Saturday, February 25, 2012

These days of Lenten journey

I have been working on my plan for Lent this year, even though Lent has already started. It kind of describes where I am right now, in a lot of ways, so I will just jump right in.

This year, because my schedule is so full, I am giving things up rather than doing extra things, because just doing my actual things takes up so much time already. Here are the things I am giving up, and the reasons why:

Cursing. I use a lot of profanity in my daily life, and I really don't have an excuse for it. I came by it through a lot of stress and aggravation, but the truth is that profanity doesn't make it better. It's bad for my kids to hear it, and it's confusing for them when they are punished for copying it, because if it was so bad to use those words, why does Mom do it? I feel like the profanity gives off an ungrateful attitude -- like, in spite of all my blessings, the fact that I can't find the kids' shoes somehow means I have to color the whole day ugly by cursing about it.

So far I would give myself a B on this one. I have slipped a few times, in moments of fairly high stress. So I am working to be more aware of situations in which I might be more prone to cursing, and use other strategies like taking breaks, being prepared for things ahead of time, and just giving myself little don't-curse-now-sweetie pep talks.

I know that I can succeed at this, because when I am around my super conservative friends and family, I can refrain from cursing with no problem. So I know my brain can do it. The issue will be changing the habit, and not slipping back into it when under duress.

Political polemics. This is one of my biggest social faults -- getting into political debates, especially on Facebook, where it is easier to not be civil. I am recently so disgusted by the uncivil nature of political discussion, my own contributions included. I can't make everyone in the world mind their manners, but I can mind my own manners, and in the end maybe be a better ambassador for the kinds of political ideas I feel strongly about, if I am ever in a position to share those beliefs. It is an election year, which means that I want to crawl in a hole until November, pop out to cast my vote, and then crawl back in the hole until about summer of the following year. I can already see that things are going to get out of hand, and that June through November are going to be insane on all forms of media -- news, social, comedy, you name it.

Harsh words. Sometimes (often) when I am feeling stress, I have a very sharp tongue and I say mean things to the people around me, or about other people, or about anything around me. It's a bad habit that is a lot like profanity, in that it causes stress for other people and it doesn't really help the situation.

One thing I can't refrain from is writing about religion, dagnabbit. I can't give it up. It's so strongly on my mind. But I will strive to continue writing in a descriptive, rather than prescriptive way. I just want to relate my own experience, not tell anyone else what they ought or ought not to do or say or think or believe. I feel strongly, especially lately, that the spiritual journey is a really complex thing, and that we have to let go the idea of having other people understand us perfectly, and of the idea that others should be in the exact same spot on the path that we are. It is unrealistic and short-sighted to believe that everyone could or should be standing on the same game-board square at the same time. My job is to mind my business and share ideas respectfully and with love when an opportunity comes along.

I have another project, and that is the first draft of the novel I have been writing, thinking, and dreaming about since Chris was a baby. I finally have a handle on it and I have mapped out my draft. I am going to finish the first rough, terrible draft by the end of Lent. I have 43 days left, and it is totally within possibility at this point. I feel set-free about this because I was reading some advice from Ira Glass about creative work, and I realized that part of why I kept freezing up when I was trying to tell this story was because I wanted it to be So Good and everything, when, because it is my first attempt, it is just not going to be that good. So that frees me from the need to make it good. Instead, I can just tell the story to the best of my ability, and print it out and bind it up and stick it in the closet, and maybe one day my daughter will like reading it, or something. And the act of writing it might free me up to work on more successful creative projects later.

Do you observe Lent, or something like it? What do you focus on?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lost and Found

Little sticky hands that hug
Apple juice stains on the rug
Naptimes quiet as the snow
Dark memories from long ago

Initials carved into the tree
What it was like just you and me
Midnight dancing nightlife fun
I love you more than anyone

The way I used to look at you
The way you used to want me too
The love that brought us to
The way we are

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bouncing back to you

This past month has been a roller coaster of emotional and physical highs and lows. The ride began in early January as we found out that Ben's contract at work was ending rather suddenly, and we had to get a new plan, more or less right away.

At once, everything was turned upside down. My life, which had been slowly shaping into a neat, orderly silver breakfast tray -- toast here, juice there, two eggs over-easy on a shiny white plate -- had just been tossed in the air, and I was standing there staring up, wondering if I should try to catch anything on its way down, or if I should just duck and run.

In the end things worked out very well, and I can tentatively say that the work-home-family situation is even better now than it was before, as a result of the shake-up shakedown. I am working more hours from home, which I genuinely love. I really enjoy being engaged in the professional world, and my time as a stay-at-home and work-from-home mom has emphasized this trait in me even more.

In the process of getting the details in order, though, there was no shortage of tears, sleepless nights, and anger (at no one and nothing in particular, just anger at the fact that such a thing could happen to us, as if we are unique and should be saved from the uncertainty that is a part of life).

Before the bombshell, I had been reading a lot, but later, in between weeping, eating carbs, and obsessively applying for jobs, I watched a lot of movies and TV, trying to find something that would resonate with the way I was feeling: chaotic and resentful, yet also somehow like I had been miraculously rescued and set free from a rat-maze that I wanted no part of. As the Old Way began to recede into the rear view, I began to look forward with not a little bit of excitement. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was the first dose of cinematic balm that I slicked over my wounds, reveling in the color scheme, which reminds me so much of the color panels in my dad's old World Book encyclopedia set. The dry humor of Cate Blanchett and Anjelica Huston blew over me like a cleansing arctic wind. The appearance of the jaguar shark brought me to tears as I recognized something familiar: the beast that ate my comfortable past, the beautiful terror that leads me to something better in the future.

Aside from the more obvious positive changes, the employment shift has allowed for some other, more surprising bright spots as well:

*I got to take part in the first interview in which I had good questions for the interviewer, and the answers to those questions led me to know that I didn't want the job. It was a very smartly powerful feeling, to know the right questions to ask (will I be filling out the paperwork on the clock or on my own time?) and to hear in the mincing answer that this was the kind of job I went to school to get away from.

*While I was turned upside down, for a while, by the stress, I bounced back much, much more quickly than I would have otherwise, and for the first time I faced a biggish crisis without descending into that sticky tar pit of self-hatred. This sounds kind of dramatic, but I think if we are honest, most of us have been to that place of loathing when things go sour, stuck in a circle of thoughts about what we ought to have done, and what we should have known, blah blah blah. Normally in a crisis I set up a tent by the shore of that tar pit, and stick my feet in it at least up to the ankles. This time, it didn't get me. I am learning not to view everything in the narrow terms of transgression and punishment -- at my better moments I was able to see the situation -- the dreaded Layoff -- as something that just happened, not as a curse sent to me specifically in retribution for some thing I did, or forgot to do. I could also see that viewing things as punishment or reward for me personally makes the problems all about me a frankly arrogant and childish way. Why does every event have to center around me? It doesn't. And what a relief.

*To put it briefly, Ben and I got to reinvent ourselves in some really productive ways. How often had we daydreamed about making this exact switch, but never really actually done it? Being forced to do it made it more stressful, but it was also, at several points, exciting and fun. What shall we be today? To have it really be a question was a departure from the normal adult everyday routine. I can't say that I would purposefully do it again, at least not very soon, but in its own way, it was good.

The summary of the benefits of the whole situation comes in a short description of an afternoon I had last week. I had been grading papers and editing for several hours, and my work was drawing to a close. Ben, about to get in the car to fetch Chris from school, stuck his head in the "office" (AKA our bedroom with a giant table set up in it).

"Do you want some sushi?" he asked.

"Yes. Definitely yes."

"Ok, cool," he said. "I'll grab some at Publix on my way home."

If you have never been a SAHM, this exchange might not seem all that fantastical or noteworthy. But to me, it was like the first ray of sunshine on the first morning of the first day.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

New Article!

Hi Everybody,

Pop on over to Slack Lust and check out my new "Family Album" piece about blessings, hard times, and (of course) grapefruit.