Sisyphus Freed

The last day of February was one of those rare early spring days when the warm air swirls in, refreshing the previously frozen classrooms. It was Monday morning and walking down the hallway, Joe Henderson realized he had been here since 1985. Thirty years of freshman compositions, Fahrenheit 451, and faculty meetings: those god-awful faculty meetings. Ups and downs of decades of pop culture and community gossip don’t stop at the school doors; they enter, magnified and dramatized for all to partake: the jello salad everyone wants to avoid but ends up taking a spoonful of anyway. His classroom was at the end of the hallway; where, despite building expansion and improvement, it had always been – next to the emergency exit.

Three steps away from the classroom, something snapped. He kept walking.

The door swung open and the dropped photocopies spun a whirlwind around him; the alarm began wailing.

Mr. H was done.

 

man sunset

 

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Can We Talk?

Have you ever felt disconnected?  People will argue that there is really no excuse to not have some connections today. Connections to the past: hello, high school person whom I didn’t like then and doubt I will now. Connections to the present: tweets rolling in about things I have never heard of and probably didn’t need to. Connections to the future: possible dates matched and delivered, replete with highly questionable photos.

social mediaAfter living around the U.S. and abroad, I am connected to friends and acquaintances via social media and email. But, it is not on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram that I have found my most interesting connections to people – it is in talking to people that I have discovered weird and unexpected connections that seem to mean a little more and last a little longer than just scrolling through the algorithm’s “people you might know.”   I mean if we really talk – you know, open up and share things that bounce around in our gut, ricocheting off our heart and liver, it is in such conversations, we will discover that it is really a small world, and we are totally and utterly not alone. Let me prove it.

  1. Weird Coincidence Friendship: Exhibit A: Some years back (when I was on match.com) a Russian man from upstate New York messaged me, asking why I spoke Russian. We struck up an online friendship that led to two real-time meetings when middle son visited colleges. There was no “match” except for the fact that I had gone to school about two blocks away from his school in Moscow; and, we had lived in Chicago at the same time; and, we both had three children; and, we both are twice divorced in the same years. Sure, we started out online, but real conversation solidified a friendship that at the moment is centered around the on-going political fiasco in our country.
  2. What Are the Odds Connection: Exhibit B: Last weekend youngest son and I met with a former student/current friend coffee cupswho is a linguistics professor. In the course of our catching up, I told her about eldest son’s adventure in Peru and my motherly trepidations about his sudden travel. Turns out, she does research on disappearing languges in Peru, has in-the-field colleagues there, and she has been there several times and vouched for the relative safety of the country.
  3. Collegial Connections: Exhibit C: In working with a wide variety of teachers, I often discover some level of connection to other educators. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was working with a teacher who had been at a school where I had taught years prior to her tenure. Nevertheless, we discovered that we not only have shared acquaintance with some of the teachers who worked there over the years, but also that she taught the daughter of one of my dear friends.
  4. Really, Truly Unbelievable: Exhibit D: When middle son was in middle school, he was at a birthday party. As I waited for the party to finish, a fellow parent I were chatting. It came to light that he had lived in West Des Moines (where I went to high school), and as it turned out, I am a classmate of one of his daughters, and I knew his other two children. He had since divorced and remarried, and the daughter at the party in question was a great friend of my middle son. Oh, this all took place in Augusta, Georgia.

Would I have ever known about these connections or had these conversations if I had spent most of my time online? Maybe. But, having these conversations filled with mutual discovery, shared backgrounds and interests, and multiple exclamations of “What a small world!” created a connections that are more than a birthday reminder or notices about what events everyone is “interested in.” Don’t get me wrong: I use social media as much as the next guy. (Obviously!) But, maybe we ought to continue to age-old tradition of real conversation – who knows, we might find that we like it.

Join me.

 

It’s A Start

Every day thousands of bad ideas are pitched. These bad ideas start everywhere: they bounce off board room walls and hobble around in classrooms.

But the truly bad ideas pop up on text messages late at night, usually fairly well marinated.

“I’m just using you.”

“K.”

Does that bother you?”

“No.”

“Then come over.”

“K.”

 

cellphone

 

In a Fetal Position

So, did you know that you can actually sleep comfortably in a tightly curled fetal position? I did not. I have always spread out to sleep. Sprawl is the word that leaps to mind.

fetalBut, needing to sleep tightly curled up: this was news to me. This is the only way I can sleep now. Because, let’s be honest with: one son who announces he is moving to Peru; two graduate classes that I resent having to take; three new work assignments; four upcoming writers’ events; and at least five friends/family who I really want to spend time with – it’s all a bit much.

I have never really had insomnia. I’m a good sleeper. I like sleep. Not this week. I woke up almost every hour – wondering, pondering, thinking, crying. It’s been rough.

You have probably been there. Someone died. Or broke your heart. Or moved away. Or, maybe, just maybe, some shit went down that you didn’t even really engage with but it had an effect on you. That happens. Shit happens. You will survive. I will survive.

That’s the message: with or without sleep, you will carry on. You may have to find a way to sleeping that is new and awful: crunched fetal position qualifies. You may have to find new friends. A new job. A bizarre new way of being to carry you through.

You can do it. We all can.

Hang in there. Hang on to your friends. Curl up. Eat chocolate. Drink water. Drink wine. But, remember, this will pass. You can and will survive.

Onward. Together.

Join me.

On Being The Tree

Runaway Bunny

 

There was never any plan – not a scripted one – not the way some parents claim, “Oh, I always knew he would grow up to be a ___.” Fill in that blank with whatever college mascot or professional endeavor one’s social circle deems the best.

No, I had no visions of who or what my children would be; I still don’t. I really do want all three of them to pursue endeavors that will lead them to be able to create the kind of life they want to live. When youngest son says that he wants to be a drag queen, and then, “when my looks start to go, I’ll teach middle school,” I smile and think, “That’s not a bad plan.” In fact, I privately think of this as the mullet plan: business in the front, party in the back.

But last Tuesday I got a series of text messages from eldest son announcing that he is moving to Peru. Today. This day. February 16, 2016. He plans to hike and survive in Peru and perhaps beyond for as long as he wants to – on his own. Alone.

My imagination is one quarter made-for-TV movie, one quarter horrific documentary, and two quarters overthinking. I suppose all parents believe that they support what their children want to do; the thing about that is: sometimes our children want to do stuff we never thought of and we wish they hadn’t. So, I’m worried and scared and a little sad.

The last time he traveled internationally he was three and slept with his brother in the bulkhead of an SAS jet, cuddling a new teddy bear from Copenhagen. Hiking and camping in South America will be different than that. Of course, he has email; he says he’ll be in semi-regular touch.

There are all kinds of quotes that extol the importance and requirement of letting children go, allowing them seek their own paths, not trying to control, and allowing for followed passions. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I believe all of that shit, but when it means your son is moving far away to be in semi-regular contact – well, that’s the test, isn’t it? One thing to say you believe something, and it’s quite another to be forced to live that out.

Perhaps you are better at this than I am. You have always said what you believed, believed what you said, and lived it out. If so,  I have certainly tried to follow your example, but this one’s a little harder for me. Still, I have to believe he can do this and love it and learn from it. Right? It’s not about me; it’s about his finding his way to that life that he wants. Right? If we don’t have faith in our kids, then something’s gone wrong. Right?

So, join me.

No, seriously – join me. Come over, bring some wine and kleenex, and hold my hand. This one might take me a minute.

 

 

 

Wings

You could tell by the way she stepped out of the car that she’d just cheated on her husband of twenty years. There was a certain confidence to her gait. She saw herself with new, powerful eyes. A woman who will cheat on a perfectly unflawed marriage is a woman who has a kind of lethal potential that cannot be ignored. No, not potential exactly – a certain malevolence.

Her clothes were the same – her life unchanged – her earrings were the same pearls that she always wore. But around her – some might call it an aura – there was the whiff of sulfuric acid.

She felt the same as she had the day before. Her medical office managing style would stay the same. She drove the same 2012 BMW convertible, and she still had to be home by 6:30 to meet the furnace man for the pre-winter check that happened every October 12.

There is something real about unconscious effects of every action.

The butterfly effect: one betrayed union in Milledgeville can cause an avalanche in Tibet.

butterfly landing on flower

 

VD: Time for a Little Self-Love

MCA little Valentine’s Day quiz. I am: (a) cuddled in bed with a lover  (b) looking forward to a romantic dinner with a partner (c) wistfully wishing for a lover and thinking about re-installing Tinder (d) none of the above.*

In the year 2016 in America, we have a holiday wherein we celebrate love – emphasizing romantic love. However, a cursory perusal of history sites and Wikipedia tells me that this holiday that carries the name of three martyred saints who became quite popular in England and France. Our holiday also aligns with a pagan festival  that involved animal sacrifices and slapping women with the bloody animal hide. Our celebration then, is of death and blood? Or love? It can feel like both, regardless of your relationship status.

Still, greeting card factories and florists need to make a living too, and so we forge on. I had a friend in college who spent every Valentine’s Day in bed. No amount of cajoling, sympathy, or even alcohol could get her up and out. I have a couple of current friends who bemoan this “holiday.” The women wail because they have no love to buy them flowers and treat them; the men gnash teeth because of societally generated expectations. (If that’s you guys – don’t forget about the holiday on March 14.)

I say dispense with expectations and teeth-gnashing and focus on the love. The love must always begin at home, with ourselves.

Don’t just SAY “Yeah, yeah, I know, I have to love myself, blah, blah, blah . . . ” but you must actually ACT on that. Maybe you need a day of couch surfing and Netflix binging to recharge; perhaps a long walk and fresh air; a chunk of time spent reading or journaling; maybe go build something, plan something, or putter in the garage? Whatever it is, as middle son says, take time and “treat yoself.” Because once you do that, you’ll be more willing and able to treat others.

Since it looks like we’re stuck with Valentine’s Day for the foreseeable future, we can at least do it right. Make it really about authentic love for our partners, our kids, our pets, our friends, but first of all: love for ourselves. If what we do is genuine, then this mid-winter shower of red and white might be less like a martyrdom or the pagan sacrificing of a a goat and a dog (for fertility and purification, respectively) on the festival of Lupercalia, and more like a moment just to celebrate the people we care about.

Join me.

(*answer: (d) none of the above: I’m having a cappuccino, watching the snow fall, and reading the Sunday NYT.)