Monthly Archives: October 2013

Emilia

He was ready.  He had planned as long as he could remember for this moment, the moment when he would finally have her.  She was always stuck in his head—the girl with the long black hair and the silver nose ring who brought him his coffee and cared enough to stop and chat even though there were other customers.  He would tell her that he loved her.  Tonight.  He would take her; she would belong to him.

He imagined how it would be.  The smell of her perfume and the way that she would stroke his face.  The way that she would love him.  That she had always loved him, but hadn’t been courageous enough to say.  He didn’t mind that; he wasn’t courageous either.  Not at all.

She took the same route every night, after her shift.  Her car was always parked in the same place.  He knew where to find her, and she would be easier.  Easier than the others.

He was ready.  Mentally, he itemized his duffel bag.  Duct tape.  Rope.  Flashlight.  Washcloth.  And in the backseat, a shovel wrapped inside a tarp.  Soon she would be inside the tarp.  Staring out the windshield of his own vehicle, he watched and waited.  She wouldn’t see him here.  As she walked past, he would sneak out of the car.  He would grab her arms, hold them behind her back, and he would shove the drugged cloth over her nose and mouth before she even had a chance to scream.  When she slumped into his arms, he would shove her into the back of the car and wrap her wrists and feet with the thick black tape.  

He was ready.  The path was the path he had driven many times, winding through the trees and stopping deep within the woods.  He would wait until she woke up, until she was present for every moment.  That was more fun for him.  He would wait, and then he would break her.  Her screams would be silenced by the duct tape holding strong over her mouth, but he would still see her eyes.  He could watch those eyes as the light slowly winked out deep inside of them.

He was ready.  He would have his way; he would use her until she ran dry.  After, he would take her body and he would throw it down the hole that was waiting.  She would lay with all of the others.  Taking the shovel, he would cover her with the soggy earth as she drew her last breath.  Laughing, he would watch the dirt rain down on top of her.  He would relish in all of the power that he held, the ability to both give her life and to take it.  He would be like God.  He would take her life, he would bury her.  She certainly didn’t deserve to live.

He was ready.  She was coming now, walking slowly down the street while tapping the keys on her cell phone.  Clutching the door handle of the car, he held still until the moment that she was past and then quietly slipped out, taking care not to shut the door all the way.  She would never even see him coming.  

It was time.

He was ready.

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Motherhood

What makes a mother?

This is a question I find myself asking much too often, practically on a daily basis.  Mostly because I wonder if I qualify.  If I am a mother.  When people ask how many children I have, when I have to fill out a form, when I watch friends struggling with their children or to create children at all…I ask myself.  Because I want to be a mother.  Because I was a mother.

Once a woman is a mother, is she always a mother?

It wasn’t hard for me.  Carter was conceived right off of the birth control.  However, I failed the first several pregnancy tests.  It was pretty late on by the time I actually got a positive home test.  And I loved him right away.  I loved him from the moment I knew he was growing inside of me.  Because that’s what a mother does—she loves her child.

I loved him, therefore I’m a mother.

When he was born, dead, they asked if I wanted to hold him.  My entire life I have been afraid of dead things.  When my goldfish died, I called my then boyfriend to scoop it out of the tank and properly dispose of it.  When my cat died, I couldn’t look at the body.  When my grandma’s dog died, I had to wrap him in a blanket to help her take him to the vet.  I couldn’t touch him; I couldn’t accept that he was dead.  But my son was different.  He was my son.  Of course I wanted to hold him, no matter much it hurt.

I overcame my fear for him, therefore I’m a mother.

When I held him, it was amazing to me how light he was.  I don’t know what I had expected.  At just over four pounds, he was substantially lighter than even my cat.  But he felt like he was floating in my arms.  At the same time, I felt like I was floating above him, like it wasn’t real.  I took in every detail—the tiny bit of hair scattered across his head, the way his fists were clenched, the fingers he had that were just perfect for playing an instrument, the fact that he had ten toes.  I realized that every part of him was there.  And it didn’t seem right, it didn’t seem fair that he could be all there, that he could be intact (for lack of a better word) and still be dead.  It didn’t seem right at all.  The one thing I didn’t look at was his eyes.  I don’t know the color of his eyes.  I never will.  This seems important somehow, like something I should know.  And it kills me that I don’t.  I wonder all the time.

I don’t know the color of my son’s eyes.  Does this mean I’m not a mother?

I’ve begun to forget his face.  It’s harder to remember what he looked like.  I never heard his voice, his laugh.  I won’t ever; I will never know these things.  I can never know these things.  He was burned, his remains put into a little box that fit into the palm of my hand and now scattered somewhere unknown to me.  His things are gone.  He is gone.  I have no part of him left, nothing physical of him to hold, to see.  I have no proof of his existence; now he exists only to me.  When I miss him, it feels like I’m being gutted.  There is no way to make it okay.  There is no part of him that remains.

I have nothing left of him.  Does this mean I’m not a mother?

I watch my friends, their desires to have and not have children.  I see how much it pains them to not have that; their words break my heart.  On the other side of the coin, I watch my friends who do have children that treat them badly…and I can’t reconcile that.  I have had and lost a child.  And that loss magnifies it all tenfold.  The pain, the joy, that comes with children…I want to feel these things.  I don’t want to feel a loss.

I want to fill the hole.  Does this mean I’m not a mother?

I am almost thirty.  I am not in a relationship; I do not desire to be in a relationship.  I am going to grad school.  It will be many years now before I am in a position to have a family again.  I have had opportunities to have a family that I have let slip away, both by choice and not.  Despite what everybody tells me, I know that I am making choices now that determine the course of my future and mean I may not have a family.

I don’t have my son.  Does this mean I’m not a mother?

What makes a mother?

carter

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The Depths

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The Jellystone campground had a high dive.  It wasn’t just any high dive, mind you.  This high dive was about fifteen feet high.  I was a fish in the water, but ten feet was one thing when swimming down in the water and a completely different story when flying through the air.  That’s what I would be doing if I jumped off.  Flying.  

I curled my toes over the edge of the board and bounced a little, my heart threatening to burst out of my chest.  The kids behind me screamed at me to go, to jump already.  There was no turning around, the ladder was too crowded to get back down.  It was too late to change my mind.  The only way down was off the edge.  Into the water.  Plummeting.  Fifteen feet.

I couldn’t go back.  So I leapt.  

*

Some decisions can not be undone.  They keep telling me this, disregarding the fact that I am well aware.  In reality, there are no choices that can be undone.  Every choice, every move, that we make results in an event or an action.  Some of these things are small, but some are huge.

This was huge.

My entire life, I have taken pride in my ability to fly solo.  I carry the weight of the world; I’m not good at sharing.  I don’t want to share.  No one should have to carry my weight.  I only share when I’m desperate.  

I know I should be paying attention to what I’m being told.  Words like irreversible.  Choice.  Options.  Force.  But I’m not.  The words float in and out of my consciousness and seed themselves in the back of my mind.  I’m supposed to let a friend in, let a friend help.  I need to give this careful consideration; it’s required of me that I bring someone.  I should do this, I should do that.  I should, I should, I should, I can’t.  I’m tired of this; I am tired of should-ing and I’m tired of caring.  I want to not care.  Can I do that?  Just for a little while?  No.  Hiding was an option I did not have.  This would not go away.

Four semesters into undergrad.  Six classes, eighteen credits:  three upper division Psychology courses and three upper division English courses.  Keeping a balance between my two majors was a fine line; I was attempting to finish them both in the time it would take an ordinary student to complete one.  I was pulling a 3.89 GPA, had straight A’s, and teaching a successful TA section of Psych 101 alongside the chair of the psychology department.

There was no time.  There was no time for this; there was no time to figure it out.  There was no time for this to happen.  Too much was happening, too fast.  Too many things.  Too much.  No.  It isn’t fair.  But it is less fair, if that’s even possible, that I have no one to tell.  No one to let in.  

I am breaking.

It’s impossible to survive alone.  I realize this now.  But it’s too late.  Secrets kill.  They shatter everything.  Which is more important, an intact reputation or a life?  Is it better to be completely destroyed emotionally but still seen as good?  Is that living? 

What makes a life?

So this is your choice?  I nod.

I have always been shy, since back when I was a kid.  But school was a new beginning for me.  I could be myself at school; I wasn’t as shy.  There were people at school who believed in me, supported me, and encouraged me to form my own ideas about how the world worked.  Academic, strong, intelligent, awesome me had become the norm.  The people around me, and even I myself, had begun to expect her.  I had to do this.  I had to do this, or I would lose her forever.

I stare at forms and figure out what info goes where.  As I stare at the question that asks “Do you have any children?”  A single tear slips down my cheek.  I swipe it away furiously as I check the no box.  There are no exceptions.  No allowances.  And I don’t understand why they need to know.  If that makes it better.  It doesn’t make it better.  Nothing makes it better.

I am struck by a memory, an echo of the words my ex spoke that night, his profession of love for me.  We went to McDonald’s the week after we returned from our honeymoon, and he informed me that he would be giving me an allowance—I would have three dollars a day to eat on.  He quit his job soon after that, leaving me the breadwinner of our family, in order to advance his private recording business and travel with bands.  I earned all of the money, but I couldn’t spend it.  He never lifted a finger to do any housework; he believed it to be the wife’s job.  My job.  But he loved me.  And every time he took something away, every time, he would tell me he loved me.  He loved me.

He loved me.

*

I thought I’d be happy once we divorced, but it didn’t feel as good as I’d thought it might.  I wasn’t sure how to be my own person.  I started school right around this time, and I found it to be a fantastic outlet.  I had always known I wanted to be a writer, but I discovered that I loved the psychology field as well.  Rather than pick one, I signed up for both majors, put my nose to the grindstone, and got to work earning my degrees.

The third semester of my undergrad career, I met D.  She taught the gateway course for the English major, and in the process of tackling her challenging course, I started getting better.  She didn’t know how much she did for me back then; there was no reason for her to know.  But I started talking again.  I raised my hand, I participated in class.  I volunteered information.  I started making friends.  I learned that it was okay to have my own thoughts, and that people liked me for me.  And I gained respect as a writer and as a student.  More importantly, I started to respect myself again.

The pinnacle moment of my growth was when, more terrified than I could ever remember being, I had to present a paper I had written in front of a crowd of both professors and peers.  I insisted in the days leading up to it that I would rather take an F than have to speak in front of people, even though I had never received an F in my life.  But with her encouragement, I pushed through.  There was no going back, only forward.  I had no choice; I couldn’t turn around because I couldn’t go back to where I had come from.  I spoke in front of people.  I articulated and shared ideas that had come from me, without fear that they would be put down or criticized.  My presentation, and my paper, were a hit.  So was I.  I dove into the depths of life, and I didn’t sink.

*

What I know.  

Not doing this will end badly for everyone.  Removing me completely from the equation, I imagine the pain that will come.  I imagine the let down, the loss of NOT making a decision.  

What I fear.

The people who care, how different their opinions of me will be when they found out.  If they find out.  I think of the pedestal I have put myself on; I imagine the way they see me.  In my head, I make their respect, their caring, conditional.  How wrong they would find me to be when this was over.  How much I would lose.  

I weigh the scales, the pros and cons.  I remove myself; it’s the only way I can push through.  I sign the dotted line.  I close my eyes.  I leap.

It’s over in a blink.  It’s painful sometimes, the aftermath, the consequences of making a choice.  But some choices are worth that pain.  This is one of those.

*

I didn’t know.  I didn’t know how much of a hole would be left behind.  I didn’t know how much hate would remain.  I didn’t know how much removing myself from the equation would wreck me.  I hated that I was the only one who knew.  I hated that I was the only one who had done this.  I hated so much that I wanted to disappear.  I was nothing.

Until suddenly, I wasn’t alone.  Until there was someone else too, someone braver than me, someone willing to stand up and say, I’ve done this.  Someone braver than I.  Someone who had done this, but it didn’t define her.  While I hated what had happened, perhaps it didn’t define me either.  Knowing this saved me during a time when I was drowning.  I couldn’t go back; the path behind me had been decimated.  But I could go forward.  Could, and did.  

I couldn’t go back.  So I leapt.

 

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Clarity

(song lyrics from “Hercules” by Sara Barielles)

My brain swims.

My favorite pajama pants are gray with tiny white owls covering them.  My favorite sweatshirt has my school logo on it.  My favorite blanket is teal and fuzzy amazingly soft.  My favorite pillow is shaped like a panda.  I hide in these things, in my bed.  Night time, my old friend.  My iPod plays.  

I miss the days my mind would just rest quiet.  My imagination hadn’t turned on me yet.  I used to let my words wax poetic, but it melted a puddle at my feet now.  It is a calcifying crime, it’s tragic.  I’ve turned to petrified past life baggage.  I want to disappear and just start over.  So here we are.

My skin is crawling.  I can feel it on every inch of me, the cold touch.  I can feel the weight of it.  I don’t know how to let go.  Not completely.  It follows me, in my thoughts, in my dreams.  And when I do let go, when I forget, or when I realize I’ve forgotten, it bowls me over. Sometimes I don’t sleep.  I write, I read, I hide under the covers.  I sit in the dark and ponder how it matches my heart.  Dark.  Because something is missing.  They’re missing.  I can’t have them back.  What I’ve lost, I can’t replace.

I need clarity.

I’ve lost a grip on where I started from.  I wish I’d thought ahead and left a few crumbs.  I’m on the hunt for who I’ve not yet become, but I’d settle for a little equilibrium.  

I’m losing my grip; I’m tired of having to hide.  I wouldn’t change my decisions.  Not one of them.  I did what needed to be done.  But that doesn’t mean it feels good.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck and feel crappy.  I’ve heard that it’s okay to feel crappy.  It doesn’t feel okay.  Not at all.  Not one bit.  There is no guidebook.  There is no one magical answer that will make it better.  I want to be a person that I can’t be.  A person untouched.  Unruined.  I’m tired of having someone to hash this through with.  I’m tired of isolation, but I can’t escape it.

There is a war inside my heart gone silent; both sides dissatisfied and somewhat violent.  The issue I have now begun to see, I am the only lonely casualty.  

I feel like I’m ripping myself in two.  Like the rational part of me is duking it out with the emotional part of me for who will control the spoils.  Because I’m too quick to jump to emotion.  I’m too quick to knock myself.  I’m too quick to forget the good things.  That I agreed to do a group project.  That I made a new friend.  That I realized I was too strong to be used.  That I didn’t totally fall apart.  These things aren’t important.  What’s important is that I cried.  That I broke.  That I let it all get to be too much.  That I wasn’t strong, in that moment, in that moment when it hurt.  That I let it hurt.

This is not the end though, ‘cause I have sent for a warrior from on my knees, make me a Hercules.  I was meant to be a warrior, please, make me a Hercules.

What I want, more than anything, is to be a warrior.  To be strong.  I don’t want to quit.  Don’t let me quit.  Please.  God.  Don’t let me quit.  I have worked too hard for that.  Too hard to not be strong.  Too hard to let this go.

Too hard.

Give me clarity.

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The Ultimate Escape

There once was a penguin that lived in the middle of the coldest part of the world.  This penguin built her home on a giant block of ice, and spent all day every day swimming in the water around the ice and catching fish.  One day, the penguin saw a bird flying overhead.  She looked at its beautiful wings and decided that she too wanted to fly.  She saw that she had wings, and she knew that only birds had wings.  She assumed that because she had wings she was a bird, and that because she was a bird, she could fly.  She flapped her wings and flapped her wings but nothing happened.  She couldn’t fly.  She got nowhere.  She was trapped on the ice, but instead of enjoying her life as she had before, she spent every minute trying to escape it.

The penguin had a concept of herself as a happy, swimming, fishing creature.

But when she saw the bird, it was all ruined.

*

“I can convey this on a literary level,” I tell M.  “That’s why I wrote the piece the way I did.  The tense shift in terms of the event itself is really how it is, how it feels.  It’s separated.  Detached.”

She nods and scribbles something down on her pad.  “What happens when you try to talk about it?”

“Talk about it?”

“Like, out loud.  You call it ‘the event.’”

I spin a strand of hair around my finger and say again, “I can convey how I feel on a literary level.  With writing.”

“But not out loud.  What would happen if you did?  If you talked, out loud?”

I have a million or more answers to that question.  First and foremost, it would make it real.  I didn’t want it to be real.  I wanted to rewind to a happier time when I didn’t have to think about these things.  When I didn’t have to wonder if people would hate me.  When I didn’t hate myself.  I deflect her question.  “I’ve been doing better in class.  I talk to people.  I share stuff.”

M refuses to let it go.  “But back to the piece.  What would happen if you said these things out loud?  If you used the words?  If you incorporated the experience back into yourself?”

I would drown.  I would hate myself even more.

I stare out the window over her shoulder and watch the birds flying over the field.  And I wish that I could fly.  If I could fly, things would be so much better.  I wouldn’t be here any more.  I wouldn’t belong to him.

*

There is a common misconception that penguins mate for life.  Many penguins do indeed remain with one partner, just like people do.  Especially during mating season.  However, once mating season is over, many penguins choose to find a new mate.  Once the penguin children are born, the love dissipates.

*

I remember sitting on my bed maybe a year or so after my son died.  A lot had happened in that time. I’d gotten sick; I’d gotten better.  I’d gone bat-shit insane.  And I’d left my husband for totally justifiable reasons.  My crazy was justified.  But as I sat there on that bed, the orange box cutter from work clutched in my fist, I was lost.  It was around three in the morning.  The cat stared at me, swishing her tail back and forth.  The thoughts beat around inside my head.

He hurt because of what I did.  Because of Carter.  That’s why we’re not together.  Because of me.

I had seen another life.  I had seen another way of being, and then I had lost it.  I had lost my son; I had lost my husband; I had lost everything.  It was all because of me, and I couldn’t escape that.  I couldn’t escape myself, no one can.  But there was a way.  There was this way.  I told myself I wasn’t strong enough for anything else.  That was a lie.  It was nothing more than a moment when I realized I could never escape him.  That he would always be part of me.  That I didn’t know how to go forward.

The ultimate escape.  Only not.  Because it’s not escaping anything.  It’s just an end, and not a good one.  Never.

There’s always another way.  There’s always another choice.

*

I am that penguin.  My self concept was shattered.  I spend every waking moment trying to escape.  It’s my life goal.  Escape what?  Escape my thoughts, my past.  Escape my son.  Escape him.

Escape myself.

But I can’t.

I want to fly, but I am trapped inside my own head.  I want to express myself, but I’m missing the words.  I still belong to him.

*

Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can feel his hands on me.  I can see his eyes boring into mine, but I can’t turn away.  I don’t like to sit on the couch where he was, or in the car where he was.  I don’t like to walk where he walked.  When I open my mouth, I imagine what he would think about what comes out of it.  I imagine that he would disapprove, and then I disapprove.  And I stay silent.  Still.  Because the belonging is that solid, that deep.  That lasting.  Because I let his disapproval mean more than any amount of approval ever could.

I believe that, even now, it will always exist.  I will always be his.  I will always be here.  Looking back now, I know that I am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.  I almost let him take everything from me, but then I didn’t.  I held on.  I stayed.  But I take the failures hard, and I run away from the truth.  I run away from the things that happened because it’s easier to me than admitting them as true.  It’s easier for me than saying they are real.  It’s easier for me than taking responsibility, because I don’t know where that responsibility lies.  Every ounce of me wants to put it on him, but I know that it doesn’t all go there.

I’m scared that, as hard as I try, I will never be able to fly.  But I still keep going; I keep trying.  I need to remember that I’m a penguin.  I’m okay.  Giving up is a choice I am not willing to make.

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Full vs Empty

“Full or empty plate, we are bound to always catch up to ourselves.” Someone told me that today and it really made me think about the way I’m juggling, or failing to juggle, my life right now.

I cram my life full of as much as I can reasonably fit in it. Okay, so maybe the amount things I do can’t really be considered reasonable. But somehow I do them. I like to think I’m superhuman. I set the bar incredibly high in everything I do, and I push myself to achieve, achieve, achieve. I can’t handle it when I don’t. And I don’t, frequently. I don’t achieve. I don’t succeed. But I keep going. I expect that of myself, that I won’t be a quitter.

The funny thing about me is that I allow my expectations to carry over in every aspect of my life. I allow them to dictate my feelings. If I am happy one day, I expect it of myself every day. So when I have a bad day and I’m sad, or when I struggle with memories of the crap that’s happened, I get incredibly frustrated with myself. I forget the things I am doing well and stick in what I’m not. It doesn’t matter if I raised my hand in one class if I shut down in another. It doesn’t matter if I spoke up if another time I chose to be silent. I have a hard time understanding why I can’t just be one hundred percent okay all the time, every day. I was okay yesterday. So why not today?

Why am I this person? Why do I let what happened dictate my life? Why can’t I be free? Why can’t I escape? Remove myself for more than just a day or two? Lacan would say that I’m chasing a lack, that I’m trying to make up for what’s missing (and the fact that I don’t have a phallus).

Lacan would be right.

I lost five, almost six years of my life. More if you count the fallout of the years following. And even now I can’t talk about it. I won’t.

The hardest thing is lacking an outlet, a way to get rid of the things inside my head. I know that’s what writing is for me. But I’m more referring to a verbal acknowledgement that this happened; a nod that these things don’t have to just stay under cover. I don’t know how to get that. I don’t know how to incorporate some things as a part of myself when they still hurt. When they always will.

It’s okay to feel like garbage. It’s okay to be angry with yourself and it’s okay to feel things. Above all, it’s okay to just be. Sometimes, it’s the only thing you can do. I can read these things and I can say them, and I can believe they are true for someone else. But not for me.

Never for me.

I expect myself to be okay every single day, which isn’t right. And it’s certainly not fair. So for now I will keep flooding my life whenever I can, and I’ll keep floating on. Because that’s all I can do. Being full is always the better choice.

Forgetting

Today was a great day.  I went to an awesome lecture.  I wrote a pretty darn fantastic paper.  I hung out with T online, played Pokemon, and relaxed.  It sounds incredibly cheesy, but I thought about life and where I’m at now; it occurred to me that I’ve come quite far.

Me three years ago.  My ex and I were just starting to tell the general public we were expecting a baby.  I was happy to be pregnant, but not happy to be with him.  I was never happy.  I was quiet; I followed along; I did whatever he told me to.  Until our son died.  And we fell apart.  I left.  Yes, I left.  And I felt guilty about it for a long time.  I felt guilty that Carter died.  I felt guilty that I couldn’t keep him together, that I couldn’t keep our marriage together.  I felt guilty that I wasn’t good enough, because that was what I heard from the people around me.  It was all my fault.  It was because of me.  I was the one who was wrong.

Me this time last year.  I remember the moment that it clicked, sitting in D’s class.  The moment when I realized that my goodness was not determined by the people around me.  Whether I am “good enough” or not comes from inside of me.  I make my own choices.  I’m my own person with my own ideas and my own thoughts.  My failures are my own, yes, but so are my successes.  And there were many successes I gave myself no credit for.  I started to try.  I spoke.  I was me.  I had the right answers, my own answers.  I had my own path.  I was myself.

Me last semester.  I lost my grip.  Like a cat on a screen door.  I just stuck in with my claws and held on as best I could, because he was always there inside my head.  All of the progress I had made was negated because of one thing.  One.  I stopped talking to people.  I stopped being me.  I let myself be the shell again because it was easier than trying to conquer what had happened.  The tape played again:  It’s all my fault.  It’s because of me.  I am so, so wrong.  I became convinced I had never had the right answers and had never been myself.  Or any of those things.

Me now.  I realized today that I’m actually talking.  I’m opening up to people on both a personal and academic level.  I’m sharing little pieces of myself wherever I go, letting a select number of people in.  I’m learning how to talk, how to be myself.  I’m getting better at it every day.  I’m shy, but it’s okay.  I’m okay.  I am making connections and doing more socially.  Instead of just being the cat who hangs on the screen door, I’m legitimately climbing.  Up and out.

And then I came to my room tonight to go to bed and I saw this.  This memorial.  This is all that I have.  A couple hospital bracelets and some papers in a box.  And underneath, on the shelf, all of the papers and ugliness of the last couple years.  For one day, I didn’t think about him.  I didn’t think about the past.  I didn’t think about them.

This was a good day.  But I’m forgetting him.  I’m forgetting them.

I can’t forget when I’m the only one who remembers.

If moving on means forgetting, I’m not sure I want to play this game.  I’m not sure I can.

 

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Thin Ice

When I was in grade school, my friend Alanna and I went to the local park.  It was the middle of winter, and we were bundled up in down jackets and winter accessories.  One of us, I don’t remember who, came up with the bright idea that should walk across the ice to the other side of the lake.  It didn’t matter to us that winter that year had not been overly cold, or that the ice might be thin.  What mattered was that it was an adventure.  It didn’t occur to us when we set out that we might fall through the ice.  

*

At some point in life, I lost my willingness to take risks.  I don’t know if it was the fact that I got older, or the fact that life seemed to beat me down every time I stuck my neck out, but I stopped taking chances.  I stopped sharing secrets.  I think that in losing this piece of myself, I’ve caused myself to feel isolated in so many ways.  

Feeling alone in the world is the worst feeling ever.  You can be in the middle of a room full of people and feel like even if you screamed at the top of your lungs, they would not acknowledge you.  They would turn away.  I am always pleasantly surprised when a person I meet challenges this view.  I am always pleasantly surprised when I myself can take risks, when I can find that little girl again.

I had an experience that I didn’t know how to talk about.  And then there was someone else on my scope who had had that same experience.  I still didn’t know how to talk about it, but I could write.  

That’s exactly what I did.  When I was done, I had this thought.  What if I let somebody read it?  What if I let someone in?  What if I made a legitimate connection?  

*

When we first set foot on the ice, my feet almost slid out from under me.  Alanna did fall.  We laughed as if it was the most hilarious thing ever, and then I helped her up.  We linked elbows and started across the ice, one tiny step after another.  

*

Too much Red Bull had been dumped into my body; I was a ball of nerves.  I bounced up and down on the balls of my feet, Energizer bunny style.  “Have you read it yet?”  As she sat in the chair with her iPad in her lap, I towered over her.

“I started it, but really, time wise…”

“I know, but…”  I shifted from foot to foot and an idea occurred to me.  “Just skip to the end.  It’s the end of the story that’s the most important.  Like, the last two pages.”  There was a drive inside me, a push by some invisible force.  I needed her to read it.  I needed someone to read it, and I was certain she was the only one who would understand.

“I can’t just read the last two pages; how would I know came in the beginning?  How would it make any sense?”

It just would, I wanted to say.  You would understand.  But I didn’t.  

I needed someone to know, but I wasn’t brave enough to say it out loud.  Just in writing.  I didn’t know what this meant in terms of the person I was.  

*

There was a cluster of fishermen on the ice as Alanna and I moved away from the shoreline, crowded around a yellow sign on a tall pole.  Thin ice, it read.  As we shuffled forward, I remembered a Disney movie I had seen once where the main animal character plunged through the ice and thrashed about in search of rescue.  I pictured the ice cracking and splintering under our feet, and the pair of us plunging to our doom with the ice freezing back over on top of us.

We were walking on thin ice.  Dangerous.

*

My greatest concern with the most personal aspects of my life is losing the people that I most respect.  There are a lot of things that I keep very close to me, and here I was letting this cat out of the bag, even in the smallest of ways.  And waiting.  Waiting, and wondering if her opinion would change.  If she would think less of me.

So.  I read the piece.

I read the message she had sent several times, word by word.  I have never been one to take something at face value; I read into everything that is presented to me.  I could hear her voice in my head as I read the words, and it occurred to me that she was talking to me in the same way she always had.  She knew my darkest secret, but nothing had changed.  She still respected me.  She wasn’t treating me differently.  

I took a risk, and it turned out okay.  I learned something.  I’m not totally alone.

*

Alanna and I touched down safely on the other side of the lake, sans any accidents or falls through the ice.  Then we turned around and walked back across.  It was the most fun I’d had all Christmas break.  Of course, we got in quite a bit of trouble when our mothers found out what we did, but all the yelling did not negate that we had had a major victory.  We had taken a risk and succeeded.  

*

I’ve been stuck here for months.  I feel guilty; I feel like I’m wrong; I feel like a generally shitty person.  I’ve hated myself.  But the thing about respect is that it acts like a mirror.  I took a risk, I shared this secret, and she still respects me.  That’s important, because it means that perhaps I can still respect me too.

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And Then I Learned to Talk

When the man first grabbed my hand and shook it, I was mildly intimidated.  He introduced himself, and mentioned he had his doctorate in comp and comparative lit.  I wasn’t entirely sure what comparative lit was, but I knew that somehow, in a room of one hundred people, I had found the person that I could converse intelligently with.  And converse we did.

“Your major is English?” he asked.  “Do you have a focus?  Like, British, American, you know?”

“Writing,” I responded without hesitation.  

“What kind?”

“Nonfiction.”

He raised his eyebrows.  “Oh really?  No fiction?”

I wasn’t sure why he was surprised.  “Well, some.  Sci-fi.  But mostly nonfiction.  Creative nonfiction.”

“What’s the difference between creative and noncreative nonfiction?  Isn’t it all just…nonfiction?”

I had to think about that one for a moment.  “Well…Okay.  So.  Take the piece that I got published.  Nonfiction would be interviewing an animal shelter worker and writing a biography on the information that you get.  Creative nonfiction would be taking that information and turning it into a piece that profiles her dog.”

“That makes total sense.”  He took a sip of his wine.  “What lit classes have you taken?  Any Hemingway?”

We chatted Hemingway for a while, and the ways in which he related to my personal writing style.  Hemingway had never been a favorite of mine, but I was able to hold up my end of the conversation.  We strayed from that to graduate school, and the places that I was intending to apply.  And then:

“I went to graduate school in Montreal.  I took a class once with Michael Foucault.”  

I became quite excited at that news.  “He’s my favorite theorist!”

“I hated his class.”  

Introvert me wanted to smack myself in the face at my error in judgement.  “Oh, well,” I stumbled.

“What do you like about him?”

I took a breath.  “Well, I like how he attempts to change society’s ideas regarding power and power systems.”  I was hoping he would let it go at that.

“How so?”

Crap.  I had to keep talking.  “Well, take for instance, “The Subject and the Power.””

“You had to read that for a class?”

“I read it on my own.”

He smiled warmly, encouraging me to continue.

“I find the whole idea of women and power and power relations and how Foucault’s theory challenges gender roles to be incredibly interesting.  Especially the ways in which women obtain power and how power can be used against them.  I wrote a paper about how discourse brings power and knowledge together.  I think that when someone is allowed to have their own ideas, they gain knowledge.”

“But what does that knowledge have to do with power?”

That was an easy one.  “Well, knowledge is power,” I replied.  

“What if I told you that power is what gains people all of their knowledge?”

“I disagree,” I said without missing a beat.  “I think that even if power can gain knowledge, the majority of knowledge comes from power.  You can’t give people power and you can’t take power away.”  I remembered an example that had come up in class.  “Say I have an awesome professor.  When I’m in her class, she has power because she can give me grades.  I know that because she in charge of my grade, she has power over me.  However, it’s up to me what I do with that power.  I choose whether or not to give it to her.  I choose whether or not to go to class.  I choose whether or not to earn that grade.  So in reality, she doesn’t have power at all once I know that it is in my power to earn the grade.  You know what I mean?”

He set his wine glass down on the table and rested his hand across his beard, peering at me.  “That’s an interesting theory.  What would you say about how Foucault views the exercise of power?  I disagree with his idea that signs and signals have power effects.  They have nothing to do with how we communicate.”

“I respectfully disagree.”  I took a sip of my own wine.  “To me, it’s all about communication and follow the signs.  Power and communication are inter-related.  Maybe that varies from society to society, but they’re definitely related.  And I’m not sure Foucault really focused on that at all.  I took more away from the ideas regarding power relations, that power is specifically the action taken on a field of possible action of others.  That it can only be exercised over free subjects, that it can’t be forced.  I feel like he was trying to say that we governmentalize power relations.  If I can use that word.  Which I just now made up.”

He laughed.  “I don’t know.  It seems that you got more out of it than me then.  I would go so far as to say that Foucault focused too much on the different areas in society where these relationships exist.  Status and wealth and social differences and the like.  And how those gain power and form relationships.  I believe that power can be quite negative.”

“I think you’re totally right that those things can form relationships.  But I’d say that power is assigned from where we choose.  We can’t hold power over somebody unless they let us.  I can’t have a lot of money and then hold that over you and claim to be more powerful unless you let me.  Sure, money makes me powerful.  That’s true.  I can buy things and the like.  But if you were poor, you could still be powerful.  It’s all in how we act.  You wouldn’t be not powerful or not able to make decisions just because I had money and I said so.  It isn’t necessarily all the same.”  I worried as the words tumbled from my mouth that they were completely jumbled.

“Power is everywhere,” he quoted, “and it comes from everywhere.  You would support the idea then that it’s not an agency or a structure?  That it just invades society and that it always changes?”

“If power can’t be given or taken,” I responded carefully, “isn’t it always in flux?  And it’s not necessarily negative.  I don’t think Foucault believed that power necessarily had to be negative or repressive.  It can be negative, but I think he was trying to say that it could be positive and productive as well.”

“I do believe,” he said, taking a sip of his wine, “that you would have quite enjoyed his class.”

“I think so too.”

Setting his glass down again, he fished around in his pocket and came up with a business card.  “Say,” he said, passing me the card.  “Since we’ll never talk again, probably.  I think that you have a solid head on your shoulders.  And I’d be pleased to offer you a reference, should you ever need one.”

I smiled and said thank you, staring at the card in awe of my own ability as he disappeared into the crowd.  The words of his name and title blurred together as I thought the urge to cry.  I wasn’t tearing up because I was sad.

Maybe I hadn’t been completely correct in the things I had said.  But I had been solid in my speech.  I hadn’t backed down.  I had made an effort to support my ideas.  I had earned a stranger’s respect. 

I was tearing up because I knew that I really could talk.  I really could share my thoughts.

And I had.

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Why the Arts Deserve Funding (Rough Draft)

Why is my college awesome?  Why is my degree important?  Why is the English field important?  Heck, why are the arts important?  And why should we fund them?  I find myself struggling with the answers to these questions.  Sure, I know the canned responses.  Writing is a popular skill these days; companies want a person on their staff who can write well.  Arts people are good communicators.  They get people and they know how to get through to them.  They can take complex ideas and process them in a well-articulated way.  They are artists, editors, keepers of history and providers of the written word.

But do I fit into any of those categories?  I’m not really one who fits in a box, at least not anymore.  And that is what Parkside has done for me.  It isn’t just some tiny nothing school in the middle of the woods.  (And I know I’m not supposed to say that, but I’m trying to prove a point.)  Parkside has amazing students and activities, and the College of the Arts and Humanities is especially amazing.  The professors know their stuff and are able to convey lessons that are applicable both inside and out of the classroom.  I have taken things away from every single class I’ve had.  I have not only learned about the literature canon and the history of more authors than I have time to mention, but I have learned about myself in the process.

In my life before college, I was taught that it was wrong to think for myself.  My thoughts weren’t my own, and I let my idea wither away into nothing.  These messages came from everywhere in my life, and this conditioning made school very difficult for me in the beginning.  I didn’t know how to speak up; I had a very difficult time if I wasn’t absolutely positive I had the correct answer.  The thing about being in a creative field is that there really isn’t one correct answer.  There’s not really a wrong answer either.  An opinion, a thought on a text, cannot be wrong.  There’s only what you think.

Our college has what is referred to as a gateway course to the English major:  Literary Analysis.  As I dove into the work at the start of the course, it became apparent that I was supposed to read the assignments and have my own thoughts about them.  It was then I thought I wasn’t cut out for the land of English.  There wasn’t one correct answer.  By the time we got to Lacan around the fourth week of the course, it completely blew my brain.  I read the words and I understood them, but my head was stuck on figuring out what the right answers were.  I couldn’t let this idea go.  So I asked the professor for help.  I distinctly remember the conversation we had while I was standing in her office that day.  I told her that I didn’t get it, but really, I did.  I had my thoughts and ideas, but I wanted to be successful.  I wanted her to tell me what to think.

Her response?  “Well, what do you think?”

It was my worst nightmare; I was stuck.  I wanted the right answer.  I didn’t want to think.  I didn’t want to be wrong.  As I tried to articulate what I thought Lacan might have been trying to illustrate, the only thing running through my head was that she would think badly of me if I was wrong.  But as it turned out, she didn’t think badly of me at all.  She said I “sounded smart.”  I took that to mean I was going in the right direction.  After that, my thinking started to change.  I offered more opinions in class.  I was learning how to be my own person.  It was never purely academic for me.  It applied to my outside life as well.

The ultimate challenge came in the form of our final class presentations.  I was not only expected to form an argument that was completely my own, but I was expected to articulate that argument in front of a group of professors and my peers and alumni…that was a lot to take in.  Of course, it was for a grade.  I couldn’t just not do it.  I never in my life wanted to take an F more than I wanted to take that one, even though I had never had an F before.  I completely panicked.  There would be people.  Looking at me.  Judging me.  Judging my paper.  Judging my thoughts.  And those people were allowed (and encouraged) to ask questions, which I would have to answer on the spot.  My paper, which was an extension of me, was going to be up for debate.  Because I was so close to the work, to the ideas, I knew that it would feel personal.  They were my thoughts, and I would have to share them.  I would have to let myself be exposed.

That was a rough one for me considering that the whole idea of having my own thoughts was a completely new concept.  There were multiple emails exchanged between myself and this professor.  She did her best to reassure me.  My advisor worked with me on how to answer questions if people posed them to me—she told me to just get up there and do what I had to do and get my A.  She told me to believe in myself.  But I was still completely freaked out.  Believing in myself was not a solid concept at that point in my life.

I was terrified the day of the presentation.  As I started talking, I kept my hands below the podium edge so people wouldn’t see them shaking.  I played with my feet behind the podium, stepping in and out of my shoes.  I followed the words on the page with a pen.  (I still do that, and I’ve now given several of these presentations.)  But as I was speaking, it started to come easier.  No one was outright screaming that my argument was invalid.  No one was laughing at me.  I don’t remember all of the nightmarish things I thought might happen, but none of them did.   I gave that presentation, and it was awesome.  I fielded all of the questions that were asked of me, even the curveball question from my professor herself.  I learned something about myself that day, and not in the academic sense.  I learned that it’s okay to speak up.  It’s okay to be my own person.  It’s okay to have my own thoughts, and to say what I want to say.  I learned that I was still strong and very, very capable, despite the things I had previously learned.  Giving that presentation broke all of the previous conditioning that I had experienced.  The presentation assignment was given to us to give us experience in sharing papers in the event that we were ever asked to share our work at a conference.  But it was so much more than that for me.  It showed me that I was still a person.  I had things to contribute to life, both academic and not.  I could live outside of the box and be okay.

It taught me how to be proud of myself.   This program literally saved me.  And while I owe my professors so, so much, from the lessons they have taught me, I’ve been able to change myself.

So go ahead.  Ask me again.  Why is Parkside awesome?  Why is the English department amazing?  Why do the arts deserve more funding?  Why?  Because I am standing in front of a group of people speaking today when this never would have been possible in the past.  Because I can speak now, because I can share these words with you and not be afraid.  Because I am not the only one.  There are more people out there who are like me.  There are more people who need to find themselves, as I found myself.  I have found a place where my people are, where I fit in.  Where I can be a good student and have the answers even if they aren’t necessarily right.  Where I can show up every day, good or bad, and be accepted just the way I am.  By being at Parkside and working my butt off for my degree, I have found a purpose in my life where I previously thought I had none.  Being a writer is who I am.  Other people deserve the same opportunity that I have had to find themselves.

If you’re looking for an arts program to fund, it should be ours.  More money buys more professors who know their stuff and helps to keep the dedicated professors we already have in our department.  More money funds more events that draw more people.  Our facilities are top-notch, the best in the area, and we need to fill them with more people.  We need to come up with ways to introduce people to the arts in a way that makes them fall in love again.

More money helps more students like me become the people they are supposed to be.  To find the words.  So help us.  Help us to grow; help us to spread the word, to spread the arts.  Help us to become an even better undergrad program than we already are.

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