Summer in the garden 2014

New house, new baby: it’s been a year of transitions for this gardener. Because we bought the house in late fall, we didn’t know what to expect from the landscaping in spring or summer. We were pleasantly surprised by a cherry tree, peonies, poppies and bleeding hearts in June:
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Everything happens in the summer

“Do you feel like you’re 10 again?”

I’m sitting next to my sister on the library floor. A local folksinger strums her guitar and sings. My niece sits on my sister’s lap. My girls are scattered in the crowd of children and moms, singing and gesturing, making peace signs and waving their arms back and forth.

“It’s weird,” I whisper back. “They’ve reached the part of childhood I remember.”

Everything happens in the summer. Bike rides, swimming lessons, roller skating, weekly trips to the library to check out new books and sit on the floor for the kids’ programs. Puppet shows and storytellers. Magicians. Zookeepers with snakes and owls in covered crates. Once I volunteered to be the little goose girl and stood in the front of the crowded room, flapping my arms at the head of a line of children. The storyteller had asked for a volunteer with perseverance. I didn’t know what it meant, but I raised my hand high, wanting to be chosen. My arms ached the next day, and I wondered if that ache between my shoulder blades was perseverance.

The folksinger came every year, singing about love and peace and family. 30 years later, my kids know all the words because these are the songs I sing in the car and when I rock the baby.

Love grows, one by one. Two by two and four by four. Love grows, round like a circle, and comes back knocking at your front door.

D shows the children’s librarian she can write her name small and neat, with no letters backwards, and is rewarded with her own library card. She checks out Olga de Polga and The Penderwicks. Guinea pigs and motherless daughters. I need to remember to show her The Boxcar Children and Bunnicula. I check out the stack of books Lucy chose, juggle the heavy bag and the baby while I reach for my keys, drive through McDonalds on the way home so they can use their reading rewards: coupons for free French fries.

At home we mix Kool Aid by the gallon. They spray each other with the hose and prop the orange plastic toddler slide on the edge of the kiddie pool, laughing and splashing and shrieking when it tips and dumps them into the cold water. We eat lunch on the deck. I hand out granola bars, string cheese, grapes. Nectarines sliced off the pit and sprinkled with sugar. They ride their bikes around the cul de sac, build Play Doh villages for the toads they catch, shout for me when they find robin egg shells or need a band aid.

I click on the news icon on the iPad when I go inside for tweezers to remove a splinter: Palestinian children dead on a beach. Refugee children stranded at the border. An update on the plane shot down: the death toll has been increased to include infants riding on their mothers’ laps. I stare at the images on the screen for an instant, just long enough for snapshots to flash in my mind: D at the water’s edge at Lake Michigan, Lucy sleeping on my lap as the plane rose steeply in the air, heading West to Denver. Shake my head, take a deep breath, click the home button decisively, screen goes black. I head for the door and call for the girls. Time for more sunscreen. More popsicles. Lucy wails when I try and pull the sliver out and D throws her arms around her.

Love grows, one by one. Two by two and four by four. Love grows, round like a circle, and comes back knocking at your front door.

My sister and I dreaded the car ride to swimming lessons: 5 minutes in the white Pontiac with dark blue interior, sweat dripping out of our hair, trying to fasten the seat belts without touching the burning hot metal. But after lessons, chilled by the hour in the pool, the heat of the car was a kind of perfection. Fold your towel into a square to sit on, roll down the window, lean back on the hot seat.

After swimming lessons, I take the girls for ice cream. Sundresses and wet hair. I leave the car windows open, keys on the driver’s seat, throw my wallet on the passenger seat after I pay. Charlie grabs at my spoon. D licks neatly around the edge of her cone; she’s trying a new flavor of flavorburst every day, the edges of her vanilla soft serve tinted rainbow colors. Strawberry. Green apple. Blue goo. Margeaux eats the eyeballs off a Spiderman popsicle. Chocolate ice cream and sprinkles drip from Lucy’s face and hand and arm. At the table behind us, teenagers discuss movies they’ve seen recently: “Don’t watch Wolf of Wall Street,” one says. “It’s SO RUDE.” They agree that the best movie they’ve seen all summer is something I haven’t heard of that seems to end with instructions to text everyone you know a message that God loves them. Two by two and four by four. Love grows, round like a circle.

I don’t feel ten again because I’m aware of how quickly the summer days are passing: 4 more swimming lessons in this session, 3 weeks of library programs, the school supply lists have already come in the mail. June poppies and peonies bloom and bust, replaced by July lilies and daisies, late August sunflowers waiting in the wings. I peek into the girls’ room before I go to bed, turn off the flashlights, make a mental note to start waking them up in the morning so I can begin inching back toward the school year bedtime. In bed I check the news again: a local woman dead in a car trunk, 8 months pregnant. Protestors waving flags, angry that the refugee children might be fed and sheltered nearby. Comes back knocking at your front door.

I don’t know how to reconcile the depths of everyday bliss and heartache. The water for the macaroni and cheese boils over, hisses on the stovetop while I pick up towels and shoes in the backyard. Somebody pinches somebody else and I yell, frustrated, wish for school to start tomorrow then feel guilty and wish for a take-back, that childhood power to reverse events. This never happened.

Everything happens in the summer. We’ve reached the part of childhood they will remember and it all seems important and it all seems inconsequential: magic and flavorburst, splinters and sisters. Love grows, one by one.

All those kids from my neighborhood, where are they tonight, do they remember the summer Karate Kid came out, wobbling as we attempted the crane in the backyard, bandanas tied around our heads? Two by two and four by four.

When the mothers in Honduras kiss their children goodbye, how long do they watch the children walk into the distance before they have to turn away? How many steps until daughter becomes refugee becomes memory? I remember the cold pool, the hot car, the sweetness of homemade strawberry freezer jam, my mother’s voice calling me home at dusk. I sing to the baby, rock him to sleep as the fireflies glimmer outside the window, then keep singing to myself. Love grows, round like a circle, comes back knocking at your front door.

Lessons From the Road

Thanks to a kidney stone and some major garden projects (photos coming soon!) this post is a little late in coming. But yes, the kiddos and I did take that much-anticipated road trip to Lauren’s vow renewal party, and yes, it was every bit as joyful and inconvenient as I hoped and feared. So, belatedly, a few lessons from the road:

1.) It takes a village. And it’s okay to let people step up and be your village.
Traveling with four kids meant that I literally had my hands full most of the time. Wearing a baby, holding a toddler’s hand, carrying a bag. But everywhere I went, people offered to help, or responded graciously when I asked. Lauren and her mom and her sister and a couple adorable elderly ladies at the hotel held the baby. A dad brought me fresh coffee from the breakfast buffet after I walked away empty handed when the pot was empty. Lauren’s husband made an amazing pasta with alfredo sauce for dinner, and bought my girls ice cream from the ice cream truck (which was basically the highlight of their entire weekend). A hotel housekeeper witnessed one of our worst moments, when two kids started pinching each other until someone cried while a third searched for a flip flop that somehow went missing in the backseat and I yelled incoherently about respect and responsibility, and when I finally made it to the door she smiled at me, made a joke about her own kids, keyed us into our room when our key was accidentally deactivated and offered us extra towels and toilet paper.
At my own family gatherings, I’m completely at ease letting my sisters and brothers and nephews lend a hand when I need it (which is often). Five siblings, all married with kids, means there is almost always someone who can hold a baby, pour a glass of milk, push a toddler on the swing. I don’t normally think of strangers, or even friends, in this way. This trip seemed scary because the one grown up to four kids ratio seems overwhelming. But there were very few moments when I was actually the only grown up, and the rest of the time, it was a beautiful surprise to see how genuinely kind people were to me and my kids. It was as though we had family everywhere we went. Maybe everybody was rolling their eyes and complaining behind my back about having to help. But it didn’t feel that way in the moment: it felt like I had support when I needed it, from friends and strangers alike, and it made the days so much easier.

2.) My kids can do more than I normally give them a chance to do.
D and Lucy can, in fact, serve themselves completely independently from the breakfast buffet, and wow were they excited about having the chance to choose their own donuts and apples and cereal and juice. This was doubly true at the frozen yogurt toppings bar.

3.) It’s okay to take up space.
Traveling solo meant that I couldn’t really buffer how much space my kids take up in the world: at the visitor’s center, at the fossil gorge, in the frozen yogurt line, in the hotel lobby. They walk slowly, especially when carrying a cup of orange juice or a plate of donuts or a bowl with a mountain of marshmallows heaped on a tiny twist of frozen yogurt. They talk to everyone. They hand out drawings. They ask a lot of questions about prehistoric sea creatures. When there are two parents, I realized, one of us often does the work of containing the kids, creating a buffer zone: one adult monitors the table, one goes through the buffet line. One adult waits in the car, one goes in to the hotel lobby. We limit their interactions and their opportunities to do things themselves so they aren’t an inconvenience, taking up other peoples space or time. I couldn’t divide and conquer, so there we were. All of us. And frankly, it was a relief to let go of worrying about whether our very presence was somehow too much and instead just let them do their thing. They’re people too, after all, and deserve space and time to learn and grow.

4.) What matters most is your sense of adventure.
We traveled a lot when I was a kid: road trips to sunny beaches, the top of the arch in St. Louis, waterfalls in the UP, zoos and amusement parks all over the Midwest. My sister and I shared a bed in the hotel room, Dad would wander down to the lobby to drink coffee while we got ready in the morning. This trip brought back so many of those childhood memories. We ate granola bars and animal crackers at rest stop picnic tables and cheered excitedly when we crossed each state line. We spent hours at the fossil gorge, climbing and jumping, watching tadpoles in puddles, running our fingers over the rock. At Lauren’s house they ate popsicles on the front porch and noodles and breadsticks on the living room floor and formed a drawing club and leaped off folding chairs onto the rope swing. At night we curled up side by side in hotel beds, remembering our favorite parts of the day, making plans for tomorrow. They would drift off one by one and I’d be left awake in the dark hotel room: scroll through facebook, edit photos from the day, watch tv at the lowest possible volume. We didn’t spend much money, and our days were packed with pleasure and discovery. I hope when they are adults, they will look back on trips like this and feel like road trips are part of their birthright, travel is part of their soul, like they can go anywhere because having a sense of adventure matters more than how much money is in your pocket.

Adventure awaits.

Adventure awaits.

Morning Madness

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I am not a morning person. Never have been. My first year of college, I foolishly registered for an 8 am General Psychology class, and even though I loved the reading and the professor, I STRUGGLED to get myself out of my bed, up the hill, into the library classroom. I am certain Dr. Gregg looked out at me, in the front row because those were the only seats left when I slunk in late, wearing whatever mismatched clothes I grabbed off the floor, eating a broken PopTart, carefully lifting a travel mug of forbidden coffee out of my backpack where it had probably sloshed all over my required discussion questions and thought, “That one is never going to make it to the end of the semester.”

If you had asked in October how mornings were going in my house, I would have joked that they were bad but bearable. By December I would have cried. In fact, I did cry, more than once. There was a stretch of several weeks (it may have actually been months) in which everybody in my house cried in the morning. I felt like a terrible mom as I pleaded for advice from family, friends, teachers, facebook. In response to the suggestions I got, we developed an elaborate empowerment/bribery scheme in which the girls put stickers on charts to track their progress for each required morning activity and were then rewarded with virtual marbles which accumulated in a virtual marble jar on my ipad and could be cashed in for rewards.

Initially, the charts were complex, listing every task and the time frame in which it needed to be accomplished:
GET UP 7:10
EAT BREAKFAST 7:15-7:25
GET DRESSED 7:25-7:30
And so on, all the way down to GET ON THE BUS.
The goal was to remove me from the role of time keeper, and empower them to complete the tasks on their own. Less stress for all of us. Less potential for conflict.

The first couple weeks were a rollercoaster of excellent mornings followed by terrible mornings, but we persisted, and it worked: I stopped crying. They stopped crying. Everybody shouted a little less. The threat of missing the bus didn’t loom so large.

And as the weeks and months ticked by, the charts got less complex. I took the times off once they started to complain that they could get it all done in time to make the bus even if they didn’t do the tasks in that exact order or timeframe. Then I ran out of stickers, so I made the lists on their dry erase boards instead. Then they started making their own lists. And now we name the completed tasks and put in the marbles without having formally checked off a list at all.

This is not to say every morning is perfect: some days they are extremely hard to drag out of bed, and when they eventually stagger to the table I let them know there will be no getting out of bed marble and they eat their Pop Tarts in cranky silence. Some days, like today, they wake up cheerful and express that joy by leaping around the table singing an incredibly annoying endless song about farts and rain and I long for cranky silence.

The morning charts taught me some valuable lessons, which I mostly thought I already knew but didn’t realize how far I’d strayed from them:

1.) Giving my kids space to move through the mornings with their own rhythms works far better than me imposing a time clock and then yelling when they don’t stick to it. It turns out that D needs about 45 minutes to wake up, during which time she accomplishes nothing except feeding her fish, but then she can get completely ready for the day in about 15 minutes. Lucy needs 45 minutes total, during which she moves slowly and steadily through each task. I needed to stop grasping for control, and give them the tools to be in charge of their own behavior.
2.) I need to just drink my coffee quietly, even when they are driving me crazy with their rain farty fairy song, because if I try to intervene before my second cup I’ll be far harsher than is useful or necessary and somebody will cry.
3.) I am not going to solve a problem by getting up earlier. (This might only apply while I’m still nursing a baby in the middle of the night, but it might also be true for the rest of my life.) Would my work mornings be less hectic if I got up an hour earlier? Yes. Am I going to do that? No. Is it reasonable for me to yell at them to hurry up because I am stressed and need to hurry up? No. See #1 and #2 above. Let them do their thing. Drink more coffee.
4.) When it gets bad, I need to ask for help. It was difficult and embarrassing to send emails and make phone calls to teachers, friends, and teacher friends admitting that our mornings were awful, chaotic, and tear-inducing. But if I hadn’t had those conversations, I might never have thought of the charts as a potential solution. I kept feeling like the problem was that I didn’t know how to be in control of our mornings— turns out I didn’t need to be. The encouragement, suggestions, book recommendations, and support from my community completely reframed the way I was approaching the problem.

This is not to say mornings are perfect. But tears are few and far between these days, and even the worst mornings tend to swing back up to steady or even smiling before we head out the door. Not to mention that road trips, summer and endless sleeping in are just around the corner. Till then, more coffee while I listen to the virtual marbles clink into our jars.

Nothing to it but to do it

It’s been a while, dear reader, and too much has happened to be neatly summarized. Cars were totaled, households were moved, polar vortexes were survived, babies were birthed. And now? Now I’m planning a road trip.

Lauren is renewing her vows, and I’m itching for a vacation. So I’m packing the car, and the kids, for a long weekend. And yes, I’m calling it a vacation, even though I’m traveling as the solo adult with 4 children.

When I polled my fb friends as to whether even contemplating this journey marked me as crazy, an old friend and father of three replied immediately, “Perhaps, but the best kind of crazy.”

Practically speaking, there are a lot of logistical challenges to traveling with this crew. If you’ve seen us in a parking lot or waited for us to use the bathroom, you have some sense of what I’m dealing with here. And yet: so far as I know, the parking lots and bathrooms of Iowa are no more challenging than those right here at home. In fact, a lot of my decision comes down to that question: what am I afraid of having to handle there that I don’t already handle here?

I made a list. Here’s what I’m afraid of encountering on vacation:

Car trouble.
Drowning.
Meltdown in a public place requiring me to carry or restrain multiple children.

That’s it. So I’ll get the car checked out before I leave, and we will avoid water. And honestly, if there’s an epic meltdown, at least most of the witnesses won’t be part of my day to day life.

My day to day life is crazy most days, and I don’t mean the best kind. I’m busy and tired and overcommitted. I yell. A lot. I spend many many hours cleaning and washing things which immediately get dirty again, leaving me feeling unappreciated and irritable. I am late and I feel guilty about it and then I vow to be on time but realize I’m going to be late again and get panicky and cranky and I’m still late.

A road trip feels like an opportunity to say yes instead of no. To stay up late and then sleep in. To play and relax and lounge. To be the mom having fun with my kids instead of stressing out about the next place we have to be or the dishes that have to be washed or the laundry that has to be folded or the timed math homework that is sure to lead to tears.

I am certain it will be intensely exhausting in the way solo parenting always is. In all likelihood, someone will have a meltdown at an inopportune moment (possibly me!) and will have to be bribed and/or cajoled into rejoining the group. But also? We’ll stay up late giggling, and steal bananas from the free hotel breakfast. We’ll look for fossils and explore new playgrounds. We’ll celebrate with Lauren and her family, blow bubbles and drink fancy drinks and celebrate love and friendship and renewal. With any luck, the sun will shine.

Some of my favorite memories from childhood are of family vacations, road trips to Mammoth Cave, the UP, Graceland. I am certain those trips were filled with moments that made my parents cringe, times when we or they were embarrassing or awful, tired and cranky. But what I remember, and what I’m banking on my kiddos remembering, are the laughs, and the backseat snack bar, and the endless vista of the badlands, and the cool air inside the caves.

Parenting. Traveling. Writing. Nothing to it but to do it. Let’s hit the road.

Wedding Planning: A 10-year Vow Renewal Takes Me Back

For our tenth anniversary, we’ve decided to renew our wedding vows. It wasn’t something I’d planned to do so early in our marriage (when you take the long view of marriage — like our parents, who’ve been married 40+ years — we’re still newbies), but last year was incredibly hard for us. Specifically last spring, when our marriage was hanging by a thread, thanks to my manic episode making me, ya know – crazy. But we came through it. I got on meds. I rededicated myself to my family. I promised him I would do everything I could to prevent that from happening again. And because we are best friends, because we know each other so well, because we have worked to rebuild trust, we made it through.

So we’re planning this renewal. And folks, it’s just like planning a wedding.

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When I planned my wedding, I was 23. I was finishing my senior year, and doing my student teaching. I was working. I was applying to graduate school and interviewing for a fellowship. I was beyond overcommitted. I barely survived this, and practically collapsed during our honeymoon in New Orleans (don’t worry, I made it to the aquarium, and we had  great time).

Our wedding was very traditional. It’s funny to think how different things were “back then:” Etsy wasn’t around for adorable, customized invitations. It seemed radically cool to order inexpensive (but super traditional) invites via a website. It was brand-new to have wedding websites. My bridesmaids wore short dresses — wow! — which is now much more common. We hired professional photographers but requested “journalistic” photos, and my best friend, an amateur photographer, did pictures as well — again, something fairly common now, but relatively novel at the time. My Mom ordered hydrangeas and lilies from Sam’s and did our arrangements. My sister drove all over Oklahoma City to find vases for centerpieces. And, it turned out perfectly.

It was a beautiful, seamless, perfect wedding. We couldn’t have asked for a better wedding. All of my intense planning paid off. I don’t remember how much we spent — I think it ended up being $2k including the honeymoon, but our parents chipped in here and there.

Our vow renewal will not be fancy, simply because we can’t afford fancy — but also because that doesn’t really match who we are anymore. We’re hosting at home. We’re DIYing pretty much everything. But it’s much the same.

The planning months in advance.

The dress — oh, the dress. Can I find a vintage-style dress for my much curvier body?

The girls! They are so thrilled. They want to be our flower girls. They need dresses, wreaths for their hair.

The food. My God, the food. Can we make enough? What should we make? Do we need to buy serviceware? Can we afford that? Note to self, plan to hit Goodwill soon.

Invitations. Shit. I need to do these NOW, but I need to confirm a time with the reverend performing the (brief!!) ceremony.

Flowers. Do our hydrangeas bloom in May? I can’t remember. We can’t buy a lot of flowers. We may not be able to buy any flowers. Can I make a zillion paper flowers?

Do we need to do favors?

Would plastic cutlery be tacky?

What will Brian wear?

Can we afford a “real” photographer?

And on and on. It’s fun to plan a more contemporary, vintage-style wedding. It’s more “rustic,” more “country.” This is neat. I feel like a bonafide hipster (sigh), but it also feels honest to who we are, now, after 10 years. More tired. More worn in and softer. Quieter, less bright, more homey. All about texture.

With my wedding, I was able to avoid bridezilla. I let go of small details that didn’t work out just how I envisioned. I eschewed a lot of the extras that would have required more time, effort, or money. I delegated tasks and enjoyed it thoroughly. I hope I can do the same this May, even while playing hostess and mother. Wish me luck!

The #PostAc Wanderer: What A Real Career Path Looks Like

Long time, no #postac. As with nearly every post-academic blog, there comes a time when these issues lose their intensity and salience to your everyday existence. Last month marks the second anniversary of my decision to quit graduate school.

My comrades in the post-ac blogosphere — the quieter voices, who garner less attention but are nonetheless some of the most frank and helpful writers on the topic — have written several posts lately about the “right” post-ac job. How To Leave Academia has long acknowledged the messiness of post-academic life, positioning itself in a less popular but, IMO, more truthful narrative of life after academia in which you stagger around in search of a new path; new identity; and most importantly, an income.

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HTLA also notes that as #postac flourishes, those speaking to the challenges and realities of leaving grad school fall to the wayside in favor of advocacy for appropriate post-ac pursuits: career advice for alt-ac, entrepreneurs, etc; critiques of higher ed; etc. A glance at our stats shows that our website still occupies a small corner of the #postac blogosphere. We aren’t getting national attention, even though our issue is.

ANYWAY, what is the right postac job? JC wrote last month that:

… short of contract killing or drug trafficking, there are no “good” or “bad” postacademic jobs. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do postacademia. 

In order to do postacademia “right” (according to me), you need to find a job that fulfills two goals: (1) one that pays you enough money so that you can live a stable life, and (2) one in which your employer treats you better than how folks are treated in the worst aspects of academia.

Kathleen Miller (currer bell) poignantly writes:

How did I get my post-ac jobs? Time. Persistence. Crying. Feeling like a failure. Networking. Not networking. Building a LinkedIn profile. Taking down my LinkedIn profile. Hiring a life coach. Taking classes for a new career path, but not getting certified. Taking any post-ac job because we needed to pay our bills. Refusing to take a post-ac job just because we had to pay our bills. Starting and then not starting a new career path. Applying to go back to school and then withdrawing my candidacy. Starting to open and then pushing pause on my own business. Giving up. Trying again. Luck. Dumb luck. The dumbest luckiest luck.

This resonates so powerfully with me. The truth about postac life is that it is mostly fumbling. You will feel certain one week that freelancing is perfect for you, only to dabble and realize that you hate working alone, or are incapable of meeting a deadline without an advisor breathing down your neck. The next week you’ll start reading about teaching in private schools and obsessively job search and concoct curricula in your head, only to rule it out because you don’t want to move for a job. A month later, you’re swooning over academic librarianship. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In fact, you’ll wander far down many postac paths only to turn back. It’s not a straight shot to postac paradise. It’s trial and error, and as Kathleen says, “the dumbest luckiest luck.” I didn’t stride confidently into academic advising as my postac career of choice. I got the job because I was a good teacher, and I knew people working here, and it came along at the right time – just when my final paycheck for TAing was hitting. In many ways, I had no choice but to take that job, and lucked out because it is a good job with good people.

Just before I took the position, a community college I’d interviewed at (out of state) the year before called to ask me to apply again, but the timing was wrong and I had to regretfully decline. I had wandered far down that path but it didn’t work out; then life changed. I wrote constantly during that transitional semester about my struggle to make sense of the path forward and felt like I was walking down multiple, contradictory paths at once.

And the truth is, advising probably isn’t the final destination for my #postac wanderings. It’s a stop along the way, for who knows how long, before something else arises as an opportunity, or I evolve into other roles and responsibilities that pan out. But the fact of the matter is that I have little control over my postac destiny: I’m at the mercy of the marketplace, of budgets, and geographical options. I may feel called someday to the Perfect Postac Career, but be unable to land it or pursue it, through no fault of my own. A newish post-ac blogger, …and what to do with the books?, writes similarly about her nascent postac journey:

The more I think about it, though, I need to remind myself that a job is just one step on a longer career path. (Not to mention that I just had a baby nine months ago, and she’s not in daycare).  My position and title (should they even really matter) might be very different twenty years from now than they are now. As old as the mid-thirties might sound compared to if I hadn’t gone into my doctoral program and had started regular work in my mid-twenties, I still have a good twenty or thirty years of work ahead of me which might lead eventually to more Big Picture jobs.

I do think the literature (blogged and print-published) about post-ac job searches can give the impression that one might be able to jump from finishing the dissertation to a major management position at a company or organization, and in some cases, this might be true.  My own experience over the course of the past year has been of a much more middling nature.

This is another case of Ivory Tower expectations colliding with Real World pragmatics. We are all #postac wanderers. And we will all be ok.

Logorrhea, Vulnerability, and Blogger’s Block

It’s been over a month — maybe two months? — since we wrote meaningfully at Mama Nervosa and I’ve been wondering why. Jen has a very good excuse — a new house, a new baby boy — but what’s my problem? Why do I hesitate to write out the many observations that occur to me, usually during my morning commute? Why haven’t I shared more with my readers, as I have in the past?

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When I was in college, I took a 3-week creative writing course over the summer and for one month, I seriously considered being a Writer and getting an MFA instead of going to grad school in the traditional academic sense. I loved the process, I loved the collaboration, and I found my own writing provocative in that way one does at the age of 20. My final portfolio was titled Logorrhea, meaning “a tendency to extreme loquacity,” and representing to me not just a tendency but a nearly uncontrollable urge to “extreme loquacity.” I have always been a talker — ok, a loud mouth — an opiner, and a writer. In high school and college I took some pride in this quality, and without regret engaged with and often humiliated stupid and ignorant young men and publicly “blogged” (before it was blogging) about my intimate relationships. I wrote my senior capstone on Anne Sexton, a confessional writer, and related deeply to these writers who exposed everything, all their dark dirty secrets, and often those of their families and lovers. That kind of naked honesty appealed to me viscerally, and is part of what keeps me on the internet and in the public sphere. I believe in openness and reality and love having an audience.

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After writing my senior capstone, I took an advanced honors course on American novels and wrote the essay that would get me into graduate school. I’d written an extremely close analysis of Sexton; a theoretically ambitious perspective on Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood; but it would be this essay that cracked the academy open for me. It was about Louise Fitzhugh’s book, Harriet the Spy.

I think we all have a vague sense of Harriet and the plot, a fondness for her writerly ways and spunky, some would say queer, presentation in the midst of a very upper class, proper, mainstream 60s context. We recall that she gets caught spying in the dumbwaiter and that her friends find her journal and she gets in trouble. I think our collective memory is distorted by some of the film and tv adaptations, which position Harriet as a Holmesian detective with a magnifier

In reality, this book is extremely subversive and extremely dark. Harriet is deadly smart and ruthlessly candid. She is a spy in the sense that she doesn’t respect privacy, and that she is judgmental and detailed. She exposes the hypocrisy and foolishness of adults constantly — there’s a scene that probably no one remembers with Harriet and her best friend, a budding scientist, whose idiotic mother can not relate at all to Janie and Harriet. Before Harriet leaves, she and Janie grip hands and whisper fiercely “never give up” — or some quotation that I can’t confirm but basically means FIGHT THE POWER and resist the BS.

Another fact that no one remembers is that when Harriet is exposed — her treasured notebook found — she isn’t just in trouble, she is shunned. She is excommunicated. For months. She simultaneously is abandoned by Ole Golly, the one single person in the world who loves her and understands her unconditionally. She falls into a deep and prolonged depression, at age 10.

*

I often wonder what Harriet’s crime really was. Other than invasion of privacy (the dumbwaiter), she mostly writes thoughts about the world around her, and the people around her. Some of these thoughts are uncharitable, judgmental, gossipy, rude. The kind of thoughts we all have all the time when we read a sappy note on Facebook, receive yet another bogus forward from an uncle, or hear about someone’s divorce. Was Harriet’s crime simply writing them down? Or was it having the thoughts in the first place? Was her crime getting caught?

Like Harriet, I am a thinker, and like Harriet, I am a writer. I’m also a talker. But most of my gaffes are in written form of some kind — an email; notes taken and the foolishly left behind; Facebook updates. I can’t just think, I must put it down. And like Harriet, I get busted, and then I get in trouble, and then I carry around a bad feeling in my gut because I don’t want to hurt people, and I don’t want to be hated. I’m unusually good at sticking my foot in my mouth, unintentionally and with no malice aforethought, just by having the urge to talk about and write about things that are opinionated, sometimes ill-informed, sometimes true but threatening, sometimes gossipy, sometimes genuinely out of mystification or concern over a friend/situation, and sometimes so vulnerable that I end up hurting myself by allowing others to react to it. I’ve accepted this aspect of my personality and generally forgive myself for being human and do my absolute best to make amends and sincerely apologize when I accidentally act like a dick in public. But I continually come back to it — the thinking, the talking, the writing — because it’s at the core of my humanity, and the core of my creativity. I just wish it didn’t blow up in my face.

So I’m struggling to blog.

I’m struggling because I think I might want to be a schoolteacher and I’m afraid my blog could make it hard for me to find work because it’s too honest/political/edgy/full of cussing.

I’m afraid I’m exposing my children too much, especially the more I understand how genuinely small our farm town is and how easy it would be for their peers to one day find out personal information.

I’m afraid to write under my own name because I’m desperate to share the poetry and memoir I’m working on, but it’s too vulnerable, too public, and I don’t trust the internet or my ability to remain anonymous.

I’m afraid if I can’t be truly honest here, than this blog will have no genuine content, won’t be something I can be proud of, and will become distant and removed and artificial and all the things I find irritating about the blogosphere.

I’m afraid that in the current economy of the blogosphere, no one will care or read. I don’t have the time or resources to launch a blog that can crack the glass ceiling of Twitter and Facebook. I’m not — never will be — popular enough to garner attention, and don’t want to spend money to earn cred. Stats and rankings are driven by readership, and readers are driven by controversy, but I’m skittish of controversy now, so I feel doubly sunk and wonder if there is a point.

I’m certain that I will say something or do something here that I later redact or regret, and that on top of all my fears makes me sit at the desk and open and then close my compose box again and again. Foucault would have a field day with my internalized censoring, but I’m not sure how I can get past this.

Bonne Annee

All quiet in the nervosa front lately. Jen and I speak nearly every day and we’re always saying, I need to post! Life is all-consuming right now. Jen’s fourth baby is due any day now, and we are both being swallowed by the POLAR VORTEX. We are muddling through. We’re here, we’re just not here. The blogosphere feels so much like an echo chamber that it’s hard to feel like I’ve accomplished something when I post here, other than the fact that it’s living proof that I haven’t quit writing. It seems like the possibilities for blogging are vast, but it’s harder and harder to climb your way out of obscurity and towards a readership without 24/7 presence, ads, etc. That’s just not gonna happen with us. Even writing and submitting poetry — which I continue to do — feels ephemeral, next to pointless. Nanowrimo taught me that the world is drowning in words. I’m dog paddling. But hey, I’m out here.

Our post-academic e-book got published earlier this week. It’s bargain-priced and completely lovely and you should read it. I have to say that collaborating with JC, Currer Bell, and Jet has been enormously gratifying. We worked beautifully together for a year and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s out there, and it’s being read.

I started crafting again, which is a surprise to all of us, and am loving sewing and crocheting. The projects take shape in my hands, and I can listen to audio books. Sweet!

owljack

We continue to struggle mightily with our finances. Loans, childcare, and it seems like everything we got for our wedding 10 years ago is breaking, and our lovely old house is doing that Murphy’s law thing. I realized last week that there’s simply no way we can afford to have our kids in full-time care this summer. I have no idea what to do about that. I mean, I’m at a loss.

I’m slowly but surely working towards applying to secondary teaching positions at some point in the future (near or far,  not sure). I’m dreaming in curricula, missing the energy. I got my teaching license in the mail last month.

2014 — joy, surprises, handiwork.

And Now The Christmas Season Reminds Me Of Dying Children

As the days become shorter and houses start to glow with Christmas lights, I find my mind these days wandering to thoughts of dying children. December 14, December 14.

Now I put up my Christmas tree and write letters to my legislators and congressmen urging them to support Obama’s plans to reduce gun violence.

Now I keep thinking I need to get candles to light in the windows to remember the children who were killed, to remember their parents lighting the tree or menorah or just walking in the snow without their seven-year-olds. And I would if I had the money.

Now I will write my principal and ask her about our darling school’s plans in case of a horrible emergency like this.

I look at TIME’s top 10 photos of this year and note that they all depict victims of violence, victims of disaster. Too many of us live in fear.

What will you do?

Candlelight Vigil for Peace - Boulder, Colorado Jesse Varner via Compfight