Facebook.

But here is the thing that makes me doubt my recollections: I finally found someone to tell him hello for me and mention I was sorry; my theory, based on my finally realizing that the 30-years-ago confession was more a humiliation than a relief, was that he thought I was a horrible person unworthy of being his friend, even in cyberspace, but if he knew I was apologetic we could move on - yet he told that person he has no idea who I am. No idea. Now, I know this thing actually happened because a) a friend was involved and can back me up plus b) I wrote about it in my journal and by God, that thing is full of unsettling true things. It stuns me that someone, like my 6th grade acquaintance, will have a completely opposite memory of a situation and I don't understand why.

However, again as a result of good counseling sessions, I am letting it all go. We with opposing memories will just have to forever agree to disagree. 

Maybe. (Is this a male/female thing? An age issue?)

Probably not. (Why does this matter so much to me??)

I guess I need a few more counseling sessions.

Monday, August 1, 2016

things we forget to remember

I went to my 30th high school reunion this past weekend, and I not only loved every minute of it but I've looked forward to it, and all of my reunions, for years. Somehow I had a childhood that left me unscathed and even happy, and I still enjoy being around the people I grew up with.

Because I am one of the planners (of course) and a huge fan of the Mortified concept, I decided to read some excerpts from my 1985-86 journal. I mainly thought it would be a funny addition to the evening but the more time I spent reading & choosing selections, the more I realized how significant those [insanely embarrassing] reflections really are.

To begin with, the picture I've kept in my mind of my teenage self did not match the voice I heard when I was reading through the journal. It seems strange that I would see myself so differently considering I literally am the person who wrote those things. Many times we will create a version of ourselves that is better than what we are/were but in a way, I've been remembering a Teen Me that was much less confident and more timid than what I presented on those pages three decades ago. Some of it is cringy to Adult Me - an unnerving, lengthy explanation of how I named a teddy bear after Prince plus my Canadian boyfriend and his best friend who I also thought was cute - but a lot of it makes me nod proudly for the moxie I had, at least on paper. Alone. In my bedroom with the door barricaded against parents who never knocked before entering.

Of course there is the obvious connection between my life today, full of Potential Second Husbands, and the constant celebrity crushes I wrote about: Many were completely understandable like Matt Dillon, Richard Gere, and Andrew McCarthy (who I mentioned at least 4 times in the 18 months of this particular journal, one time in detail as the basis for my fantasy future son's personality) but some were unexpected and intense (Phil Collins, Martin Short) or obscure: "I do like Carlo Imperato from FAME very much - yes. And I still feel weak when I listen to Friday Night."    Props to Teen Me though - that performance is pretty hot.

However, there are dozens - not an exaggeration - of entries featuring boys from school whom I have no memory of being interested in. An excited note remarking on what a barely-remembered upperclassman wrote in my yearbook, which I revisited last week and found hardly eyebrow-raising. A 4-page entry I read at my reunion that describes multi-day encounters (I'm avoiding the word 'stalking' as it has such a negative connotation) with an underclassman I've literally never spoken a paragraph to, before or after that time. And I know this to be fact, not just an effect of my apparently-faulty memory, because I certainly would have written an all caps, exclamation point-filled follow-up, right? Nothing; I moved almost immediately on to other boys, most of whom were also eventual nonentities in my real life.

I've been trying to figure out what this means. Maybe nothing. Teenage brains are mercifully wired to dismiss a lot of information in order to make room for more useful adult details like who will make a trustworthy partner, when rent is due, which vodka is actually good, and how to stay alive in general. It is probably a good thing that we don't remember all of the things that happened to us in high school, when many of us were so rabidly insecure that we behaved like lunatics, spending half our time desperately trying to be noticed and the other half hoping to not stand out. But I do think that being able to revisit these times is useful in that it resurrects a person you didn't know you were, someone you might actually be proud of, so you can reevaluate who you think you are and maybe even better understand other people. Reading about times I was nervous but rallied and cheered myself on makes me appreciate Teen Me better, which reminds me to like Adult Me more and stop second-guessing my skills, praise myself for doing the things I'm afraid to. And if I can do this for myself, I should do it for others more often.
I mean, after all, they might be Phil Collins fans, too.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

mom of bad mom, revised

I wrote most of this for my mom's birthday a few years ago. Today I revisited & revised it thinking I might share at her retirement party, but we were laughing too much about this woman's shenanigans as lunch lady for 31 years for me to step in and squelch the mood with a Hallmark moment.
Yet I still want to put it out there, because she is pretty kickass and deserves the recognition.
________________

She's been a young mother, a single mother, a drag racing & dating mother, a working mother, a mother of two, a second mother to many, a mother-in-law, a grandmother.

We've done a lot of things differently through the years - I never did drag race anyone... - but I have never doubted the influence of my mom's example as a brave & decent woman.

My mom taught me
family is important, even if they can be embarrassing and exasperating at times.
My mom taught me
we help people whenever & however we are able.
My mom taught me
quality is key, in work + play:
we mowed lawns like John Deere and colored like Van Gogh.
My mom taught me
it's best to let go of things sometimes.
But when I say 'things' I mean hurt feelings and bad memories, because...
My mom also taught me
garage sales & thrift stores are far more marvelous than the mall.
My mom taught me
napping is allowed.
My mom taught me
ice cream is a food group and we should eat it often.

And my mom taught me
if something is valuable to my child,
it should be valuable to me.
There is a difference between time spent
and time invested.

My mom is extraordinarily full of kindness. I'm proud of all that she has accomplished in her life with astonishing graciousness. She's even managed to stay devoted to the Seahawks despite 40 years of relentless Cowboys fanhood by her husband & first born. I'm actually beginning to think she has willed the switch in talent between the two teams...

I should say it more often but again, my mom is one sharp, capable woman so I think she knows how awesome I believe she is.

My mom (plus me)
July 1968



Saturday, April 23, 2016

in the presence of royalty


I have no idea how I got Prince's 1999 cassette, but I do know that it immediately became my favorite album. Favorite very secret album, playing directly only into my ears through the headphones of my knock-off Walkman whenever I strolled to the beach, mowed the lawn, or tried desperately to get a tan lying in my backyard. 

I felt subversive listening to it; for 1983 small town me the songs were unbelievably naughty. But for all its overt sexiness, Prince never made me feel uncomfortable [except when I thought about my parents hearing the lyrics]. So I knew then for sure that sex was supposed to be a good, fun thing [that I would never ever discuss with my parents]. A couple years later I spent my babysitting money on the Purple Rain LP and fell in love.


Riding the bus home Valentine's Day in 1985, I heard on the radio that they had added another Prince concert for the next night at the Tacoma Dome, and there were still tickets available. I bolted from my bus stop to the kitchen phone, frantically found the number for our local ticket shop/t-shirt printer and called. They said one of their employees might have a couple of tickets to sell, check back in 15 minutes. My heart was pounding - the possibility of seeing Prince was 15 minutes away. Fifteen minutes plus whatever the cost was, a desperate phone call to my mom asking not only for permission but for her to drive me and my best friend 2 1/2 hours each way on a school night, and my best friend's ability to come with me away. I don't think I have ever been so blindly optimistic again in my life.

The tickets were $25 each. They were front row. My parents said okay. My best friend's parents said okay. It was a miracle.

Regardless of our love for Prince, my bff and I were hardcore stereotypical teacher's pet-type girls. So naturally we wore our purple sweatshirts. Over purple polo shirts. With our Normandy Rose jeans and loafers. I am not making this up; I feel slightly embarrassed and very sweaty just remembering our outfits.

It didn't matter how out of place we looked (seriously, no one else was wearing a sweatshirt. Of course.) - WE WERE GOING TO SEE PRINCE FROM THE FRONT ROW. Sheila E opened like a goddess, tied an audience member to a chair and danced & drummed around him in her sheer bodysuit, then it was time. Purple smoke covered the stage and filled my unsuspecting, willing lungs. I have a memory of Prince crawling across the stage at some point but I'm not sure when that happened. He changed clothes a few times, and I'm pretty sure he was shirtless at one point. My stomach felt wiggly, my breathing shallow, and not just because I was on the verge of heat stroke. We were pushed against the barrier fencing for two hours and I thought many times I would lose one of my shoes (honestly, what was I thinking? Loafers.) but didn't really care. It was the best night of my 16-year old life.

For the past 31 years, I have felt like I actually know Prince because of that concert. I believe he made everyone in that arena feel like they knew him. Each time I saw Prince in an interview, on an awards show, with The Muppets, I believed we had a connection. 
Because he was miraculous

Saturday, February 6, 2016

upon finding myself unplugged for an hour

Written on scratch paper at Powell's in Portland, Oregon this morning while my phone was being repaired 
________________________________________

I watched a woman in an SUV waiting at the light on 11th Avenue.
I thought she was zoning out like we all do at stoplights, her face expressionless. She could have been sleeping upright behind the steering wheel, with her eyes open. But then, I saw her lips pull down, her cheeks crumpled. I wondered then if she was lost in thoughts about someone - someone she broke up with or was considering breaking up with, or someone who had died. I know how that face feels.

I kept watching (it was a really long light) and saw her eyes brighten then, lips slipped into a half-smile. Maybe she was listening to a sad song on the radio then a happier one started. Or maybe she's listening to an audio book, I thought. Once I borrowed a cassette reading of The Phantom of the Opera for my long drive home from college. When I pulled off the highway for gas after a couple hundred miles, I couldn't remember passing any of the familiar landmarks; my shoulders were tense and my jaw tight from hours of being trapped in that story. The attendant must have thought me strange, a sleepwalker emerging from my car.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

a few truths and a lie

I am not a resolution-maker. If I ever feel like changing something, I do it regardless of whether it's January 1st or the first day of school or my birthday or a Sunday night. I understand the desire to make a big production of starting New Habits and I did participate in the theatrics for most of my life, usually by buying a pretty new journal and writing lists of changes with a pretty new pen on the fresh pretty blank pages. After two weeks (maybe), that journal would be prettily collecting dust and anxiety on my nightstand; after a month I would stash it shamefully in a drawer and go on with my presumably failed life.

I finally realized, after years of suffering the little daily defeats of marriage and parenthood and teaching, that pressuring myself to Be Better on a particular date doesn't work for me. It's manufactured and bolstered by hype, and I avoid hype on principle - I wouldn't watch the first season of Survivor (but have watched all twentysomething seasons since), and though I love & live the idea of Carpe Diem, I refused it as a tattoo after finding 7000 versions of it during a Google search. Also, I'm pretty terrible with deadlines. Of course, I could resolve to be better with deadlines but that just makes my head hurt. I can do deadlines that are meaningful to other people - contributing to an IEP before a meeting, submitting grades, attending a party on the day it's happening - but trying to tell myself something needs to get done by a certain time? I am a totally insensitive jerk.

I've decided, partly because of those little daily defeats in life, piling on specific tasks so clearly unpleasant that I've ignored them most of the year is cruel, even for an insensitive jerk. After some reflection, anxiousness, depression, and counseling, I decided I'd check in with myself a few times each day to find out what I needed to feel, well, better. Better = calmer, content, connected, productive. Sometimes I need to do a specific thing (usually for other people/effing deadlines), sometimes I eat a little chocolate stashed in my desk, sometimes I play John Mayer loud, sometimes I take a nap, sometimes I startle my children by hugging them in the hallway.

I no longer make random resolutions at the end of a year. Instead, I make about 95 mini-resolutions every day, with immediate deadlines, and - I'm happier.

Carpe every damn diem.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

reflection

Having lived almost a half century now (THAT'S FUN TO SAY), I'm a little surprised at how many things I'm just coming to terms with. Letting prepositions land at the end of sentences is one thing, but here is another.

Dropping my husband off at the airport for a business trip will never really be fun.
First of all, a shocking number of people wonder why I 'even bother' and whenever they express this I consider why I do it. Obviously (I hope? I guess the Potential 2nd Husbands list seems a little suspect to some...), I like my husband and want to spend as much time with him as possible [except during football season, because a) he would rather be in the garage and b) he doesn't fully appreciate how passionate I am about my team. I digress]. But I sometimes wonder if I insist on taking him because of a subconscious concern about our relationship; I have strongly identified with When Harry Met Sally... since its release - am I worried that not taking him to the airport will say something about us?

Anyway.

Every time I do it, I focus on the fact that PDX has great shops (Powell's!) and a beloved Coffee People so after he leaves I can get fun gifts and books and sit with a delicious non-Starbucks latte in blissful peace. But really what I do each time is have a pastry with my man, staring & talking about anything inane until 15 minutes before his boarding time, not-awkwardly walk parallel to him as far as I can while he goes through security, try not to cry or take 100 weird blurry photos, then wander through the stores feeling melancholy and spending far more money than I should even at Christmastime. "Coming to terms" with this so far simply means admitting to myself that I am sad when he leaves, no matter how many clever things I buy, and avoiding looking directly at any other people dropping off or picking up loved ones; airports are drowning in tears and I am not yet old enough to fully immerse myself in the poetry of this.

Maybe when I hit that century mark.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

wish lists

A Very Special Rerun from Winter 2010

When I was a kid, my mom bringing home the Sears Holiday Catalog felt like getting ONE MILLION DOLLARS dropped into my lap. For a few delicious hours, I could have EVERYTHING I EVER WANTED [that was sold at Sears]. I went through it in three calculated stages - first, dog-earing pages featuring anything I was remotely interested in. Next, I dreamily reviewed those pages and used a broad-tip, exquisitely toxic black marker to circle those items I actually thought my parents might buy for me. Finally, I neatly wrote the item descriptions & quantities of everything I truly desired on notebook paper and if I desperately needed something (like the popularity-enhancing matching Shaun Cassidy pants and t-shirt), I would cut out the catalog picture and glue it on the notebook paper next to its listing. (Got the t-shirt but not the pants and, sadly, popularity remained static).

I still relish the idea of creating wish lists - for everyone, not just myself; sometimes I add things to my kids' Amazon lists because I am certain they simply did not think of asking for Star Wars trombone music or a German pencil sharpener but would really love getting it.

Today, with less than 3 weeks until Christmas [yes; try not to panic], I am designing lists of gifts I wish for certain people who inhabit my world. If I had a Sears catalog, I would cut out pertinent pictures and glue them on notebook paper, too, for emphasis.

For My Husband:
A personal (volunteer) masseuse; freedom from worrying about his hair loss; long, straight stretches of radar-less highway for driving his Cobra; a wife who spends as much time cooking, cleaning, and performing other domestic duties as she does composing hilarious Facebook updates

For My Kids [beyond the sheet music and school supplies]:
The ability to believe your parents when they tell you what remarkable traits + talents they've noticed you developing; a pause button for the universe when you need to take a few extra breaths and compose a coherent response to the girl/boy/teacher looking at/talking to you; the capacity to hold onto all the memories of your best lunch conversations and after-school meet-ups and momentsthatfeellikecenturies in the hallways

For My Friends:
Long periods of uninterrupted time to spend with me, drinking tea and other beverages, eating delectable foods, and talking about everything that brings us joy (and a little snark); more memories of their favorite things - watching kids growing & acting & making music, volunteering valuable skills, traveling, baking, reading in silence, writing future Pulitzer Prize winners

For Fellow Teachers:
The energy to keep delivering knowledge + wisdom + care; extended moments of quiet; time to thoroughly enjoy the activities that you love as much as teaching but give you a tad more peace of mind; unlimited back rubs and frequent spa days

For Our Students:
Warm, comforting places to be outside of school; the solid belief that we teachers love and value them regardless of their backgrounds, faults, and occasional attitudes; visions of a positive future

For Some People I Shall Not Name:
Clarity, honesty, self-awareness, humility, and more than a touch of class & tact in certain circumstances [everyday life]

For My Readers:
Continued good taste in blog material; time to indulge in simple pleasures as well as a few extravagant ones; more opportunities to meet up with your favorite people, in real life and from cyberspace

 

~ To all, blessings & best WISHES ~

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