kind of day

What Kind Of Day Has It Been?

In all four of his television series thus far, Aaron Sorkin has named an episode “What Kind Of Day Has It Been?” It was the name of the first season finales for “SportsNight,” “The West Wing” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and it is the name of the upcoming series finale of “The Newsroom.”

The reason I love Sorkin so much, and particularly “The West Wing,” is that he writes for intelligent people and doesn’t assume that he has to dumb it down to meet the lowest common denominator (with the exception of the first four episodes of “The Newsroom,” in which every woman was a drippy damsel in distress, and every man a douchebag trying—and, somehow, being allowed—to be a knight in shining armor). It’s also witty when it’s right to be witty. “The West Wing,” in particular, is my go-to when I need comfort viewing. Something about it is the visual equivalent of macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes, the entertainment equal to being wrapped up in a cozy blanket with a mug of hot tea on a cold night.

Today has been an odd kind of day.

It started with me reading, for reasons passing understanding (big Sorkin phrase), a blog post on cocktailsandchemo.com that I saw posted on a friend’s Facebook feed. I have read posts on this blog here and there before, and it has always been a mistake, but, like a moth to a flame, there I was, and I was destroyed for 15 minutes when I should have been drying my hair. It’s heartbreaking. It’s about a very young man who is dying of colon cancer, and it is written by his wife. They have a daughter who’s not even two. Don’t read it. I swear, you’ll be done in from the combination of love and ache and beauty and sorrow and hope and anguish and just don’t.

At work, my colleague and I finished the last of the eight phone interviews we were conducting for a vacant position. They went fine, and we were able to solidly eliminate three candidates and put one on the bubble, leaving us with four we felt confident bringing in for face-to-face meetings. But as anyone who has conducted interviews knows, doing eight in a week pokes a bunch of big holes in your days, and between them and your meetings, you tend to feel like you haven’t gotten anything productive done. I kept trying to get a foothold, and being able to do little more than toe a few emails.

Then there was an absolutely ridiculous issue with a publication that really should not matter in the slightest, but required another redesign and another round of new copy after the clients had agreed on the design and sent the supposedly final final final copy. My vice president wound up involved in a way I’m not aware of, and as far as I’m concerned, she can handle it the rest of the way, because I am pretty tired of trying to do things for these particular clients and getting split decisions, too many revisions, and still hot breath down the back of my neck to get the final version to them in time for them to send it out when they didn’t give my team any time to do it in the first place. The real killer of this whole thing is that the designer spent four days hand-drawing this publication after all parties had agreed on a design concept, and now it’s scrapped entirely. I find it terribly disrespectful of someone’s energy, time and talent, and these clients do this constantly.

A bit before that, Facebook told me that my dear friend Sam is leaving and moving to Indianapolis to take a job. Sam helped me through a lot of really difficult times in my last job, listened and asked with great interest about my love life or lack thereof, gave me great advice I actually took, bantered with me Sorkin-style in solidarity to our shared affinity, gleefully played my political wonk game, and generally has been a precious friend. Nearly a year ago, he told me about something really difficult that he was struggling with, and five months ago, he stopped talking to me altogether. Nothing happened between us, no argument or conflict… he just stopped answering messages of any kind and never reached out again. It has always made me sad, and now that he’s leaving town, it makes me even sadder. I’ve sent him a message to congratulate him and let him know I miss him and hope to see him before he goes, but I don’t know if I’ll ever hear back.

At the end of the work day, as she was leaving, my coworker declared quietly that she was going to go get gas in her car and deal with her lingering depression. She wasn’t kidding. It was awkward, if not surprising. Most of us know she is struggling, and what makes matters worse is that she’s not terribly well-liked. I don’t know which begets which. I have always found her lacking in self-awareness, which leaves me torn between concern and irritation, which makes me feel awful because I know she is in pain.

But the weirdest part of the day, and that part that, along with Sam’s announcement, has me the most untethered, was around two this afternoon, when my friend Angie found my blog.

As many of my readers know, I am completely anonymous here, and none of my real-life family, friends or acquaintances have ever known I write a blog. I wanted it that way, because the anonymity gave me permission to speak freely, to blather on about things my friends might already be bored by, to say what I want about whomever I want, and to feel like I had a safe place to do it all. But today, after I quoted a particular song lyric in an Ohio 5 group message, Angie Googled it, and somehow, a blog entry in which I had also quoted it came up. She outed me in the group message immediately, and even told our other friends how they could find the blog.

I can’t describe the feeling I had. My heart pounded. I don’t log into the blog on my work computer, but I did today, first having to change the password because it’s cached in my computer at home and I couldn’t remember it. Then I had to quickly go through all my posts to see if my friends would be upset by anything. I will admit that I deleted posts that I thought would upset them enough to cause friction.

I got a message from WordPress that my stats had skyrocketed. Eighty-three hits to the home page.

That seemed excessive, even for my friends.

I worried that they might have shared it with a few other people we’re close to. It wasn’t really narcissism, any more than writing a blog is narcissism. It was just that I suddenly felt like I had lost the ability to protect something tender.

I’m not angry at Angie; She was shocked, after knowing me so well for nearly 20 years, that there was something I had managed to keep from her for three and a half. Her impulse to tell the rest of our friends was reflexive. Thoughtless and inconsiderate, but not malicious. She has apologized for it, admitting that she searched through all of it looking for her name so she could see what I have said about her. Meg has apologized for trying to find the blog after learning it existed. Joey, after finding the home page and reading the glossary, has promised not to read anything else, acknowledging that there’s a reason none of them ever knew about it and that he would respect that. Will came late to the conversation; I don’t know if he’s seen the blog or not.

I’m not holding it against them. But I feel exposed, like my clothes have been torn away on a busy street. I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, but if I was already feeling a little raw, now I feel like my diary lock has been broken. I know that sounds silly when I post things on the internet for anyone to read, but the pages in the diary don’t really contain anything these friends don’t know. What they do contain are some expressions I feel embarrassed for them to see, and empty pages where a certain freedom I had cherished has been taken away. There’s no lock to keep all of that safe anymore.

So, not to be dramatic, but in a way, today was a season finale. There’s every possibility and even likelihood of more episodes, but the anonymity was a major character in this series, and that character is gone now. Everything will be a little different from here on, if not for you, then at least for me. I will think twice where I never thought twice before. I am already wondering if my friends will read this post and be upset by it. In “SportsNight,” after that season one conclusion, S2 Ep1’s title is “Quo Vadimus.” It’s Latin for “Where are we going?” While I’m sure I’ll still try to be witty when it’s right to be, and I won’t dumb anything down, it’s going to be a while before I feel comfortable again.

In the meantime, I think I need some mashed potatoes.

The Problem With Privilege

I can’t possibly have anything unique to say about pretty much anything relating to over-reactive police, racial tension, media, or  anything else that factors into the trouble in Ferguson, Missouri over the last week.  But in the constructs of American life, there is a certain element that we just can’t seem to see our way through.

I’ve read a lot of reports and opinions from professionals and amateurs; one of the great ironies of the Internet is that it gives everyone the same volume at which to speak, which means people who should probably just sit down and shut up get a megaphone that amplifies their voices just as loudly as those who know far more than anyone else about whatever topic is discussed. The result, often, is the wider dissemination of what is inflammatory rather than what is rational and measured, because inflammation is more visceral and therefore more instinctive. I believe that’s why demonstrations that begin with one goal end up a melange of goals and opinions, and things that start off peacefully end up sporadically disruptive.

In everything we’ve read and seen, it seems there is a lot of visceral reaction, natural and instinctive, that leads to accusation and defense—or defensiveness. Sometimes these are overt. Other times, less so. It’s when the accusations and defenses are less obvious that I think the most trouble arises, because it’s harder to know what just happened.

To me, one of the most interesting forms of inferred accusation and applied defensiveness centers on the concept of white privilege.

For the record: I’m white. So I can’t pretend to fully grasp the perspective a person of color would bring to this situation. But I also live in a dense urban area, in a city whose majority population is black. (And I use the term “black” deliberately; not all “black” people trace their heritage to Africa, which means they are not all African-American.) In my environment, to not acknowledge white privilege is to basically stay in my house and never look out the window or turn on the news. Which isn’t to say there aren’t people in my environment who don’t understand the construct.

I used to rebel a little against the idea of white privilege, because I didn’t understand that I wasn’t being blamed for something and I wasn’t being defined as better-off, necessarily. I’m not sure when I realized what it really was, but I think it was some time around when the stalker thing happened, because it had a lot to do with what motivated me to take activist action; I realized I could use my privilege to benefit other people, not as some great, benevolent white lady, but as someone the system automatically took more seriously and cared more about because I was white. (I also speak what people would categorize as proper English, with no discernable accent.) In all of my reading this week, I have come across a few essays and op-eds from white people who are upset about being assigned a kind of privilege, saying things like, “I refuse to apologize.” The content of their writing reveals that they just don’t know the definition of white privilege.

White privilege is simply about the fact that white people do not have to deal with the possibility of being underrepresented, mistreated, suspected or demeaned, as persons of color.

For example: If I walk down the street in the dark, no one is going to look at me sideways, unless he or she is concerned for my safety. But if a person of color – a black or latino person, in my community – walks down the street in the dark, someone is going to wonder, “What’s he up to? Where did he come from? Does he live here? Where is he going?”

If I get pulled over by a police officer, I will have no reason to wonder if it’s because of my race. (The only time I got pulled over and didn’t deserve it was when an officer thought I was talking on my cell phone, and all I had to say was, “Oh! No, I wasn’t.” That is literally all I had to say. He believed me even before I offered to let him see my phone’s call and text message logs, and he let me go without checking them. If I were a man of color, the odds would be much higher that he wouldn’t believe me, or that he would take me up on my offer to see my phone’s logs.)

In fact, getting pulled over after having done nothing in violation of the law is much less likely to happen to me than it is to a person of color, and my story is more likely to be believed.

When I go through airport security, no one thinks they should look in my bag; if it’s searched, it’s purely because of a randomized approach. But when my friend Adhira goes through airport security, there’s a greater chance that someone will think that because she is Pakistani (they might not know she’s Pakistani; they’ll just know she’s brown and looks Middle Eastern), they should search her bag.

And the chances of me, a white woman with no criminal record, being shot by a police officer are essentially zero. Whereas the chances of a person of color with no criminal record being shot by a police officer are higher. Statistically speaking, even if I was armed, even if I was threatening, the chances of me being shot by a police officer are still lower than if I were an unarmed person of color. Thirty-seven of 45 people shot by police in Oakland, California between 2004 and 2008 were black. None of them were white. In 40 percent of the cases, the person who was shot was unarmed. (No officers were charged. Other shows of force were not categorized in the data set.)

My whiteness means not only that I am presumed innocent more often, but also that I am presumed more innocent than a person of color. I am presumed to be a better person. Even when I have done something wrong, and even when a person of color has not.

That’s white privilege. It’s not my fault. It’s just a side effect of my having been born white. For persons of color, suspicion is a side effect of having been born something else.

You’d be irritated about it, too, after a while.

But here’s what dawned on me while reading an essay today written by a Princeton University student some months ago: white people tend to look at privilege differently. We think of it as socioeconomic. Of course we do; we’ve never faced discrimination—or incrimination—because of anything else. So we reflexively resent when someone seems to accuse us of having an advantage, because, if we’re socioeconomically comfortable and not trust fund babies, we probably did have to work to get where we are in life. Because we have never had to struggle to be considered equal in any other respect, our only understanding of privilege comes from the idea of money. But for people of color, the struggle to be seen as equal goes way beyond lines of credit and sizes of homes. It’s rather telling, isn’t it? We define everything by our own perspective…including our own privilege. Maybe if white people were better able to understand how other people define privilege, we’d be collectively more able to understand why so many people don’t have it.

Maybe then a lot of things would get better.

South American Border Policy

You know how I wind up falling for men I shouldn’t fall for? They say something sage about my personality and I get all, “Oh, he understands me!” Dammit. The Colombian is making resistance so difficult. I have this very well-established border and he keeps poking his fingers through it.

We were out to dinner last night, and then to drinks afterward, and then to my house for a nightcap. Apparently because I feel a need to project my issue with Jack (it’s indefatigable) onto him, and because of a not-insignificant amount of delicious chardonnay, I wound up bluntly stating – again – that he doesn’t love his girlfriend and just uses her, but this time went a step further and told him she loves him, which I know because if she didn’t, she wouldn’t have gotten upset about not being invited to Colombia.

That part was definitely the wine’s fault.

Somehow, this does not make him hate me. To my surprise, instead, he pivoted, and said, “Have you ever had a relationship that you learned nothing from and got nothing out of?” We wound up having a very long conversation about relationships, and he said something that completely shocked me: the last time he truly loved a woman (which he says takes him a while – he doesn’t fall easily) was from 2003 to 2007, and he learned, he says, absolutely nothing from that relationship. He said she had been through a lot of really awful things – “Like, everything bad that you can think of has happened to her” – and he kind of wanted to help her, but the relationship didn’t work out and he took nothing away from it.

So why is that so shocking? Well, besides the fact that I don’t think it’s possible to have a significant relationship and not take something away from it, I was shocked because I think he was referring to the ex-wife he doesn’t admit he has. Unless, somehow, his great, wasted love coincided directly with that marriage, but involved a different woman.

Thankfully, although I am a pushy broad at exactly the wrong times (see: ten minutes prior to this revelation), I managed not to call him out on that particular life event at that moment. He still doesn’t know I know about it, and It seemed unnecessarily cruel to trot that out on top of the mild tongue-lashing I’d given him about Lydia.

So then he said, “Can we talk about you now? Why are you still single?”

Ugh, I hate this question, right? But I didn’t in this context. I said I didn’t know, told him I don’t get asked out much (to which he responded, “I find that hard to believe,” which is, for some reason, everyone’s response), and asked for his perspective. And his answer (and this is one of the things I really like about Javier) was immediate and honest. He said, “Well, I think you can be intimidating to some guys… like, they might say something they think is really cute, but you think it’s stupid. And I think you need someone who will challenge you. And not everyone can do that.”

Holy shit.

So, the intimidation thing, that’s not so new, right? I’ve heard that before, though I made the observation to him that it was usually uttered by some married guy friend with no dog in the fight who just wants to know why I’m single. I, of course, took note of the fact that Javi himself is not intimidated by me. But what surprised me was that he said I need someone who will challenge me. While that’s absolutely true, only one person has ever said it, that I’m aware of: my friend Deb’s husband, Arnie, to her, in conversation about me, which she later shared. And I thought it was a brilliant observation, but not one that everyone would put in that way. I think most people would say, less precisely, than I’m difficult, or argumentative, or something about how “tough” I can be. It’s a nuanced word: “challenge.” And here’s a Colombian using it in exactly the right nuanced way to apply to my personality vis-a-vis my relationship status.

Honestly, the consistency with which I find adorable his excellent use of the English language is disturbingly racist, unless one considers the fact that I find most Americans terribly inept at the English language.

The thing is, at least from my perspective (and Arnie’s and Javier’s), setting aside the trust issues that make me a little hard, I’m not really difficult – I just really like debate and discussion. It’s how I get closer to people. The people I feel closest to in my life are the ones with whom I can have a good discussion. And here’s the kicker: it’s what I miss most about Jack. Now, that’s relative, since I try not to think in terms of what I miss about Jack, but when I look back at what I think I lost when that thing imploded, the most aching memory is the way we talked with each other, about all kinds of things, without arguing – just talking. I loved talking with him. And I don’t find that very often with men. Except Javi. In fact, Javier and I can debate things – which makes him think we disagree, and every time he says that, I point out that we actually usually agree, but debate fine points.

I find debate and discussion sexy.

Huh. Wonder if that’s why I like politics so much.

 

Anyway, he left at 1:45 (“Since I cannot stay here,” he said with an impish smile – and no, he cannot. BORDER POLICY.). And I woke up this morning and immediately felt bad about foisting my thoughts about his relationship with Lydia onto him at the bar. Suddenly it was very clear that, while I don’t particularly care for that relationship’s track on the basis of what it means about him (and I had told him I didn’t want him to be That Guy), the issue is really entirely mine. So I texted him an apology for the ambush and confessed that his relationship is really none of my business.

Because really… I just want him to ditch her and be a good boyfriend for me. Right? Because he’s not intimidated and he knows I need a challenging partner.

Shit. Call in the National Guard.

Chemistry and Reading

My heart is still beating, more or less in reliable fashion, and I don’t have Lyme Disease. Or any other disease found in a CBC, chem panel, iron/ferritin and two other types of blood tests I can’t really remember now. I’m fine, except for the daily calf swelling. In case anyone wondered, in my absence, what might be causing my absence. Really it’s just grad school + life. But huzzah! My final is tomorrow, and then I have six glorious weeks of nothing academic to do! I feel sure I will fritter them away in a not-at-all useful manner. Which will be awesome. 

I cheated and started early tonight when I sandwiched an Arbonne party between two chapters about political interest groups.  Are you guys familiar with Arbonne? You know, the skincare line that charges you $600 for six bottles of stuff measuring between one and four ounces? Sheeeiiit. I thought my Aveeno Positively Ageless was pricey! 

But there was sangria, so all’s well that ends well.

The Arbonne rep is a neighbor, so one never wants to alienate. Fortunately, she’s the no-pressure type, or so it seems. And that’s good, because don’t ask me to slather six layers of product on my very persnickety face and then ask me to buy something on the spot. I have to see who I’m going to look like tomorrow. Could be Hilary Duff… could be Muammar Qaddafi. Hard to say. And since I’ve just slathered six layers of stuff onto my face, it will also be difficult to determine exactly what caused the conversion.

PS I’m broke, I have two classes to sign up for, and my property taxes just went up 46 percent. Oh! And do you know how much a Holter monitor costs? Here’s a hint: $16,000.

Of course I don’t pay that. Apparently they write the whole thing off or something. Health care. Who understands it?

Now, during these upcoming Six Glorious Weeks, I plan to read some stuff for fun. This will be the only fun stuff I will get to read all year. As you may have noticed, this could include blogs. So, without shamelessly promoting your own book, please leave recommendations in the comments section, provided by our lovely WP hosts. Fiction, but no sci fi or bodice rippers, please. I’d love for it to be something I can’t put down… especially since I might need to hide my face. 

 

If I Could Open My Eyes, I Might See the Light At the End of the Tunnel

So, I might hate grad school. Lil bit.

I had a meeting at the end of last month with one of the deans, who happens to be my client. Upon an exchange of pleasantries and my inquiry as to his well-being, he said, “I’m intermittently fine.” I thought that was a genius way to describe my own status and seconded. 

“You’re getting your master’s, right?” he asked.

“Trying to, yes,” I replied, because it was precisely the reason I was only intermittently fine.

“How many classes are you taking this term?”

“Two.”

His eyebrows went up. “Two? That’s a lot, with a full-time job.”

“Turns out!” I replied. 

And then he told me how I might be able to get around taking a 200-level stats course prereq with a bunch of sophomores by taking a special topics course in one of his college’s programs instead. Memo to me: if this works out, buy that man a fine bottle of his favorite liquor.

One of my classes features a six-phase case study. Since it’s done in phases as assigned, you can’t procrastinate and do it all at the back end of the term, which is great… but you also can’t get ahead. Because of that, and the fact that I have to write a 20-30 page research paper for the same class, due the same day as the case study, I decided to knock out the 20-25 page research paper in my other class well ahead of time. I can’t actually even remember when I got that paper done, but I think it was about three weeks ago. Seems like longer. 

Anyway, the case study. Handed in phase one. Aced it. “That’s the hardest part,” said the prof. “The rest is going to be easy.”

The man lied.

Having believed him, I handed in phases two and three on the appropriate date. A week later, he was set to return them. I sat in my tiny little desk like Will Ferrell in the opening scene of “Elf,” listening to him talk about how they were, on the whole, kind of disappointing. I was anxious. My fingers had heartbeats. What if I didn’t do well?

It was worse than I thought.

I didn’t do well. 

I bombed.

“I’m not even going to grade this,” he said. “Just do it over.”

His handwritten notes said, “Wrong,”  “Wrong,” and “This totally misses the mark” in the three sections of the grade sheet.

Do you remember how it felt when you were in high school or college and you got a bad grade on a test or a paper? How the bottom seemed to drop out of your stomach while your throat closed up? Pro tip: happens when you’re 37, too. 

Just do it over, he says.

*whimper* *moan* *sigh*

I had already spent hours – hours and hours – on this case study. And now I had to do these two phases again… and do the next phase. Due in two days.

I had to take a personal day to spend 11 hours working on this thing.

The end of the term is coming. All the stuff is due very, very soon – so soon that I should probably stop spending words on this blog post and write another page or two of a paper, instead. It’s so much harder to write them now! But by the end of this term, I will only have completed three of the 14 courses I need for my degree. The school is only offering one over the summer that can count toward my program. And the no-skin-in-the-game dean says, “Two… that’s a lot with a full-time job.” 

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t do a thesis in my program. I take comprehensive exams. And if I only take one class per term, it will take me 14 terms (4.66 years, assuming I can take a class every summer term) before I graduate. Nine terms (three years – same assumption) before I can take the first comp. I will have forgotten everything from the first classes by then.

Not happening. Gotta double up if they offer two program courses in a term.

I got back the three still-questionable phases of the case study on Monday. Wonder of wonders: I aced them all on the re-do. Now an implementation timeline, a budget, and a package and polish, and that baby is put to bed. I have written seven of the 20 pages required for the research paper. I have bled on the keyboard of this here laptop.

Tonight, I got back the four-question essay exam I had to take in the other class. I had had to completely BS one of the answers; he asked a question about the topic from the only class I’d missed. If I got partial credit, I would have had an 85 and I would have taken it.

I looked at the paper.

95%.

Whoa.

I looked at the question I couldn’t possibly have answered well. “I can tell you read the chapter,” he had written in red, “but be more specific.” And then he went on to talk specifics about the chapter. Which I had, in fact, not read. 

It was the only chapter I had not read, out of 21.

Fooled you, pal.

Maybe I’ll make it to the M.S.

Random Observations As Re: Going Back To School In One’s 30s

So now that I’m expert at being in graduate school (read: I am exactly one week into my second term, taking two classes after having taken one class in the previous term—only 15 more weeks and then 11 more courses til I get my degree!), I’m beginning to realize some things about the unique challenges, rewards and like-such-as of this undertaking.

For example, I’m totally supposed to be reading some shit right now.

What? I read a chapter. I’m taking a break. I worked 11.5 hours today.

Observation #2 (because the thing about writing a blog post when I’m supposed to be reading an assignment was #1): Where am I supposed to do this homework, anyway?
In undergrad, we all sat on our beds. Because… where else? Now I can’t sit on my bed because my back will go out or I will lie down and go to sleep. It’s either the couch or the kitchen table, and neither of those seem to be particularly diligence-inducing locations. The kitchen table worked when I was eight. Not since.

Observation #3: I have forgotten how to outline. 
See the whole #1/#2 fiasco above as evidence. Be glad I can’t draw arrows on my blog post. That’s apparently what I do now when I want to elaborate on a point I’ve written down seven lines ago.

Observation #4: The best part about this whole graduate-school-in-my-30s thing? Drinking wine while reading the textbook.
Obviously.

Although I have been warned not to drink too much, or I’ll end up highlighting entire chapters. Since tonight’s reading was uploaded to an online educational server, I had to keep the marker tightly capped to avoid drawing on my computer screen.

Observation #5: It is much easier to get distracted now.
This seems like it shouldn’t be the case. I mean, there was a lot more streaking going on in undergrad, for one thing, and I lived across the street from the park for my upperclassman years. But now, instead of “I forgot to call mom,” “Why do I have to do this stupid paper?” “Instant mashed potatoes or mac & cheese for dinner?” “The fire alarm? Again?!” and “I’m so broke I can’t pay for the copies I have to make,” the distractions have multiplied to include: “What is that noise in the wall?” “Has that clock always ticked so loudly?” “Did I pay the mortgage?” “My hand hurts. Wait, do people still take notes?” “Reading while taking notes takes so much longer than I remember,” “I need gas,” “What time is my morning meeting?” “Did the boss say it’s not due tomorrow, or it is due tomorrow?” “I forgot to take out the trash,” “I forgot to call mom,” “I’m so broke I can’t even afford the copies I have to make,” “I can’t sit like this anymore; my back is going to kill me tomorrow,” and “I’m out of wine.”

Observation #6: No all-nighters. Ever. I have a job.
To be honest, I never pulled all-nighters in undergrad, either, but at least then I had the luxury of falling drooling-on-the-couch asleep in the middle of the day if I needed to.

Observation #7: Published academics need to get over themselves.
Here’s the thing about writing and editing for a living: it’s really, really hard to read academic works without wanting to ruthlessly slash their lengthy, innumerable paragraphs. I just read an entire paragraph of word salad that essentially boiled down to: No one understands exactly what this profession is. We’re going to talk about that for the next 600 pages. By the end, we will have affected exactly no change at all. We will have merely explained at length our thesis statement above. And this criticism is coming from someone who can write a damned lengthy blog post. But at least those make you shoot coffee out of your nose sometimes, amirite?

Observation #8: Can I even still write a 25-page research paper?
Alright, that’s more of a question. But you take my point. Sure, they’re double-spaced and include citations for reference, but still… writing papers now is very different from writing them as an undergrad. Aside from the fact that I was well-versed in it then, I also had little problem bullshitting my way through them and making them sound pretty great. Now? Bullshit capacity exceeded. Everything has to matter. 

Stupid paycheck-enforced accountability standards.

Out of curiosity, I pulled a 952-word blog post up, copied and pasted it into a Word doc and made it double-spaced. 

Not quite two pages.

Yep. I’m screwed.

Observation #9: I find research materials where?
Apparently I don’t have to go to the library anymore. The limitless expanse of the internet as a source of academic information is somehow terrifying. Oh look! Justin Bieber!

Observation #10: To Do has me done in.
I have a habit at work of spending the last minutes at my desk in the evening making a to-do list for the following day on a Post-It note and sticking it on the next day’s block of my desk calendar (yes, I have one of those). This is a habit that started—minus the desk calendar—in undergrad. Back then, I stuck the notes up on my shelf next to my bed. There were never fewer than two at a time, but it’s how I kept everything straight. Back then, the to-do list was always limited only to school. Now? Work to-do, house to-do, interpersonal human to-do and school to-do. Fuck.

(That one should be on a to-do list.)

Observation #11: I thought college kids were lazy. Turns out, I was way more motivated then. 
In undergrad, I don’t really remember feeling like I didn’t want to do something I had to do. I’m sure I felt like that. I just don’t remember it. Mostly it was really my only purpose in life, so I’d better get my ass to the library and find the microfiche I need for the research paper. Now, aside from apparently not even having to go to the library, I am overcome by what I can only imagine is Senioritis after 14 years dormant in my body. Back then I got up when I needed to (though I have been a snooze-slapper since God invented Snooze), traipsed around in all kinds of weather, did my full-time student thing, worked a part-time job and handled internships that often had me there for at least 25 hours a week. When I was a senior, between the job I got in my industry and the internship credit I was still able to earn, it was damn near 40 hours. How the hell did I do that?

This is the part of the post where I should go on, flesh out the theme, find a way to wrap it up… but I’m tired. Failing that, I should save it and finish it later, but I know I’m not going to be able to maintain the voice and the thought pattern. So you get this. 

Doesn’t bode well for those 25-page papers.

The Reach

I’m finally back in the chorus I hated to leave when I took my previous job, and the first challenge (aside from figuring out how to be a second soprano instead of a first) is a gut-wrenching piece called On the Transmigration of Souls. 

Transmigration is, for all intents and purposes, a 25-minute meditation on 9/11 in New York City. The New York Philharmonic asked John Adams (not that John Adams) to compose the piece. It involves a large orchestra, a mixed chorus, a children’s chorus, and a taped soundtrack of city noises and sirens and footsteps, and the voices of a young boy and a couple of adults saying things like “Missing” and reading snippets of the descriptions and names written on the fliers people put up all over New York City after 9/11. It’s dissonant and discordant, the time signature changes all over the place, it’s got doublets and triplets in weird spots. It’s oddly syncopated and counting the rhythm seems impossible. It’s full of chaos and disorientation and raw reactivity. It’s not hard to see why.

“People ask me what it is,” Adams told a radio host in 2008. “‘Is it a requiem?’ No. ‘Is it an oratorio?’ No. ‘Is it a choral symphony?’ No.

“I came up with the word ‘memory space,'” he went on. “Occasionally, when I’m in Europe, I’ll go into those great gothic cathedrals like Notre Dame or Chartres in France. And you go into this vast religious space, and people are very quiet. And you realize you’re in the presence of not only the living people that are there, but the ghosts, the souls of all the people that have been there in the past—this kind of spiritual memory space. And I wanted to create a musical analogy of that.”

He describes a particular passage of the piece where I think the most chaos and upheaval happens. He calls it

“a massive surge, a kind of tsunami of brass and strings that peaks with the chorus just literally shouting over and over again, ‘Light! Light! Light! Light!’ It’s not joyous. It’s almost a panic.

“I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying. I just know that when the event happened it was so shocking that we don’t know what our emotions were. But there’s always this desire to transcend horror and look for something comforting, and I think that’s the sense that you get at this enormous orchestral and choral climax of the piece.”

Until I found this interview, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be trying to evoke at that point in the piece. It seemed frantic to me, not at all comforting or calming like we’d like to believe is the case when a departed soul finds light. I wondered: did Adams see the passing of souls as something less than peaceful? That made sense, particularly coming out of the event that caused it—like the souls of 9/11’s victims were clamoring to find somewhere else to go, fast, because where they were was no place for a soul. Maybe moving on to another energy is kind of frenzied. 

But with this explanation from Adams in his own voice, I started to understand what the piece really seems to say in those measures. Maybe what we’re hearing there isn’t the souls of the lost. Maybe it’s the souls of the living, struggling to find something—anything—to give themselves some kind of solace. Like the bad-in-emergencies parent when a child seems seriously hurt, madly saying over and over, “It’s okay! It’s okay! It’s okay!” not because it is, but because they want it to be.

“Light! Light! Light! Light! Day! Sky! Light! Day! Sky! Light!”

Please please please let this hellish anguish end! Please let him find light! Please let me find light! Please let it make some kind of sense! Please, if you can’t save him, save me… or let me go.

  I’m reaching with the last strength I have – please let there be something to reach for! 

It’s telling, to me, that this part comes after that tsunami of brass and strings Adams describes, which comes right after what I find to be the most emotionally difficult passage: a place where the lyrics quote a widow telling someone, “I wanted to dig him out… I wanted to dig him out… I know just where he is… I know just where he is… I KNOW JUST WHERE HE IS.” We’re yelling it, all 120 voices, yelling those words on dissonant pitches between awkward breaks like choked sobs. It makes me cry every time, but now it also makes me feel something else: desperation. It makes me imagine the feeling that widow must have had for however long it took to find her husband’s remains in that pile, or however long it took her to accept that they never would… that breaking-point howl when she teetered on the edge of grief-stricken insanity, just reaching for whatever she could find that once was him. I know just where he is! Let me get him! You won’t find him, you’re taking too long, let me find him, I need to know he’s found, I know just where he is… I need to find him! I’m the only one who knows where he is!

It’s after that howl that the cacophony erupts, clashing and banging and fighting for every breath and shrieking for light and sky and day.

And then it’s strangely quiet again.

The names of the missing are only barely heard.

But now, it’s in memoriam.

___________________
Now on my bookshelf: The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

What Kind of Year Has It Been?

Oh heeeyyyy 2014! We had quite a welcoming party for you last night. I, for one, spent the first four hours of your existence awake and talking and listening and wearing heels, trying not to think about the dishes that were piled in the sink. We said goodbye to your ancestor, 2013, with quite the yummy meal and lots of laughs and hugs and smiles. The old Irish toasted wish that my house be too small to hold all my friends came true.

So now as I sit next to my increasingly brittle Christmas tree (it has volunteered in tribute—this thing has a death wish which apparently involves taking in no water at all despite the fresh cut in its trunk and in absolute defiance of the special stuff I put in the water to help it live longer), knowing full well that I haven’t posted a blog entry in many, many days (despite taking my laptop with me to my parents’ house for the Christmas visit), it occurs to me that I made a list one year ago today of things I wanted to learn in 2013. (I posted it a year ago tomorrow, probably because I worked late on the 1st.) Let’s see how I did.

1. How to make a really, truly good lasagna
I did not learn how to make a really, truly good lasagna. In fact, I only made lasagna once in 2013, and it was the Tyler Florence recipe that bubbled over in the oven. I did, however, eat some really, truly good lasagna. So maybe I’ll just get the recipe from the neighbor who made it. 1/3 credit.

2. More arias by Puccini.
I did not sing more arias by Puccini. But I listened to them. This counts as learning. Half credit.

3. How to get paint out of carpet.
I heard a few suggestions for how to get paint out of carpet. They did not work. Item voided.

4. My own worth.
It didn’t occur to me a year ago that I wouldn’t have a yardstick by which to measure that. But I know I’ve learned more about my worth than I knew in 2012. And I’m very grateful for that. Credit.

5. More about history.
I learned much more about history even though I still can’t quite get past page 100 in “Lincoln: Team of Rivals”. Credit.

6. How to better identify and let go of lost causes.
I’m trying to think of what the lost causes were in 2013. I know the biggest one, and I certainly finally recognized it. I’m definitely working on letting it go, and I’m getting there. That’s pretty huge. There’s another one I haven’t quite admitted yet, but I’m pretty close. Maybe I don’t see things in the frame of the phrase “lost cause.” I kind of like that I don’t see things that way—it seems so dire and blah. Oh, but I accepted that my car will look like a piece of crap until it no longer belongs to me, because it will cost too much to fix it. And the tree is probably a lost cause at this point. Credit.

7. How to be a more effective and prolific advocate for crime victims.
After waiting for about a year for a response from the state senator with whom I worked on our first legislative effort for crime victims, I gave up (lost cause recognized) and approached another lawmaker. He and I are due for a follow-up conversation in the next few days to find out whether there’s something we can do to change home detention eligibility requirements so that persons who have been served with a protective order while on home detention forfeit their eligibility. And the state’s system for issuing protective orders now provides information to complainants so that they know exactly when those orders have been delivered to the respondent (it takes longer than you might think, and this is typically the most dangerous time in a volatile situation). Credit.

PS: As soon as I started working with the other lawmaker, the state senator emailed me and asked me if we could talk about my ideas. I told him who I was talking with and the senator immediately contacted him. Rick finds this hilarious.

8. How to paint the nails on my right hand as well as I paint the nails on my left hand.
This is almost a reality. Sometimes. Half credit.

9. How to let other people see me vulnerable (in non-blog form). 
I’m still working on this. Old habits. But I’ve gotten better. I’m just not where I should be yet. Half credit.

10. What it means to be truly loved.
I have friends and family who truly love me, and I have more of them than I deserve, and I am more grateful for that than I used to be. But I know that, when I put this item on the list, I meant romantic love, and there was very little of that in 2013. The only person I dated was Rick. But I’m okay with that, because I’ve needed the time, and I’ve needed to work on #4. So… maybe I’m set up better for 2014. Half credit awarded, half suspended indefinitely.

11. How to get red wine splatter of a white ceiling without repainting the whole damned thing.
Whatever. Item revoked.

12. What yet another country looks like, in person.
Didn’t happen. No credit.

13. Where I left my step stool.
I found that thing a week after I wrote the post. It was behind my bedroom door, which I never close. Credit for finding it negated by credit subtracted for being a jackass.

14. More about my community and who lives in it.
Definitely accomplished this. Particularly last week when I heard a terrible car accident. By the time I got to the corner of my block, where it happened, there must have been 50 people milling around. I have no idea where they all came from.

15. What it would take to fix Congress… because just voting everyone out is both unrealistic and probably a really, really bad idea.
Well, I have my thoughts. We know this. But I think they might have come to a bit of an understanding up there on Capitol Hill recently. Everybody lost in 2013. Credit awarded for being smarter than most of those people.

16. To be more open to new things.
Well, I think I am more open to new things… I just can’t think of any new things I did. Oh, wait—new career, new chapter as a graduate student, first full year as a homeowner, just accepted my first freelance writing gig, new friends, hosted a holiday dinner for the first time… and I’ve let spiders live in my basement. That never happened before. Credit.

17. A new, really good soup recipe.
Just made it two days ago for the second time. It’s just chicken noodle, but damn, it’s good chicken noodle. It’s also the only thing I’ve eaten today. Credit.

18. How to clean my house the way Mary Poppins cleaned Jane and Michael Banks’ room.
Nope. But I did see “Saving Mr. Banks,” and apparently, Mary Poppins was never meant to be a housekeeper, so I had the wrong premise. Item voided.

19. A magic trick that makes laundry fold itself.
Negative. But I did leave it unfolded for a long time, piled in heaps. No credit.

20. To be more productive and feel more purposed.
This might be the most unexpected gift of my new career. Or maybe it’s just because, in that new career, I am constantly making To Do lists and then crossing things off. Sure, I don’t even get started on them until 4pm on any given day, but that’s even better, in a way, because the reason I don’t get started until 4pm is that I’ve spent the previous hours doing other stuff that was more pressing and had come up in the course of the day. I almost never get everything on the list done, but let’s face it: a bunch of the stuff is just there so I don’t forget it needs to be done at some point, not necessarily that day. Crossing items off those lists is truly one of the most satisfying little things in life. And to be appreciated for my work makes me feel more purposed. Credit. 

21. Better ways to get and keep my back healthier.
It was better in 2013, and I was more mindful of how to keep it from freaking out. I stopped seeing the chiropractor in January. That seems to have helped. Credit… and a knock on wood.

22. More grace.
Thank God, this is an ongoing effort. But when I feel grace, or I feel myself using grace in response to a less-than-gracious situation, I feel great peace. And since I didn’t quantify this as anything other than “more,” even just a tiny bit counts. Credit.

23. When to keep my mouth shut.
I’m actually doing pretty well with this. Especially because it’s limited to keeping my mouth shut and not keeping my typing fingers still. You’re welcome, blog. Credit.

24. More about where I came from.
This was accomplished unexpectedly. My friend loves to get lost in ancestry records. I now know my mother’s great-grandparents’ names and what they looked like. I know there was a third child in a photo taken in 1895, but no one knows who it is. I know and have seen photos of the ships my great-grandparents immigrated on, and I know that my great-grandfather held at least two patents for textile design, which was one of his goals in immigrating (his company in Germany took all his ideas and claimed them as theirs). I know my grandfather’s father was in a soldiers’ orphans’ home by the time he was 15, but I’m still working on finding out why. If we can find who his parents were, we will have unlocked a very long family mystery. Credit.

Now, the following are not resolutions, but they’re things I’d like to do in 2014. Here goes:

Read more books.

Help my division work more effectively.

Make more friends.

Fall in love, be fallen in love with… and keep him for a while!

Go to the movies more. (I think I went twice in 2013, and one of those was the day after Christmas.)

Figure out what the hell my two-year-old neighbor did to my remote last night that rendered it useless for controlling the TV’s power and volume. (This might be the hardest one to accomplish. Several people tried already.)

Enjoy more moments.

Take six graduate classes. (Two lined up for next term.)

Be of service.

Show love.

Buy a Christmas tree that accepts water as sustenance.
********
A happy, healthy 2014 full of the best words to all of you!

 

 

 

Tough and Tender

My new coworkers are lovely people. Truly. So lovely that they plan baby showers for grandmothers-to-be and second-time fathers-to-be. Isn’t that nice?

No. That is ridiculous.

Here’s the thing. I’m kind of old school about showers. You get one baby shower. One. It is when you have your first baby, and you get it when you’re the mother-to-be. (The father-to-be gets the gifts too, so he’s not being slighted.) You do not get a “sprinkle” when you have each additional kid. You do not get a grandparent-to-be shower (what the HELL?)  And I do not come to your shower, nor do I contribute to a gift, unless you are the mother-to-be and it’s your first kid.

Or not even then. As it turns out.

Because today, there was a surprise shower for my coworker and I had completely forgotten about it, which means I neither contributed to the group gift nor got her a separate gift. So while she opened everything and then read aloud the names of all the people who contributed to the group gift, I was essentially outed.

Who has two thumbs, hates baby showers and is an asshole? This girl!

Top of that, I had already eaten and was full, therefore keeping me from being able to graciously indulge in the sinful goodies my other coworker had prepared for the occasion.

Also, I really didn’t want to be there. Everyone else was taking pictures of our friend while she opened all the cute gifts, and you know what I took a picture of? The guys who felt obligated to come, who were sitting in the farthest back corner of the room possible. I wanted to sit back there too. On the way back to my officle, I stopped in one of theirs and mouthed, “I hate baby showers.”

Sometimes I’m not at all convinced that I’m a normal woman. Then I consult with another one and find out I totally am, because it’s possible that we all hate baby showers.

******

But then it turns out I’m something altogether different.

Tonight I had a meeting with my local state delegate (also a prosecutor)  and the executive director of an anti-sexual assault organization, who is also a lawyer and experienced lobbyist, about our new potential efforts at gaining more ground for crime victims. I learned very early in the meeting that the first part of my hopes had already been secured; someone else I’d spoken with had already accomplished the goal of getting information printed on peace and protective orders that will let complainants know when their respondent has been served with the order—commonly the most dangerous time in the process for the complainant. My push had actually been for something similar: giving them access to the information I fortunately had with my stalker, so that they will know when an incarcerated perpetrator is released, transferred or up for a probation/parole status change. Happily, I’m told they think they can get that done.

The other effort is to strengthen the home detention criteria so that people who are served with peace/protective orders are subject to reincarceration and/or no longer eligible for the home detention option. This is a trickier hope for a lot of reasons particular to both my state and general laws, and it might not happen. I understand that, but I want us to make the right argument. And though this is the trickier hope, my delegate and his colleague puzzled out several scenarios, hypothesized about how it might work, talked about ways they could answer legal challenges and ways they might have to regroup to work around them, and did it all while both educating me more about how the system works and treating me as an equal, even though I never went to law school.

Those of you who have read about my stalker and the effort Rick and I — along with several other committed victims’ rights advocates — made real will know how much this means to me. I found myself a bit choked up as I thanked them for their time tonight. During our meeting, they had told me how rare a stalking conviction is. Between them, they’ve only seen a handful. It’s a difficult statute to prove; the fact that the police caught my stalker in the act made a  huge difference. Hearing that made me feel two very different things: gratified about the severity of my case after wondering whether I was “worthy” of a stalker, and terrified for all the people who don’t get the justice they need. Every time I think through my experience, I remember how exhausting and necessary it all was. The fact that so many people deal with the unending fear of the circumstance without ever having the benefit I got from the bone-wearying process after the arrest is a crime in itself, and an inexcusable one.  When I got home from the meeting, I felt so grateful for the work others have done on my behalf that I cried.

******

Then I read a Facebook posting about a former coworker who adopted a seven-year-old girl from Ethiopia. He and his wife have been raising her for a couple of years now, dealing with all the triumphs, challenges, laughs and fears that come with suddenly having a desperately wanted daughter who has to catch up to educational requirements in a language she has to learn all at once, while also dealing with some physical disabilities. One of his new coworkers just heard the story of how my friend and his wife brought their daughter home and was moved enough to ask if he could feature the story on his website. My friend said yes. But then as he dropped his head and shuffled his feet, he asked if there might be a way to help raise the funds he and his wife need, because they know a boy in Ethiopia who needs them now, but they don’t have the money yet.

I hadn’t known my friend was ready to adopt again, but the second I read the words, I burst into tears. I checked the fundraising site and found that they’d already far exceeded the goal. I thought about it for two seconds and then said, “Fuck it, I’m posting this anyway,” and put it on my FB page.

This afternoon I felt like a callous, dysfunctional jerk. Tonight I feel like an exposed underbelly. The generosity of others has laid me bare. There’s a strange mix of emotions I can’t pinpoint.  It’s like the expansion of the universe – inexplicable and beautiful and terrifying and out of my control, full of darkness and light and an energy I want to protect and evade.

Today I am completely human.