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Posts from January 2009

Writing about Loneliness

At the beginning of class the other day I had my students write in their journals about being lonely. What does it mean to be lonely? When were you lonely? What does it feel like to be lonely? So you don’t think that I am a prying teacher, this is because we are reading Of Mice and Men and loneliness is a pervasive theme in that very sad book.

My students are all 14- or 15-year olds so I would have thought that by this time in their lives they would understand what it means to be lonely. But most of them wrote about being alone, and they certainly did not talk about what loneliness felt like. Most of them wrote that they had been lonely when they were left alone for four hours at home (oh, mom was home, but she doesn’t count), when what they were really talking about was boredom. One kid wrote about getting lost on his way home from a friend’s house in the dark and feeling lonely; of course, he wasn’t lonely, he was scared. One boy wrote about how he and his friends were hanging out together and only his girlfriend wasn’t there, so he felt lonely; this, it seems, is jealousy and not loneliness. Are kids so un-self-aware? Do they not even recognize what it feels like to not have anyone who understands what they are experiencing? Not having someone with whom to exchange ideas? Not having someone who “gets” them? Not having someone whose company they can take for granted?

There were a few who got it, especially the military kids who have moved so often that every three or four years they must revert to being the new kid at school walking in the loneliness of knowing no one in a building with hundreds of people. But the other kids, there was no real cognition of what it means to be lonely, which makes me think that perhaps they really don’t know what it is to be lonely. Perhaps they are so busy with their I-whatevers, and texting, and Facebook that they are never alone—they really don’t know what it means to be lonely. And even if they are physically alone, they have so many avenues to “call up” people and “meet” people, that the sinking feeling of being the only person in the universe to be so devoid of company never hits them. Even the least gregarious of children can find company somewhere.

Which makes me wonder: If these children never let themselves step outside of the hustle and bustle of interactions, do they know what it feels like to be themselves? Are their very minds being wired to only operate within a group? Can these kids be individuals?

Me, the woman who has known loneliness create a cavity of separation that all unknowingly step around, thinks that this is not good. From the depth of solitude (which is certainly an aspect of loneliness) so many thoughts finally have a chance to bubble up. Thoughts that aren’t able to come to fruition amidst the clatter of conversation. How can thoughts rise like dough if you haven’t even added flour? If you haven’t had the opportunity to have a thought that isn’t just in reaction to what someone else said or did, then what creativity and innovations can come to you? And if your life is always lived in company, or seeking company, then when do you have time to expand your understanding of yourself? Empathy is good, but how can you truly feel for someone else if you don’t even recognize yourself?  
But someone else, not me, who is forward thinking may see that perhaps society—people—will be able to create a better society, a more successful society than the one we have now that is always warring and contentious and competitive and grasping and materialistic. Perhaps this converging of selves might point to a society evolving, and not one that is devolving. Perhaps.

It’s still disconcerting that they don’t recognize that alone, lonely, scared, bored, and jealous are not the same thing. Truly, any society needs citizens who are introspective, at least to recognize what it feels like to be human. And to say that to be sad, happy, or lonely are the only emotions you recognize from within surely reflects paucity of thought.  

Lesson Plan for Monday: discuss emotions.

Peace Work

The last company I worked for in Israel (and the one that relocated me and my family to the US a mere nine months before the high-tech bubble went POP! and POP! went my job) showcased cooperation between Arabs and Moslems and Israelis a lot better than the students in my graduate program in Conflict Studies, and certainly better than the current situation in Gaza and Israel showcases.

The company was an Israeli-based company with an office in Virginia. If I remember correctly, in the US office there was one Saudi (he was the vice president), three Afghani, one Dane, five Americans, and four Israelis (one of whom was the president and CEO). I’m sure I’m forgetting some people, but that is the core that I remember. And the company that produced the give-aways and tee-shirts for us was run by a Palestinian/Jordanian.

Granted, we never discussed politics and discussions were mostly work related. But if there had been any animosities between people, any simmerings of political or religious stew, they certainly would have come up in our interactions in our interminable meetings round the conference table, but they never did. It was always relaxed; we had some very good times around that very big conference table. We used to play word games, because, honestly, how much can you talk about Next Generation software and hardware? We were all hoping that together we could ride the high-tech boom to financial success for all. I mean why not work together if there is a tangible result you are all working towards, and one that has such great potential for all? We had our stock options, we had our hopes, and we had to trust in each other.

And there is the (okay, a) key. We weren’t working together because we had funding from some NGO (non-governmental organization) to foster cooperation between Arabs and Israelis, or to see how well Jews and Moslems get along once they get to know the individual and get beyond stereotyping the unknown “other.” We were working together not because of the group we were identified as belonging to, but rather we were individuals with the talents and skills that we brought to the table. We were each there, Jew, Christian, Moslem—and we thrived (relatively, we did go bust after all)—because we were not there as individuals who identified with certain religious and national groups, but as individuals whose identity was just a part of what determined who we became as individuals. Our identity was all the things that made us who we were, we were not typecast. 

Continue reading "Peace Work" »

A Divorce Story for Parents and Children

The following is a story that I wrote. At first I thought I would write a story about divorce for parents to read to their children. But as I was writing the story I realized that it's more for parents to read to themselves. This story is also posted at StoryRhyme. I would like to thank JC for encouraging me to write children's stories and for publishing them; I encourage you to go to her site and read her original children's stories--and her blog.

* * *

When Corinna’s parents yell at each other, she goes into her room, closes the door and listens to music, or she goes to her best friend Megan’s house. Corinna doesn’t like to listen when her father says mean things to her mother, and when her mother cries and tells her father to stop and yells at him when he doesn’t stop. And he never stops, even when her mother goes into her room and slams the door. It hurts Corinna too much to listen to her parents. Why can’t they be nice to each other?

It hurts as much as it hurts when her teacher tells her that she’s doing something wrong in class, because she hates when something she does is not right.

It hurts to hear her parents yell as much as it hurts when she and her sister fight. But maybe her parents yelling hurts even more because she knows that she and her sister, Amanda, will make up and be talking to each other again, and watching TV together again, and borrowing shirts again. But her parents, they don’t make up, they just stop fighting, until they start fighting again.

They never say sorry for the things they say to each other. They never say sorry for raising their voices at each other. They never say sorry for saying bad words. They never say sorry for saying things she and Amanda are not allowed to say.

Sometimes her mother comes up to her room after they fight and says that she’s sorry to her for having to hear them yell. She says that she’s sorry that Corinna has to hear that. But is her mother really sorry? Wouldn’t she stop if she were really sorry? Isn’t that what she has been taught, by her mother?

Continue reading "A Divorce Story for Parents and Children" »

Shopping Trip

What would one mother and two teenage daughters get at Target? 

Silver nail polish, eye liner, mascara, a tank top, a sweater, bikini undies, chapstick, nail files, and hair dye. The ways of a woman's world. Oh, the hair dye is mine, I decided that as much as I enjoy saying I like the gray, I could do with a break from the gray and all that it makes me think about.

Reading List of a Single Parent

In the last week or two I have read the following books:

Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama
Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
Kissing Games of the World, by Sandi Kahn Shelton
Postcards from Berlin, by Margaret Leroy

There is an interesting thread to these books, three of which are novels and one, obviously, a memoir. Obama’s memoir I placed on hold a few days after the election and my turn (I was number 78) finally came about a week ago. Animal Dreams I read about on another blog (sorry I can’t remember where), the other two I found in the New Books section of my library.

First, before analyzing for that thread, I just want to say “Wow” about Barack Obama. Wow that the man who wrote a book that is so self-analytical and contains such an intense degree of honesty, intellect, inquisitiveness, compassion, and openness will become president is truly stunning. He surely is change not only because of his skin color, but also because of his family history, his desire to understand himself and his society, which is both America and the world, and because it truly doesn’t seem to be about him, but about what he can do and inspire and set in motion for the good of us all.

On the critical side of things, I could not finish the book; there is just so much I care to learn about his family and its roots and various contingents. I see no reason to know more about his family tree than my own. The Africa part of the book was more touristy or “these are my roots” than the rest which was more reflective, and, I believe, more insightful and worthwhile reading.  

Now onto those threads. Obama was raised by his mother, at times by his grandparents, and with a step-father for a few years, but, without his biological father’s involvement. The main character in Animal Dreams was raised by her father, her mother having died a few days after giving birth to her younger sister. In Kissing Games of the World there is a single mother, the father was out of the picture when her child was just a few days old; and a man whose father left when he was still very young, whose mother died a few years later, whose wife died when their child was four days old, they, of course, find each other. In Postcards from Berlin there is yet another girl whose father was never in her life, but here the switch is that the mother placed her in a home when she was thirteen and left the country with her new man. My goodness, unbeknownst to me I picked up three books—and read four—that feature aspects of either being a single parent or a child with only one parent, or none.

Continue reading "Reading List of a Single Parent " »

Happy New Year. Unfortunately last year is following me into this year.

It's the first day of the year and already I have run away from home.

He's been in the house for most of the past few days, and today it wasn't enough for him to mutter under his breath when he saw me, he had to act. He started by putting the frying pan I had in the sink soaking where I generally sit at the dining room table. This was done because a few times I moved his pans that he leaves in the sink so that I wouldn’t wash them. I see no reason to clean up after him, and generally I do my dishes right away (I don’t like using the dishwasher), and he is generally not in the kitchen, and the pan needed to soak from the lunch I made for my daughter.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t let it go. So I moved the pan back in the kitchen when he was in the kitchen. He put it back, I put it back again. Then I walked out of the kitchen turning off the lights. At that point he called out that he was going to call the police on me and I realized that it’s futile, stupid, and dumb.

I went to have a shower. He turned off the light leading to the basement. Whatever. And when I left the house I saw that there was a pile of things at my spot at the table. A mini-junk yard. An empty bottle of milk. A tube of toilet paper. And other stuff I couldn’t identify from the distance I was at as I walked out of the house. He probably proceeded to put garbage into the garbage bag that I bought and used the sponge and the dishwashing detergent that I bought when he was all done, pleased with himself. He was even whistling. mr defiant feeling good about himself.

Did you see that Blagojevich outsmarted everyone by appointing someone to become the next Senator from Illinois? Did you notice that it is being called a brilliant move and how, so far, he has stymied everyone who is trying to stop him? mr ex, same thing. These evil little men manage to do what they want because they just don’t care about anyone but themselves and so they find the ways to go around that little inconvenience known as morality because the only morality they know is self-determined.

If we don’t get an offer on the house in two weeks it’s back to the mediator. I need to come up with some ways that I can leave the house, still keep the pressure on to sell the house, not lose my stake in the house, oh, and have my daughters come with me to the hovel to which I decamp. Seriously. Enough already. Rachamim (Hebrew for a cry to "have pity on me already there is just so much that a person can take").

P.S. This morning, the counter next to the sink was full of washed pots and dishes. I put away all the dishes--those that he used cooking and those that I had cleaned. He didn't even have the "decency" to put away his dishes. And me, it's just not a game I want to get further invested in.