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Posts from November 2013

No Space in My Alcove of Humility

Tree outside my bedroom windowTree outside my bedroom window; losing leaves everyday.

Sometimes you get confirmation that what you are doing is right and you are strong enough to accept that gift for what it’s worth rather than crawl into your alcove of humility.

The other night, together with two people from my new synagogue, we led a creative writing session with some teenagers, all girls, in a transitional group home. We sat around the kitchen table (always the place to be) and did a free write, and read and discussed a poem, and then watched some music videos that they suggested. We also (shocker) snacked.

My confidence in my teaching ability in a classroom setting propelled me into this new setting with the confidence that I could conduct a lesson, but I was unsure if I could connect to the teens there or if I could get them to care about trying to express themselves in words on paper or out loud. I dreaded the curtness of antagonism and dismissiveness. Neither came. They immediately got to the free write that I used to get things started, and they kept at it long after one of the other leaders transitioned to doodles.

The girl who was sitting to my left was called out. She was taken by the police. The other girls got completely still, then they said something about her not having gone to school. 

Unexpectently, they wanted to share their free writes. One girl wanted to show off her rap, but then they all wanted to share. And they wanted us to share, which transitioned us into a group of people stumbling with expression, rather than a hierarchy of us and them.

Then, the girl sitting to my right left suddenly, overwhelmed, it seemed, with remembrances and feelings brought on by the thoughts she expressed in her free write. After that, the girl who had been so full of her own attitude, sat down next to me, where the other girl who had been overcome had been sitting. Such a little thing, such a powerful feeling of honest connectivity—at least that’s how I interpret it, and I’m sticking to that.

Then, as we read the poem, "Still I Rise," by Maya Angelou, I told them to focus on asking questions that the poem raises rather than to charge forward with finding clarity of meaning. One girl related how one of the stanzas perfectly reflected what she had experienced that day in court, having been made to feel that she had been “cut by eyes.” And for another the phrase, “I dance like I've got diamonds/ At the meeting of my thighs?” made her think of sex abuse. I told them how I thought of that line as empowering women. Just goes to show that we are always students of each other’s minds and experiences. It also reminded her of a singer who sings about the abuse she suffered from her father, and so we segued into listening to those songs. We all acknowledged, without acknowledging, that writing is a powerful way to challenge the victim narrative.  

At the end of the session, each girl was eager to receive a journal and a pen. One girl wanted my pen that said “Trust Women,” and I was so happy to give it to her. I had cherished that pen, but now I cherish the thought of her having it—of her using it. Another girl wanted to keep the purple teacher pen that I had given to her because she likes purple. And so do I and we both smiled at the happiness of purple.

Then we left.

I will definitely be back next month. There will be different teens there dealing with the lives that they have been handed and which they have handed to themselves, and it might not be as fulfilling as this first time was, but that is not the point, the point is to keep showing up and trying to be a drop in a bucket. So I guess it is about humility, but a humility that comes from strength and not unease. 

Single Mother Empty Nester

Monterey Nov 2013

Monterey, California, November 14

One of the joys of living alone is surely that now I can be naked when I make my morning coffee. No longer do I have to fear my daughter, somehow, being awake at 5:35 to see too much of me. I also don’t have to deal with her picky vegan diet. Oh, and since there is no significant other, I don’t have to make breakfast for anyone, so I can be selfish selfish selfish on weekend mornings and get right to the business of preparing eggs just the way I like them or a blueberry pancake and pot of coffee all for me without needing to consider anyone else’s desires or reflections on the day to come, the night that was—or wasn’t. I know, those are significant things, worthy things to find solace in, but in the grand scheme of things (the big picture) I do realize that I am missing out on the beauty of the humdrumness of daily interactions. Now, a conversation on the weekend takes on epic proportions, rather than life as people live it.

I have been told that it takes time to get used to being a single-mother empty-nester, and it has only been three months since my younger daughter went off to college. I guess this is the mother’s version of homesickness, call it childsickness. Never did I think that I would prefer her pervasive negative presence over my ability to put my laundry on her bed. Live and learn.

It is still hard, eight years after the disintegration of my marriage, to come to terms with the terms of my life: the borders that have come to define me are still not me. It is not that I always pictured myself a wife and mother, the matriarch of my clan, but neither did I imagine that the contours of my life would only depend on me. It is an awesome thing, in both senses of the word, positive and negative.

But that’s not true, is it? My daughters still seek me out and I seek them out. My mother calls, and I listen (or I try to in a distracted way) to the minutiae of her life. There is a pattern of interweaving of lives that never seems to cease once there is dependency, for it becomes, inevitably, interdependency. But still, we each have a core that has space for different kinds of love and relationships which give our lives an amorphous dimension that adds depth and perspective. As the physical heart has its various parts, so does the emotional heart need to beat to different tunes.

I wonder if this time of non-significant attachment is easing me into discovering that a fragmented heart burgeons more than does a whole, directed heart.

On Friday, after I finished reading essays that were submitted by students applying for a prestigious award, a colleague noted that I do so much. I looked at him with a quizzical expression. “This and the elections. Is there anything that you don’t do?” he asked.

At first I downplayed what I do by saying that I am not responsible for this project and I was only an elections officer, it’s not that I ran for office. Then I just said, “I try to do what I can.” And it’s true. Now that no one needs me in the way a young child needs a mother’s physical presence more than her advice, or the way a husband needs to see his wife at the end of the day, I can take on myself and other things that I care about.

As the eternal optimist that I am, I wonder if this reshaping of my heart is more prep work than simply constricting to conform with current reality. Is this a time of internal molting? A woman’s autumn that will bring her back to spring? 

Monterey Garden

Garden in Monterey

Romance: Only Alive in My Mind

Fall Foliage Red
Fall Foliage, Northern Virginia

I am well aware that romance is an illusion with no permanence other than in the mind of the person who desires its lasting truth, yet that hasn’t prevented me from trying to daydream the illusion into my life. It would be lovely, I muse, for the man sitting next to me at this café, where I have come to write alone but to take a break from being by myself, to become overwhelmed by my intelligence that cannot help but emanate from me as I sit here contemplating this essay, although, in actuality, beginning a slow boil as the children playing “Don’t Wake Up Daddy” a couple of tables away keep waking up Daddy who wakes up making a lot of noise, and to be simultaneously overtaken by my Sunday morning peacefulness. Ah, the world could be such a lovely place, but then again, not so much because I have been occupied by this daydream on and off for years with barely a look over except to see if a chair could be taken.

I’m assuming that we are all obsessed, to some degree, with something and my obsession seems to be relationships. It occurred to me, finally (this morning), to stop apologizing to and for myself and just go with it. Is it really worse than a writer obsessed with murder or zombies or the trauma of war? I have decided to let myself luxuriate in my sense of wonder, for at 52 that is what it has morphed into. And, really, what does it say about me that I daydream about someone taking me to the airport and picking me up, with a desperate embrace on each end. Is it really a sign of my weakness as a woman that, although I have a good job and have raised two wonderful daughters and have survived an emotionally abusive marriage, that I have an itsy bitsy bit of emptiness that no class or hobby or volunteer activity will fill. And no one can take away my feminist stripes because I have no desire to hand over my life to anyone, I just want my heart to race when I think of him and I want his heart to race when he thinks of me. Is that a crime?

For a couple of moments there seemed that romance was in the air, but, as these things seem to happen with us people (as in anyone after college), the layers of our lives tend to tie us to the past more than to the future. And so it has dissipated with the residual impact being a re-clarification that I, indeed, am alone and that I, indeed, wish it weren’t so.