Tale of Unrequited Love

It’s the end of my work week, and I’m spent. I lay in bed in the late afternoon, my tank of energy perilously low. Son heated up a can of chili, relieving me of dinner duty. I lay there as dusk descended, feeling oh-so-tired and kind of lonely, too, now that I thought about it, there in the growing darkness. Next I would feel sorry for myself. That’s no good. So I turned on the light and picked up a volume of Jane Kenyon poems that I bought at the used bookstore last week.

Inside was a note. I always read artifacts I find in used books–ticket stubs, bookmarks, grocery lists. They are the ephemera of fellow book lovers.

I was too far into it when I realized it was a letter of unrequited love. They must have been students. He was a cyclist. She understood it was not meant to be, but she was having trouble accepting that. This was not her first letter. I groaned, on her behalf, wanting to counsel her on withholding such thoughts, on letting him go, on preserving her heart and her dignity, too.

I wondered who folded the letter and placed it in the Jane Kenyon volume. It had to be her, right? She must have written it and never sent it. I consider that a small triumph on her behalf.

I carefully folded the letter and placed it on my nightstand, hoping to restore any dignity that I took away by reading it. I was grateful to her, whoever she was, for showing her vulnerability and humanity. I connected with her, whoever she is. Her struggle brought me outside of myself to recognize that we all struggle, in all sorts of ways, and we try so hard, we really do.

Off the Mat

During my last restorative yoga class, I compiled my grocery list. I acknowledged that and returned to my breath, but it sent a signal–I think I’m becoming bored with the gentle classes. They’ve carried me so far, but now I’m eager to try harder. What a relief. What a rare feeling of enthusiasm.

I nearly fell on the slippery bricks walking to my office. I recovered, and then I slipped again with my next step. I felt my hamstrings seize up to hold myself up. I imagined falling on my bottom or on a knee, fearing not how much it would hurt, but how long an injury or even a bad bruise would keep me from yoga.

The lesson? Don’t get overly enthusiastic about yoga. Appreciate the class I take and plan to take the next. Enjoy the class, then let that go, too. Yoga can be easily lost to me, so don’t get too attached. In between classes, pay attention to what I’m doing, such as crossing the street. 

And pay attention to the kids. I picked up daughter from play rehearsal, and she chatted about Dr. Who while we walked to the car. She continued in the car. We stopped at a little store, but she never stopped talking.  She prattled on and on, as we took things off the shelves, and as we paid.  I looked down at her. Before I could deliver a friendly admonition to not talk too much, I saw her face. It was suffused with joy. She must miss this, I thought. She was the sunshine of my husband’s life. He adored her. She must have felt like The Tops when she was with him. She must have been feeling it again, as I let her talk and talk (and talk) about something she loves. I said something friendly to the  salesclerk (the only other person in the store. It’s very small.) so as not to be rude, but only in the moment it took my daughter to catch her breath. She didn’t break stride. She continue to talk about the Doctor.

We don’t have a lot of leisure time together these days. It’s not that we’re all business, but by the time we’re done working, we crumble into a tired heap. We don’t spend much time just hanging out, being creative. At that moment at the cash register, she was full of enthusiasm. She wanted to share it. It was time to let her talk, and it was time to listen. I received her words as if I were a pillow, a place for her happiness to sink in after she spread it out into the world. As we left the store, I even asked a question about the Doctor. Her answer took us to the car, through the ride home and into the front door.

A Pillar, Such As It Is

I’m working today, but I’m struggling. There’s an online discussion in which widows hold on to so much rage. I want to ask what’s the point in holding on to it? What do you want? Will you get what you want if everyone acts the way you want? No, probably not. So what’s really driving this ressentiment? Consider that rage is the opportunity to dive in deeper to learn something new, and to heal. I don’t say that, though. I can’t open myself up to conflict. I got roped in to some work tension last week. I participated in as limited yet assertive fashion as I could. I resolved to leave the conflict at the table, but I wasn’t wholly successful. It unnerved me. It got under my skin. I am hounded by a student who is so full of enthusiasm that s/he isn’t living up to the standards of my class. Sure, the student is drawing on a newly legitimate form of theory. But, I want to counsel, being transgressive isn’t the same as copping out. It takes a lot of craft to employ this hip theory, and if student wants to do that, student had better step up the game.

These sorts of things are dancing around my head, luring me from concentration. (Coincidentally, I’m prepping a class reading in which the author unpacks her rage. In doing so, she reveals systems of power. It’s brilliant. I’ve taught this piece before, but this is the first time I’ve really looked closely at her discussion of rage. So I guess I’m thinking about rage, in both its constructive and destructive uses. I want to share its insights, but I don’t want to get in a conflict over it.) I’m so wary of conflict, even when I’m working at home, with no one to bother me. I could be at peace, if I wanted to.

I realized that dwelling on all this thinking about conflict was not productive. I cleared some space to meditate. Not real meditation, either, but a relaxation podcast that I really like. Despite its New Ageyness, it invites me to lie down, and it guides me so that I just follow along, and it gets me to the place that “real” meditation would.

I got cozy, fired up the meditation podcast and what did I find? Their newest podcast is about grief. Great, I thought! But I’m so far along in my grief, I probably don’t need this. After all, days go by without me crying. You know where this is going, right? Within minutes, I was sobbing. Ends up there’s still a whole lot of sadness, deep within, sadness I don’t think about because I’m so caught up in day-to-day living. Guess I’m still grieving, after all.

In the last week I’ve discovered a solid core to myself. In last week’s yoga nidra, I envisioned some sort of pillar of stability that is still while all these thoughts and experiences swirl around. I feel that pillar physically through yoga practice; I’ve been doing so much core work that I feel a belt of muscles that are holding me in and holding me up, strapping me up like a pillar. I used to feel that core strength from doing Pilates back in the day, when I felt so strong and could march ahead into the world. This time, it’s more modest. I feel strength that I can count on when the world comes to me. This pillar of strength helps me withstand a world that is coming at me, relentlessly, whether it’s work politics, drama, hardship, whatever. It comes at me, whether I march into it or not.

In today’s relaxation/meditation, I recognized how fragile I still am. I still carry all this sadness around. My pillar of strength is growing, but there are plenty of places to breach it. All this external drama pulls me away and pulls out the threads, revealing that this pillar is comprised of threads, and they can easily unravel. A pillar seems strong, but I’m also pretty fixed, like a pillar. I can be assertive but not aggressive. I can withstand challenges, but not take on new ones. For now, I’m here, just trying to remain upright.

I can’t retreat from the politics/drama/hardship. So here’s what I have to do: stop dwelling on it, and act when it’s time to act. Don’t talk about work politics outside of work, or even outside of meetings. Write a comment on that student’s paper and be done with it.  If “someone on the internet is wrong,” have compassion, and let them carry on in their journey. Notify the event organizer that I can’t make the wonderful upcoming event. (Did I mention that one yet? I feel guilty about that, too.) As much as I’d love to attend, I can’t add anything else to my schedule, I can’t socialize professionally. I’m not there yet, even for the fun stuff.

Act, just act. I have enough strength to act. But I lack the strength for the other stuff–for the malingering, the handwringing, the postmortem analyses. That stuff? I’ve got to let it go.

Better Living through Small Appliances

I found myself back in our little Sears shop for another appliance, because of all the dog poop.

The dogs are pooping in the house again. This go-around, it’s been four days in a row in the living room. This is partly my fault, for not giving them the walks they need. But there’s also a breach in the baby gate that has (up until now) preserved the living room as my grown-up space. Daughter and I will get right on that with our new powertools and fix that babygate. I’ll ask son to pitch in with dogwalking.

But that doesn’t help with the current deposits.

I scooped up the poop each morning as we left for the day. I detected some pee and sprinkled baking soda over it, to get to it immediately and to be able to identify the spots later. Eventually I was able to get to all of it with my carpet cleaner. The carpet cleaner is great. It gets the dirt and spots up right away. It’s supposed to suck up the water that it uses during the shampooing, but it never gets it all up, and that creates a whole ‘nother problem. This morning, I could tell the floor was still wet. I lugged the dehumidifier up the stairs and dang if it didn’t kick in. The tantalizing thing about the dehumudifier is that it has a sticker that says after you plug it in, it takes 2 minutes to kick in. So I powered it on and waited patiently. Sometimes it starts, other times it doesn’t. Today, it didn’t. After two minutes, I pressed the power button on and off, in some sort of negative feedback loop, always hoping that the next time, it would kick in. As I engaged in this futile pressing of the Power button, I could smell the mustiness in the floors. If the water set in, it would ruin the carpet tiles. I’d struggle with the smell until finally capitulating and ordering more from FLOR. (That’s what happened over the summer.)

Screw this, I thought, I’m going to Sears.

I don’t know what the guy from Sears thinks about me. I walk in there every few months, walk up to the appliance I’m looking for, browse for 5, maybe 10 minutes, then tell him I’m ready to make a purchase. I don’t even need to bring my Sears card; he just pulls up my name and puts it on my charge card. It’s like an old fashioned general store, except instead of leaving 20 cents of flour on my account, I’m charging hundreds of dollars (and sometimes $1,000). When they’ve come to the house to install the big appliances, they’ve cocked their eyebrows at my not-so-old or not-so-outdated appliance and wondered why I’ve bought a new one. I evade the question.

What can I tell them? Of course any good old Yankee would get the not-so-old appliances fixed, but I’m not feeling like my Yankee self these days. Things need to work around here. I need to feel like we’re safe, and I need to count on these appliances. A dishwasher or an oven or a screwdriver or a vacuum or a dehumidifier–these things should not be our challenges, they should make our lives easier, so we can get on to the business of struggling with the real challenges or, on a good day, not struggle so much at all and just live mundane lives.

At home, I fired up the new dehumidifier. It kicked in immediately, with more power than the old one ever had. Within minutes, the musty smell dissipated. A few hours later, I walked on the floor and it was dry.

Purchase decisions are difficult to make on my own (as are medical decisions for the kids). I try to exercise judgment, but I don’t trust myself, because I often feel crazy. When my new oven preheats quickly and the stove burner flames don’t splay out treacherously, when the dehumidifier sucks water from the carpet like it says on the box, only then do I have confirmation that I made the right decision.

And here’s the other thing about my regular trips to Sears. I can’t stand baggage from the past. We carry enough baggage around with us. It’s in our memories, hardwired in our brains, imprinted in things that are broken from the times when husband would lose his marbles. We live in the now now, and I can’t abide stuff from the past that doesn’t work. We can’t replace our brains and hearts with new ones. Fixing and healing them is a long game. That, there, is where I apply all the Yankee ingenuity I can muster. An unreliable dehumidifier? A 5-minute visit to the store and a charge on the Sears card and–there!–it’s over.

Mindfulness in a State of Mindlessness

Whatever has happened to you, it has already happened. The important question is, how are you going to handle it? In other words, ‘Now what?”

–Jon Kabat Zinn, Wherever You Go There You Are

I opened a Jon Kabat Zinn book and found those lines in the first paragraph. I considered them, carefully. I put the book down. I contemplated. I accepted the significance of this axiom, that what has happened, has happened. I wrapped my head around the concept of mindfulness.

It is striking that I have moments of realization these days. Because I’m pretty scatterbrained, otherwise. In fact, I often feel like I’ve lost my mind.

My husband’s cousin sent an email letting me know that her brother had a baby. I replied gushingly, saying how happy I was for them, for their whole family. Her parents must be thrilled, I said, with all these new grandbabies. She replied, and signed off, kindly but pointedly, as the grandmother. It wasn’t husband’s cousin who wrote that email letting me know her brother had a baby; it was husband’s aunt, who was letting me know her son had a baby.

Welcome to my world, nice aunt! And, mazel tov, to you, too!

At least I didn’t say anything incriminating about the aunt when I thought I was talking to her daughter.

I completed a bunch of tasks the other morning and was feeling quietly chuffed. In the car on the way to school, though, I remarked to daughter that I had my to-go coffee mug, only I didn’t fill it with coffee before we left the house. We drove a few blocks. Also, I added, I didn’t brush my teeth.

I had five minutes before class started. I spent $1 on coffee. (It’s only $1 if you bring your own cup.) I bought mints from the vending machine.

Surprise, Surprise

I’m over that recent bout of depression, and now there’s just the fallout to contend with. I resumed afternoon naps this week, such as I had in the early days. On my teaching days, I walk out of the building utterly spent. In running, they say to give it your all on race days, to “leave it all on the race course.” Me, I’ve been leaving it all in the classroom. Like a novice professor, I overprepare for my classes, and I’m wiped out afterward.  But during that stretch of time that I’m in the classroom, I’m completely engaged, in my element, laughing, gesticulating, really listening, recalling historical tidbits I thought were lost to the memory loss of trauma. Maybe they think I’m nuts, I don’t know, but I like these students, I like this job, a lot. This job is giving me so much.

During this week’s meditation class, which focused on awareness, I realized something. Before I started meditation, I thought that “letting things go” meant that a person had to be pretty flighty, what with all that letting go. But in meditation this week it struck me that one has to be pretty solid to face thoughts (or images or experiences), recognize them, and let them go. That takes strength, or solidity, or something, but whatever it is, it’s not flighty. I was surprised.

A few months ago, I tried to envision if I would ever have another companion. I pictured him in my head–longish light brown hair, kind eyes. Daughter and I were at our local restaurant this past week, and a guy with longish brown hair and kind eyes walked out. Wow. He exists. I have no interest in pursuing this or any other guy right now. But it’s neat to see one’s imaginary vision in real life. Today I drove down the driveway and realized that, as lonely as I am, a companion will not make me happy. I need to find my own strength. I was surprised to accept myself as not married anymore and to just accept my situation, as it is, right now, as an individual who needs a lot of work. But, wow, I’ve achieved some acceptance that this is now my life. I don’t have to like it or hate it. It just is this way, right now. My practice needs to take place where I am, with what I have; it’s not about what I don’t have.

Just so it doesn’t seem like I’m on a path of enlightenment, both my kids and I were surprised by a few sudden outbursts of mine this week. I think I hollered (not unprovoked, but quite suddenly and out of proportion to the provocation) three times–twice at son and once at my delicate-as-a-flower daughter. We reconciled soon after, so we’re good. But where did this rage come from? It’s like I’m this lady buying milk, carpooling kids, but there is a monster inside me, and she’s so very angry and tired and exasperated. Actually, this should come as no surprise. See paragraph, above. I’ve got a lot of work to do. See paragraph #2 for how strong someone has to be to let things go. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it. And see paragraph #1–I’m very tired. Okay, this outburst stuff is crappy but it’s really not so surprising, after all. 

In prepping for one of my classes this week, I found the assigned reading to be redundant of things we’d already read. It was a dud. I couldn’t imagine what we’d talk about. I almost gave the kids a freebie and canceled class. But as I looked over their reaction papers at 5am, I was surprised to learn that some of them didn’t understand the article, and some of them understood it but still couldn’t figure out why anyone would adopt that theory, and others got it and connected it to other things they knew and displayed such intellectual curiosity that it became infectious, and I was intellectually curious, too. My heart was full. The students taught the teacher. I walked in that classroom and taught, and they shared, and we all learned.

Getting Back on the Horse

Daughter got thrown from the horse today during her riding lesson. It happens.

This time, I’m pretty sure her body went two or three feet up in the air before she went down. She landed flat on her back.

Luckily, the riding teacher is a nurse. She gave daughter the once-over–wiggle your fingers, your toes, shake your head, etc. Daughter was fine, but her back’ll smart later, no doubt.

The riding teacher’s mother was standing next to me. (She was working on the farm, and she likes to keep up with my daughter’s progress. Have I mentioned how much I cherish this family? Well, I do.) She shared some stories of watching her daughter/the riding teacher fall through the years. She was reassuring me that falling is a part of riding, and parents are going to witness that.

As we groomed the horse, the teacher asked me how I was. “Fine,” I answered.

But here’s the deal–I felt nothing. That’s the beauty of post-traumatic stress. I was preternaturally calm. I knew the teacher/nurse was the one to defer to if she was really hurt. If she really had been hurt, we would have acted. If she wasn’t hurt, there was no use in fretting. And so I did not fret. When I see her thrown like that, I immediately go into shock, which allows me to function, without worrying.

But the university shuts down? Or her play rehearsal schedule changes? Or the kitchen get too messy? I’m wont to buckle into a crying mess on the floor, prevented from doing so only by the watchful eyes of The Other Moms around me.

Therapist assures me that this tendency to check out when the kids have a health scare is a helpful mechanism. There’s so much for me to worry about, that I set aside the worries that aren’t really dangers. She is confident that if something bad happens, I’ll respond appropriately. I am learning how to filter. I’ll trust her, she’s a professional.

And I trust the horse teacher, who has taught my daughter–and me–to get back on the horse.

Laughter

Only a few people post comments here, but here’s what they all have in common–a sense of humor, levity.

My yoga teacher passed along a Rumi poem when she initially guided me through the black thoughts that come up in my yoga and meditation practices:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

–Rumi, The Guest House

I looked it over again tonight, and what jumped out at me, this time, is that we can greet malice and darkness and other visitors at the door, laughing.

Laughing.

This made me thing of a song that has always moved me to tears, even before this all went down. I had a sister who was “retarded,” as they said back then, who died when I was a toddler. (Later in my life, another sister explained that our sister had hydroenchephalitis, treatable, now, in the womb.) Her name was Claire. She died when she was 8 years old. My older brother and sisters remember her. I don’t. Claire’s name was never uttered without love and deep sorrow in our household. To this day, when I hear the name “Claire,” I feel sorrow.

When I heard this Natalie Merchant song, as an adult, I was so moved by the woman who meets the protagonist of the song. I picture her perfectly. When everyone was flustered and wringing their hands, she came into the room. She’s solid, she has a gentle smile, her hair is in a bun. (That’s not in the song. I made that up.) She picks up the baby, she advises that the child will not suffer. And she laughs as she says what she says.

She laughs.