“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).

Punctuality: Thief of Time

27 08 2008

He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.” (Oscar Wilde)

Those of you who know me best know that I am habitually late. Despite my best intentions to be on time, to be timely, to be timely and one time, I am not ever timely. Nor am I apt to be on time. Once, as I was passing through the living room from the front door on the way to the kitchen, I caught a Dr. Phil show in which a young woman was being confronted by her friends for her gross disregard for all things time and timeliness. She barely made it to the show on time as a result of her missing the flight to the-city-whose-name-escapes-me-where-Dr. Phil’s-show-is-taped-in-front-of-a-live-studio-audience. Dr. Phil, in his notoriously didactic preacher-man style, used this young woman to illustrate the act of “running late” as one that is purely selfish. The young women laughed it off as a petty crime (as I have done many times myself). But Dr. Phil was insistent: You are selfish! According to Dr. Phil, If you are chronically late then you have no consideration for others, especially those who are waiting, waiting, checking their watches, expecting you to show up, hoping against hope, waiting––on you. Er, me. 

I would argue that I am no more selfish than any punctual specimen. However, I will admit to being ish-y  when it comes to all things time. I have yet to find a way to see my commitments as exact points in time. I am an –ish person. I may not be at work by 7:30, but you can be sure that I will make it by 7:30ish. 

This ishness is experienced as an insurmountable wall separating me from society. I cannot pretend to an a priori knowledge of time. If I were to posit myself within the spacetime continuum, I might be found near the edge of the speed of light with my fingernails dug into the lip of the black hole. If I could just swing my other arm up and out against the strain of the laws of physics, the Kate Spade calendar chirping  of appointments and to-do lists aligned neatly beside crisp depictions of watering cans and galoshes. If I could just claw my way out from under the unopened bills, the receipts, the bank statements, the ungraded papers, the graded papers to be filed, the files to be discarded, the phone numbers scribbled on the back of the Starbucks sleeve found in the backseat of my car. If I could just, if I could only, then I might be able to meet you for coffee this afternoon around 3:00. Let’s call it 3-ish.

“not for a lack of feeling, but for want of words”

15 07 2008

I always say the wrong thing, am always searching for the “right word” to say what I’m trying to say. Countless notebooks with margins filled with more precise words: peripheral, heuristic, illuminate, gaunt, chasm, chimera, phalanx, epoch, reify. It’s not that I don’t know these words. It’s that I am afraid that I will forget them. I want to remember to use them in the moment that they are most apt to convey the meaning I am attempting to convey to the listeners that are, through no fault of their own, perhaps hard of hearing. See? Again. I’m using the word convey twice because I can’t think of a better word or another word that means nearly the same thing. 

According to Bakhtin, “Language is not a medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated–overpopulated–with the intentions of others.” The speaker’s intentions. Can the speaker know her intentions? Joan Didion on writing: “Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write.” Nothing makes me feel more stupid, more inept than language. Few things frighten me more than the slip of tongue that causes me to misuse a word. Most commonly used computer application on my computer: dictionary/thesaurus. Most commonly used? Isn’t there a word for that? 

A note to the reader: The length of this post is inhibited by my lack of language and so I leave you with this wondermous masterpiece that will certainly leave you speechless.

The Great Debate

22 01 2008



I have seen countless talk shows featuring stay-at-home moms vs. working moms. I would have to declare it a draw. Both walks of life have some considerable compromises (which is what entitles us to be named “mom”). For me, I think I chose the right path: that of working mom. Mostly because I lack the patience that stay-at-homers must have. I think we should start calling stay-at-home moms Gladiators. “Stay-at-home” suggests a certain passivity that staying at home with a two year old does not any any shape or form allow.

Yesterday, I spent the day with Ruthie since Adam worked the holiday. I spend the weekends with her all the time, but usually, Adam is there as well… or at least he’s an option if I need to get anything else done. So Ruthie and I vacuumed the living room and the bedrooms together–she with her little Dirt Devil that lights up and makes a strange clicking noise that sounds nothing at all like a vacuum cleaner. Then I took her down to the basement to do the laundry. She threw in the Downy ball and cried when I wouldn’t let her pour in the detergent. We “folded” clothes, which meant that she wadded them up in a ball and I smoothed them out and folded them as she handed them to me.

We went to Party City to buy her “Thomas Birthday,” which wound up being a Dora one since those were the first party goods she saw upon entering the store, causing her to pitch a death-defying fit in the shopping cart. She then wailed when we had to put the Dora balloon in the back behind her seat, insisting on holding the balloon’s hand on the way to the grocery store. We made it out of the grocery store with one more balloon that the clerk insisted on giving her even after I told her we had some in the car. Then we went to Chick-fil-a for lunch, where Ruthie ate 2 and a half nuggets and a few fries before insisting on climbing in the claustrophobic playroom that reminds me of those commercials where bacteria is visible on every surface, writhing in technicolor nastiness. It took her 20 minutes to climb up in her socks, which caused her to slip a lot. I intercepted her as she shot out of the yellow tube and carried her out. Thankfully, she looked up at me and nodded, saying “Time to go now, Mommy.”

Once we got home, I was relieved to see that it was 1:00, nap time. She slept for a total of 25 minutes before she cried hard enough to get her put in the big bed, where she slept soundly for another hour and a half. During this time, I finished cleaning and got ready for her birthday dinner with Adam’s side of the family.

We had pizza (her favorite) for dinner, which she adamantly refused to even entertain the thought of eating. And, finally: CAKE. She would not have a mere slice of cake. Instead, she insisted on dragging her finger along one side of the cake as I deceptively cut pieces from the other side so she would think she was indeed eating the entire cake. She coaxed the icing onto her little spoon, “C’mon blue,” and wiggled with pure satisfaction.

After opening a score of oversized toys that make all kinds of zany and annoying sounds, she finally passed out at 8:30. And I did too.

I’m writing this from work, where I have many similar challenges with less severe personal costs. For instance, if I lose my temper, I am not staining my child’s opinion of me or shaping her idea of how people deal with stress. Rather, I will be blown off as being a tired teacher (a creature rarely conceived of as having any emotive capacity). If I can’t think of something to do next, I just ask the students to read their novels. No problem. At home when I can’t think of what to do next, I put Ruthie in front of Dora and pretend not to feel terribly guilty about it. I have nothing but respect for stay-at-home Gladiators. I admit that I am not one of them. I won’t say I couldn’t be because everytime I say that, I get tested in ways that prove me wrong. I’d rather not be tested right now.

8th grade Monsters

6 11 2007


It’s happened. I have reached that point in the school year where I am mad. A lot. Those of you who teach know that there is a point during every school year when the mood shifts. All of a sudden, these bright, young adolescents who come into my classroom each day become wild ogres whose life-purpose is to torture their teacher.

I just jumped all over my 5th period class. The students trickled in 5 minutes late from P.E. It took them 7 minutes to turn their attention to their bell work after they came in. I watched them laugh and jive in their seats. I watched them throw paper across the room and offer each other a stick of gum or a piece of candy. I watched them silently from the doorway, a hot anger slowly rising to my cheeks. When I finally closed the door–a mild slam really–several of the students noticed and began working, but most of them carried on. I moved across the room to my desk. The conversations around me continued.

“Hey, man. Check this out. Yeah, we did it in wood shop.”

“Ka-CEE! Stop that!” (Kacee popped a rubber bad against her friend’s arm)

“Man, that substitute in Ms. Green’s class sucks. She told Shonda she was stupid. And Shonda was all like, in her face, you know.”

I sat down at the desk. And then I just lost it. “Keep it up, guys. I’m writing down the names of those of you who have failed to begin working on your bell work. Expect your parents to receive a phone call from me this afternoon.”

10 minutes into class, they hop on that bell work like their lives depended on it. Finally. We share some of our sentences (the bell work was a sentence combining activity to get them ready for revising today). So far, so good. Maybe I actually scared them this time.

Then, we move into developing our revision task lists for the day. Okay. One group decided to put Ms. Green on their “to do” list. They marked it out after seeing my eyebrows go up and began composing a more serious list. Things are beginning to move along… until we share our task lists. Now, my students know that if there’s one thing that sends me over the edge, it’s students who don’t listen to each other during share time. Share time is serious business. Share time is sacred. Don’t mess with share time. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. That’s right. Someone messed with share time.

Right now, I am looking over my computer at a host of 8th graders who are diligently copying down their definitions for unit 5 in their Word Skills books. I know, I know. I should have given them a more meaningful punishment than copying definitions, but I was pissed. I hear pages turning, I hear pens scratching out ridiculous, long winded definitions that often times don’t make sense to me. I want to stand up and shout, “I HATE WORKBOOKS!” But I can’t. I have crossed over to the dark side. I may as well be wearing a bun and slapping their desks with a ruler.

Perhaps the 8th grade Monster is me.


31 10 2007

I ate 5 m&m cookies and a chocolate cupcake with whipped cream icing and a candy corn topping for lunch today. Since the pants I am donning right now are already a bit snug, I am anticipating an even more snug fit tomorrow (yes, I sometimes wear the same pants two days in a row–they’re softer and roomier the second go around). I’m considering my weight these days like a weather report.

Ah, hem. Due to the calorie front that swept across the lower portion of your body yesterday, you will be encountering seams that go straight up your ass and buttons that refuse to button in the midsection. Expect to suck in your gut for most of the day and don’t forget to do a few lunges before leaving the house in the morning. Tomorrow’s forecast: tight with a chance of underwear lines.