Sunday, May 30, 2010

House Blessing

My new office is not all the way finished. I'm looking at a ladder as I type. I'm looking at outlets that need covers. The trim isn't installed. Nonetheless, I took advantage of a visit from the boy-child to move furniture into this room. So my desk and my computer and a lamp are installed in this new space, and I'm using it.

I had thought when I moved into this house that I would live expansively in it. The habits I have developed are a little different, and I'm not sure that I'm thrilled about that. The old pattern is this. The office was a shared office, and it's the room you walk into from the driveway. I always ALWAYS have work to do, which involves the computer. So I tend to put my stuff down, feed the cats, and head back to the office -where I sit until I either go exercise or go to bed. Frequently, that's where I eat, for heaven's sakes. So I spend entire evenings, sometimes, within 5 steps of the door.

Ummm.... I get it. This is something just shy of stepping confidently into my new life, huh?

So, something must be done. I have commandeered the boy-child's old bedroom, installed a new wooden floor, a new ceiling fan/light fixture, and painted it a butternut squash yellow. And I've figured out the wireless internet, so now I can work upstairs -as can guests. (The boy child saved the password for us, in a sensible place!) I need crown molding yet, and baseboard trim, and to finish painting the doors and windows. I need to buy light bulbs that actually fit in the light fixture (sigh...), and to install the outlet covers (a pretty copper). I have most of the pictures and things I want on the walls. I need to knit something for this room -my personal trick for making spaces mine. It will probably be pillow covers in this case.

There is also furniture to be purchased. I want to have a futon in here, so that with a little sleight of hand, this room can become another guest room. I'll need a side table and a lamp for the futon/couch. I want one of those barrister bookcases. I want an antique globe, although I can't quite figure out where to put it. I need curtains.

So, clearly, there is much to be done. And this is just one room. (Pardon me while I breathe into this paper bag for a moment.) However, I hope that turning it to its intended, new, purpose will move me into my house -literally. I'll be further than 5 steps in.

So, give me until August, perhaps. Just before school starts again, and we all get crazy busy. I'll be a little further along, I promise. Probably a very little, but that's ok. We'll have a house blessing. A little smudging to get rid of lingering sadness. Some new houseplants to clear the air. Wine, definitely wine. Stay tuned.

God bless the corners of this house and be the lintel blessed;
and bless the hearth and bless the board and bless each place of rest.
Bless each door that opens wide to strangers and to kin;
and bless each crystal windowpane that lets the sunshine in.
And bless the rooftree overhead and every sturdy wall.
Gentle peace, the peace of God, the peace of love to all.

The Grandma Expectation

Let me just preface this post by saying that no one I know is doing anything wrong. First of all, how would I know? Secondly, why would anyone care what I thought? Moreover, neither of my children is expecting a baby, as far as I know. We don't want rumors to get started.

But here's what I have noticed. Many women my age have already become grandmothers. The weird thing about this life-transition is that you have no control over it at all. It happens when your kid says it will happen.

Well, never mind. Now that I think about it, children always raise their parents -moving into new stages and requiring different things from their parents, who struggle to keep up. My general rule of thumb in parenting was that by the time you got used to a developmental stage, it was almost over. Time to batten down the hatches ;)

So, grandmothering. I'm looking around watching my peers learn to do it. I see models and I don't like any of them, for me, I mean. MUCH older women (say, the age of my grandmother, may perpetual light shine upon her) still subscribe to the notion that what a woman does after 50 doesn't matter very much. Productive life is almost over, but by golly she can spoil those grandchildren. I profited mightily from this version of grand-parenting. So have my children, really -at least the spoiling rotten part.

But then I start to wonder.... are my only-slightly-older friends much different? I have friends who drop their commitments at a moment's notice, happy to do so, and run half-way across the country to babysit. Some of my friends are parenting their grandchildren. Yikes! I'm wondering if helicopter parents haven't turned into helicopter grandparents. Has childhood become so complicated that it requires this many adults in supporting roles?

Or, is it a phase of life thing? Are we supposed to be slowing down, entering a more graceful and calm phase? And child-care, particularly of someone else's child, becomes an attractive option?

I understand the love one would feel for the child of one's child. I understand the rapture that ought to greet any baby. But what about those of us who can't (or won't) do what we're supposed to be doing? I don't have time -or the inclination- to slow down right now. For all kinds of reasons -some good, some not- I am only just now able to fully focus on a career and my goals. ME. There is some urgency to this, since the security that comes with a long marriage is now gone. But there is also a large measure of delight.

The urgency thing, though, means that I feel like I must deflect the advice of well-meaning friends who say "do less," "want less", "lower your standards." No one is going to support me in some idyllic retirement. I need to craft a life from which I don't particularly want to retire.

Does the old model, where I become the "crone" -the family "wise woman"- make any sense any more? There is the obvious truth that I don't have much in the wisdom department. But what I mean is, does the model work? Can't we be a little more inclusive?

What would a feminist role of grandmothering look like? How has grandmothering changed because of the opportunities we now have? How is grandmothering continuing to change because of the inequities that still plague us, and the reality that many of us are coming to careers late? Is grandmothering changing because of a general feeling that we are very far from done at 50 or 60?

It needs to. Yes, I will knit for babies that come into my life. Yes, I will make cookies. Yes, I will go to Baby Gap and buy foolish things. But I don't think I can be the grandmother who thinks that her grandchildren are the most interesting thing about her. I don't think I will carry around cartloads of pictures. I don't think all my stories will start with them -as perfect as they will, without a doubt, be.

But EXACTLY how this looks????? I have no idea. Once again, women my age are carving out new territory, with very few role models ahead of us.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Push Through? Pull Back?

I signed up for a yoga class, to support my home practice. We are on week two, and I'm on week two of hurting myself. OK, universe, I get it. Or, I'm trying to get it, in any case. Nothing is seriously wrong. And, in any case, I did it to myself. (This morning my back froze up during the dangerous and daring activity of unloading the dishwasher. I must have made something vulnerable last night at yoga, is my thinking.)

I'm on this gentle path toward elite fitness, which, for already-elite athletes, sounds really silly. They are all about working through pain and muscling forward. They talk with glee about workouts that are so hard you have to "throw up in a bucket" afterward. I can be that way, right enough, but I have too many things on my plate to be serious about that path toward fitness. So, I'm carving out a new niche.... the couch-to-kick-butt-fitness training plan, which involves lots of riding my bike, yoga, a smidge of rock climbing and weight training, and even less swimming. Athletes would call it "base-building," I suppose. I call it getting off the couch and having fun. Categorically, though, I am rejecting the rhetoric of the athletes that says that just because I can't train 20 hours a week, I can't play in their playpen. I bet they're wrong ;) But I'm also rejecting the notion that just because I'm five minutes younger than God and 40 pounds heavier than I should be, that I should settle for less than my real goals.

And my body is waking up, no question. A year ago, there were yoga postures that I thought were forever lost to me. I modified everything. It took so long to get into a posture that what ought to have been a 1/2 hour practice took an hour and a half. I feel better, now. I can DO things. But clearly, something is amiss, and naturally I think the question is bigger than just yoga.

The universe is offering an existential question. What do you do when the wrong thing feels right? How do you even figure out that it's wrong, before it's too late? These days I always feel a little bit of pain. Apparently this is what happens when you let your health deteriorate. I'm astounded that people consider living like this, but that's another blog post. Yoga feels so good. It's hard work sometimes, but there's this delicious feeling of re-inhabiting my body. Moreover, I thought I was accommodating my limitations. I try to distinguish between the "ouch" of stiffness, which can be gently challenged, and the sterner, sharper "ouch" that means "stop right now; this is not a conversation."

But there's a whole lot of gray area in the middle, and apparently I'm choosing "push through" when I ought to be choosing "pull back." This is an affront to my nature. Let's just posit that if I KNOW something is wrong, I stop. (Ignore the fact that there is very little historical evidence to support this claim. Clearly this is a learning point for me.) But how do you distinguish between the two? There must be signals that I am missing.

Either that, or unloading the dishwasher really is dangerous and I should cease and desist with all housework. Oh wait.... I already did :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

You Grow, Girl

This garden thing.... what am I up to, here???

I have been encouraging anyone and everyone to come dig flowers and take them home. It feels both wasteful and destructive and exhilarating, in that way that throwing a cheating lover's belongings out the window must. The gardens too, it seems, are fraught with unspoken power struggles, attempts to put on a brave face. It's not that I've turned a corner and have chosen to gracefully and intentionally change things. Not quite. I just can't stand them anymore.

See, I had this vegetable garden. I liked my vegetable garden. One year (when I was in graduate school), I didn't get out there to plant quite quickly enough, and my vegetable garden had been turned in to a flower garden. No discussion. Just Dave taking over something I enjoyed, making me feel not good enough....

I pretended that it was all for the best. It turned out, possibly, that Dave liked gardening. Or maybe he just didn't want to be with me on the weekends, who can say? Whatever. More gardens appeared. The yard was improved, certainly.

Truth? I never liked it. I said that Dave had beautiful gardens. But what I THOUGHT was that Dave had beautiful flowers and hum-drum gardens.

I know that all these flowers represent time and money. That chatter runs through my head, certainly. What is it with me that I can't make something about them work? Am I such a brat that they have to go just because they were his?

Ummm.... yes, apparently. But I don't think (quite) that I'm being a brat. The mental lightbulb illuminated yesterday. Another little garden is on the chopping block. More flowers sent off to live somewhere else. Bring your spades. I'm serious.

However, I have decided this.... I need to clear the slate.... make the canvas clean.... choose your metaphor. I can't see what needs to happen out there until it's emptier. By the time I figure it out, the perennials that I'm giving away will need to be separated and thinned at their new homes. Perhaps they can come back here again, and settle in new places. Wouldn't that be interesting?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oh, Now I Remember

Subtitle: Knitting with Cats

I cast on for the Spindle Socks last night. (Unsurprisingly, I found some sock yarn in my stash.) Then I remembered part of why I fell away from knitting. Knitting with cats is like shoveling snow in a snowstorm, scheduling a picnic in northern Illinois in April... Idealism inevitably collides with reality -pretty much the story of my life.

I've been sharing my life and space with cats for about a year now, and my knitting has been floundering for longer than that. So, I really have no experience in sharing a knitting space with these little dears. And one (Cillian) is just a kitten, to make matters slightly more challenging.

So, I tried knitting with the little one in my lap and the bigger one sitting on my desk chewing on the yarn. Oh, that was fun. I tried closing the door to my office, and working in peace. Except they cried on the other side of the door. I had no heart for that.

But today, I stuffed the "sock" (all 52 stitches of it!) and its pattern into my briefcase. Perhaps I can knit before class tonight... or if I take a lunch....

Other ideas, oh wise ones?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

String Theory

I can't knit. I mean... I know HOW to knit. I love knitting. But the process of getting it done is all discombobulated. I need to recombobulate ;) Absent combobulation (???), I can't find the inspiration to even start. Last week I got together with some dedicated and inspiring knitters -and didn't have a knitting project. I sat there like a bump on a log. I couldn't make it all come together with yarn and needles and a project. Heaven knows, I have enough of each of those; I just couldn't get them to match up into a cohesive single project.

It's not simply a time management problem. Everything is a time management problem these days; that's just the water I swim in. But it's also perfectly obvious that for the things that matter to me, I find the time and I find the money. I've found the time to cook, at least a little bit. I've found the time to exercise and do yoga. I'm writing again. So, what are we going to do about this knitting thing?

In the old days, I had hours on end to knit, because sitting around helping people learn to knit was part of my schtick. I loved it, but it had to go. I needed my Saturdays in a huge way, so, I can't do that anymore. Mourn it; move on. What else did I do that worked? There was always a sock project in my purse. There was always a "mindless knitting" project that I could work on while watching a movie. There were projects by the chairs where I was likely to plop at the end of a day. I had knitting in my office, in case I wanted to take a lunch break and knit during that time. Sometimes I would commandeer one of the comfy chairs at the coffee shop and knit there for a bit. (Clearly, I've never been a linear knitter, dutifully finishing one project before starting another. Rather, certain projects met certain kinds of life-demands. Or capitalized on certain kinds of opportunities, I suppose.)

I'm pondering that insight. What kind of knitting can I do, that matches my life now? How can I capitalize on the little snippets of time I do have? Would it make sense to dive into knitting baby things and socks -small projects where I have a chance of completing them? There are no babies I'm particularly waiting for these days, but they do have a way of showing up ; And socks are always good, and are quite entertaining to knit.

And above all, can I start again without confronting my stash and my patterns? They are a huge mess. HUGE. A big scary jumble in corners of the house where I rarely go. Yes, it needs to be done. Yes, it's a source of embarrassment. Yet somehow it feels like starting something (anything) is more important than tidying, at this point.

First up: Spindle Socks by Anna Bell, with Cashmerino. I'll order the yarn today. I promise.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Me, Being Me

So, we're back to the "so, what?" question. On some level, I want all the pieces of my life -my work, my research, my home life, my yoga, my biking, and whatever else there is- to be all of a piece. The activities that are in my new life need to be the ones that make me, well, me. It's a high standard; I get that.

I had a disturbing academic encounter the other evening. Certainly there are un-intellectual academics. There are even anti-intellectual academics. Put a bunch of both types in a room with me, and I end up sitting there wondering if I've accidentally taken a train to Crazy-Town.

I don't question their right to be that way -not at all. I'm not suggesting that they're not smart and I am -not at all. I'm just questioning the good sense of me being in a room with them. I have a completely different orientation to how intellectual work gets done. It's hard to imagine that we have very much to offer each other.

So, rather than alienate myself from people (people I actually like, by the way), I started doodling and quasi-journaling. (Did it look like I was taking notes? I hope so.) Is this an essential activity? Who am I in this context? Can I be me in this context? Is this the path to get me where I want to go? Can I turn this into something productive, in spite of the barriers? Nothing like a little existential crisis in the middle of an unproductive meeting!

I didn't get far, because I did, in fact, have to listen a little bit -if only to be sure that I didn't get "volunteered" for anything. I did get this far, though. If I am going to do the "so, what" work, I'm in charge of that. Certainly there are mentors and guiding lights, but I have to find them. They weren't the people in that room, and that's the truth.

I'm not on my own, exactly. It's a big world, and there are plenty of connections to be made, yet. But I don't exactly know where I'm going from here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Science Proves What We Already Know....

The Importance of Hating Your Ex.

To be clear, however, for him to hate me is completely unjustified and is inconsistent with the just ordering of the cosmos. I find this to be a perfectly rational position to take ;) Any questions?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I'll Just Not Hear That

It's a particularly dysfunctional thing I do. Information that I don't want or can not absorb, I just find a way to not let into my consciousness. We have plenty of evidence that I do this. I hear you. "Really? You BELIEVED that your husband was working late all those nights? Seriously?????" It's a fair question. I did. And I believed that his public shaming of me was accidental. He just didn't know any better, I hypothesized. And, I do this in a thousand other ways that have nothing to do with Math-Rat.

On some level, the psyche is hard-wired to do this. Massive trauma can be buried entirely, until -or unless- the person is ready to deal with it. Even with sudden horrible news, such as news of an unexpected death, we can step outside ourselves and watch the information sink in, one tiny step at a time. It's healthy and protective that we have this skill. But like anything else, it can be over-done.

I have to un-learn this pattern, just a bit. For months now, the message from my friends has been "slow down.... you're doing too much." Picture me, with my fingers in my ears, singing "la, la, la" at the top of my voice. Andrea pouts.... donwanna hear it... won't hear it... you can't make me. I've even postulated that people advising me to slow down are engaging in a strange hegemony, asking me to want less, settle for less, to BE less.

But I think this is information that I need to let in. I'm not at all sure what I'm going to do with it once it's all the way in, but I think I may have been conflating slowing down with settling. But what the heck does it look like to simultaneously slow down and yet claim that you want to play in a bigger game? Seriously, on the ground, what does that look like? Or is full-speed-ahead, leaning into your life the only path that is going to work? Trying to break my thought habits may melt my brain. Stand by.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A little levity

The tattoos aren't real. I can't quite see a real one in my future, but these were fun! It's just part of how I spent Mother's Day 2010.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

More than Breakfast in Bed!

That's my Mom -camping with her wine glass and her hat! She deserves a whole day just to herself.

Originally, though, Mother's Day had a social justice purpose. It was a Mothers' Day for Peace, and Julia Ward Howe wrote its Proclamation. Oddly, she also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, so I'm struggling to understand her politics. Nonetheless, the proclamation bears remembering today.

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe out dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
-Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Saturday, May 08, 2010


I've been engaged in a quiet project of getting rid of stuff. And then I realized it's more than stuff that's getting the big heave-ho. Sit down and get comfortable ;)

It started like this. I have not tended the gardens as they deserve -because they are not the gardens I want. So, I started with the most jungle-y of them and invited friends to come get its perennials. I'm clearing that garden out and putting something new there. A patio, a new back fence and some other stuff, thanks for asking. And then I realized that for about a month I have been taking 2-3 bags of stuff weekly to The Salvation Army, and there is plenty more where that came from. This isn't stuff that was Dave's; he took all of that. This is stuff that was ours.

And let's back up. I've blogged before about the house with no furniture. He took pretty much everything. I kept only the few things that I had brought into the marriage or purchased after the separation. I have some furnishings now, that's not a problem. But interestingly, the absence of furniture led to the backyard bonfire parties, which turned out to be really wonderful. I couldn't entertain any other way; I didn't have a couch for people to sit on. But I could cook hamburgers on the grill, buy a bunch of beer, and hang out with my friends in the yard. And now people are asking me when I'm going to start having those parties again, so I guess that worked out well. But the point is that the lack of stuff opened space for a new thing to emerge.

So, leaving aside the obvious and disturbing question of how a house that was allegedly empty still has so much stuff that's available to be donated, what IS going on?

I used my marriage -and its attendant stuff- to give me weight. I thought Dave's substance made me more interesting. I thought having matching crystal wine glasses connected me to other women who entertained in a certain way. I thought that having family antiques rooted me to families and their narratives. And I think that collectively, societally, we believe that, as well. Isn't that what registering for wedding gifts is about, on some level? Of course, none of those beliefs turned out to be true. It was all gone in the blink of an eye (ok... 2 years) and then I had this big blank space -literal and metaphorical- where our life together used to be.

I have rushed to fill that space -not so much with stuff, because that takes times and lots of money- but with activities. I must, I frantically thought, hurry and create my own substance, hurry and find my own ways of interacting with people, and rejoice in the new and more authentic connections I have with family. Consequently, my life has become a study in zero-sum time management.

I think my Discardia project is about off-loading thought patterns as well as stuff. You probably don't remember, but my word of the year was "architecture." I was going to spend this year creating the framework for the new life I want. I had not realized that an old framework had to be dismantled first. But I'm starting to see (with a certain lack of clarity, just yet) that this emptiness, too, creates space for something new to emerge.

Could this be calm that's ensuing? How would I recognize THAT???

And if you want perennials, come get them. I'll show you where to dig.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Public Health Principles

We have long known that good health is more than the absence of disease. In fact, good health is more than good physical health. Now, this ideological perspective about health feels like a big snooze, but once upon a time -and not so long ago- it was a huge paradigm shift. And it led, necessarily, to the next question. So, what is good health, smarty pants? Possibly it wasn't phrased quite like that, but you get the idea.

There are many, sometimes competing, sometimes complementary, answers to that question. For whatever it's worth, I find the United Nations definition as useful as any other. It has five components, and when I introduce it to students, I'm fond of drawing it in a five-pointed star. (I'm easy to entertain.) Good health, they suggest, consists of: physical health, mental health, intellectual health, spiritual health, and social health. This is a useful tool in part because it's possible to examine the health of a community as easily as the health of an individual using these categories.

Before this devolves into the well-rehearsed public health talk I sometimes am called upon to deliver, let's move along. As we have established, I feel a little stuck and muddled. It dawned on me that I am emphatically not healthy. Physically I am still pretty much not doing the things I need to be doing. Mental health-wise, I am confronting the consequences of some bitterness and anger. The consequences surprise me, as does the fact that I felt/feel bitterness and anger at all. Intellectually, I am a little frustrated because I don't have a compelling sense of the next-available question in the discipline. Spiritually, I don't even know where I want to go with that. And socially.... I have made messes that need to be fixed. It CAN NOT be true. I will not allow it to be true, that I have made myself too busy for my friends. Of course, it IS true, and must be rectified.

Other than that, though, I'm doing great ;)

So, that's the baseline. It matches up against the also-true thing that I am busy doing things I said I wanted to do. I am marching forward with some goals of mine. I am not only creating disasters. I get that. And yet.... there is existential angst, to put it stupidly.

I can not imagine that anyone wants to walk this walk with me. Nonetheless, my task, I think, is to fix this situation.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The So-What Question

As an undergraduate, I had a professor who, when the conversation became sticky, would make us take out paper and pen and write down our thoughts. He was Jacob Getzels and he would say, "Writing makes for clear thinking" in a really sanctimonious tone of voice. We would roll our eyes and get out the paper, and I thought he was a huge pain in my backside.

And yet, I hear his voice even now. And I still write when things are muddled. And I'm muddled. I need to pull out some mental weeds and let the right things grow.

My current boss has another way of getting at the same thing. He is fond of saying "so, what?" in an interested tone of voice, when faculty present their research ideas. He might occasionally mean, "Who in her right mind would spend time on this?" but most of the time he means some combination of, "Do you care enough about this to reflect on it and write about it in the early mornings and on weekends?" and "what impact (by whatever measure you like) will this have on the world?" If you can't answer the first one, you won't do the research. And if you can't answer the second one, you won't get paid to do it.

I think if I can answer the "so what" question (to say nothing of figuring out how to punctuate it), I will unstick myself. What are the things I'm willing to get up at the crack of dawn and do? Why would the world care (by whatever measure) if I do those things or not? And, being me, I won't be able to answer the question if I don't write.

So, I'm back, if only to dislodge myself from this icky place.