My favourite photo from the wedding is one that doesn’t include me. Or E. or the boys, actually. It’s the one that shows several of the people in my life meeting across social groups, so to speak. Colleagues, and friends and relatives – some who’d never met before – in a moment of joy. I feel privileged that those are the people I know and love, the people who love me (and E., of course). You captured something wonderful. It’s the photo I’m most grateful for.
The arctic ground squirrel, on the other hand, does hibernate. Her body temperature drops to as low as -2.9 Celsius. Her heart beats less than once a minute.
She loses bone density. Her teeth fall out, and parts of her brain die.
Then she wakes, slowly.
She builds new bone cells, new teeth, and new neural connections.
She is reborn in the spring.
I worry that my children are still ashamed or embarrassed by me. I still talk too loudly – an American voice is placed in the mask – it carries (in more ways than one). It’s a matter of physics. What am I going to do? Adopt an accent?
It strikes me as funny that this of all things probably allows me to claim status as a “first-generation immigrant” (as opposed to expat): Worrying that your cultural traits will embarrass my children.
Or it would, if first-generation immigrant wasn’t code for something else.
Do you still miss living here? Miss being an immigrant? Are you happy with the unexpected repatriation in terms of your identity? Sometimes I forget which one of you is actually Norwegian: you or M.
I’ve had colleagues – musicians – who have quit teaching, to work in offices or detailing cars. They said that teaching was sapping their creative energy. I have thought about it, but come to the conclusion that my creativity can’t be sapped by other kinds of creative work – it all primes the pump.
What I do believe is that, speaking only for myself, being the handmaiden for other people’s creativity can be a source of envy – and that needs to be dealt with honestly.
And, even though I do get up at 5 and write before “work”, I’d be upset if I thought my students believed that I gave them my “second-best effort”.
I’d be ashamed if I did.
I believe there’s a primal, unconscious fear of people whose emotional needs are obvious. There’s the mistrust: if no one else has been there for that person, there must be something wrong with them. And there’s the gut knowledge that loneliness is contagious, I guess. Monkeys shy away from the shunned and the injured, and so do most of us.
I think it’s a matter of learning how to attend to our needs obliquely.
In regard to casual sexism, “Imagine how you’d feel” is never going to be a persuasive point in this discussion. But I don’t think it’s because of a lack of empathy. It’s because of a lack of perspective.
On both sides.
I believe it’s extraordinarily rare to find a person who doesn’t long to be the object of someone’s desire. (On one’s own terms, of course.)
There is no one left to ask who it was that read to me. But someone did. Someone must have held me close, and helped me make all those neural connections between books and comfort.
Books are the one, safe place to confront your fears. A book is a therapist office. A confessional. And the stories sprawled over the pages offer absolution for being human.
The question I had put to myself all those years is what do you want to be? Rather than what are you going to do?
In some ways, I am grateful for that. For what spontaneity has added to my life. The unexpected is always an adventure. I think it has made me braver than I might otherwise have been. I learned lessons, some very hard (some very hard on the people in my life).
But regrets are a waste of time. Even in hindsight, one can never really know what the results would have been from having made a different choice, at any juncture.
I need a definition of necessary, as well. …
Even if I subscribe to a faith that deems every person’s existence as integral and meaningful in a cosmic whole, it sort of follows that even worrying about the necessary-ness of things would be unnecessary.
Clearly, I need to find something better to do with my time.
I can’t function with Geller’s mindfulness guidelines.
Standing on the edge of any conversation and then trying to casually take part—a sudden, disconcerting, change of topic: I experience the question “Where are you from?” as roadblock. A reminder. An unintended declaration of, “We know you don’t belong here.”
More than that, the question makes me feel diminished:
I remembered handing one full-length script to a director who weighed it in his hand, smiled and said, “You must have put a lot of work into this.”
Clearly, he had no intention of reading it.
I was never under the delusion that I was the Next Big Thing on the Great White Way, but I had enjoyed the privilege of being taken seriously.
I am not on my way out of the world. I think I see much more of it now than before. I am also far less concerned with how much of the world sees “me”. I am not any more invisible than I was at 20. In fact, I am probably increasingly visible as an individual, rather than a knock-off of a stereotype for someone’s consumption.
Poetry is a “made thing”. But it’s not just a pleasant rhyme, not a pretty little story with tidy conflicts and a reassuring resolution. Poetry demands a representation that somehow conveys living consciousness. It’s transcendent of its own artificialness. And it is necessarily awesome, in the sense that it is also tinged with fear; if something conveys a true sense of life, it must also convey a sense of mortality. Poetry, as an art form, is not escapism. It is a confrontation with our truths.
There’s no reason to think that they were among the more interesting of the people living then, the most intelligent, the most clever.
But they built the bridge: the object, conduit, magic portal that made this connection. Through some fluke of archaeology, this anonymous bit of humanity endured.
I have written things.
I have written things that I have lived.
I have written things that I have lived to regret.
My chronology is never explicit.
This is me, not walking the Camino, not spending a year at an ashram, but me living the life I have chosen, with all its routines, obligations, and joys.
This is me, moving on, finding inspiration in Sondheim: