Monsters

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I was reading about Ted Bundy last night online after watching an episode of Dexter, so I assumed I’d have a dream about either of them or serial killers in general, but no, instead my night was dreamless. However, I woke up with a very distinct memory of a Sesame Street book featuring Grover called The Monster at the End of This Book. The book begins with Grover announcing that there is a monster at the end of the book and telling you, the reader, not to turn the page. Of course you turn the page to see what happens next in the story, and Grover begins to sweat and ask important questions about what is wrong with you that would make you keep turning pages when he very clearly has told you that we do not want to arrive at the end of the story because the ending is not going to be good. I like to think it is just human nature that makes the reader turn yet another page and not Muppet sadism. Grover gets more and more hysterical as the conclusion approaches, building brick walls and tying the pages down with rope, none of which work. Finally you turn the last page and there, at the end of the book is…Grover. Grover is the monster at the end of the book. There really was nothing to fear. He’s relieved. Maybe a little sheepish.

My mother loved this book. She’d make me drag it out and show people who stopped by. I liked it okay (though I think I was disturbed a little by metafiction), but I knew Grover was silly and we were meant to shake our heads at all that fear. The bigger message–the thing we fear most is often not as scary as we think it might be–stuck with me. I can’t say it made me any braver, but it has at least made me aware when I am being anxiety-ridden and Groverish, that perhaps I should hold back all judgment and see how the thing pans out.

I don’t know what to do with fear. I try to isolate what it is that I’m afraid of when the job is done, and what I’ve whittled it down to is loss of freedom.  My recurring nightmares are not of being chased by monsters or homicidal maniacs, but instead of being wrongfully incarcerated. For years, these are the dreams that leave me in a cold sweat and, more recently, the reason I need a Xanax to have dental work done or why Z has to always take the inside seat in the booth if we are eating out with other people. Truth be told, my exemplary behavior as a child and as a law-abiding adult has a lot less to do with my natural goodness and more to do with my strong desire to avoid other people telling me what I can and cannot do.

So, I fear that the loss of income will mean the loss of freedom. Not just my ability to travel or to book a flight home to the Midwest if I need to, but even smaller freedoms like being able to own or rent a car  if I need to escape the city for my own sanity or because Mt. Rainier is threatening to erupt. (Interesting that all of these fears center on mobility more than they do my ability to buy stuff.)

I can get another job to insure that bus tokens and plane tickets abound, but if it is outside of the academic world, then there will be this whole other 9 to 5 loss of freedom that is equally unpleasant. I can work a 40 hour a week, I may sit at my desk for 8 hours a day, but the idea of having to beg a boss to let me off for my Xanax-induced dentist appointments makes me hyperventilate a little. I’ve been privileged the last seventeen years in this regard and I’m woman enough to admit that I want more of that.

Maybe that’s the key right there. Not fearing what we don’t want but declaring and seeking what we do.

Fight

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Tonight Z and I went to our first ever hockey game.  It was the minor league Seattle Thunderbirds vs. the Everett Silvertips and neither of us knew what to expect. Z hates to watch hockey on TV because he says he can’t see the puck, and I have a general dislike of all things sports related, but with a $12 Living Social deal, it seemed like an adventure. Fifteen minutes in and I was hooked. How can I have two friends from Canada and have seen Youngblood back when Rob Lowe was everyone’s darling in the 80s and NOT know how awesome hockey is?

Things I knew I’d like:

  • no baking under a hot summer sun
  • no humid arena
  • no waiting for eons between plays or for someone to strike out

Things I had no idea I would love:

  • the sound of the blades on ice
  • the penalty box–how ingenious
  • the sound of bodies slamming against the glass
  • the booing of refs and the opposing team
  • the fights

Oh, my God, the fights were delicious. Until tonight,  I thought I was a pacifist. In high school when there would be a sudden fight in the cafeteria I would shrink away and feel superior to my classmates who were encouraging the punches. I never understood the glee of spectating while someone inflicted bodily harm on another person and I likened the crowd to the people who would go to the Colosseum in Rome to watch gladiators fight to the death.  But tonight, I was a paisano. Maybe all that padding and those helmets gave me a false sense that they were all well-protected and so it was okay to shout encouragement for the punches. It was just so visceral.

My second favorite thing was the simultaneous barbarism (booing refs, singing how much the other team sucks, cheering a fight) and the politeness. When Z and I went to a Sounders game this summer, we were astounded by how everyone seemed to have ADD and could not sit still for five minutes of soccer before having to leave their cramped seats for a beer or popcorn. It was a constant stream of people excusing themselves past you to go do something that was infinitely more important than the event they had paid to see. But at a hockey game, apparently, you stay in your seat. If you have to get up because of  irritable bowel syndrome or whatever, you apologize profusely and look sheepish. Then when there is a time out, people rush out of their seats or back to their seats before the puck is in play again. Its terribly civilized. I love that contradiction.

I know it was a minor league hockey game and not everything can be turned into a bloggy life lesson, but after the summer (and Indian summer) doldrums where I posted nothing, wrote nothing, and made few of the life plans I had planned to plan, I feel revitalized. Sometimes you just have to throw punches. Or at least cheer a good fight.

Aside

Yesterday was a sad, shitty day in Seattle that made my little job problem seem like something less consequential than a gnat bite. Act II in a three-act gun drama took place around the corner from our apartment. Six people dead.

My words are 90% clogged up and 10% trite.

Words. Fail.

Advice from My Hairdresser

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I’ve been going to the same hairdresser since I was 22 and the move to Seattle hasn’t changed that. There’s a perfectly good Aveda school down the street from me where you can get a discount hair-do while the students practice on you, but I don’t think I’d ever feel properly coiffed if someone besides Joy did it. So if there are stretches of times between visits back to Indiana, my roots get a little dodgy. Fortunately, I live in possibly the only city in the U.S. where no one really cares what you look like or would dare to judge you harshly for roots or, for that matter, forgetting to brush your hair for two days or wearing Crocs out to dinner.

If you can get and keep a hairdresser as long as I’ve had Joy, I recommend it. You know each other’s stories and you don’t have to make small talk but instead can go straight to the big stuff–the confessions and frustrations and encouragement. It’s not unlike going to a therapist only I like to think it’s a bit more mutual. Perhaps everyone who sits in Joy’s chair feels like she is their very good friend, but I don’t like to think about that. I prefer pretending I’m her only client and, let’s be honest, if not her only client then at least her favorite.

Several years ago when I knew I loved Z but before he knew he loved me back, I had a religious experience, the result of which was a sort of divine message that I needed not to give up on him though the case seemed hopeless if you looked at the facts (including the big one wherein he lived in Zimbabwe and I lived in Indiana and the other big one wherein I’d told him how I felt about him and he’d told me how he felt about me, and our feelings weren’t seeing eye-to-eye). I shared this story of the vision I’d had with Joy, and instead of looking at me like my brains had been scrambled by too much hair color,  she got tears in her eyes. When I dismissed it as my own crazy mind making up this vision to encourage false hope, she said sternly, “Don’t you hurt Jesus’s feelings like that. Do you know how lucky you are to have had this experience? You listen to it.” I won’t say I never had another doubt, but I thought a lot about it and three and a half years later, things changed and  my vision was confirmed. Joy’s belief that I should keep the faith helped me keep it. It’s hard not to feel connected to someone like that, even if you only ever talk to them for two hours once every eight weeks.

So today while she was blonding me up, I told her about my job and about how I need to figure out Next and what the Next possibilities might be (which are vague, ghosty kinds of possibilities right now). In unrelated conversation,  I mentioned my friend’s terribly successful blog that went massively viral over the last three days. Joy’s eyes got big because she’d just heard about the blog on Good Morning America. And then I told her about how I sometimes have blogging dreams. Her eyes got bigger and she said, “This sounds like you. I think you need to investigate how to make this work.” And then she sent a text in the evening that said, “No. Seriously. I think you need to try this” and then she said some other nice things about me, which I’ll put in my “kudos” file to read later on some dark day when She Who Shall Not Be Named does some other horrible thing that makes me feel as if I’m the equivalent of a career fast food worker with no plan to become crew chief.

It’s not nice to doubt joy.

Two Tramps in Mud Time

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After a six-week stint of thinking I was an artist my first semester of college, I discovered what most people already knew about me: I was okay with a paint brush in my hand but I was better with a pen. Sitting in an introductory lit course called “Valuing Through Literature” taught by Gibb, the man who would eventually become my mentor,  it hit me that when I was in the art studio the smells of paint and the easels and the attitudes of the other art students were exciting but only in that exotic, foreign way that never quite feels like home. When I think about those first six weeks of college, I remember how homesick I was, how lost I felt, and I remember the smell of turpentine.

I can’t remember what happened at the six-week mark in the Valuing Through Literature course. We were reading things like Madame Bovary and My Antonia and Huck Finn and from this vantage, I suspect that Gibb’s sole purpose in the course was to try to get us to think more deeply about our values instead of relying on the rote Christian ethics we promised we had when we enrolled at the smallish college with the twin missions of educating us well and teaching us a life of servant hood. It was in this class that I began to value questions above answers.

Gibb was not charismatic. People weren’t lining up to take his classes, wherein he often stared at a yellow legal pad, talking more to himself than to us about Emma Bovary’s infidelity, or how presidential inaugurations hadn’t been the same since people quit wearing top hats. It was up to the student to figure out if some anecdote of his was a quick detour or something that applied to what we were studying. I wrote them all down diligently in the margins of my class notes because I was sure there was wisdom there, and if not, there was always humor. My classmates were primarily interested in only what would be on the test.

I felt like one of the students sitting at the feet of Plato in the academe grove. I thought he was genius for letting his stream of consciousness teaching style lap up onto our banks. I was unconvinced anyone else in the class even heard what Gibb was saying, but I didn’t care because it felt like he was speaking to me.

I don’t remember formally studying Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time” in this class, though I have a vivid memory of Gibb referring to it multiple times and the poem’s message that espoused the importance of finding a career that overlapped nicely with the thing we most loved to do. Gibb was a firm believer in this and young as I was and hopeful as I was that one day I’d make buckets of money, I was clever enough to know that this marriage was the only way I could happily live.

Frost writes:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.

After class that day I marched over to the registrar’s office and changed my major to English and did so with a light heart. I was home.

While I’m contemplating life after May of next year, I’m having to reflect on what it means to unite my vocation and my avocation. I thought I had, but what I’ve discovered after a decade plus of teaching higher ed is that I have a love and some skill in helping people make their writing stronger, but I write for myself infrequently. I have loads of plans but it is a delicate, difficult balance to juggle your own writing with someone else’s, particularly when you are being paid to focus on the other person’s writing. Some writer-teachers don’t have this problem. They are disciplined tightrope walkers and/or comfortable with putting their own work ahead of the students. This has never been the case for me.

There is no time, or if there is time it feels like I should be working harder at grading or planning. Or if the grading and planning has become overwhelming then I sit and stare out the window or at the TV because I’m too overwhelmed with the muchness of it all and so I don’t accomplish anything until there is a deadline I can no longer ignore.

One of the greatest joys of my day is the half hour or so in the morning when I let myself write a lengthy email to my friend Julie (who was there with me in several of Gibb’s classes). My emails to her are the equivalent of journal writing but with the satisfaction of someone besides me or a snoop on the other end, reading my words.

Unfortunately, the pay being offered for Daily Julie emails is complete crap.

I finish teaching my last summer courses at FU U next week and my goal for the six weeks that remain before fall courses start up is to nail down this uniting of my tramps so there’s only just the one. Before the bills pile up and it becomes imperative that I get a job, how do I envision my life the way Gibb and Robert Frost would have wanted me to? Right now, the possibilities are being rotated around in one of those hand-crank cages they use for bingo. I hope I pull out the right number.

Racket.

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Z has the flu so I’ve just gotten off the phone with Delta, in order to postpone our trip to Indiana by four days, because no one wants to deal with a stomach bug during seven hours worth of air travel.

Here’s what I think I need to do for my future career. Figure out a racket, like the airline industry, wherein you can charge someone the equivalent of an entirely new ticket and call it, instead of “new ticket” a “change of ticket fee.” We will be occupying the same two seats we would have been in anyway on a route and day that is no more nor no less popular than our original itinerary. It took the Delta Representative five minutes to make the change. That will be $380 please. (And the price for the more enviable Sunday ticket we originally wanted would have flown us to Hawaii.)

Think, brain. Think. How can you start earning $380 for five minutes worth of work. There has to be a way.

Dear John. Sincerely, Nice Girl.

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Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing. Possibly it’s because of how I was raised. Probably I’m just neurotic. Often, I apologize and thank people for things that they had nothing to do with. I apologize for weather when we have guests. I thank the dentist who has just been paid handsomely for fixing my teeth. If someone “lets” me go at a four-way stop where I clearly already had right of way, I wave at them in gratitude.

Today I had to write my first ever letter of resignation. I’m not sure how I got out of the job I had for three years after college in the public library, but I was so happy to be leaving that cesspool of neuroses, rude patrons who felt they had the right to brow beat me because I was paid with their tax dollars, and haz-mat covered books, that there is a good chance I just whistled my resignation as I did a jig out to my car when I found out I’d been accepted to grad school.

This letter should have been written weeks ago, but even when you’ve decided that you are making a change, and even when your hand has been forced anyway so it isn’t much of a decision, it’s no easy thing to do.

Technically it was easy. Z wrote it for me. I have multiple graduate degrees saying I am a fine writer, but the words would not come. When I did try to write them they were full of pleases and thank yous that I didn’t really want to say. Z’s version was straight and true, with nary a word of supplication or apology.  I added two flourishes, printed, signed my name, and dropped it in the mailbox in our building that I suspect the mail carrier checks only once a week. It was a passive aggressive mailing, yes, but it is done.

The other thank you I didn’t say this week was to She Who Must Not Be Named. Last week she told my chair that I needed to vacate my office since there is a shortage of office space and I’m rarely on campus. I booked a pricey ticket back to Indiana and dreaded the packing and storing of the goods of my professional life (you know, the books, the Jane Austen figurines, the cymbal-clanging chicken candy dispenser). This week she wrote to say she has reconsidered and I can keep my office. My ticket is non-refundable.

My mother raised me to say thank you, but I just couldn’t tap that one out of my finger tips. So instead I said nothing, which is also a kind of politeness.

It’s raining in Seattle. I’m not sorry.