April 26, 2007

I don’t live in the third world, really, I swear it.  If only all these crazy homeless poor people would stop trying to live on a big pile of charcoal! Then we could all drive our Hummers and drink our mojitos in peace! Leave me alone defenseless immigrant squatters! Why must you do this to me?

Oof, sorry about that. I must chanelling some of the residents of Wide Lawns.


Will volunteer for food

April 24, 2007

After a weekend of volunteering and paper avoidance (well, mostly avoided–I managed to confine the final paper for Library Networks & Systems to a space of five hours on Sunday afternoon), I am relieved to report that I am feeling much better. I am calmer about job changes and less anxious about what I’m doing with my life and pretty much more excited to get up in the morning than I was last week. Whether or not this change is due in part or in whole to mysterious and uncontrollable fluxes in hormones, I cannot be sure. It occurs to me that the fact that most of the months of my life, judging from this blog, seem to contain some kind of emotional turbulence, and that this might be a sign of something… but I don’t see any way around that until I give up on the birth control for good and manage to spend a couple of years straight in the same country, state, city, job, and career path with no births, deaths, rent increases, severe hurricanes, dermatologists, crappy program administrators, or lacks of health insurance in my immediate vicinity. Is this too much to ask for? Probably. As Lestor Freamon said on The Wire last night, “Life is the s#$* that happens while you are waiting for moments that never come.” Now last week, the inescapable truth of this statement would have sent me into a tizzy of despair and cynicism. But this week, I think I’m going to use it as one more encouragement to just enjoy the s&*$ out of everything and make like a yoga teacher and find some godd@$* peace in the storm.

So, back to the saga of volunteering. We headed down to Miami on Friday night, and I was sad that our schedule didn’t allow for us to stop by Diego and Frida’s, but after everything I blogged about on said Friday from hell, I figured we’d best play it safe and not risk passing on our bad luck to others. It’s highly contagious in the first 24 hours.

Saturday morning, the alarm went off at 5:30am, which somehow still allowed us time to crack the laptop and get an hour by hour weather report for Key Largo before hitting the road at 6:30. Ish. While we were looking up the weather report, Daniel showed me how to change the theme on my Google homepage, which has a feed of weather reports from a variety of world cities, including Lisbon and Tashkent. While we were noting the balmy conditions in Uzbekhistan, I scrolled down a little farther to check out my horoscope, which I haven’t done in an age. For the second time in my life, the horoscope was so accurate that it convinced me that there must be some kind of validity to them. It hit the nail right on the head, saying that although my creative powers would soon return, that I was in a little bit of a dry spell and that instead of beating a dead horse, I should avoid all abstract thought and do something with my hands. It’s like the astrologer just knew that I had struggled for hours to write not even a full page of my postcolonial theory final paper. Bingo. Suddenly, instead of dreading a day away from school work, spent handing out water and bananas to grateful marathon bikers, I realized that it was just what I needed. No books, notebooks, laptops. No Bhabha or Spivak or Foucault. Sunshine, breezes, and physical effort were just what I needed to become human again.

And so it was. After getting over my crankiness at the early hour and disgusting parade of McMansions that we encountered while driving south, I got into a Zen ice water pouring groove. It helped that they provided plenty of snacks for us too, and nice bag lunches with Doritos and Oreos. Of which I snagged all the extras and am currently using them to avoid cooking this week–unlike the bananas, which were being taken to Metro Zoo, they were just going to throw the sack lunches out so I didn’t see a reason to let that happen. They used real, thick cut turkey. And in further stomach-delighting news, after our day of rest stop supervision came to an end, we closed off the day with a trip to Gilbert’s, my favorite Keys waterfront tiki bar. It had been way too long since I had a grilled fish sandwich and a beer and watched the sun go down. So the day ended much better than it started, tired and mellow and completely glad to live in Florida. At least for now.

Then Sunday, we got up a little later but still headed out to give some food to some people. In this case, that meant heading up a pancake breakfast fundraiser at church to support the youth group’s mission trip to New York City. They will be working soup kitchens with the Quakers by day and touring the city by night. I’m kinda sad I won’t be chaperoning, but I’m still having a good time helping out with the lead-up. Plus, we once again made out like bandits with all the pancakes we could eat and some homemade cupcakes. Like, not even from a mix cupcakes. I was so high on sugar that I barely remember writing that paper a little bit later in the day.

So I guess that despite the crappiest of moods and the heaviest of workload, volunteering remains a sure-fire way to get one’s head out of one’s behind. That and sunshine, beer, and sugar.

Okay, there’s a lot of other thoughts percolating in my head, so I’ll start some briefer posts soon, now that I’ve got the life update out of the way.

You call this a Friday?

April 20, 2007

It has been a bad week. For some people, it’s been much worse than that, and it seems strange to be complaining about the things I am about to complain about in light of them. And yet. If you check out the last couple of posts, you can see I’ve been making a concerted mental effort to stay positive, or at least hopeful, about the future. This is more difficult than usual because D no longer has a job, and that makes me scared shitless. Not to mention angry at the boss who did that to us. (Yes, I know, that sentence construction implies malice on her part, when it was really just business, but I am so not into capitalism right now.) So I’ve been a 130 pound pinball this week trying to land on the side of all things yoga and hope and possibility, but more often getting my ass shot back towards the stratosphere by the paddle of anxiety, anger, and depression. Ugh.

So maybe, mid-parabola, I was hoping that this streak of shit for luck couldn’t really continue, and that I would wake up this morning with at least the prospect of attending the last poco class of the semester to cheer me up.  That I would land on the paddle of peace, truth, and getting papers done. Well.

My cats had other ideas. First, they started waking me up at 4am to get fed. They are hungry all the time now that they are on the anti-obesity diet. I was having none of this, and perhaps I did get a bit violent the twelfth time Christmas put a claw in my face and perhaps I threw her off a bit more harshly than normal. Well, either she or Rice got her own back by peeing on the couch. This with a clean litter box. I understand when the litter box is awful, but my feeling is that this was revenge. D discovered the big wet spot and commenced stripping the cushion cover without even waking me up. I do love that man. Unfortunately, the pee did make it into the cushion part and onto one of our big throw pillows that dates back to one of our first apartment shopping trips. We shall see if the magical potion that his mom uses to clean the occasional peed on mattress can work for our couch and our pillow.

So after indulging in a little bit of bed-wallowing depression, I got my butt out of bed and dressed to hit up the treadmill. I’m just about to step on the belt when I realize that something feels off about my Nike Air Pegasi… oh yes, the bottom layer of waffled sole has detached itself from my left shoe. No treadmill for me, although I do grab the discman and hit the pavement. Which is hot and sticky even at 9am on a relatively cool day, but running is one area where anger comes in handy and I blow my workout goals right out of the water with my fury. (Just for the record, my “workout goals” include such things as running a mile in 10 minutes… down from my natural 12… so be aware that saying I met my goals isn’t meant to signify any great accomplishment).

So I get back to the apartment, shower, chow some cereal, and decide that instead of giving in to the looming image of the peed on couch as it beckons me back to glumness, I take the postcolonial research show on the road and set up on the patio. In the process, I manage to make a 10-deep pile of such books fall directly on my head, but with my runner’s high I am only vaguely annoyed by this and soldier on. I’ve got everything on the patio, books out, notebook open, black pen in hand… when I notice that the upper right hand corner of our sliding door has become a home for skinny black creatures who live in a paper house. Wasps. Oh yes. Wasps. So add wasp killer to the Kmart shopping list, right next to the cat pee smell killer.

See? My day is just that good. I should just stop trying, but my poco prof has other ideas, so I am going to get back to that and hope for the best. Hopey hope hope hope.

Kind of on a hope kick

April 18, 2007

Okay, VT news has finally been bumped from full top half coverage of the NY Times homepage by the news that the Supreme Court has upheld the partial birth abortion ban. Not my first choice of more important news or news that I am glad to hear. Despite all of this, I am still going to talk about a book I am reading called Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, by Jonathan Lear. This NYRB review plus my need for a topic for my postcolonial theory final paper have got devouring it, and I have to say it’s one of the most coherently argued and elegantly written works of scholarship that I have read lately.  What it boils down to is that instead of choosing to become a martyr to a dying way of life, the Crow Indian leader Plenty Coups instead imagined himself a new way of life and a new way of being a Crow. His world was clearly coming to an end, plenty of death and destruction and injustice all around, but he avoided despair for himself and his people by dreaming a new reality in which for them to exist. You can probably see why this book is right up my alley. The question remains, however, whether or not I am going to be able to convert it into an elegant and coherent paper on postcolonial theory. My first paper was about the role of imagination in postcolonial reality (heavy debt to Arundhati Roy’s “The End of Imagination“) and this one is supposed to be about the role of imagination in narrating identity. Especially in our favorite type of space, the contested one. So I’ll be sure and pass along any more inspiring tidbits that I come across, and there will probably be more than a few, because I really am not in the mood to write any kind of depressing poco right now.

Last night at yoga, our teacher had us meditate for those at VT. She reminded us that when it seems like the world makes no sense and that there is nothing good that there still is sense and goodness and potential everywhere. She reminded us that knowing this is an effort all unto itself, and that we have to work to find it and work to create our own peace so that one day the world can be peaceful too.

It’s hard to keep up that kind of thinking when we are not in yoga.

But two things I wanted to share in case you, like me, are trying.

One is this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.

The other is something I saw last night watching the documentary My Country, My Country. It follows an Iraqi doctor living in Baghdad as the January 30, 2005 elections were being prepared for. It is a heartbreaking film in many ways, but perhaps with the voice of my yoga instructor in  my mind, I tried to find something to salvage from the corruption, betrayal, and selfishness so obviously pervading the American occupation of Iraq. What I found was the scene where an army commander is briefing new arrivals into Iraq. At first, he seems patronizing and as head-up-his-ass’ed as any other American military officer seen on the documentary. He makes a lame joke about some Arabic graffiti translating into “Baghdad is still safer than Michael Jackson’s house.” Then he  moves a little further on into his powerpoint and shows the soldiers a photo of two Iraqi interpreters who were executed in their car. When he says their names, his voice breaks. He paces around the table with the slide projector and pretends to cough, but when he speaks again his voice is husky. And it remains so. There is no close-up shot of him, but between his voice and the way he shields his eyes from the soldiers, it is clear that he is trying not to cry. It’s like a physical reaction to seeing their pictures and speaking their names. The last thing he would want, but there it is. In the midst of a war zone, this man who pretends to be so battle-hardened and tough cannot hide his pain in front of his inferiors. He is still a human being. Misguided, misplaced, chronically short-sighted, but a human being who made human contact with people who have become his enemy.

The humanity does not counteract the pain, the mistakes, the lack of good choices, the senseless death. It just is and remains, despite and still.

My internship supervisor is out of town presenting at some conference, so I thought today would be the perfect day to cover up for all of my web slacking of the past two months by uploading the rest of the oral histories I am working on to the library website.  They’ve been ready to go for a long time, I just keep procrastinating the upload so I can pretend I am doing work while I am really reading doctor blogs or journal articles.  Uploading does require using her computer, which is connected to the server side of the website, so normally I have the good excuse of well shucks, I wouldn’t want to make you move from your computer boss.

(By the way, the letter writer in this Since You Asked column is basically me. The tagline, for those of you who are not link inclined, is “I still have a job, but I’ve stopped working.” Well, not completely, but close to it. Every day I get a little closer to the fine line between “making the work last” and just not doing any.)

But, wouldn’t you know that either Microsoft FrontPage or the library web server or both of them in conspiracy have prevented me from doing this by making my supervisor’s computer completely non-usable whenever I try to open one of them. I’m talking like not even Ctrl+Alt+Delete works. So, I’m giving it a rest and pretending that I still have work to do that can be done on my own computer, and using that as a cover for making my first blog post in quite a while.

Where has the blogging gusto gone? Was I once the girl who kept up three? Was I once the blogger who signed on for the bloggers do it daily challenge and generated more Lusciousity that anyone signed up for five classes should technically have the time to? What has changed? Whatever it is, I want it back. I think. Although all bets will be off during fiction workshop this summer, b/c I haven’t finished a short story in years and I think I will need all of my brain to do it.

I’m going to leave those pressing questions unanswered and veer yet again into this stew of choices bubbling in my brain. For the record, I haven’t decided anything. I haven’t registered for summer chemistry, but I have bought plane tickets for various summer travel committments that would still allow me to register for it. I met an awesome young woman at a toy store signing last weekend who, as D said, is kind of the blond haired Romanian (and better dressed, but D didn’t say that, I did) version of me–has an undergrad in sociology, considered a PhD but did some math and realized she was better off signing up for some science classes and pursuing another idea she once had. And she’s doing it. She’s making it happen. And even JLS’s mom (a dentist herself), who admonished me that it was probably too late and I should think twice about how long it was going to take me to become a doctor, said that my background would make me a very competitive med school applicant if somehow I made it through the science and math. I keep telling people that I’m going to do it, and they cheer me on, so I’m still thinking that I will probably still do it. But it does cost like a thousand dollars, so is the fact that I don’t want to let other people see me change my mind a good reason to go forward?

All in all, I haven’t so much gone forward as backward, as one positive experience “presenting a paper” at 4th Tier University’s grad student conference has led me to open that old English PhD box right up again, all of the same economic arguments against it still applying but perhaps more than ever being closer to outweighed by the fact that I just love this shit. I can’t explain it, it offers the world next to no help in dealing with its many urgent problems, it is bass-ackward and moreover isn’t likely to offer me and D much help in dealing with expected urgent problems such as having a place to live and a way to support the children we truly want to have.

How can the pendulum swing so far, so hard, so fast? How can I be sure one minute that I want to leave all of this theoretical and overly self-conscious mumbo jumbo and put my hands in a cadaver and then the next minute say nah, I prefer the mumbo jumbo and there’s nothing I can do about it? Part of me wonders if this is all part of trade-off process, whereby the thing that you’ve said no to  but that you really wanted to do keeps rearing its ugly head back at you, even if you feel like you’ve made the best possible choice you can make. In my case, this choice would be MFA/MLIS with the plan of becoming a librarian rather than throwing my hat into the lottery of working in academia. And I am perfectly comfortable with saying, and believing, I think, that I haven’t lost anything by choosing this path. The potential income is comparable, the job prospects are much better, and the work-life balance potential is more promising. So I don’t know what has started me thinking back down the crazy PhD (if I could get in anywhere) path, and under no circumstances do I want to relive the “everything academic is superior to everything not” phase of my life. The point of the MFA is to get all of my intellectual curiousity out of my system, but of course fostering i.c. usually makes you have more of it, not less. Is it just that I can’t seem to push myself to find the intellectual challenges in librarianship, or that despite my best efforts to get obsessed by programming and web design I’ve retreated into a “just as long as I know I can do it if I have to” stance? Am I just predicting boredom that might not occur once I am an actual librarian, or that might be outweighed by the rocking personal life it will give me time to have?

I think I’ve put a lot of energy into convincing myself that I am nothing special, and that I can be happy doing anything. I’ve been doing this ever since I got serious about D and realized that I never, ever wanted to go long distance again. I do not mean this to say that I regret the decision to get married or get serious in the first place in any way (anyone who knows me knows that, so ‘nuf said). I mean this to say that I’ve consciously taken the word “both” out of my vocabulary of desire for a long time. A career built on my passion for literature and a great marriage seemed too much to ask for, so I picked what I wanted most and that was the right choice. People are more important than jobs and books and everything related to recognition, and when I didn’t believe that I was an unhappy and unwell person. But maybe there’s a way to have both, despite everything. Maybe not for everyone, but maybe for us. Maybe we’ve got what it takes to get through long hauls of work and more work. Maybe all of this indecision comes from an untenable denial of something inside me that is driven, driven even when happy, driven even when it’s not convenient. I relate to Lloyd Dobbler, I’ve always been looking for a dare to be great situation. Of course, there’s plenty of them out there and a good argument to be made that any situation can call for greatness if you find it. But on the other side of that generalization is the idea that while you still do have choices, you should make them. You might be able to find greatness serving coffee at the S-bucks, but should you settle for that if you are hankering for something else and have a shot at making it happen?

Is the thought of becoming a doctor another version of the 350k mortgage? A way to take on the seemingly impossible and avoid the impossible right in front of my nose? All it takes to write the next great American novel is right here, right now, waiting for me to fail better at it. Everything I hear from everyone is that the shorter answer to all of my questions is yes, you can, but that the question I have to ask is do I want to.

The trouble seems to lie in the fact that wants and needs don’t promise to match up once all of this impossible stuff has been accomplished. Even comparing best case scenarios doesn’t make it easier, because the best case scenarios are so wildly different and the same at heart. The difference is basically money and the similiarity is basically personal satisfaction. But along w/ the more money that might come with being a doctor (how am I supposed to know how much malpractice I’m going to have to pay or how much my student loans would end up being or how much giving up the next ten years of my life to being a doctor in training would cost me in the long run of retirement savings and investments?) comes much longer hours and much more stress. And when you ask me, but yes, which kind of work would you rather do, I honestly think I could do either. And a little of both, no matter what way I choose to go. But right now, neither one is going to be an easy path. Then again, I’m pretty much on the easiest possible path already. And look where it is leading me.

As AH tells me, the toughest thing is to live in the uncertainty, so as this post should make abundantly clear, I am trying to do just that for as long as it takes. In the meanwhile, the best plan that I can come up is just to do stuff. Just do some stuff. Less planning, more doing, as I told Frida on Saturday night. Life is bigger than our plans for it, and when I remember to bring the book to work with me I will share with you the Carl Jung quote that I am currently using to remind myself of just that.