Wednesday, April 5, 2017

loneliness

I realized this past winter, that I am chronically lonely. Even when I am with friends, I am lonely. Even when I am joyful, I am lonely. It's like having a mild chronic illness along the lines of well-controlled asthma or surgically-corrected strabismus. For some periods of time, it's latent, and then it makes itself known again.

I get tired of being the odd numbered wheel.

My friends are wonderful and welcoming, but the vast majority of them are coupled, and being the third, the fifth, or the seventh at the table gets old. Excellent, wide ranging, adult conversation does not change the fact that when we all stand up, they are going home in pairs, and I am going home alone.

Because I have recently moved, I've been meeting lots of new people, and I have become fascinated by third fingers on left hands. Even in places where I tend to meet people separately from their partners, as at church and at work, the majority of my peers are similarly coupled.

There is a particular kind of loneliness in being a widow surrounded by couples.

There is also a particular kind of loneliness in being the adult in a household with teenagers.

My teenagers are good kids, and they have learned to bear greater responsibility for themselves than many of their peers are asked to, but their inherent adolescent selfishness means that the emotional labor of noticing that the animals need care and that the sinks need scrubbing is my burden. No amount of reasoned conversation followed by pleading followed by screaming followed by profanity has changed this.

This is the loneliness that comes of not being heard.

I get tired of being a broken record.

I don't dislike my own company, and I don't feel that I am an incomplete person as a single person. In fact, there are times that I quite enjoy making decisions without having to consult another person. Nonetheless, loneliness is part of my life. And I imagine in this I am not alone.


Monday, March 20, 2017

other people's books

The books toward which my hands are drawn in libraries and bookstores are all variations on the fairytale structure: overt retellings, nineteenth-century comedies of manners, high fantasy, so-called chick-lit. While there's nothing wrong with this generally, these categories all tend to feature romance and end as do comedies, with weddings filling the stage. And since my life is decidedly lacking in romance lately, reading only these sorts of books is less than great for my mental health.

I still don't like mysteries, westerns, or horror, so those genres are not a respite for me.

I do like reading books of essays. Some of the most prized books on my shelf are beautifully bound Henry Van Dyke volumes in which the short stories read like essays on profound things. I can still remember buying them one at a time from the antique shop as a teenager. I rather suspect that after the second one, the owner started keeping an eye out for more of them to feed my habit.

Unfortunately, the book of essays is not a very popular form these days. There is no section in bookstores dedicated to essays. Occasionally, a book of essays will make the best-seller list, like Eat, Pray, Love. Even more rarely, one like The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes pops up in a yarn shop.

The place I've had the most luck finding books of essays is in the religious life section. Not theology, not religious history, but the section of books about living life with faith. It's tough to choose off this shelf, though. Some of these veer over the edge into the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad, blow-by-blow memoir of life from birth through conversion like Augustine's Confessions. I don't like throwing books across the room, but sometimes there is no other choice. Others of these books veer over a different edge into preachy, how-to, self-help books. Those I throw into the donation box.

So I find myself relying on the recommendations of friends. Last spring, I read An Altar in the World, because Kathleen put it in my hands and said, "This. Now." In the autumn, I read Love Warrior, because Taylor found it to be profound. At Christmas, I reread Girl Meets God because decade-ago me thought it was amazing. This week I'm reading What Falls from the Sky because Erin sent it to me with the message that it sounded like I needed a new book. (Full disclosure: I do this, too. I gave Erin Girl Meets God for Christmas,  and I *just* handed Kathleen Chalice and Marriage and Other Acts of Charity randomly on a Wednesday with the words, "This. Now.")

While I've enjoyed each of these books and recognized the value of the wisdom they have to offer, I haven't felt like they speak to my soul the way they spoke to the soul of each of the women who recommended them.

These are other people's books.

I'm still looking for my books.



Friday, March 17, 2017

rejection


Yesterday, Facebook reminded me that eight years ago, the University of Oregon declined my proposal.
Which reminded me that eight years ago I was in the throes of a mild existential crisis. Before the four programs I applied to that year declined, I had never experienced that much rejection. It was quite a reversal from the experience of my senior year in high school when all five of the schools to which I applied accepted me and offered me money. 

The following year, my successful application to the program from which I earned my PhD in 2015, was a humbling lesson in How Things Work. Never before had I really understood the maxim that who you know is more important than what you know. It was absolutely my network connections that   pushed my submission to the top of the stack of applications from other eminently qualified people. 

In the last couple of years the realities of the academic job market have brought this experience of rejection back to my life. It's not unusual for job seekers in the humanities to submit upwards of 70 dossiers, each customized to the recipient institution, for 1-2 interviews and maybe 0-1 job offers each year.

I am, however, responding to rejection differently.

In her blog post "Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year" Kim Liao talks about flipping the way we regard the rejection slip. It is not evidence of unworthiness, but rather evidence of bravery. Evidence of the audacity to take a chance.

It's also evidence of productivity. In order to put oneself out there, a writer or an academic has to be producing the work to put in the envelope (read: e-mail attachment) in the first place. Aiming for one acceptance would mean slaving over a single document long beyond the point at which real improvement ceases to happen. Accepting the inevitability of, and *gasp* even celebrating, rejection means sending things out as soon as they are polished enough. And sometimes rejection comes with the advice needed to improve to the next level.

I'm not the same sort of writer that Liao is, and 100 rejections a year is beyond the scope of what I need to be aiming for as a writer of scholarly journal articles. But if I add up all the ways I want to be putting myself out there in the next year, I should be able to garner a healthy number of rejections from academic journals and presses, job postings, fellowships and grants, and potential friends and partners. I think I'll aim for 40.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

awry

Last night I checked the forecast and saw that this morning was going to be excellent weather for cycling: 48 F by 8 A.M. and rising into the sixties with sunny blue skies. I texted my cycling pals that we should play hooky, and Chris agreed.


Chris and I rolled out of the driveway about 8:45, heading for the new portions of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail on the far, east/south, side of the river.



It never ceases to amaze me that these monuments are part of my regular life. This bit of trail on the east side of the 14th St. bridge over the Potomac connects us to so many destinations.

The Anacostia Riverwalk Trail is beautiful, but not very photogenic at the moment, with wide smooth asphalt running along the river through floodplain parkland most of the way. The riverbanks were in that awkward stage when everything is starting to develop the green haze of spring, but it hasn't yet managed to cover the curmudgeonly grunge of winter. The Kenilworth tidal estuary marsh smelled like it was just starting to think about developing a funk.

We were a bit pressed for time today, and the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail extends deep into Maryland, so we set a time to turn around hoping that it would allow us to cross the DC-MD border.

My only picture from the trail is this one of Chris checking to see if we had reached Maryland when the marks on the trail changed from yellow to orange. We had indeed! Just under two hours and just over fourteen miles from home. 

The ride back felt like the landmarks were coming more quickly. (Why is that always true?) There was an intense and persistent headwind, though. 

And then.

Climbing up the second most awful bridge crossing in DC, all of a sudden my handlebars were not square with my front wheel. Since I was practically crawling up the incline, I was able to get my feet on the ground before I fell over. I reoriented the handlebars and started walking the bike. Chris had the tool we needed to tighten the handlebars, but not in a shape that we could use on this bike.

Meanwhile, I realized that the strap on my shoe had also broken, perhaps while being yanked out of the pedal clips, and every step made the shoe flop off my right foot. We didn't manage to improvise a solution to the handlebars, but I did have a velcro arm/ankle reflector band that was happily repurposed into a shoe-keeper-onner.

Having ridden only twenty-one of the twenty-eight miles of this route, I parted ways with Chris to metro home.


What started out as a grand and spontaneous adventure had gone awry.

This was my first time riding the metro with my bicycle and I learned that my bike and I can fit in a metro elevator with a full-sized motorized scooter, it's occupant, and one other passenger and also that I can carry my bike down a flight of stairs by hoisting the crossbar of the frame onto my hip. Less fortuitously, I learned that up-going escalators will further twist already misaligned front wheels and handle bars. That got interesting fast.

My bike and I rode the bus--using the bus-front bike rack was another first for us--straight to our neighborhood bike shop where a plain, old 6mm alan wrench solved the problem. Such a simple solution. The 6mm alan wrench from the set in my toolbox will be moving to my bike bag forthwith.

It wasn't really a big problem in the grand scheme of bicycles. It wasn't a punctured tire or a broken spoke. Nothing weird happened to the chain or the sprockets. But a slightly loose joint made my bike a dead weight instead of a powerful tool.

All in all, I suppose a disabled bicycle was easier to deal with than a disabled car would have been, I could still make it go where I wanted it to go, and I could lift and carry it when necessary. No tow truck required.



I'm glad to have made this ride to Maryland and halfway back and glad to have learned to use public transportation with my bike. I'm really sad the about the shoes. They were the best shoes, and I knew they were on their way out, but this forces the issue.

Biggest regret, though? I didn't have any knitting for the transit rides.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

birthdays

I love birthdays. I love my birthday. I love everyone else's birthdays. I especially love birthdays in the era of social media.

Facebook is the best thing to happen to birthdays since cake.

I know that not everyone agrees with me. At least one friend probably wishes that I would stop remembering the birthday he chooses not to mark publicly.

I just can't let go of the idea that birthdays are an amazing thing, though, so I selfishly celebrate everyone else's birthdays as well as my own.

A birthday is the day that commemorates the fact that someone wasn't, until suddenly they were.  Birthdays commemorate magic! (while I concede that technically birth is biology, I maintain that it actually is magic)

A birthday is also the day that celebrates successfully having completed one more trip around the sun, three hundred and sixty five more days above the soil. This is also a feat worth noticing.

Over twelve years I had gotten used to receiving a dozen roses on my birthday. I'd missed them these last three.

This year, I decided to treat myself.


Almost, I cried in the flower shop. Instead, I cried in the car in the parking lot of my building. Buying flowers for my own birthday did not used to be my job.

It is now.

It is magic that I am here. Today is the day I remember that once upon a time I wasn't, until suddenly I was. Today is the day I thank God for the privilege of waking up to put my feet on the ground.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

women's march

I marched because I am a woman.

I marched because I have a mother and daughters and sisters and aunts and grandmothers. 

I marched because I have held space for the fears of my immigrant students and friends. 
Photo Credit: Veronica

I marched because democracy looks like voting AND it looks like this. 

Today I stood with half a million feminists as we peacefully occupied the streets of Washington, DC. 
Photo Credit: Veronica

Today I sang protest songs on the overcrowded metro to the rally. 
Photo Credit: Anna

Today I walked back across the river because the metro was too full. 

Today I put my body where my mouth is. 

Today I stood up. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mark

My uncle died. I am sad that he is gone, that I will never see his wry smile except on the backs of my eyelids. I am not sad that his pain is over. Chronic illness in these last years made his life a daily challenge, made him old before his time. I am sad that I did not figure out how to be supportive, that I  did not make the transition from niece to friend.

So many of our best family stories feature Mark.

My earliest memories of this uncle are as the humbug in the dark room upstairs who loved cats more than little girls and who did not celebrate Christmas with the rest of the family. The first year he decided to rejoin the holidays, he bought my sister, my cousins and me wild things from Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Ted got Max because he was the only boy at that point. My sister Gwen, Ted's sister Gretchen, and I got Wild Things 1, 2, and 3 in age order.

I am Wild Thing 1.

This toy, now more than thirty years old, still has pride of place in my bedroom.

When I was graduating college, Mark called and asked if he could come. I was surprised, but my mom pointed out that Mark had never had kids of his own, but he had me. He came, and I was glad he was there.

I thank him for teaching me cleverness, for honing my wit, and for showing me through his choices that it is possible to challenge the systems in which we participate. I can be a devout Methodist with heretical tendencies because Mark was an anarchist who worked for the IRS. Remind me to tell you the story about the name tags sometime.