Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fear. Show all posts

Thursday, May 4, 2017

guessing wrong

Turning thirty-five felt like a major milestone. I had only just been widowed, and it felt like I had lived the events of an entire lifetime in but half of my threescore and ten. I felt like I had done everything, and I wasn't sure what was left.

And then I realized that I had the opportunity to make all the choices of adulthood anew. To begin again.

In some ways this has been incredibly frightening. When I made these decisions the first time, I had only myself to think about. Now, I am responsible for children and pets and debt and an estate. Now, I have lost my sense of invincibility.

The privilege of being the spouse who lived carries with it a burden to get things right, an irrational sense that choosing wrong dishonors the dead. (Reader, I can hear the platitude you're thinking. Just stop. Do not type it in the comments.) The irrationality does not make the burden any less real.

In a post in January Mike at Internet Monk meditated on a brief passage from Thomas Merton that has been rolling around in my head since then:
Our vocation is not a sphinx’s riddle, which we must solve in one guess or else perish. Some people find, in the end, that they have made many wrong guesses and that their paradoxical vocation is to go through life guessing wrong. It takes them a long time to find out that they are happier that way.
As I make decisions for my second life, the roads not taken in my first life have loomed large. Should I have chosen them then? Are they still available to me? Should I choose them now? What if I choose wrong again?

And yet, the vaporizing of my old life that came with widowhood, the instantaneous disappearance of my marriage, the release of the moorings that held me at Rambling Farmhouse showed me that any decision I make can be unmade by circumstance. Even decisions that felt permanent when I made them have been undone, and that undoing did not ruin me.

As I make decisions now, I might guess wrong.

I might choose wrong, and that's okay.

Even decisions that are wrong, even decisions that are right and then are undone, are worthwhile.

I can go through life guessing wrong, and knowing that even permanent decisions are not actually, and still be happy.



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.

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. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

finding the joy

I've been having a bit of a freakout this summer.

On paper, my career is moving in a good direction: I submitted an article to an academic journal and am now revising in response to reviewer comments. That same journal asked me to review someone else's submission. I accepted a postdoctoral teaching fellowship at a denominational liberal arts college. All positive signs of my professional development.

Although I've been celebrating my new full-time teaching fellowship with cheers and champagne and flaily muppet arms, I couldn't find the joy. I felt relief as this job lifts the burden of worry about finances, I felt gratitude for the recognition of my skills, but not joy for the work itself.

And then I felt guilty for not feeling joy. I love teaching. This job should have put me over the moon. Where was the joy?!?!?!?

Then, I had a disturbing epiphany. The last time I started to feel like a professional who was being taken seriously, the last time I had made my career a priority, tragedy exploded my life. The last time I allowed myself to believe these things were real and that I deserved them, I had to give them up. The circumstances--signing contracts, planning research, settling in to my own space--feel familiar.  I'm having trouble trusting this reality again. My lack of joy is like a Pavlovian conditioned response: professional security will be followed by darkness and turmoil, so prepare thyself.

Since I've been able to see the dynamics at play, they've had less power. My full-on freakout has subsided to the normal stage fright I have at the beginning of every semester.

And today, there was even some joy. At this university, the faculty dress for convocation. Since I didn't march in my doctoral commencement, today was the first day I got to wear a hood and tam.



It felt pretty amazing.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

audacity

A little over three years ago, people started telling me I was brave. For a long time, this label made me deeply uncomfortable. But people just. kept. saying it, and I got tired of debating my (lack of) bravery.

First I practiced not arguing with the people who told me I was brave. When I had mastered that, I practiced not physically recoiling from the word. And when I had finally mastered that, I started thinking about what they might see that I did not.

Because, really, from my perspective, I have not done anything brave or, for that matter, anything strong. First I did the next necessary things. Then I did the next logical things. Then I did the next possible things.

In a fit of nostalgia this evening, I was watching the 2001 romantic comedy Kate and Leopold, and Hugh Jackman's character told Meg Ryan's character that
The brave are simply those with the clearest vision of what is before them--glory and danger alike--and notwithstanding go out to meet it.
It's a beautiful definition, but it certainly doesn't apply to me. While I have continued to act despite fear, I wouldn't say that I've ever had a clear vision.

Recently accepting a postdoctoral teaching fellowship, a full-time contract position with salary and benefits, was such a joy. I was walking down the sidewalk that afternoon, grinning like a fool, and feeling validated, not only by the job offer but also by recent progress in academic publication.

A little over a year ago I was an unemployed graduate student whose life was in boxes, and now I'm a post-doctoral teaching fellow with one article forthcoming and another under review.

A little over a year ago I was an unemployed graduate student whose life was in boxes...and I moved my family halfway across the country? Without a job? What the fuck was I thinking?

This last year could have gone much, much differently. All along, I had had a vague sense that things might not work out, and I made sure that there was enough cash in my emergency fund to drag my life back to Kalamazoo if necessary, but I did not have a clear vision of the dangers until this moment in which I finally feel safe.

I only ever see my own audacity in hindsight.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"to make beautiful even the reckoning"

In a recent post about coping with a baby who doesn't sleep, Sarah Bessey wrote:
I think that when we are faced with something we cannot fix or control – however small or however big – it can break us wide open and we discover who we were underneath the comfort trappings of answers or affluence or health or even sleep or whatever it is that we’ve lost. And then when the underneath of us is out in the fresh air, I think it’s an opportunity to heal it, to strengthen it, to make beautiful even the reckoning.
And my heart wept. Bessey, even in her sleep-deprived state, eloquently expresses an idea that I have been circling around for months.

Tragedy and tribulations force us to ask whether we really believe what we say we believe, whether we have the courage to let our beliefs guide our actions. When ten schoolgirls were shot in 2006, the nation was shocked as the Amish community lived out the faith they profess, showing compassion to the family of the gunman. I admired them, but I thought it must be terribly difficult.

In 2013, I found myself in a similar situation. When a reckless teenager killed my husband, many of our friends wanted me to be angry, to exact punishment, to demand that she be tried as an adult. Beyond simply being too numb to be angry, I realized that I could not make those demands. I just could not, not if I believe that adolescence is psychologically and physiologically different from adulthood, not if I believe that the rehabilitative justice of the juvenile court is more effective than the retributive justice that dominates the American legal system, not if I believe that my faith calls me to compassion. That summer was, as Bessey describes, a moment in which I was broken wide open, and I had to discover who I was.

Right now, American society has been broken wide open. Domestic and international terrorism and the wars and military actions in which we participate strip away our collective sense of safety and security. We feel threatened, we feel vulnerable, and the world seems chaotic, but it is in our response to this loss of the sense of control that we discover who we are. If we respond to our broken-openness with fear, if we scramble to cover the underneath of us that has been exposed, we become not what we believe ourselves to be.

We Americans have long professed values of openness and inclusivity. Indeed, the symbol of our liberty invites to these shores the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. If we want to continue to profess these values, we must look to them to guide the decisions we make. Even if the poor and the tired do not look like us or worship like us or speak our language. Even when it is difficult. Even when welcoming immigrants and refugees may change us as much as being among us changes them.


Friday, November 27, 2015

begin again

Over the course of the last two-and-half years, I've talked a lot about inhabiting the liminal space between end and beginning, and recently a beautiful drawing captured this so well:

I can hardly believe I'm putting a Mitch Albom quote on this blog,
but I couldn't resist the artwork by Mike Medaglia at http://mikemedaglia.com

The King James translation of Psalm 90 tells us that the alotted time of a human life is threescore years and ten. I feel like in half that time, I have lived an entire life.

My thirty-six years have arguably checked all the major boxes: childhood, youth, college, marriage, homeownership, babies, graduate school, widowhood. I have loved and birthed and buried and mourned.

The vision that I had for what my threescore and ten would look like died with Adam. That was a frightening, almost paralyzing, realization.

But as I learned to make my way through the dark wilderness, I realized that it was also liberating.

I get to choose a new life.

I get to make all the decisions of early adulthood over again: Where do I want to live? City or country? What kind of partner do I want? Do I even want a partner?  Do I want more children? Do I want to stay in academia? Is it the right place for me? Is it the best way to support my family? What other job would feed my soul?

I can choose differently than the last time I answered those questions. I get to reimagine the second half of my threescore and ten.

Some of those decisions are still under consideration; others have been made; some of the latter may yet change.

Selling Rambling Farmhouse and Rustic Lakehouse and moving several hundred miles to Lovely Apartment felt like the beginning of beginning. Having said good-bye to our cat Jack feels like the end of ending, the end of the season of leave-taking that began with #1 Cat's death just a month before Adam's. Although I know that there will always be periods of loss and grief in my life as long as there is love, at the moment, the light of hope is gaining on the darkness.

This is a good place to be at the beginning of Advent.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

a glimpse of certainty

Every time I come to Washington, I try to be on campus for a worship service. When I come to this city, but not to this space, I go home feeling like I have missed something.

This time, though, even as I was happy to be here, I was asking myself why I do this. United Methodist worship services happen on Thursdays at 11:00 PM and Sundays at 7:00 PM, neither of which is particularly convenient for travel.

Photo credit: AU Ambassadors
https://auambassadors.wordpress.com/tag/kay-spiritual-life-center/


As I was standing on the quad on this most recent trip, I realized why.

When this was my home, I was happy, I felt safe, and I knew where I was going, and when I come back here my self remembers that identity. It's comfortable, like favorite clothes long lost in the back of the closet.

Putting that identity back on is, of course, impossible. When I leave, I’m still the same nervous, fearful person who has little idea where she’s going, but I have a renewed sense of what that old certainty felt like.

Somehow, having that memory like a token in my pocket makes the uncertainty of my present world more bearable. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

not pretty

I've unfollowed a couple of my colleagues on Facebook recently. Their well-deserved joy at their own progress has been feeding the monster of my impostor syndrome.

One Colleague: Just cut a 60 page chapter down to ten pages for conference presentation!
In my head: 60 page chapter?!?! Who does that? Are my chapters so short that my committee will just tell me to quit? What am I missing?

Other Colleague: Writing my acknowledgements! Submitting the defense paperwork!
In my head: I'm happy for other colleague, who has worked hard, but I started first. What have I been doing all this time? Why didn't I work harder?

Still Other Colleague: Finishing up an r&r. It's so much easier the second time.
In my head: The second time? A second article accepted? *sob*

I don't begrudge my friends their celebration of their accomplishments. Really, I don't. This job is hard, and often lonely, and we need to invite others to celebrate with us when we get something done. Yay, my colleagues!

I'm not interested in beating my colleagues in the marathon that is the dissertation process, either, but I'm having a really hard time continuing to run while being lapped.  I'm already a year behind where I wanted to be, and even knowing that I spent that year becoming a damn fine head of household and executor of estate is little consolation.

As with the tendency toward photos of clean, smiling children and tidy houses on social media, academics' posts about our writing tend to present more the good parts than the bad parts, which leads to a skewed impression of what the academic writing process looks like.

So, here's a shout out to any other graduate students who are struggling:

 It's not pretty over here. My prose looks like shit. A significant number of my footnotes say, "FIND SOURCE!!!" I've fallen out of love with my dissertation several times now. My books are all in boxes  < snark > because moving in the middle of a dissertation was a great idea < /snark>. I'm slogging.

If any of that resonates with your experience, here's a fist bump of solidarity: p#d

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

walls

Seventeen years ago, I took the train to Indiana to ring in the New Year with my boyfriend.

He said, "I want a house. If I buy a house, will you come for the summer?"

I said yes.

Over spring break I helped him move in to Rambling Farmhouse.

I can still see it as it was then with the avocado refrigerator and the goldenrod stove, the drop ceiling and the shag carpeting.

"The Brady Bunch threw up in this house," the realtor said.

We set up a Danish modern couch, leather swivel chairs, a pole lamp, and string art. And we owned it.

After that first summer we still loved each other, so the summer after that I moved all my worldly possessions to Rambling Farmhouse, and the summer after that we got married.

He carried me across the threshold. The next year, we carried Anna into this house, and the year after that, Sofia.

And then I carried him over the threshold.

Within these walls I became a wife, a mother, a professional, a widow. These walls have contained my adulthood.

Today begins my life beyond these walls.

The movers are coming to take the heavy furniture to our (temporary) new digs at Rustic Lakehouse. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the girls and I will sort our worldly possessions. Some things we will carry over a new threshold, some things we will part with forever.

Then, I will hand over the keys to a new family, who will claim these walls as we once did.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

donate

For hours after my husband died, the phone just kept ringing. People were returning my, "Hi, this is Kate. Please call me as soon as you can," messages. Each call meant I had to darken someone else's day with my terrible news, and each of these conversations made the horror more real.

In the quiet of the evening, a different kind of call came. Mark had heard the news already and, having processed his shock, called to sit with me. In addition to the tragedy of the day, we talked about normal everyday things, and this was a conversation that reminded me I was still alive.

Then came the best call of the day. When the voice on the phone said she was calling from Gift of Life Michigan's organ and tissue donation program, I said, "I'm so happy you called!" I think she was a little surprised to hear the word 'happy.'

I had known that Adam wanted to be an organ donor. However, that paperwork usually happens in the hospital. I never went to the hospital, and I didn't think to mention it to the police officers who came to the house. By the time Gift of Life called, organ donation was no longer a possibility, but I gave permission to harvest whatever tissues they could. This conversation was a reminder that even death contributes to life.

The woman who called me was the epitome of compassion, but it was still a difficult conversation. It was not easy to give permission for the body of my husband to be cut apart when a part of me wanted to jealously guard all that was left. It was not easy to talk through a medical history that carried with it so many memories.

I did it anyway because I know that donation saves and enriches lives. My uncle lived more than ten years with a second heart. A friend lives today thanks to a live donor's bone marrow. Somewhere there are people whose lives are better for Adam's donation. One young woman wrote me a letter to say that her new knee means that she can ride again.

I'm telling you about this now because Adam was included in Gift of Life Michigan's donor honors ceremony this year. We could not attend, but they sent this:


So many donors. 

So many young donors.

So much new life. 

It's gut wrenching and beautiful.

I hope you'll consider being a donor, too. 

Mark your driver's license, tell your family, swab your cheek. Save a life.

Friday, September 26, 2014

breadwinner

Two Mays ago Old Cat's death was hard on all of us. It was especially hard for me to watch our younger cat Jack wonder where she had gone.  When Jack came into our lives as a strapping young boy, Old Cat was already old, and, although smaller than he was, she boxed his ears and told him in no uncertain terms that she was #1 Cat. She had first claim to my lap, to my bed, to any open doors, and to the food. For weeks after she died, when I set the food down Jack looked around to see if she was coming before he started to eat. He looked at me with disbelief that it could be just for him. This past January when Buttercup came into our lives, Jack went into a tailspin again. He knew he didn't want to be #2 Cat to this young brat, but he didn't know how to be #1 Cat.

As I've been working on job applications these past couple of weeks, it occurs to me that I'm a little bit like Jack. While I wouldn't say that I was subordinate to my late husband, I had settled into my role as the trailing spouse, the one whose career would always happen in the space around the breadwinner's career. There were a lot of practical reasons that Adam would always be the breadwinner: Because his age and his co-op experience put him ten years ahead of me in career development, because he was an engineer, and I am a language teacher, because he was a man, and I am a woman, his salary would always have outstripped mine. For most of our marriage, in fact, my contribution to the family's income was ten percent of his.

When I started my PhD, the desired plan was that I would find work within daily or weekly commuting distance from Rambling Farmhouse, working as an adjunct until something full-time or tenure track came up. As things got worse for Adam at his workplace here, we started talking about my doing a national search for full-time work and moving the whole family to whatever I found, but it still had to be a geographic area within a daily or weekly commute to something for Adam.

My trailing spouse status was not only a result of our relative earning potentials, though. It was also about the difference in how driven we were. Adam always wanted to reach higher; he wanted to manage a group of engineers, to run a multi-million dollar project, to move the company from good to great, to start his own business, to work at the cutting edge. Me? I don't crave leadership. I don't burn to see my name on a publication. I don't aspire to eminent scholar status. I don't settle for shoddy, but I'll never be a rock star researcher. My elbows aren't sharp enough, and I don't own brass knuckles. I want to do what I love and do it well, and really, that's the perfect attitude for a trailing spouse.

I don't get to have that attitude anymore.

Insurance settlements and Social Security payments buy me some time retool the plan, but they will not last forever. As they cease to fill the coffers each month, I have to take this career that was intended to be secondary and find a way to support myself, my children, and our critters in the present while also preparing for college and retirement in the future. All of a sudden, I'm the #1 Cat, but no one is offering me first choice of the food each night.

I have to be the breadwinner, and it frightens me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

fear

Last year, several weeks after my husband died, I had dinner with an old friend whose summer travels brought him past Rambling Farmhouse. At the end of the evening, as we made our farewells with a hug, I suddenly felt safe, and it was such a relief. Until that moment, I had not realized what a frightening place my world had become or the degree to which  fear was informing my decisions. Though the world was no less frightening when the hug was over, that brief solace made it possible for me to see, and seeing is the first step toward coping.

I used to say that I had lost my invincibility when I became a mother. In the moment that I realized another being depended on me for sustenance and protection, I suddenly became aware of how vulnerable human beings are, how we take risks as we live our daily lives. It was frightening at first, but life is worth the risks, and I learned to live with this new awareness.

I thought that motherhood had allowed me to see through the illusion of my own invincibility, but widowhood showed me that the illusion of invincibility, albeit in fainter form, was still with me. Part of the tenacity of the illusion comes from the way we talk about risk, I think. When we hear statistics like the risk of death in a car accident is 1 in 6,700, it's easy to disregard the one. That one will be someone else, someone distant, someone unconnected to us. But someone has to be the one.

It has been harder to learn to live with the new awareness of vulnerability this time, in large part because I don't have a partner to lean on.

Though I recognize that fear is a normal part of grief, I find that it manifests itself in unexpected ways:

Like the way my mind gets caught in a hamster wheel of worry and doubt over things that shouldn't be worry worthy.

Like the way I avoid making estate-related phone calls because I imagine they will be awful, even though they are almost always less bad than I build them up to be.

Like the way I don't send pages to my dissertation committee because I worry they will say my work is awful.

Like the way I make poor choices about how to spend my work time because finishing my degree is frightening, even though I simultaneously really want to be done.

Everything is harder when lived through the lens of fear.

I sometimes wonder if we need the illusion of invincibility, if it is that illusion that allows us to rationalize the risks that we take every day. I'm not sure, though. Perhaps it's not an illusion of invincibility that we need, but confidence in our resilience.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

a glimpse of midlife

It used to be that the yellowed paperbacks in my life had come into my hands with their own history, having been read and loved and given up by someone else first.


This was new when I bought it.



Monday, May 26, 2014

unniversary

Today is not my thirteenth wedding anniversary, and that feels strange.

With my wedding present, Adam gave me a fiftieth anniversary card because he believed we would see that day. Even in our rockiest moments divorce was never an option, but because of that card we used to joke that we'd renegotiate the deal when we made it to fifty years. These days, when I'm frustrated with the estate process, I grumble that he reneged on our deal.


This has been one of the more challenging days for me in this year of firsts without Adam because there was not a logical thing to do, no traditions to guide the choice of how to mark this day. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter are all holidays which continue to be celebrated even without Adam because each of those days contains its own reasons and rituals. This anniversary, in contrast, commemorates a marriage that ended when death did us part.

Today may not be day to celebrate thirteen years, but it can become a day to remember the twelve amazing years and one month that we had. So, this evening, I pulled out our wedding album and tracked down the music Fellowship of Sound sang for us that day.

Fellowship of Sound (May 26, 2001): Nate, Stuart, Kate, Kate, Brad, Chris
Then, I opened the envelope of memories.


I am so grateful to the friends and family who took the time to answer my call for stories. For most of this year, though, I hadn't been able to bring myself to read them. As they arrived, I just slid them into their designated manila envelope, saving them for a nebulous 'later.'

I'm really glad later was today. Your stories capture Adam's boundless creativity,  his gracious hospitality, and his joyful laughter. Thank you for writing his portrait. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

seeing myself

Adam used to reflect me back to me, so that I saw myself in his eyes. Not in the sense that I let him define me, but in the sense that he was the reality check on the person I thought I was presenting to the world. He could separate the insecurities in my head from the flaws visible to others. He could see the potential that I doubted.

Now, I feel like I triangulate the feedback of others to get the same picture.

Like when John wanted to help me sell Rambling Farmhouse right away because he knows it was never my house, never the place I would have chosen for myself. Which reminded me of the first time Mark came to visit, and said, "Kate, I don't know what I expected your house to be, but this is not it."

I saw myself as free to leave this house behind.


Like when Erin talked about me balancing into the burdens of the last year.

I saw myself making progress and gaining confidence.


Like when Dorrie's words about the writing process made me realize that my problems aren't grief problems, but writing problems.

I saw myself making excuses.


It is so hard to dwell in this wilderness between end and beginning. Sometimes I feel like I imagine Moses must have felt, able to see the promised land after many years' wandering, but unable to cross over.  I yearn to move on, sometimes blaming paperwork and sorting for keeping me here, sometimes resenting Adam for leaving so many loose ends.

In more insightful moments, I understand that I'm still here because I'm still learning to see the self I am becoming.

Pardon me while I gather today's manna.

Monday, April 21, 2014

soapbox: bats & rabies & shots (oh, my!)

Pardon me while I turn this blog into a soapbox for a moment.

ahem

Rabies is one hundred percent deadly in humans once symptoms appear. This fact is key, and you should keep it in mind as I tell you the rest of this story.

The Adventure:

When I went to bed Friday night (Saturday morning, really), Sofia was already in my bed, so I pushed her over to make room for me, and then Buttercup and Jack stood on me until I made room for cats. All in all, a normal night.

I hadn't been asleep for long when I woke up to the sounds of thumping and chittering. Buttercup was hunting something underneath the old sewing machine table that I use as a nightstand, and I had no idea what it was, but it didn't sound like a mouse.  By the time I woke Sofia up and got her moving toward the door, Buttercup had chased whatever to the coat tree. When I followed her intense gaze upward, I saw a little brown bat hanging from my dress.

Even not very awake, I knew I wanted to isolate the bat, so I got Sofia to her room and closed the girls' bedroom doors. Then, I crawled back into my room, got both cats out, closed the door. So far, so good.

I sat down in the hall to wake up and think:
Fact: my bedroom door doesn't latch closed (we never got to the doorknob installation part of that remodel)
Fact: bats can fly through spaces as narrow as half an inch (like the gap around my door)
Fact: Buttercup was pretty determined to get back in
Fact: bats are challenging for cats to kill because they can wrap themselves in the leather armor of their wings

Buttercup's been fully vaccinated, so it was tempting to let her have at, but she's not actually very good at killing things. (Hunting and maiming, yes; killing, not so much.)

I peeked in and saw the unmistakable shape of bat swooping near the ceiling.

New plan: I woke the kids up, and took them and the cats downstairs and closed the stairs door. Then I army-crawled across my room to open the window that doesn't have a screen, grabbed my blanket, crawled back out, and went to sleep downstairs on the couch.

That open window was a critical tactical error, friends. Critical.

When I talked about this adventure online, a field scientist friend pointed out that I should have caught the bat and turned it over to appropriate authorities for testing, and that since I hadn't, I should probably consider rabies prophylaxis for Sofia and for me. I was skeptical, so I did some research.

The nurse on call at my doctor's office on Saturday morning said no shots unless I could find bites or scratches on myself or Sofia, but she couldn't really tell me what to look for. I looked but couldn't find anything suspicious.

But then I read The Washington Post's article about a woman who had an experience very similar to mine and opted for the rabies prophylaxis series despite the lack of visible wound. The CDC guidelines suggest the shot sequence even if there is no apparent wound when a bat is found in a room where someone has been asleep.

I went to bed Saturday night resolved to make a decision on Monday when animal control and the doctor's office would be open.

And it happened again. 

Same time of night, same thumping and chittering in the corner. I made sure the kids' bedroom doors were closed, got the cats downstairs, and closed my latchless bedroom door, hoping to trap the bat so I could have it tested this time.

The county animal control voicemail message directed me to call county dispatch after hours, but county dispatch was no help and little comfort. The officer I spoke to said that animal control won't come out "for just a bat," and he didn't know who would test it for rabies if I caught it. He suggested an exterminator and a local vet. I thought, Um, thanks a lot. Don't you know that rabies is nearly always fatal in humans?

So I called my sister (who lives next door and works second shift and was still awake).  My awesome sister and brother-in-law and I thoroughly and carefully checked the room for a roosting bat, but saw no signs. I slept on the couch, and we checked the room again during the day Sunday, but still found nothing.

Today I called the county health department whose rabies expert said that Sofia and I were definitely candidates for post-exposure rabies prophylaxis and then helped me make arrangements with the local emergency room to get the shots. Three cheers for Julie at the health department. She is awesome!

Dear heaven, the shots! Though, it's not as bad as it used to be (many injections through the abdominal wall), it's still a lot of painful (and expensive) pricks. The standard of care is now immunoglobulin at the wound site on day 0 and vaccine in the arm on days 0, 3, 7, 14, and 21. Since we had no apparent wounds, Sofia and I got the immunoglobulin in the glutes. Being small, Sofia got one on each side. At 155 lbs., I got two on each side. Immunoglobulin is thick, and there is a lot of it.

The Lesson:

It is highly unlikely that bats will bite humans without provocation. It is highly unlikely that bats actually have rabies (less than 1% of the population in general, 6% of those tested in Michigan). The bat (or bats) that were in my bedroom probably live in my attic and were trying to find their way out, having just woken up from hibernation. There is a strong impulse to live and let live; nevertheless, as the CDC notes,
Once clinical signs of rabies appear, the disease is nearly always fatal, and treatment is typically supportive.
There is no possibility to wait and see.

Unless you are one hundred percent sure that no one was bitten or one hundred percent sure that the bat does not have rabies, get the shots. Someone who was asleep can not be one hundred percent sure. It is possible to not notice being bitten during sleep, and the bites look like small cuts that could be mistaken for other things.

The first people I talked to, my family doctor's nurse and the county dispatcher, did not see this situation as critical at all. These two people made me think perhaps I was overreacting. However, once I spoke to people who were knowledgeable about rabies and the CDC guidelines, Julie at the health department and the ER nurse and nurse practitioner, the tenor of the conversation shifted to one of urgency. Shots. Definitely. Today.

Even people who work with and respect bats agree that bats found in rooms where people are sleeping should be caught, euthanized, and tested for rabies. I'm frustrated that the health care worker and the first responder I spoke to first did not know this information. They should know.

We should all know, because when you're woken from a sound sleep at two A.M. by a bat in the bedroom, you're operating on instinct, not on Google, and my instinct was to get the intruder as far away from my family as possible. When this happens again (as I'm sure it will), I'll know better.


Monday, December 2, 2013

disposition

Today was the disposition hearing (juvenile court equivalent of sentencing) in the matter against the teenaged driver who caused the accident that killed my husband. Unlike the preliminary hearing, this time I did not go alone. Adam's parents, his sister and brother-in-law, his best friend, my mother, and the children went with me.

Taking the children was a bit of a controversial decision. Sofia especially did not want to go, but her reasons were all based on unwarranted fears (of having to meet people, of having to speak). I wanted the teenager to see the faces of the lives her actions have impacted, and I wanted the girls to see that she is a regular person, not a monster.

I did accept the invitation to speak in court. I said, "Your mistake has affected so many lives, and you can see some of them here. No punishment this court can impose can bring my husband back. The only thing you can do is serve the sentence the judge gives you, get a good education, and share your gifts with the world. Because that is what my husband was doing, sharing his gifts with the world." At least, I'm pretty sure I said all of that. It's what I meant to say, but it was punctuated by a lot of sobs.

I think everyone on the prosecution side of the courtroom cried. Even the judge cried when she was reading from the victim impact statement I had submitted ahead of time. (My submitted statement included a printout of the Wikipedia page about Adam, and the judge had it with her at the bench. If the author of that page is reading this, please know that you have my thanks.) The prosecutor cried, too, when she met us in the hall afterward.

The teenager has been sentenced to an additional 30 days of home detention, which includes attending school. She has already served 60 days of home detention, but more time can be added if the probation officer requests it. Probation will be at least 15 months and include mental health services. She is also required to serve 1,000 hours of community service and make a modest financial restitution.

Today's events have made emotions raw again. If you've been praying for us, please include all those who were involved in the hearing today. This was not easy for anyone.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

lingering fog

In the first days after Adam died, I felt like I was thinking through thick fog, like I didn't have access to all of my brain.

Even the simplest decisions were hard, and the hard ones were Sisyphean. My friends were amazing. They listened while I talked through choices slowly, and, though they offered their opinions and pointed out things I didn't see, they let me make decisions.

There were also resolutions, courses of action I knew to be right and necessary without having to decide. These came like bright beacons from a lighthouse. At no other time in my life have I heard the still small voice so clearly.

I remember having read somewhere that sometimes a coma is the body's way of making space for physical healing to happen. I realized the fog was like that, a protective blanket creating space for psychological healing. Despite my occasional frustration at my own plodding thoughts, I embraced the fog and tried to be patient.

Emerging into awareness was so hard. In the fog, I had been conscious of the enormity of my loss, but as the fog retreated, the small, everyday implications came into focus.

When I first returned to my research and writing when the kids returned to school after Labor Day,  I thought the fog had lifted, that I had my brain back.

I was wrong.

There is a lingering fog at the edges. Most of the time, I don't even notice it. Then, it reasserts itself. Perhaps because I've worked too long or because I've asked too much, expecting my current self to be like my old self. As I get deeper into revisions and need to make complex decisions, I...can't. I can feel the idea that will fill the gap, but I can't assemble the words. I stare at the problem and the fog advances until I have to walk away from the work. I have a deadline coming up, and it scares me.

I have four jobs right now: Mom, Dissertation Writer, Head of Household, and Executor of Estate. Each of those is full-time. I am not excelling at any of them, and recognizing that is humbling.

Even worse, though, is how the fog affects my relationships with other people.

I'm absent-minded in a way I never was before, and I keep double booking myself and the children. I put things in my calendar, but forget to check the calendar when making commitments. Then, I try to think of how I can manage both things, which rarely comes out well. So, I end up having to call someone and apologize for asking to reschedule, and that kills me.

I have no patience for bullshit, and my nice is broken.

I want to not need the protective blanket of fog, but I recognize that if it's still here, I still need it.

Forgive me and bear with me, please.

Monday, May 6, 2013

with the sweet comes the bitter

After nineteen years of companionship, I put my best friend to sleep today. The pain and discomfort of her old age is over, but my pain has just begun.

She was part of everything I did from babies to grad school to knitting.



My desk will never be the same again.

The hardest part of love is the pain of loss.