She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

23 07 2011

This blog has moved to Public Frog. You can find me there… Thanks for reading.





Last Nights of Summer, Last Days of Both Hands

1 08 2010

So I have three nights left of summer. And tonight, I’m watching Something’s Gotta Give while I decoupage my autobiography box (a model for my students). And, well, I forgot how wonderful and hopeful and kind of gross it is to see these two old people fall in love like a pair of bipolar teenagers. Diane Keaton is totally neurotic and she cries all of the time in this movie, which makes her look like a turtle. But I’m enjoying myself immensely because it’s cheesy and predictable.  Plus it makes me less anxious about getting old.

This has been the summer of movies and books for me and my brain has taken a turn for the worse because of it I’m sure. I read The Help in a day and Ruthie and I have seen almost all of the “family” movies in the RedBox. I check in with the Facebook regularly. And with Twitter. I can barely muster the mental energy to fill the world in on what I’m doing in 140 characters or less. So I’ve decided it’s really time for me to really start writing. For the past seven years, I’ve called myself a writer, but I’m always waiting to be inspired (whisper this word as you read it, please) to write. I’ve compared writing to exercise before and that metaphor certainly holds here, because who is motivated to exercise in the beginning? Certainly not me. Writing and exercising were two things I swore I’d do this summer and I’ve done very little of either.

So. Intoxicated by the start of a new school year, which means (GASP!) new school supplies, I’ve taken on a little project where I’ll be writing every single day for a year. It’s a new blog because, in a very Oprah-ish way, I’ve become a new me. I hope. I’ve started writing today, but I’m not going to post the link here. Not yet. But if you’re interested in reading, email me and I’ll send you the link. Wish me luck!





An awkward return to blogging and some thoughts on forever

27 04 2010

(c)2010 David Parker

Okay, so I’ve taken a hiatus from my blog for, oh, I don’t know, like a year? This post for me feels about as awkward as the first post ever (which I composed nearly four years ago!). I’ve lost a bit of the feel of writing as a daily habit. I’m always telling my students that writing is like running: You can map out your course, buy new running shoes, read about running, watch other people run, but the only way to become a runner is to start running. One foot in front of the other. So here I am, one word after another, writing again for the first time in what feels like forever. I’m sure that I’ll be sore tomorrow.

So where have I been and what I have I been doing? Well, for starters, I’m divorced. That might be a bit of an overshare (awkward!), but I think that my hiatus was largely due to the fact that I felt inappropriate writing about the divorce as I was living through it and in the wake of it. I’m a very big fan of honesty, and divorce is fairly consuming, so I couldn’t really find much to write about honestly.

Getting divorced is strange because when you get married, people tell you “Oh, you should be really sure about this because marriage is forever.” But then, when you get divorced, they say (with their voices dropped so as to indicate the seriousness of the thing), “Oh, are you sure about this? Because divorce is forever.” The finality of divorce felt really good to me. Like, okay, this really is forever. But then I was talking to my friend on the phone a few months ago and she was telling me about her divorced friend who just re-married the man she divorced. This was terribly unsettling to me. I mean, if divorce isn’t final, what is?

In my family, we call the last drink of the evening the final-final. Of course, you can have more than one final-final (and we typically do). And so, in the same way that the finality of divorce was comforting to me six months ago, I’ve come around to taking comfort in the idea that maybe nothing has to be final (or even final-final). There is a lot of freedom in the belief that I can always change my mind. I don’t have to be wedded to any dreams of what my future life will look like or any convictions I may hold now about how the world works.

All of this being said, I feel like I need to be very clear about something here: I do still believe in marriage and I do believe in forever. Two of my very dear friends got married this year and I believe that they have met their for-real final-finals. I also know lots of people who’ve been married for a long time who would say (and I would agree) that they’ve met their for-real final-finals. I find that there is a lot of comfort in believing (in anything) and there is a great deal of freedom in allowing myself to change my beliefs as I grow older and learn more about who I am and the world that I live in.

So, there it is, my awkward over-sharing return to the world of writing on the internet. I am still wandering through life with both hands full of Ruthie, my precocious four-year-old; cynical ninth grade students who don’t want to write, but are impressed when they manage to try; books I’ve been meaning to read; and bags of groceries that tend to burst wide open in really inconvenient places. It’s good to be back.





Painted Smiles and Iron Guts

25 08 2009

This morning, my classroom is buzzing with the taptaptaptapping of students’ fingers on keyboards. I thought I would miss the sound of pencils and pens scraping against paper, scratching out ideas and shaping words. The tapping has much more energy–it’s a sound you can almost ride, and I do. And I almost feel like I’m cheating in a way, drafting off these young minds punching keys with the conviction that they have something to say that matters.

Anyways, this morning we’re tapping about objects. The kids brought in autobiography boxes, which they construct from pictures, drawings, artifacts, newspaper clippings. One student brought in a box that lights up, another chose to adorn his with a plastic mound of spaghetti. They’re all shapes and sizes and they contain all kinds of magical talismans: wands, Eiffel Towers, rubber duckies, pom-poms, dog collars, movie tickets, pigs made out of yarn. So the prompt was to write about an object–tell the stories or ideas that your chosen object represents.

My object is a gummy worm. Last week, when I went to pick up Ruthie, she came charging towards me with a strange, lopsided gallop. Usually, I get knocked over with a hug, especially on days when she’s particularly good, but on this particular day, she ran towards me and took a knee. And then, my little buddy reached into her shoe, where she’d been “keeping it all day so it’d be safe.” There, in the toe of her baby blue croc, she had been hiding a plastic baggie containing a single yellow and red gummy worm. She proudly handed me the baggie, proclaiming, “I sabed it for you, Mommy! All day I sabed it for you! It’s a treat for you for being so good.” Her little eyebrows arched with the seriousness of what she was saying. Of course, I had no choice but to take the treat from her with a wide, affirming smile. “Go ahead, Mom, you can eat it.” So I did. It was very warm. I didn’t really think much about it until the teacher told me, with the worm half-eaten in my watery mouth, that she’d had it in her shoe since they received goody bags that morning. Mid-chew I realized that I was consuming a worm which had endured the playrgound, the toddlers’ bathroom, naptime, lunch, and all of the super-yuck places that toddlers put their feet. Then, having made the decision to not-think about where this worm had been, I swallowed. Hard. With my eyes shut.”Thank you, baby. That was, er, delicious.”

So much of parenting requires an iron gut and a painted smile. There are so many things you have to do has a parent: maintain a calm and even voice, place your screaming-squirming-kicking-thrashing toddler on her “angry spot” with a stoic face and a gentle grip, create a dinner out of nothing at the end of a 12-hour day. Being an adult is not so glamorous or powerful-feeling as I’d always thought it would be. I never thought I’d find myself standing, in a dress and heels, consuming candy from my child’s shoe.





“I didn’t even guess that I was happy”

17 06 2009

There is this wiggle-shimmy-dance-thing that I do whenever I am enjoying what I’m eating. It’s subconscious. I never knew I did it until I caught Ruthie doing it one day across the dinner table from me. We were positively inhaling sugared strawberries from a bowl between us. She started wiggling her little booty on the seat and shimmying her shoulders, her mouth closed in the shape of mmmmmmm. Even now, I can remember the way those strawberries felt so cold and so new on my tongue; the way they bled that sweet, pink syrup; the way they melted into the insides of my cheeks.

Today, as I sit down to write, I catch myself doing that dance of satiation. Why? Because I have three glorious hours of quiet writing time spread out before me like an empty glass lake. Because ever since I woke up this morning, my mouth won’t stop smiling and my toes won’t stop bouncing in time with the music I’ve been listening to. Because my coffee is the perfect temperature. Because today, I am my friend.

Mornings like this make me wish I were a poet, which I am not. So I’ll share a few lines from the poem that captured my attention this morning. Linda Pastan, in her poem “The Happiest Day,” writes

I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.





PJ Rides

15 06 2009
Ruthie touches the wind.

Ruthie touches the wind.

My Saturday morning begins with the heavy sounds of Ruthie barging down the short  hallway that joins our rooms, still half-asleep, blanket and bear in tow, her hair teased a solid four inches out from her head by what I call sleep-traveling. She’s almost always smiling, proud of herself for spending the night alone and happy to be jumping into my bed, where she not-so-patiently waits for her chocolate milk as I fumble for the remote control. Once I get the t.v. on, I can usually steal a few kisses on her forehead, right along her hairline, which has the sweetest smell I’ve ever known.

Every morning, she has two chocolate milks. On Saturdays, I let her drink the first one at home, then we go to Starbucks for the second. This past Saturday, we loaded up at the wee hour of 6:40-something to make our weekly coffee schlep: Ruthie wearing panties and a chocolate milk stained butterfly t-shirt my parents bought her at the zoo when she was less than a year old, me in my pajama pants and Hanes tagless undershirt. Neither of us had on shoes. I picked her up and thunked her into her car seat, buckled her in (so she wouldn’t “go to jail”), and tucked her blanket in real tight around her legs. With Allison Krauss playing and the windows rolled down, we crept out of the driveway. I caught Ruthie’s eyes in the rear view mirror to see her mouth pulled into a tight smile that only children in a state of heightened anticipation can manage. As we picked up speed down the street, she squealed, “We’re goin’ on anudder PJ ride, aren’t we, Mom? Only girls go on PJ rides, huh?” She laughed and laughed from her gut and so did I. In Alabama there aren’t many days when the air feels cool on your skin, but on this Saturday morning in June, the air felt delicious. We spent the rest of the drive in awed silence, both of us with a hand out “touching the wind,” as Ruthie put it.

Until Ruthie gave it a name, I hadn’t really thought of our PJ rides as a ritual––they were just what we did. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about rituals, how they’re made, and why they’re so comforting. At what point does one aspect of a daily routine begin to shape itself into a ritual? What’s the difference between a ritual and a routine? Why are rituals so satisfying? And what are they satisfying?

So I picked up an old friend (Robert Fulghum’s From Beginning to End: The Rituals of our Lives) and began reading. Again. Here’s what he says:

To be human is to be religious.
To be religious is to be mindful.
To be mindful is to pay attention.
To pay attention is to sanctify existence.

Rituals create sacred time.
Sacred time is the dwelling place of the Eternal.
Haste and ambition are the adversaries of sacred time.

When I think of the word ritual, I think of churches and candles and chanting or reciting words that I don’t understand. Fulghum’s interpretation of the word is so comforting to me because it’s so personal. In a sense, we make our own rituals out of the things that we do on a regular basis, out of the routines and habits that structure our daily lives. Having a three-year-old around makes it much easier to recognize sacred moments when they happen, because three-year-olds are mindful. Always.





Sink or Swim… Er, Float

11 06 2009

Ruthie with cute, pink, ruffled floaties.

Ruthie floating not-on-her-own. Notice the cuteness. And the pinkness. And the ruffles. Oh, the ruffles!

Last Sunday, Ruthie and I, along with a very dear friend, broke into a local neighborhood pool while its patrons were at church. Thankfully, there was only one family there, and they were lounging at an angle that would allow us (and by “us,” I mean my dear friend) to inconspicuously jiggle the gate in just the right way with just the right amount of pressure so that it would open without the key. Once I saw the gate swing open, we plowed through and set up camp in a nice, shady corner where we could eat lunch.

Ruthie loves the pool, but I’m trying to break her into her floaties this year and have been, thus far, unsuccessful. I’ve gone to great lengths to find cute, pink ones; they even have a ruffle. She’ll put them on and wear them in the baby pool, on the steps of the big pool. She even ate lunch with them on. But she won’t let them hold her up. I’ve tried coaxing her to simply stand on the third step and lift her feet, I’ve tried luring her out into the middle of the pool with motor boat sounds and bubbles, but always she is stubbornly resistant to the very notion of using the floaties to FLOAT! I finally got her to let me hold her in the pool and drag her around with her arms out “like an angel.” For a solid half hour, I pushed and pulled her all over the pool, but as soon as she felt my grip loosen, she’d freak out and pull her arms down to her sides. Which made her sink. Which made her swallow water. Which made her even more fierce in her determination to not let me go. I even tried just pulling away real fast, but she had a death grip on my index fingers and I didn’t have the heart to rip them away. All I could think of was that swim teacher who told me to swim to him and kept walking backwards, all the way down the pool. I thought I was going to drown. When I tried to pull away from Ruthie, her face had the look of sheer terror that must have come over my own face when that jerk wouldn’t stand still.

I wanted her to see that she could trust the floaties, that they would keep her up. Having seen tons of kids her age positively leaping into other pools that I’ve high-jacked this summer, only to bob right back up to the surface with those floaties sticking up out of the water. I thought kids just knew that floaties would keep them up. While I can remember being afraid to swim, I can’t ever remember being afraid to float. The problem is that Ruthie has no confidence in her floaties. Her refusal to rely on them to help her float actually makes her sink. In order for them to work, she has to kind of relax into them. But because it’s new and scary, her whole body tenses up at the possibility of me letting go, she jerks her arms down, and her head goes under.

This whole experience struck me as somehow significant and metaphorical, but I couldn’t quite pin it to anything until I came across this passage from Oswald Chambers:

Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing… Certainty is the mark of the common sense life, gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all of our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness; it should rather be an expression of breathless anticipation.

And brilliant E.L. Doctorow insight  that Anne Lamott quotes in Bird by Bird:

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

I, like Ruthie, am on the cusp, the brink, the brim of lots of unknowables. I have a new job in a new school system teaching a grade that I haven’t been with in over four years. In recent months, I have experienced tremendous changes in my personal life as well. I have no idea what my life will look like in the fall, or even in, say, July. For the past six weeks, my shoulders have been in knots and I often catch myself holding my breath for no particular reason. I am tense because my life is new, different, and, well, scary.  When things seem out of control to me, my tendency is to run straight through as fast as I can. This tends to send my life spinning even more out of control. And so, as I quelled the frustration that I felt at Ruthie’s resistance to letting go and trusting the floaties, I realized that I may need to do the very same thing in my own life: trust more and fight less.

Ruthie resigns to the baby pool (with ponies, because ponies make everything more Fashionable, and thereby, more fun.)

Ruthie resigns to the baby pool (with ponies, because ponies make everything more Fashionable, and thereby, more fun.)

Ruthie never did float on her own in the big pool. She resigned to the baby pool, where she kept her floaties on and bobbed around like a little shrimp. That is until she confessed that she needed to go “poopee” (however you spell that) and we realized that you have to have a freaking key to get into the bathrooms. It was nap time anyways.





Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Doing

11 06 2009

Sun Belt has begun, and, as in years past, it has been all-consuming, exhausting, and exhilarating. We have a nice mix of folks in the room this year from all parts of the education spectrum: elementary teachers, secondary teachers, English teachers, Social Studies/History teachers, media specialists, a principal. Every year, the first week surprises me. There is so much getting-ready and cutting-through-red-tape that by the time the first day rolls along, I am pretty well spent. But by the second day, I am looking forward to the third and the fourth days. Teaching is a lonely profession–– you spend all day in a room with students, which leaves very little time for collaboration and conversation with adults. I never realize how isolating it can be until the first day of Institute. That first day is like a slingshot into teacher heaven, where there is thinking that you can see, where there are conversations that are full of the kind of energy that comes from being understood, where there is tangible evidence of the integrity of our profession. I spent an hour after everyone left on Monday crouched over a green piece of butcher paper, armed with tempera paint, and in that hour, I got that tingly feeling that you get when you’re where you know you’re supposed to be. I really believe that the Writing Project is magic, and I’m happy to be a part of that magic these next three weeks.

So, if you’re wondering what exactly we do for three weeks, check out our blog: Sun Belt 2009.





Super Fruity

31 05 2009

grocery shopping

Fruit selection is not my strong point when it comes to grocery shopping. Bananas especially stress me out. I feel like they’re always either all green or beginning to turn brown, and I can never gauge how long it will take for my bananas to spoil, which attracts those annoying hovering fruit flies that take me days to get rid of. I see these people at the grocery store who can just walk up to a bunch of bananas and stick them in their carts with a sneer of confidence on their faces, like ha! how bout these bananas, bitch! It takes me a good two to three minutes to figure out which bananas will work for me. Sometimes, when I notice a person who takes the time to sniff and kind of squeeze peaches or lemons or whatever, I’ll go behind them, careful not to pick up the ones that they put back. All of my own sniffing, squeezing, and general fruit fondling leaves me feeling kind of pervy and ridiculous since my own fruit selection is completely arbitrary. Aside from, you know, avoiding apples with severe bruising, I just pick the prettiest ones. The trickiest part about fruit selection is that they trick you with their tricky fruit and vegetable lighting that enhances the greens and oranges and yellows to make them look all luscious until you get them home. And then there’s the worst trick of all: the strawberries that are moldy on the inside of the crate, but all red and smelly-good (as Ruthie would say) on the outside. That fuzzy stuff totally gives me the creeps. I wind up double bagging it and taking it out to the garbage. Sick. 

Ruthie loves fruit, so I usually wind up making several trips to the grocery store each week just for fruit. Yesterday I was doing my little banana routine (analyze the entire selection, pick one up, turn it over, put it back, reach for one then change my mind, rip three off of a group of five, put those back, finally grab some random bunch of three or four and walk off in a huff), when it struck me how much parenting is like picking out fruit. No matter how much I know about it, no matter how many times I see people do it, I find myself doing with Ruthie what I so often do with the bananas and all of my arbitrary fruit selection in general. You can’t ever be prepared for what you’re going to have to deal with, and whatever it is that you’re going to do, however you’re going to handle it, you can’t take more than a few seconds to make up your mind or all hell breaks loose. And the most difficult things to handle are usually the simplest. Topics like death or illness or male/female genitalia or basic hygene or, I don’t know, body image can leave you so dumbfounded that you wind up explaining something with the pitiful refrain that left you insatiable as a small child as well: “because that’s the way it is.” This phrase is the equivalent of my huffy grab at a random bunch of bananas because I’m sick of trying to figure out which ones will last longest and taste best. Why does Sam tee-tee standing up? Because he has a penis. Why? Because he’s a boy. Why is he a boy? Because he is! And there you are, with your bunch of green bananas that will never ripen in time for you to eat them in one hand, and your toddler in the grocery cart mulling over the word penis, which will probably have to be explained to her again once you get home at about the same time you realize that you just bought a bad bunch of bananas AGAIN.





“To fight aloud, is very brave”

30 05 2009

There is nothing more irresistible to me than a bookstore on Saturday morning. I spent the better part of an hour at Books A Million this morning, roving the shelves, armed with a cup of coffee. I get lost in the titles and the covers and the sheer number of books. Getting lost is something I’ve been very keen on this past year. I can’t ever quite tell what will make me lose myself until I’m doing it. I positively swam through the store, hanging on as many words (that were not mine) as I could. It was a relief, to read and not to write or to think of writing. For the past year, I’ve thought of nothing but writing, but I have written virtually nothing. Meandering through that space crowded with words meant to incite, capture, invoke me, the reader, I could feel my shoulders loosen and my stance shift. My knees grew bendier and I rested on my joints. My face became open, and I began to craft some writing in my mind. While I would normally rush somewhere to put it on the paper before the words left me, I tried to relax into the words, repeating them over and over. And then I came across the Dickinson poem that is the title of this post, and the words became cemented in my mind. I left with six books and the resolve to write. Something. Today.

I came home, put on some music, then decided against it and opened the windows, and began reading my earlier posts. I didn’t realize I began this venture two years ago, when Ruthie was only 18 months old. My third or fourth post (Taking the Long Way) speaks to the way I feel now. And it occurred to me that my life is terribly, wonderfully recursive. I keep coming back to the same places, and each time I revisit them, I am a little stronger, a little braver, a little older. I am trying now, even as I type this, to be okay with the possibility of coming off as a complete fool. I am also trying not to write what might be considered a bit of an over-share without compromising any of the truth of what has led me to the key board today. The truth is that I am exactly where I was two years ago, only less afraid and more alone. Scared and alone are two of the shittiest aspects of the human condition, if you ask me. And I am always both. But today, as I sifted through those titles and browsed the books I had selected, it occurred to me that everyone is scared and everyone feels alone (which, of course, is why it’s a part of the human condition and not the Whitney condition). All of my favorite things–- books, films, music, art –-capture those two features of what it means to be human. It is a painful condition, the human one. Which is why I found myself in the bookstore today, seeking a connection, through language, to humanity. Which is why I am writing today, seeking to establish my own connection, in my own words, to humanity. 

I’m finally reading The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, as per Emma Bolden’s recommendation. At the very beginning, Anna, the person who keeps the notebooks that she (unsuccessfully) divides herself into, has an insight that I can’t stop thinking about. It is during a conversation with her best friend that Anna has this sort of epiphany:

But now, sitting with Molly talking, as they had so many hundreds of times before, Anna was saying to herself: Why do I always have this awful need to make other people see things as I do? It’s childish, why should they? What it amounts to is that I’m scared of being alone in what I feel. (Lessing, 10)

It is this thought that has kept me from writing through the past year. When I write, my thoughts are permanent and vulnerable, pulsing under the lens of my readers’ discerning eyes. If I simply think my thoughts, then they are mine, and mine alone, and I have no way of knowing whether or not I am alone in those thoughts. When I put my ideas and experiences into writing, then I risk knowing that I am alone in my thinking. But with that risk comes the possibility of being affirmed and understood. It is with hope and trepidation that I continue to write, even now, when there is so much at stake (namely, myself).