Small, Frivolous Things

There are probably a lot of things we don’t know about each other, things we keep from one another. Things we omit when discussing ourselves, even when talking with good friends over vodka martinis or bottles of Bud. At least, this is what life is like for me now, as a grown person.

However, I remember a time when there were no secrets among friends.

When I was say 12 or 13, my best friends knew everything from my obsession over Corey Hart (I wear my sunglasses at night, anyone?) to my deepest fantasy of someday marrying Chris Avery, a soccer player on my brother’s school team. My friends knew I loved Cathy but that her tendency to talk too much really bothered me. They knew that my sixth grade history teacher grated on my nerves and bored me to tears. They knew that I hated Red Rover because of that one girl in PE who was much too rough and would leave your arms burning.

As we get older, however, we talk less about those tiny, mundane secrets, especially about those girlhood fantasies and obsessions, but they are still there. For instance, I have one or two female celebrities that I swoon over sometimes. I want their hair or their figure or their cool sense of style. This might sound surprising, but it’s true. Somewhere inside, I am still 13 and possibly, for good.

Much of the time, however, this part of me is hidden or buried. I don’t want to admit to myself or the world that I’d love to spend an hour reading Cosmo or Vogue. Because I am not supposed to allow myself such frivolity. I mean, I am a college professor, and that stuff doesn’t look good on a resume: hobbies include cutting out pictures for my manifestation board, watching HGTV, and obsessing over Michelle Williams’ latest movies and haircuts. Not so impressive.

But I think these things are oh so necessary. For me, and maybe for you, these moments of perusing through knee level fashion boots and drooling over a house makeover (and for under $500) brings a sense of sanity. It’s these tiny, mundane things in the world that help me forget my troubles. And if you read my last post, you can glean that troubles are sometimes as sharp and biting as the Big Bad Wolf’s pearly white teeth.

I am allowing myself – and you – to get lost in something ridiculous or meaningless. To spend some time perusing the Internet for Game of Thrones paraphernalia (or fill in any fetish you want here). You are allowed to search for the perfect fabric for your favorite arm chair. You are allowed to read sci-fi and romance novels.

You are allowed to “let the soft animal of your body/ love what it loves,” as Mary Oliver tells us in her cherished poem, “Wild Geese.”

It’s really OK. I won’t tell. In fact, maybe we can meet over a cold one and go over the hottest hairstyles together.

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I am going to start this post by saying that some days I am so effin tired of being 40-something. I know this is a time when the nation is drowning in flood waters, contemplating the creation of fallout shelters, and watching our hero in chief stare directly at a solar eclipse, long enough to have photos taken of him pointing at the effin sun. But today, I need to discuss some personal stuff cause I have had it up to here.

It’s just that kind of day. A day for bourbon and profanity. On the rocks with a little ginger, damn it.

I have read all kinds of articles about 40 being the new 30 and all that Hollywood Hallmark stuff. In some ways, I will say, this decade has proven to be golden. One cares so much less about seeking approval. One only has time for folks who are fellow tribe members or for those who can make fun of Pinterest. One doesn’t need to sew Halloween costumes or paint Pokemon in frosting on birthday cakes. Cause, why?

In recent months, however, it keeps occurring to me more and more how many darker aspects lie beneath the surface of this supposedly amazing time of life. And here are some of them:

  1. A slowing metabolism
  2. The inevitability of bifocals
  3. The actual need for a mole doctor
  4. Annual mammograms – what’s the opposite of yowza!?
  5. The fact your 20-year-old students don’t get your references to Back to the Future or Tina Turner pop songs
  6. It’s mostly just men in their 50’s and 60’s who eye you in the produce section (no offense to anyone)
  7. The ability to see through so much shit (although at first positive, over time this lessens faith in your fellow humans)
  8. There really is no sense of style – clothes often feel too young or too old
  9. Certain parts of the body are in constant revolt – leaving you with chronic pain of one kind or another
  10. And the last one. The worst one. Aging parents.

So it took me a minute to get to the most important one. Maybe you are 40-something too and you were waiting for this one. Or perhaps you were taken off guard thinking this piece was simply humorous. If the latter is true for you, I apologize.

You see, there is so much great stuff about aging, but it’s complicated and tarnished by the fact that your parents are aging too. While you might be in the relative prime of your life, despite resenting there isn’t one retail store that gets you, every so often, there’s another call about some doctor’s diagnosis. Then, there’s dread and doom and gloom. A long period of Purgatory, where you know nothing and feel numb to any possible outcome. Then, there’s the relief stage, when you’re thanking God for her many blessings.

Until, another effin call comes. It’s only a matter of time, you see. This time, it could be about the same very person who was declared cancer free. It feels endless, a constant grind of conflicting emotions that one has to hold inside one very small body (I mean, maybe not as small as it was ten years ago, but…).

So right now, I am telling 44 to go screw herself. She is the easiest target and is used to the manic-depressive person dragging her like a rag doll one minute and squeezing her with affection the next.

How can so much great discovery about oneself be accompanied with so many constant reminders that life is going to end? Not only that, but that you will be parent-less one day, and that one day was never supposed to come this soon. There needs to be more time. More time for Thanksgiving pie, for beachside sand castle creations, for shared laughter and political discussions, rants, and arguments. There needs to be “more,” as the late Amy Rosenthal says in her heartbreaking essay You May Want to Marry My Husband.

Can I just have more? More time before I get to the dog-eared pages of my book, the ones that I am unaware of, but are coming. The chapters that will arrive when there is no “more” with those people whom I love. When I will have to redefine the word as I know it and fill in those future chapters without it.

Eclipse

This was it. The week of the solar eclipse, coinciding with the first day of the fall semester for me. I spent much of the hours during the actual event feeling full of static, as if I might literally be fading in and out on the world screen, if there were such a thing. I was one leg in and one leg out of time and space.

In the worlds of tarot, astrology, and such, a solar eclipse is said to be a shift, a time to wipe something clean or take a new direction. Within the Christian tradition, we could liken a solar eclipse to Easter, a time of resurrection and renewal. Certain Navajo Indians believe that the sun dies during an eclipse. In fact, the whole event is sacred for Navajos; they cancel all activities and stay indoors for the entire three-hour duration. I love this tradition, but I was not part of it. Instead, I was one of those clamoring to get a glimpse of the “once in a lifetime” event, which seems typical of us non-native Americans, doesn’t it?

But boy, it was pretty cool, I have to say. I took my students outside with my homemade eclipse viewer in hopes of catching a glimpse of something, anything resembling an eclipse. I, sheepish and nervous; they, blind sheep, following me out to a possible slaughter. At least, this was the look some of them had in their eyes.

Given that my homemade view box seemed faulty, I could have been caught looking completely idiotic. When alas, a fellow coworker came out with his solar eclipse eye glasses, still encased in plastic. I was saved, and we all got to experience the “once in a lifetime” phenomenon.

For some reason, that same afternoon or evening, I came across a Facebook post from an old friend/boyfriend. Why he had even connected with me on Facebook, I was never quite clear. Other than, he must have a different memory of our history than I do. Then again, don’t you have those people who experienced your relationship like they were on the sun, and you, the moon? Like you lived for years in separate rooms, even when together?

The retelling of our lengthy shared history would be interesting, I imagine, a lot like the movie, He Said/She Said, which is an old nineties film, half of which is told from the perspective of a woman and the other half from her ex-boyfriend. As you can imagine, it’s pure comic genius, as the stories unfold entirely differently.

So, on the day of the eclipse, I decided to unfriend this person whom I thought I had unfriended years ago. After all, why should we allow someone to loiter in our cyber space when we technically broke up with them (friend or flame) for a reason. Relationships end, and that’s absolutely OK.

Despite the passage of so much time and the fact that I am in a marriage with a man I love dearly, it felt like I was wiping this person clean from me, once again. Like I was saying, “No, you don’t get to live in my little pond and feed off the algae, little fish. Swim along. You were a good fish, for a while, but my tank can no longer hold you.”

My tank, in fact, can hold far fewer fish than ever these days.

Whether or not the timing of my Facebook cleansing was due to the eclipse, I feel renewed and empowered, and I am remembering how many things in life I still do, at age 44, that I don’t want to do. I am remembering how many people I do not care for that I still let linger in my universe, even if it’s just in cyber space. All of these little things we do chip away at our strength, at our self-worth, and even at the good relationships we have.

Any bit of psychic energy that the old flame was getting from me when I “scrolled into” his family photos and status updates was valuable energy that I need to sustain life on my planet. It was valuable attention that could have been put toward a much better cause.

Perhaps the moon needed to come closer, so I could see her a little better. So she could come between me and those things that blind me. “Rub away that damn spot,” she said. Scrub a dub dub.

 

 

 

 

Tending Fires

It’s been a while, friends. Glad to be here. I could tell you all the reasons why I have been unable to write here lately, but you already know. After all, we are all in this thing of life together. Life’s many demands always ebbing and flowing around us and between us.

If you read those few entries about my cleanse, thank you. I know not everyone can relate to diet changes and extreme 30-day challenges. I know because I was (am?) like that, too. I have never been an extremist about anything really, but I am also realizing the hypocrisy of this belief. For instance, I write about “not trying too hard” because working too hard at anything, whether it’s cooking meatballs or grading an essay, can lead us crashing into an iceberg. I remind nice folks like you that trying too hard causes things to break down; we over spice; we inundate a person with too much information, so that our helpful feedback goes sinking to the bottom of the ocean. And so on.

But my default approach to life is, in truth: to try too hard. Until, at some point, my neck muscles stiffen into tight ropes and my focus scatters. And there I am, taken by the wind, going down an obsessive path of trying to make something too amazing.

As of late, I have found myself working too hard at amazing while planning for my fall courses. And being reminded by my boss and my dear husband of this.

I am not sure where this is going, but in connection with the despicable events in Charlottesville, I think we can try too hard at having open conversations with those we mentor or care about, be it our children, our students, or even our not-so-open-minded friends. And I certainly don’t know what the right amount is. When it comes to teaching tolerance and to having open conversations about white privilege and white fragility, I am a newbie.

But there certainly is a “fierce urgency of now,” to quote the late, great Martin Luther King, Jr, and I cannot turn away from the call. I have been finding some wonderful essays to get the conversation started at least.

As I go into this semester, feeling emboldened with my decision to tackle race in my two courses, I must remind myself not to wreck the whole damn thing. Kindling a fire takes patience, time, and space for others to enter, to be heard, to figure things out. But if a giant fire can be take shape and stay lit, it’s all so entirely worth the effort.

Gather your sticks. Keep adding more. Do this slowly. Stay with it. You’ll be amazed with how amazing the outcome can be. And if it fails the first three or seven times, try again.

 

 

 

 

Part 2 of Part Deux: Speedboat and Flip Flops

So I promised to extend my last post, which was part two of another post. In actuality, that would make this post part three, but part 2 of part deux seems more apropos.

Today I did that thing that parents of newborns do. Only, I am the parent of not a newborn. In fact, I am the parent of a seven-year-old.

It was no ordinary Saturday morning. It was the morning we had a birthday party to attend for my son’s friend.

So I hurried us out of the house by 12:36 p.m., pushing my son to find his lightning bolt shirt and bathing suit just a little faster – and then even faster (please). I told my mom, who had stayed overnight with us, as she does once a month, she had to leave early. I factored in the exact amount of time we had to stop by the store to buy the necessary cat stuff for the donation to the animal shelter. Speaking of, do most people notice how many parents ask for donations to charities in lieu of presents? (We don’t do this, however. I am not on top of it enough to figure out which charity we’re to be donating said gifts to. Therefore, I end up feeling like a failure of a parent before and during every birthday party we attend while twenty children run around eating cake.)

Moving on…. We arrive to the nature center at 1:25 p.m., five minutes early. I am never five minutes early. But to this party, I was going to be on time. And I was SO on time.

Strangely, however, I saw none of Asher’s friends piling out of their own cars in the two neighboring sleeves of parking allotted for both eager and reluctant parents and birthday party attendees.

No one we knew climbed the ladders on the playground; strange children and unfamiliar thirty and forty-somethings dotted the landscape, pulling tiny hands along behind them.

I could keep going. I could tell you how we walked into the actual building where the snakes, spiders, and lizards are housed in glass cages. How we took in a brief breath of cool air conditioning before realizing the joint was practically empty.

I could tell you how for the third time in two days I pulled up the God forsaken Evite and how for the very first time, the date staring back at us in bold font stated Sunday, August 06. Sunday. August 6. Oh. I see. It all makes sense now. When did the date change? What gives?

Now, I am going to bring this all back to that God forsaken cleanse about which I was writing a few days ago and ten days before that. The cleanse meant to purify mind and body, a diet carefully and meticulously excluding any bread, cheese, butter, yogurt, granola, chocolate, pasta (not even rice pasta), or alcohol (oops). I could remind you how I am tired of cleansing and how I feel like I am attempting a trip to Mecca, crossing oceans on a speed boat, trudging through sandy deserts wearing flip flops and a bikini. But it’d be silly to compare a simple restrictive diet for a specified amount of time (30 days to be exact) to a religious trek requiring tremendous resilience and dedication.

But it’d also be stupid to show up to a birthday party on the wrong day. Which means I am definitely going to tell you that I am done with my religious quest through the dessert. Did I just write dessert? 🙂

 

(P.S. I can’t wait to write my third/fourth and possibly final update once this is over, including pictures of amazing – even if simple – dishes we’ve cooked. I have actually become a better cook through all of this. Au revoir!)

 

My Accidental Cleanse (part deux)

The glory of this cleanse thingy has definitely worn off. In fact, in moments, I feel like I am fasting for Ramadan. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with fasting for Ramadan. In fact, I think it’s quite admirable. But I am not sure I have the strength to keep fasting. I suppose, however, if Elizabeth Warren persisted, then by-golly, I will too.

Another perspective that’s just as real and true is that I am feeling stronger and more radiant than under normal circumstances. I have moments wherein I catch myself in the mirror, and I am shocked to see the youthful glow and slightly sunken cheeks. Cutting out sugar of any kind, dairy, and gluten can do that for a girl (or someone of any gender).

But in the past few days, more often than not I have felt stripped down to bare rawness. My patience is running thin with everyone I love. My running practice is dragging in the mud. If cleansing is anything like a true fast, then the path to enlightenment is bitter-tasting.

Krista Bremer, a recent favorite of mine, writes about this in her award-winning essay, “My Accidental Jihad,” from The Sun magazine. (She scored a memoir that is loosely based on her essay, too, and it’s wonderful.) In the essay, Krista describes her Muslim husband’s annual fast during Ramadan and her own experiences during these time periods. One of the surprising facts she mentions is that Ramadan is not nearly as marvelous a time as she imagined it would be. Instead of coming home to her husband sitting in lotus pose with flowers tucked behind his ears and the house smelling of sweet incense, she comes home to a man who is at his wit’s end, to someone who has little patience and energy. To someone whose breath is so foul, she turns away from him in bed at night.

Enlightenment is anything but pretty or serene. The actual work is anything but. This holds true for any endeavor requiring endurance, whether it be running a marathon, writing an essay, planting a garden, building a career or a marriage….. In fact, the path seems to require the dirtiest work imaginable. It requires bareness, rawness, and perhaps weeks of bad breath. It sometimes requires going without sugar in your coffee and cheese on your burger, too.

I promise to expand upon this post another time this week, but for now, the following quote by Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet, seems a fitting way to end: “The same lute that soothes your spirit was hollowed by knives.”

The Cleanse, Part I

Sometimes we find ourselves in an inexplicable phase of “leveling up.” I blame Trump. Just kidding. But in all seriousness, since the beginning of this year, I have been stretching myself to do more and be more, in ways that have seemed difficult or impossible in the past. I’ve witnessed other friends, both near and far, making big life changes as well.

So perhaps there is something about being faced with evil that kicks us all into action. After all, the Death Star is not going to destroy itself. The God of War isn’t going to go down easily. (Couldn’t help but throw in a Wonder Woman reference.)

On a related note, my husband and I are going on two weeks of the Whole 30 diet, which is more accurately a food “cleanse.” Eric has been a total purest with the program, while I have taken a few missteps here and there. If you don’t know what Whole 30 is, you might think it’s a form of unnecessary torture since eating sugar, dairy, and grains (just to name the big ones) are all off limits. Oh, did I mention alcohol? I’ve slipped almost every day with the last one. It’s hard to explain how emotionally attached we are to food and wine/beer until we start cutting these things out. As you may know, I “suffer” from what could be considered chronic anxiety, so allowing a beer or even a half a beer at night when I am already going without dessert, bread, sweet creamer for my coffee, and cheese seems forgivable. Sue me.

This emotional attachment to food that has been written about in Whole 30 recipes books and information, is no joke. Maybe you know this already. Maybe I am preaching to a choir of folks who have been there and done that, but facing my emotional attachment to peanut butter (no legumes either) and chocolate has been truly eye-opening. I have had moments of raw irritation and tears for no rational cause. I have have had days where I struggle to get off the couch and others where I could challenge the Road Runner to a sprint down the block. I am a mess. Go figure. I didn’t need Whole 30 to know that, I suppose.

So what’s the big deal? What’s all the fuss? Why should I subject myself to intense mood swings and shifts in energy level?

I think I am figuring it out. It’s like running, actually. I never knew I’d be able to run a mile or two without coughing up a lung. I didn’t know my body could adjust to constant pushing; I thought it might collapse underneath the master’s whip.

A segment on NPR’s On Being, called “Running as Spiritual Practice” reinforces my own experience. In this episode, wherein a number of runners talk about how they started running and the discipline and stillness the practice has brought them, one woman runner proclaimed, “Once I learned to run, I wondered what else had I been lying to myself about!” Learning to run had given her a glimpse of what she was made of, that she was capable of accomplishments beyond her wildest dreams. Her own faulty perception of herself began to crumble.

And I think this is it. When we put forth any serious effort, we realize that we are capable of greatness. We are capable of growing and changing. We can actually improve our little selves and our seemingly tiny lives. We can see glimpses into new dimensions, into galaxies once impossibly far and away.