Positions and Oppositions…

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Of birthdays and bugs…

Twenty years ago, I was 24. I had finished my master’s degree and had been accepted into a doctoral program. As newlyweds, we were broke, and we spent the summer living in a relative’s basement. Even though continuing my education gave the appearance of knowing what the future held, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. But my head was full of notions about what I was supposed to be; all those grand ideas, hopes, and expectations stuffed into ourselves during that phase called, “growing up.” I suppose I felt some pressure to turn some of those concepts into reality (or perhaps the reality of wanting to buy a sandwich without compromising the rent overrode the wish to remain in the purely conceptual). Nonetheless, there was some need to show I knew a lot, even though I didn’t really know anything at all.

It is likely this is what one does in one’s Twenties. Some form of transitional pseudo-adulthood angst that rams its way into you, making you do ridiculous things while trumpeting with the confidence of a rutting ox. Self-assurance without substance as we cling to an aspiration of significance. But it is this occasionally self-defeating bravado that often propels us to try the unusual, unexpected, and downright foolish.

Except, I wasn’t being foolish. I was trying to be calm, collected, and self-assured. Spoiler alert: all that flopped. I’ve spent the last 20 years dismantling pretty much every certainty I thought I had, and it is in my present life where I leap, sometimes destructively, from many precipices simply because I already know what will happen if I just stand there.

What have I learned? That in the end, I still don’t know much. But there are a few basics that seem to come back to me:

  • I like being small. Being a tiny speck in a massive universe is reassuring, not isolating.
  • People suck. Because they’re people, and they frequently get things wrong.
  • People can be amazing. Because they’re people, and when they stop trying to be something else, they create majestic things.
  • I like being an introvert. Get over it.
  • Most things should not be taken seriously because the few things that are very serious require tremendous attention and dedication to be handled effectively. Thus,
  • Choose battles wisely and sparingly.
  • I really don’t like fighting. Being a good diplomat doesn’t mean I run around looking for conflict.
  • I like to be left alone.
  • I like to be with people.
  • Being observant means always seeing too much. Learning how to carry the responsibility of that is the real trick.
  • Food is good.
  • I don’t like bugs.
  • I have no idea if there is a god, and I don’t think I can ever know. But I am also okay with that since I don’t think God needs me to validate their existence.
  • They say sarcasm is a defense mechanism, in which case I am well defended.

At 44, I am about to move, start a new job (again), journey with my children through their new phases of pre-teen/teen life, and see what happens to marriage after 20 years. I will wait to see who I become in this next adventure. I have no idea where we’re going to live, so in the meantime, we’re spending the summer living in a relative’s basement.

I still don’t know anything, but I kind of like it that way.

 

Nice Rocks

Pressure is the stuff that is supposed to create diamonds. By now I’ve experienced enough pressure to own my own mine. Such silver-lining statements aren’t very good at assuaging the storm of emotions that accompany difficult life experiences. I’d likely become more happy if people would stop making such comments altogether.

There is the crisis that occurs in the moment, whether it be an instant or a sequence of events causing the ground to crumble away beneath one’s feet. Such experiences shock, surprise, gut us into so many unpredictable states and reactions we often stun ourselves with the words that erupt from our mouths. We mobilize into action, or hide away, or wait silently – the fight, flight, or freeze responses biology instilled in us to try to keep us from dying out after the first generation. A modern, digital society doesn’t erase the need for these defenses; rather we just develop newer and weirder ways of employing our protections.  Even in our not-so-social media we cling to our illusions of control via tweet-storms or mass Facebook-unfriending.

Action, in any of these forms, is greatest when danger first makes itself known. The threat demands a response and we move like bees to guard the hive. But many threats don’t end once the emergency is over, in spite of our “get it done” society. There is no fast-food formula for addressing the longer lasting experiences of prolonged duress.

So – back to pressure. What is to be done once the emergency subsides, and we are left with the dawning realization that the source of our angsts is not going away any time soon? Or the possibility that our disturbances may never go away? Stuck is not always a state of mind; sometimes it is a condition of existence.

Enter the platitudes: it builds character, it tests what you’re made of, it’ll make you stronger. Goody goody gumdrops. As though you don’t have enough character, thought you were made of jell-o, or were too weak to lift your own eyelids. Is it necessary to experience the bullying effects of hardship or trauma in order to become a better human being? Is this meant to demonstrate that any God that may exist prefers cosmic irony?

Truthfully, this is why I think the Why questions don’t really matter. If we were to find out that all this were to make us better, or if it is the case that this is all meaningless, what difference does it actually make. You’re still in the same stuck and it isn’t going anywhere.

I do think it is an oddly American cultural discourse that suggests pressure, stress, or whatever is somehow “good” for you. That may just be our need to put some ridiculously cheerful spin on the bad things in life. Maybe it is an extension of our natural tendency to want to explain things. Or maybe all this searching is simply a distraction, the existential equivalent of chain-smoking.

I don’t have an answer. I am currently living in multiple states of pressure and dealing with it in my multiple useful and selfish ways. Writing this is an attempt to hold on to creativity, the energy that gets stolen by simply surviving. My projects have taken on the fury of a caped-crusader, but there is a reason why superheroes have insomnia. Commiserating with similarly affected friends builds community, but also grows the waistline while diminishing consciousness. Resistance walks a fine line against self-destruction. 

Is there a bottom line? Maybe, but perhaps that’s part of the problem, there is no bottom line to be found. Perhaps this is what living in a paradigm-shift is like. Churning in the crucible, we will not know what the end could look like because it is beyond what we are currently capable of seeing. Some pieces will burn away leaving only charcoal and dust. Other parts will forge into something unusual, awkward, but new. Hopefully some of those chunks will be welcome. Others will likely bring their own sharp edges and distorted veins. And likely some contorted bits will turn out to be jewels, gemstones with properties not understood but worth investigating.

That is as close to a silver lining as I can offer – stick this out and maybe we’ll have some nice rocks. But in the meantime – yup, it’s going to be one long, hot summer.

Flashback 2007…

I haven’t written much here lately because the words just can’t come fast enough to keep up with every executive order rewriting our lives. So here’s something I stumbled across, a little thing I wrote several years ago when tenure felt like the biggest mountain in my path. My how things have changed. Anyway…enjoy the diversion.

Tick tock.  Tick tock.

I glance around, hunting for the source of the noise.  There in the darkness is the outline of the clock on the wall.  Squinting, my eyes focus on the hands.  The little one appears to be resting on the 4; the big one is resting on something I don’t care to make out.  Looking down into my arms I see the face of my new infant who is looking back at me with very large, very awake eyes.

She doesn’t seem to get the idea that it’s 4 in the morning – not 4 in the afternoon, a respectable time when playing and giggling is welcome, but 4 in the morning, a time when my brain doesn’t want to think about much of anything.  In fact, my brain would rather be engaged in wonderful lazy dreams requiring no effort at all.  However, my daughter has other ideas.  She finds this to be the best time in the world to eat, pee, and most of all, be wide-spanking awake.  While she smiles in infant glee at being alive, I perform a Homer Simpson drooling impersonation as my head rolls onto the back of my chair.

The oddity that crosses my mind is that during this Kodak mother-child bonding moment, I find myself thinking about my job.  Now a proud parent of two children, I wonder if my ability to attend to my work will get easier or harder.  At 4 in the morning, I wonder not about diapers, toys, or Baby Einstein, but about Tenure.  That 6-year hurdle has been looming in the distance now suddenly seems larger, taller, and more like a rocky, jagged mountain than a simple wooden trellis.

Parenthood and tenure – are the two compatible or do they mix like oil and water?  This is the question I’ve wrestled with since landing my tenure-track position two years ago.  The dream of every doctoral candidate finally realized, I settled into my new job with visions of scholarly productivity dancing in my head.

Ok, not really, but it did not seem to be an incalculable equation of research, teaching, and service that I was expected to figure.  Learning how to balance output is a task of all green professors, a chore we take on like awkward fraternity pledges seeking handouts of approval from our tenured brothers and sisters.  What appeared simple on paper became much more complex when put into practice – and when my children came into the picture.

Even putting the gender and higher education success debate aside, the balance between work and family life seems to be increasingly elusive.  Each area demands the same things; time, energy, and attention.  Both also appear to be predictable in their expectations, yet reality steps in and cracks all attempts at creating structure.  For example, my 2-year old getting chicken pox results in a 10-day eruption of chaos.  Forget writing time, forget meeting time, forget prep time – I am at home trying to explain what “quarantine” means to my cabin-fevered toddler.  I relate to his exasperated running in circles around the coffee table as I feel like that is all I’m capable of doing myself.  All I can see is valuable writing time drizzling away with every lap.

It seems so much the case that one area must overcome the other.  When consulting colleagues, the good-natured response tends to be, “find time away to write.”  When consulting with friends and family, the well-intentioned suggestions are, “stay at home, work less.”  Must it be that family and tenure are mutually exclusive conditions?  I look around me to find others who have had to learn the same lessons.  Unfortunately, I find very few who seemed to keep both family and tenure in sight as I have either colleagues without kids, or friends with families who dropped out of academics.

Trying to have both, I find myself rocking my daughter to sleep while ruminating over my research agenda.  It seems this self-generated schizophrenia is to be the norm if I am to achieve a successful career while having a family life.  And yet it seems the very attempt to make both occur simultaneously is also what prevents each from coming to fruition.  Having both means I also have neither as my attention is always divided.

At times like this the Buddhist ideas of bending like the reed in the wind come to mind.  From that philosophy, my misguided desire to be attached to “success” fuels my suffering.  I want to be like the reed, letting myself go with the flow.

But will that get me tenure?

Tick tock.  The hand hits the 5.  A light snoring comes from my arms as my little girl has wandered off to sleep.  A peaceful grin crosses her face.  It occurs to me that trying to force balance and predictability may be exacerbating the problem.  Rather than divide myself, I could approach each situation whole.  I watch my daughter snoozing, and take the moment to absorb how quiet and settling it is.

I don’t know if my present course will end in tenure.  Perhaps it won’t.  Maybe it will.  I hope to absorb as many quiet moments as I can along the way, even if those moments mean sitting sleeplessly in the half-dark.

 

1.21.2017: We March

I thought I’d let a few news items do the talking today:

c2ucfcpweaes5zx14-year-old is asking to “Make America Think Again.” This is what the world has come to. #WomensMarch pic.twitter.com/PZzUYPBEtG— Elizabeth Plank (@feministabulous) January 21, 2017

…And thousands more, and it isn’t even noon yet. This tweet captures it:

See, President Trump – we were already great. You and your cronies hadn’t figured that out yet. Now you’ll find out just how great we can be.

Our Unpresidented Reality Show…

(image from Vanity Fair)

The electoral college votes have been submitted and…of course Trump will still be President. I had set aside a small finger bowl of hope on the off-chance another patch of Hell froze over and something unexpected would happen. But it is not really a surprise that the vote still stands.

I’ll get chastised by my fellow liberals for making that statement, but that’s okay. People who have little left need to feel like they can do something, and I suspected from the get-go that efforts to sway the electoral college were an expression of that need.  Changing this aspect of the system in such a short period of time and under such extreme circumstances is like getting the earth to spin backwards; even when Superman did it, it was a really stupid part of the movie.

However, there were some surprises. We did get 7 faithless electors, more than any election since 1808. Their switches were unexpected though, with most deciding to vote for someone other than – wait for it – Clinton. We did get 2 Republican electors who did not vote for Trump. But no huge jumping of the fence, no dramatic uprising. It is history in the making, and many political analysts will make their careers talking about this one. But for those of us living this experience, it is, frankly, like being told you have IBS: gassy and uneventful.

Since Nov. 8, there have been thousands of conversations about how to move forward. I’m tired of talking about moving forward. Moving forward is a ridiculous statement, a pointless sentiment. Of course we have to move forward because none of us can stop time. The phrase is at best nothing more than platitudes to try to assuage the now disaffected, or at worst blatant showing off that swaggering jerks can still kick sand in the face of beached weaklings. Stop telling anyone to move forward. Or, perhaps Trump fans could take their own advice and move forward, if moving forward means getting off of their narcissistic high horse for one instant and remembering they too still need to find a way of getting along with their neighbors.

My bitterness is obvious. But my frustration has morphed from the despair at the initial announcement of Trump’s win to a sort of despondency at watching the system reveal itself. Initially the terror after election night was connected to sanctioned racism. But as things settled, now that fear is replaced by anger and, honestly, befuddlement. Even before taking office, we get to learn about email hacking, Russian interference, international faux-pas, white nationalist appointments, conflicts of interest, continued network reality show entanglements, lawsuits…This all in the last month. And I sit here and wonder, did all of you die-hard Trumplodites really think he would suddenly become (un)presidential? Did you really think all of us who spoke against Trump were really just whining? Our soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief gets into twitter wars with Alec Baldwin and you’re telling us to suck it up, buttercup?

But not all of my ire is aimed at Trumpamentalists. (Yes, I am making up new words to distinguish those who cast a thoughtful vote, who likely can still keep an eye on the big picture, who may even be saying to themselves, “what was I thinking..,” from those alt-right white national white supremacist batshit crazy idiots who are secretly hoping to photobomb President Trump and get a shot at their own reality TV show. They voted red because they liked posting Trumpified selfies all fucking day. I unfriended you on facebook not because I couldn’t accept your politics but because my eyes are still on fire from being forced to see your poodle-coiffed head wrapped in a “Make America Great Again” thong. Please lose your cell phone in a vat of acid.)

As I was saying…the Democrats have some work to do too. My irritation with them is an old one though, as someone who has been a Democrat and a social justice advocate for a long time. Both groups are plagued by a very similar disease. I’ve been afflicted by it and had it inflicted on me. I’ll use the following to illustrate:

Person A: “We’re going to host a banquet and invite all the local groups to join us. Then we can have a big talk about the problems this community is having.”

Person B: “That sounds fabulous. What will we serve?’

A:”We’ll get it catered.”

B:”Catering is so bourgeois. Let’s go shopping and get sandwich platters.”

Person C: “We can go to Costco!”

A:”Costco is a corporate monster.”

B:”Fine, let’s get sandwiches from the local grocer.”

C:”Great, as long as it’s organic.”

Person D: “I’m gluten intolerant.”

A: “Fine, we’ll get wheatless sandwiches.”

B: “We need a vegetarian option.”

C: “My uncle grows hemp.”

D: “I don’t think you should impose food on anyone. What about those who are fasting?”

A: “Let’s make it a pot-luck.”

B: “Excellent! I’ll make mini-imitation cocoa inspired flourless goujons crafted from soybean-free tofu and banana peels.”

C: “I insist on having pears.”

D: “Let’s make a doodle poll and see what everyone else thinks.”

A: “Fuck it. cancel the whole thing. I’m going to McDonald’s.”

In short, we are very good at undermining each other about very stupid things. Democrats need to realize this: Republicans are very organized. While it can also be argued that Republican agendas support status quo and therefore encourage conformity, Democrats could handle getting a little more agreement about what we’re supposed to be fighting for and about. Ironically, the left’s social agenda, also tied to social justice, is about fighting for the rights of those often rendered invisible in society. But this has also led to thinking every message is equivalent and deserves the same amount of air time. Hey fellow Dems, it’s okay to get focused. Maybe now isn’t the time to argue for every single point we’ve ever wanted to strive for. Maybe we should pick a few key items and go full steam ahead, and prove to the rest of the country that we can actually get something done.

I do believe President Obama tried that, and was undercut by Democrats just as much as he was undercut by Republicans. Because Democrats just couldn’t agree. Those of us on the left can fall victim to insular thinking just as much as those on the right, and we can get sucked into our own propaganda and self-aggrandizement. We need to have hard conversations with each other, those of us who claim to be on the same team, and we also need to unsaddle some of our own prima donnas. What should we learn from the fact that some of the faithless electors tried to change their vote away from Clinton? We should accept that Clinton may not have been a great choice, that she came with a mega suitcase filled with dirty laundry and that many in the USA just simply don’t and never will like her. We should also learn that we’re not doing a good job getting the message across – again likely because our message is muddled and complicated, and also because we are not doing well using words that can be understood. We hide in our rhetoric and multisyllabic principles. We are educated yes, but we are guilty of making just as many idiotic remarks as our conservative counterparts. We appear elitist because we adopt a superior attitude every time we think we are “saving” the masses, and we forget we are just as subject to prejudice and bias as everyone else.

 

I really don’t want to be stuck in a reality tv show for the next four years. But in a way, we have been living one for some time now, and the show has just jumped the shark. So maybe we need to get this thing cancelled before the current writers do something even more stupid. Let’s bring in real talent and get back to writing good stories. Or better yet, let’s turn all this bullshit television and newstainment off and, gasp, talk to each other again. Instead of blogging, I would have to physically find people and get out of my house…see the light of the sun…notice the shadows on the walls…wonder if anyone else will get this Plato reference…

 

 

Site Lift…(aka VOTE)

i-voted-stickerThose rare 2 or 3 people who read this blog regularly might notice a few changes around here. I decided it was time for a change, especially as I hadn’t updated the look of the blog since I created it almost 4 years ago. So we’ve got a new theme, some updated titles, and a new layout that keeps the posts from being too…exhausting? to read.

But time for change is also upon us…in just a couple days the next President of the United States will be decided. While you could argue that all elections are a big deal, this one is a Very Big Deal. I have already voted. I have an opinion. And I have a plea for all those out there who are thinking there is no point in voting in what appears to be one of the most ridiculous, horrific, laughable, and embarrassing Presidential races I’ve seen in my life.

What are the issues? Amazingly the issues don’t get talked about enough. What are the campaign promises, how will each candidate make a difference…ironically this has been almost completely erased from the public eye. We are trapped in a surreal enactment of a freak show circus and have bought into believing all the tricks and pantomimes are real. It is no wonder many, many people are expressing greater anxiety, fear, hopelessness, mistrust, than ever before; such symptoms cut across race, age, gender, leaving us all wondering what the fuck is going on.

So…is it a surprise that many people, especially young people who may be voting for the first time ever, feel their vote won’t matter? This campaign voyage crashed the dock a long time ago and has morphed into a presidential sharknado, gobbling every shred of sanity daring to step in its path. Voting can seem pointless, the outcome pre-determined (not “rigged,” as some would have you believe).

But voting does matter, and now more than ever. Because while we have lost sight of the work that is yet to be done, what has erupted to the surface is a rift in our society that will rumble across the land for some time. Scientists have been predicting the big earthquake – well here it is, and it’s a 9000 on the social cataclysm scale. Maybe the specific persons running for office leave some things to be desired, but what they have come to represent speaks volumes about who we are to become as a people:

  • One candidate represents a possibility for equality to still exist in this country, and a chance that our children could have a better future than the present we have foolishly created for them.
  • One candidate represents himself a couple of white people who will make out like bandits at the expense of just about everyone else.

Is it an oversimplification?  Cutting across all the bullshit that has been recklessly slung in our faces, the bottom line is simple. While it is tempting to abstain from voting as a sign of protest (and there is much to protest), in this case it means the outcome will be decided for you. It means your silence will be interpreted as agreement in supporting a society that you may not want anything to do with. There are so many in this country whose right to vote is being challenged, taken away, threatened; thus if those of you who have this vote, have this voice, don’t use it, you are spitting in the face of those fighting to hold on to that right.

There is so much more I could get into here, like the unleashing of pure, unhindered racism that threatens to turn us into a modern version of Auschwitz, policing our own neighbors like Hitlerjugend; the flagrant disregard for women that stomps them back into believing their worth is dependent upon the approval of men; the support of rape culture that is attempting to shroud many survivors of assault into shame ; the glorification of violence which is turning bullies into heroes; the disgusting redefinition of masculinity that should make most men of conscience want to vomit. These are the issues we will really face after November 8. Your vote will matter, and the vote is also just the beginning.

So – VOTE. The world is watching.

Religious Histories…

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I was never baptized. This was largely due to an oversight by my parents; basically, they forgot to do it. Now before the Freudians leap into writing dissertations about what this implies about my upbringing and its connection to my infinite personality flaws, my parents’ ignoring of my eternal soul was likely one of the better things they did. My course was set early on towards figuring out this thing called religion.

Even though my childhood lacked expected rituals, I was not without the presence of religion. My mother is Catholic, even though she doesn’t quite know what that means. She was baptized and given communion when she was growing up in Taiwan. Since the mass was given in Latin at the time, she had no idea what was going on and just went with it. Of course since my mother was raised in a very traditional Chinese home, she didn’t really need extra lessons in shame to begin with, so Catholicism in another language likely felt pretty familiar to her. This is probably why there has always been a Catholic influence in my life, but no one really understands it.

My father was supposed to be either Pentecostal or Baptist. He was dunked in a bathtub and ran after that which is why the choice was never really made. Religion terrified him, death terrified him, and women terrified him, which explains a great many things. When I was little, he announced he would never go to church again, and that was the one promise he delivered on. He also later divorced my mom so he could date as many women as he could find and adopted an attitude of “do whatever feels good.” Unless of course you were one of his children, and then the rule was, “if it feels good, NEVER EVER do it, see it, or think it again.”

Even though dad declared never to set foot in church again lest he burst into flame, I recall spending plenty of time there when I was young. Well not in any one particular church, but rather many, many churches. I didn’t know what to call my family because we simultaneously attended Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic, Church of Christ, and Pentecostal churches at different times. This might be why I never really understood why Catholics and Protestants bicker amongst themselves over which one is “right” about Jesus, because when you’re 6 it all looks about the same; it’s just a question of which one makes you stand up the most.

I went to bible school on a regular basis. The school I attended the most had a fire-and-brimstone preacher who scared the living Christ right out of me. I have no idea what he was talking about because my strategy was to stare like I was listening so he wouldn’t shout in my direction. But I knew I wanted nothing to do with what he was selling. When he wasn’t looking, I would pull out the Old Testament and read it, trying to figure out what “begat” meant and why those old guys had so much of it.

Somewhere in my adolescence, my mother remembered I was still sinful and wanted to get me baptized. By then I’d decided to become an atheist, but mostly because I listened to a lot of punk rock. So my mother ordered me to the minister at the church we happened to be going to at the time, and made me talk to her about what would happen if I continued to deny God.

It is likely the minister had a more well-rounded version of one’s relationship to the almighty than my mother did, or perhaps she didn’t know what to make of the girl with spiky hair, black coat and combat boots sitting across from her. Either way she simply asked me what I thought of my relationship with God, to which I replied that I didn’t really know, but I didn’t want to sign up until I had a better idea of what I was getting into. She thought that sounded pretty reasonable and sent me on my way, offering to talk more if I wanted to. I skipped off with my get-out-of-jail-free pass validated, and I realized I really did want to understand God better. I wasn’t really an atheist, I was just angry, and talking to someone who wasn’t was, in a word, helpful.

I had quit going to church(es) on a regular basis but continued exploring the tough questions. Somewhere in early adulthood I decided to get pretty serious about it all. I suppose being surrounded by priests at a Catholic university had something to do with that. But this time I wasn’t having threats shouted at me from on high, rather I got the chance to learn. Religion is, amazingly, much more interesting when it is presented in relation to culture, history, ethics, art, and relationships. And surprise! This thing called theology invites questions and no one will go to Hell as a result.

But I never committed. I came very close on several occasions. It was sort of like showing up on the wedding day, looking down the aisle, but when the music started to play I would say, “nope” and turn around. And this was not due to a lack of belief; it is fair to say belief and I were good friends. I did well with a conceptualization of God that permitted me to challenge Him on a regular basis and I could accept Him challenging me back. But to get more specific – to make a declaration of faith – never quite happened. I recall praying with a priest, who was preparing me for formal entry into Catholicism. I was anointed, and afterwards he asked how I felt. He was disappointed when I replied, “Umm, a little weird.”

“Why?”

“This wine is corked.”

So it didn’t go very well after that; apparently some priests do get upset when you start questioning whether or not Catholicism is the thing for you. And some take it kinda personally when you decline communion, and some get downright offended when you suggest you’re not really into Jesus Christ after all.

Which brought me to one of my realizations of adulthood, that theology is great but religion, not so much. The people of religion didn’t always live up to what they were supposed to, and the Institution can engage in some not so great stuff.

I grew up in an area where priests’ abuses against children were first exposed. I initially didn’t grasp it. It was hard to know what abuse even was because when the authority of God sits behind the man, you are led to believe that everything is love and you do what you’re told. Victims get labelled as heretics and speaking up becomes a crime. The Pope gets the last word, but is he really infallible? The problem existed longer than anyone ever guessed and continued well after it was claimed to have stopped; the scope was not limited by borders and a community’s crisis was actually a world’s crisis. We had no idea how to reconcile this and the subsequent bad decisions: hiding priests, hiding children, hiding stories, hiding answers. The only people who seemed to walk away without injury were the men in black.

We watched The Church ignore the very people it was supposed to care for, we tried to keep hope even when they kept the problem going by simply rotating instead of rehabilitating. We extended forgiveness when promises were made about making reparations but one has to wonder about the true price of silence. Eventually we say, “fuck off, any god that wants these men for his loudspeaker has a serious inferiority complex, or is simply a figment of your imagination.”

I became a Buddhist. The thing about Buddhism is, you don’t actually have to do anything to become one. It’s just how it works. This fits with my inability to engage in ritual. Buddhism also didn’t put all its faith in men. This is likely because Buddhism teaches that individuality is an illusion. Collectivism means if I injure you I injure me, and we are therefore injured. That was a refreshing sentiment.

Buddhism fueled me for a while. I wasn’t a very good Buddhist; I ate meat and rarely meditated. But I could live in a world where good and evil were the same, because that matched my lived experience. I didn’t want to lose suffering because suffering was at the root of existence; we couldn’t really learn to love until we could accept the heart of pain. That worked for me; I also didn’t have to rewrite my identity in order to fit the mold because there isn’t really a mold to begin with.

And yet…I didn’t stay there. I haven’t abandoned it, but then again I haven’t abandoned any religion. I’m no religion these days. I don’t like the word spiritual because in the USA it seems to be linked to scenty candles. I am still very concerned about theology, morality, and ethics. I am not seeking a “good” life though, rather searching for a human life. I don’t know if God is there, and I don’t think it’s possible to know. So I’ve stopped looking. It has become less important to have an answer to that question, “what is God,” or “who is God.” But if there is a God, I don’t think they’ll be too upset that I haven’t been baptized.

Next stop…

Let’s begin at the end. I’m somewhere over an ocean, flying home after 3 weeks abroad. For some reason, I don’t sleep on planes. Perhaps that’s because planes are ridiculously uncomfortable to sleep on. It is basically sharing a bed with about 200 people, but the bed fits really only about 3. And the other 2 you’re stuck with are people you’d rather not be in bed with.
So I don’t sleep on planes.

I did however sleep more often than usual while abroad, given that when I typically work at the institute we direct each summer, I average about 4 hours of sleep a night. Whether it was because I had my children with me this time, or perhaps because staying up all night comes with much greater consequence than it did when I was 20, I slept. And I needed it since the last several months have been extremely, irrevocably, exhausting. Granted this trip was work-related, but it was also the vacation I’ve been waiting for. 3 weeks of letting the rest of my life disappear from my brain.

The sign of a good vacation is when the answer to the question of, “what day is it” is answered with, “I don’t know.” While I still had to check email from time to time, I declined responding. Admittedly, I could not totally divest myself of social media and managed to post a few pics of our journeys. But otherwise I was “off the grid,” and glad of it. What the rest of life back home thought was important I could ignore and instead focus on what was in front of me, which was typically either a vista I’d never seen before, or a pint. Win-win all around.

I hiked as far up a hill (created by a volcano) as I could, which means I almost got to Arthur’s Seat. I could see it, but my eyes started wobbling at the height and I had to stop. But I did look over the edge as far as I could, which is pretty good for someone who can’t look down the Sears Tower. I rediscovered the joy of walking along an unknown path, even if it sometimes resulted in running away from the velociraptor we imagined lunging at us in the tall grass. Paddle boats can be cool. Humidity is not. Late night conversations with friends is still the best way to end an evening. Your kids can ask some really good questions, even if you never have answers to them.

And then there are the random conversations, the ones had with strangers like taxi drivers, ticket collectors, waitresses, museum docents. People who are interested in talking especially when you’re interested in listening. While parts of me started to blend in, I realized my foreign oddities might be just as interesting to the locals the way their idiosyncrasies are interesting to me.

Edinburgh is a pretty cool place.

Tour groups drive me completely bonkers.

It’s a curiosity how we try to bring back pieces of our experience with us when we travel. I like to take photos, but the irony of photography is it can detach you from what is directly in front of you if you let it. We wander into endless shops to bring back the trinkets (even though I never got my highland “coo”) but really it’s just stuff, things that mimic the real. What you’re really hoping to bring back is the feeling, the parts that don’t have words and can’t be quantified or totalized, but simply must be lived. The experience goes away but hopefully the effect stays.

So what do I go home with? Ask me again in a couple weeks. I am ready to be in my own home but I miss where I was. “Missing” is the fuel that can keep a hope burning.

I’ll return sometime. Mind the gap.

Untitled nonsense…

So the thing is, I’ve not posted much lately. It’s one of those vicious cycle things; life is too busy, so I don’t write, but not writing makes all the thoughts collect in my head, and the aggregate effect is life feels stressful, so I don’t write, and on and on and on…

That makes writing my version of exercise. Okay, I exercise too, but only because I have to or else things will stop working. But I guess that’s the point of writing, if I stop writing things will fall off my brain and I’ll get all lopsided.

So I’m making myself write so some of the crud works itself out of my bloodstream. Mindstream. Headstream. Whatever fucking stream happens to be pooling up there.

I don’t know what to say. I have too much to say. I don’t feel like saying it to anyone. I want to be left alone. But I want friends! Don’t leave me alone, take me to a pub, have a pint. As Dylan Moran once said, “do you want to be sane? Or not lonely.” Give me some cake. I’ve had too much cake. Give me some cake followed by some broccoli. It’ll all even itself out.

I still haven’t written the stuff I’m supposed to be writing. I think I’m in a sort of denial about how much academic writing makes me want to vomit. But I have managed to collect all my pieces in preparation for writing, which means I’m slowly running out of excuses to not write.

Thus now is the perfect time to write about writer’s block-busters, or here’s a list of ways to get past that blank page staring back at you, daring you to put words on it:

  1. Gather your sources.
  2. Organize your sources.
  3. Make an outline of your sources’ points.
  4. Come up with some snappy headers, like “Introduction” or “Discussion.”
  5. Take a tea break.
  6. Realize that a tea break needs cookies.
  7. Notice there are no cookies in the house.
  8. Leave the house to get cookies.
  9. Notice about 64 other food items you simply must try.
  10. Go home, put away all the stuff.
  11. Clean because of all the dust on the shelves where you put the stuff away.
  12. Sanitize the entire bathroom; realize you have no toilet paper.
  13. Go back out. Notice your favorite shoe shop is having a sale.
  14. Buy an entire outdoor furniture set, including matching fire pit, at neighboring store having a super end of year clearance event not to be passed up.
  15. Stuff furniture in your economy-sized car because you’re too cheap to pay for shipping.
  16. Call all your friends for help because only the pillow fits.
  17. Go for drinks with friends and tell the shop to ship your furniture anyway.
  18. Go home.
  19. Sleep.
  20. Wake up, hung over.
  21. Shove toast in your face and recall you still need to start writing.
  22. Sigh. Sit at computer.
  23. Google something.
  24. Cry.
  25. Write random words on your document.
  26. Spellcheck.
  27. Submit.

See? Whoever said all that stuff about publishing being hard…was absolutely correct. How do you really get past writer’s block? Just start writing, even if it is untitled nonsense.

(And if you need a little more writing inspiration, watch Bernard and Manny try to write a children’s book:)

 

The Play’s the Thing…

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That’s the view I’ve had for the last few weeks. I’ve been the eye in the sky, turning on lights and making noise for a play I joined up for a couple months ago.

A couple months ago…? Did we really start this thing in May? It is the end of June and we just had our last performance today. And odd for me, I’m writing about it now instead of when I first poked my toe in the entry way and said, “hey, need a volunteer?”

Let’s set the record straight: I don’t know why I signed up to help on a play. I don’t know what I expected to get out of it. I had no vision of where this was going. I had no thought about what I would bring to it. I was asked these questions when I signed up, and I do recall saying something, and I also recall that what I said was mostly crap. Curiously I mentioned nothing about having made a film. It just didn’t seem relevant. And perhaps that is true, because I wasn’t looking to be in charge of this production, but also because I didn’t know what I was looking for.

In short, I did another classic bumbling act. I suppose bumbling is apropos to theater, so it’s about time I paired these things together. Since moving here, I have found myself floundering about like a fish in the desert. How the theater became my saving puddle I have no idea, but something inside me said, “yes, try that, do that thing you know so little about because that will some how make the rest of this mess you’re in all better.”

These are the crazy things we say to ourselves. But as with most rambling madness, there is some wisdom in there if you just manage to listen closely enough.

I told myself I wanted to learn theater to help with my work, to understand a production, to learn more about directing, to meet people, to try something new. I suppose there were some truths in there. When I showed up the first day I had no idea what to do and felt amazingly idiotic. After a few more days I felt idiotic and doubtful. Then a few days after that I felt idiotic, doubtful, and feared I was wasting everyone’s time, including mine.

Then I said, “what the fuck is wrong with you, just shut up and enjoy it.”

And I did. I abandoned any sense of needing an answer and just went with it. I found myself back in those highly awkward spaces of meeting people and having to insert myself into a completely unfamiliar environment. I had no credibility whatsoever and no one had any history of me. I had become, simply, anonymous. I had stepped off the stage of my own regular life and into this nebulous zone where I had no answers, no presence, and no certainty.

Bizarrely, I had created the opposite experience of my professional life, the one composed of scenes where I am accomplished, I have a reputation, and I frequently have to provide answers. It has been strange to realize these last few years that my name meant something to other people, that it is associated with various characteristics and capabilities. I don’t know when that happened, and I didn’t set out to do it, but I suppose that is the effect of doing a particular thing over a long period of time. People start to know who you are (or at least, who they think you are) through what you’ve done.

Work is also the setting where I have smashed my head into walls for far too long, and in most recent history smashing like a bull smashes against, well, other bulls. My head hurts. Literally. I get migraines. I am very tired of smashing.

So this step into the unknown where I also became the person who said, “tell me what to do,” was something of a relief. I embraced the idea that I could know nothing and just be completely open to discovery. It didn’t matter if anything was done my way because I wasn’t there to do it my way; in fact there was a curious joy in figuring out someone else’s way. I liked becoming the person who did things – you need to move something? Okay. You need a book? Got it. You need a lightbulb changed? Done. I read lines (badly). I moved furniture. I gave line cues (being “on book,” which basically means I read the play about 400 times so the actors could learn their lines). I learned how to work the machines. I found all the light switches.

I remember one moment in particular, when I had been sent to find a thing in the basement prop dungeon. Digging amongst all this old, dusty crap, eyes watering from the allergens seeping into my brain, I was tasked with finding the bright but not too colorful, short but tall, round with a hint of square, classy but not posh, smooth yet jagged THING, the almighty mystery object to hold the other unnamed thing that would also sit on the desk but couldn’t get in the way of the sight line and can’t upset the color scheme (yes, this is theater). The thing to be held by the thing, both of which I believe ended up not being used in the end. Yes that moment, my hand covered in crud from unburying some tatty roundish piece of shit that had fallen next to a stuffed rabbit staring at me with its dead freaky zombie eyes, when I thought to myself, “this is what you do when you have a doctorate.”

And I laughed, because I realized that is exactly what you do when you have a doctorate. You step into the unknown, you make yourself uncomfortable, you give up any sense of competence because that is how you make discoveries. That is how you remind yourself that at the end of the day, most of the bullshit we cover ourselves in during our “professional” life is exactly that, crap that no one really needs to care about.

I had stepped into theater because the reality of my life just stopped being interesting.

I still don’t know where this will take me. I have had the thought that if I could make a living at this, I may go all out and switch careers entirely. But I caught a glimpse of that when I made the film; I am also aware that part of the appeal of theater and film is that it is not my regular life. But for now, I like knowing that the people I worked with on this production seemed truly appreciative of what I did for them and that some of them would like me to come back. I made some friends. I hope I get to see them again. Maybe at some point I’ll try an audition (which truly is my final frontier…). Maybe I’ll keep learning more of these skills. Maybe I will use this to further some of my work in mental health. Maybe I’ll do none of that and just keep digging in the prop room.

Maybe all I really wanted to do was create a new home.

Or maybe I just wanted to hang out with theater people again since, after all, they really do throw the best parties…

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…and it all comes down in the end