Moving Right Along

We’re moving! Oh, you didn’t know? You must be one of the three people who reads my non-knitting posts who I don’t know in real life. Yes, I care about you three SO much that I wrote that announcement and looked up this video just for you!

Forgive my flippancy. It’s just a “be flippant or curl up and sleep” kind of day for my mental energy. Moving is horrible. We don’t have that much stuff, as stuff goes, and I’m super-organized and therefore still half-packed from moving in two years ago. (Moving Tip #1: If it’s going to end up in a closet to be stored most of the year, pack it in a big plastic tub that it can stay in after the move! Genius, right here. ) The process of calling all the utilities and the landlords and scheduling trucks and getting boxes and changing your address and figuring out the insurance change in a new state, well, it’s all just insane. Pure and simple.

Working two jobs on top of the process has my brain split in so many directions I feel like I can’t get anything done. Plus, brilliant me, I decided to try to implement a shift in my eating/exercise habits because I’ve been feeling serious sugar drag. More energy from reduced sugar is awesome…but I forgot that when you go temporarily cold turkey on carbs to reset your brain’s sweet cravings to be fine with whole grains and fruit, there’s a withdrawal period of headache-encumbered crankiness. Yay.

As I’m packing our belongings in this mental state, I find myself throwing a lot of stuff away while hollering, “Dammit, why do we keep so much trash?!?” John, bless him, understands the source of my crankiness and recognizes that I’m yelling at myself. He spends a lot of time laughing at me, which helps me keep everything in perspective. But dammit, I do keep a lot of trash. Maybe it’s the general moving crankiness, or maybe I’m getting less sentimental at this point in my life, but I have thrown away about 75% of the tchotchkes and knick-knacks and greeting cards that I have hoarded over the years.

My rule used to be that I had to keep something for every single memory so that in the future, I would be able to pick up the item and remember the story that went with it. What my ten-year-old scrapbooking self did not understand is that your memory goes downhill pretty quickly once you hit adulthood. It’s frightening. I know for a fact that nothing goes into my Memory Box without being connected to a story I cared about, but as I sorted through it, I realized that I didn’t even have a hint of an inkling as to what half of the items meant. The physical connection just wasn’t enough to trigger the memory, possibly because as I’ve gotten older and made more memories, I’ve had less time to spend handling the objects and remembering. And while it makes me sad to throw away these items that once meant something to me, the truth is that I don’t care about the items. I care about the stories, and those are already lost, because it’s not bad enough that we can’t hang on to life forever: we can’t even hang on to our lives while we’re alive.

See what I mean? I am a royal cranky-pants right now.

What I find myself clinging to is the hope that those stories have been pushed out by memories of better stories I’ve lived. If my brain has a finite capacity for personal memoir, I guess I want to hold on to the best of the best. And with most of my life hopefully still ahead of me (assuming the zombies and robots don’t get us first), I’d like to think that I have yet to live the best years of that life. Always onward, always upward, right? This makes it okay for me to let go of the junk that used to hold a memory. The same thought plays counterbalancing to the anxiety of a major move as well–things have ¬†been nice where we are, really, but they’re going to be even better in our new location, closer to the people we love.

One hopes.

Guilt Gremlins and Choices

In spite of the fact that my body gave way Friday evening to yet another raging cold, I had a splendiferous weekend. I don’t think I can ever have anything other than a splendiferous weekend when I’m celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, truth be told. I think it’s possibly my favorite holiday for one simple reason: no one else cares about it, so I never set expectations for my enjoyment of it on other people’s shoulders. It’s a light-hearted holiday from a culture with a deliciously dark sense of humor during which a sizable percentage of the world dons my favorite color. I also get to eat corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes with all their disgustingly marvelous condiments. Even with a cold, I can taste vinegar, horseradish, and mustard, so what’s not to love?

Admittedly, this St. Patrick’s Day celebration was one of the best ever because one of my dearest friends drove down from Portland to partake of our boiled dinner, spend the night, and attack Ikea after breakfast at the appropriately Irish-sounding Murph’s Place. Aside from enjoying a few nostalgic rounds of Scum (warning: Wikipedia favors the less polite name for the game) and a lot of Irish food, we spent a lot of time talking about balance and choice. And being grown-ups.

How do you balance being happy with your lifestyle now against having financial security in retirement? How do you balance responsibility against a desire to travel? How do you decide between being healthy (and, as a correlate, happier) and doing the best work you can do? How do you kick yourself in the butt to be healthier when neither dieting nor exercising does anything particularly good to your body chemistry? How do you find the energy to building and maintaining relationships when your work is draining you of everything you’ve got? How do you balance doing the best at the work you have with working towards making money from work you actually enjoy doing?

Whatever choices we make as adults, it seems like there’s always another opposing choice that has a lot to recommend it. Right now, for example, I’m choosing to write a blog post, but I could easily be either washing the dishes (good for our health and preventing pests from zoning in on us) or spending extra time on my lesson plans (good for my kids and, by extension, by company). Given the mental flu-fog I’m writing through, I should probably be taking a nap and not putting any prose out into the world at all, but at the moment, I’m feeling guilty for bailing on writing TNQDE posts last Thursday and Friday. Those I chose not to do because on Thursday I was making the house presentable for our house guest and on Friday because I had a really, really long meeting for work.

What we need, I think, is an algorithm for making the best possible choice at any given time. Here’s a question for all you “real” grown-ups out there: do you ever figure it out? Or do you really have to really with every single choice that comes your way as an individual problem? Don’t tell me you can do anything you want as long as you’re willing to take the consequences–I want a formula for calculating the weighted difference between possible consequences given that not all things are possible at the same time.

While you’re thinking about that, I think I’m going to choose to eat ice cream and watch Stargate (and maybe pick a little at some planning just to shush the guilt gremlins in my brain).

Excuses, Excuses

Today, I have a headache. When I was a kid, this used to be an excuse for all sorts of things…getting out of P.E., going to school, doing some loud activity that might take me away from a book. It was a valid excuse for me in circumstances I think it wouldn’t be for others because I was content to sit quietly and read while everyone else carried on. As a teacher now, I realize that the teachers in my life probably knew when I was faking, but they let me get away with it because I would use my freedom from activities I deemed stupid to read.

I have a few kids who like to claim headaches during, of all things, reading time. It started at the beginning of the year with one kid who would come in from the gym or the playground with a headache every single day. Initially, I was concerned. I watched him to make sure he was getting enough water to drink to avoid dehydration. I let him rest on another rug while the other kids read. I mentioned the incident to his parents, who validated my concern by taking him to a neurologist, as he’s apparently been complaining of these headaches all the time.

When the tests came back clear, I continued to keep a close eye on him, but I started to notice something when I began to make a habit of letting someone else do the read-aloud for the younger kids. As soon as my back was turned, my headache-stricken kid would belly-crawl over to the Lego bin, secure a few, and start playing with them where he thought I couldn’t see. Curiouser and curiouser, no sooner would I declare the end of reading time than this kid would be up and running as if he’d never felt ill a day in his life.

I put my foot down the next day and told him that if he needed to lie down, he could rest on the reading rug and listen to the read-aloud. I have never met a child who was more adverse to even so much as verbal exposure to the written word. He started kicking up such a horrible ruckus, whining about his headache and protesting that he couldn’t possibly listen to the story that it started a chain reaction. The next thing I knew, I had three more kids tugging at my hand and curling up on the floor, declaring that they too had headaches and couldn’t listen to the story.

I don’t remember quite how I handled it, back at the beginning of the year as it was. I don’t remember if I enforced an extended reading time for the kids who were so disruptive or if reading time that day dissolved into unrecoverable chaos–both things have happened for various reason throughout the year. I’m sure which way it went was largely dependent on whether I myself had much of a headache, because that’s the kick in the stomach, isn’t it? A headache can pretty powerfully detract from your ability to function, but as an adult, it’s not really a valid excuse to get out of, say work or even blogging. In a bit of irony, I never had a headache that got me out of cleaning when I was a kid, but as an adult, cleaning is about the only thing a headache will get me out of.

What I would really like to know, now, is if I promise to sit quietly and read a book and not bother anyone or make anyone go out of their way to make sure I’m not getting into any trouble…can I please not go back to work today? I have a headache.

 

 

Railing Against the Wind

Have you ever gone on an adventure? A real, honest-to-goodness, bona fide feat of daring? Think about it. Maybe you’ve never done anything that would result in the movie of your life being classified with Indiana Jones, but that doesn’t mean you’ve never answered the wild call of the spirit that makes a person want to step into the street and knock a stranger’s hat off his head. In fact, I almost think that if we ignore that whispering puck in the back of our minds for too long we start to die inside, a little bit at a time.

When I was an undergrad student in the fair city of Portland, Maine, the tug of adventure was like a river current winding around the lives of most of my friends. Have you ever played manhunt at night using a city as your playground? Have you ever chosen to walk down the meridian instead of the sidewalk? Have you ever let the Atlantic kiss your bare toes at midnight in early spring? Have you ever bent the will of a bureaucracy to accommodate your whim for a last minute trip to New York?

Those tiny rebellions, those finite insanities, make up the milestones on the map of my first explorations into adult life. I remember, on more than one occasion, climbing into the passenger seat of my roommate’s car during the middle of a blizzard to drive to the mall under the worst road conditions possible for no better reason than an itching need to feel alive and connected to the world. I white-knuckled the door handle the entire way there and back, but the feeling of risking what felt like everything to simply not be cocooned in my blankets, hot cocoa, and video games for an hour or two was worth the fear.

When did it leave me, and where has it gone? I had a surprising moment of self-awareness this weekend when John and I ended up snowed in in Maine for an extra day and half. We left John’s folks’ house a few hours before the blizzard ended on Monday, thinking it had let up, imagining we could rough the drive out to Portland and find smoother driving there. I have never driven in worse conditions in my life, nor do I hope to ever again. We couldn’t see three hundred feet in front of us, the road was plastered with snow, and my wipers couldn’t keep up with the icy mess.

That’s what the state is warning you of, apparently, when they declare a state of emergency, as my dad explained to us when we decided to stop at my parents’ house to wait out the storm. Had we understood the direness of the situation before we’d left John’s parents, we’d have stayed put, but in our inexperience, we got on the highway, which in central Maine means that it was easier to keep going thirty miles south than it was to turn around at the next exit. We gritted our teeth and went.

Clearly, I am neither old nor wise enough to always avoid dangerous situations that, when you come down to it, are quite easily avoidable. On the flip side, I discovered that neither am I young and wild enough to enjoy the adrenaline coursing through my veins while my life is in danger. Instead of enthusiasm for what could be a great story, I was anxious for our safety, restless to be home. Frustrated that we hadn’t left early Sunday to beat the storm. Angry that the weather was so very, very badly timed for our holiday plans.

It’s an inflexibility of attitude more like Ahab’s than Ishmael’s, and it worries me to see it in myself. Fear has always been a parrot on my shoulder, repainting the world to me in somewhat darker tones. I live and love life best when I remember how to play the mockingbird and turn fear’s dour dirge into a joke. So how do you keep that as you get older? How do you hold onto the bright sense of adventure? How do you remember the trick of laughing as the wind blows?

Home Is Where My Spaghetti Is

Home is a strange term. Typically, you spend the first eighteen plus years of your life in a home that belongs to your parents, frequently the same house for the lion’s share of that time. Somewhere along the line, whether you go off to school or your parents tell you to get a real job and your own apartment, home becomes someplace else. But where? When I was in college, my various dorm rooms and apartments were never quite home. And, as I learned on my first weekend home from college, home wasn’t quite home anymore either.

Now that I’m married and living in Massachusetts, home is an even more elusive idea. Home is where John is,certainly, but living in Massachusetts is a little like living in exile at times. Everything we know and the majority of the people we love are in Maine, so no matter how much we enjoy the commonwealth, its more robust job market, and our proximity to my grandparents, it’s hard to feel quite at home.

I’m “home” right now, in that I’m in Maine for a few days, and I find myself wondering where the sense of home comes from. I don’t think there’s a single wall or patch of floor in the house that has the same paint or carpeting that was here when I left for college. My parents have built additions, redecorated, and gently pushed my younger sisters out of the nest. Our old dog died a few years ago, cats have come and gone, the yard has been completely re-landscaped. The furniture has changed. My parents have aged a little and their routines have changed.

It still feels more like home than any place on earth, especially when John is here with me. Why? Today Mom wanted to have spaghetti for dinner, and since she and Dad were going to lunch with some old friends, I was happy to putter around a real house and spend some time nurturing a delicious sauce to life. As I was chopping onions and pouring tomato sauce into the dutch oven, I was struck by a memory. (Don’t worry, it didn’t hurt me.)

When I was in junior high or high school, Mom started having me cook dinner for the family on a somewhat regular basis. Her mother’s blood runs strong in my tastebuds, which means that if you told me I would have to eat nothing but spaghetti with tomato sauce for the rest of my life, three meals a day, it would probably take me a decade or so to realize that’s not a good thing. Spaghetti is also extremely simple to cook, especially when you just heat up canned sauce, so for several years my family would be subjected to spaghetti every time Mom had me cook, unless she expressly told me what else to make. Sadly, I seem to be the only person in the family who got the limitless-love-of-tomato-and-pasta gene. My love may have permanently traumatized my sisters’ abilities to enjoy spaghetti.

It’s a time period I think about once in a while. I lived on spaghetti all through college, and I still make it for John probably every other week. My tomato sauce skills have improved significantly over the years. My love for tomato sauce (because, let’s be clear, pasta is simply a convenient accessory to the sauce) hasn’t diminished one iota. It’s gotten more complex, nutritious, socially conscious, and demure (out of compassion for others), but the passion hasn’t diminished. Making spaghetti sauce feels like home to me.

I suppose home isn’t so much a fixed place in the universe as it is the network of memories and associations in our own minds that make us feel safe. I learned the word in a more concrete way as a child: home was the address written on the tag on my backpack that I had to memorize so I could tell a police officer where to take me if I ever got lost. It was the same number on the same street in the same town on the same planet in the same galaxy we had to write on pretend envelopes for imaginary alien pen-pals in third grade. Eighteen or so years is a long time to learn a habit of mind for thinking about “home,” and for all I know, it might be another eighteen years before I really learn to feel the transient nature of home as natural and good. They don’t call me a home-body because I love change, you know.

In the meantime, it is comforting to know that if I can get hold of a pan, some tomatoes, and some flavorings, I can at least convince my stomach that home is where the spaghetti is.

Pomp & Paradox

I felt old, just now. A friend of mine from junior high sent me a message, and it occurred to me that I am now more than twice the age I was when we met, more than a decade ago. Which is weird, because that was just a few days ago, I swear. I still remember the horrible awkwardness of walking into a room where I knew no one and where I had no idea what the rules of fashion and social behavior were. Fortunately, I had the good luck to be dragged into a group of people who didn’t particularly care what the rules of fashion or social behavior were, and I was encouraged to be my own odd self.

 

I remember, back then, thinking that it would be nice to be a grown-up. I had it in my mind that grown-ups were automatically freed from this thing called “peer pressure” that teens were warned so strongly against. How great would it be if everyone could be free to be his or her own odd self? Wouldn’t the world be marvelously strange?

 

I’m still waiting to grow up enough to enter that world. Sure, I’m perfectly comfortable being the strange duck that I am as a human being, and I know plenty of people who are as well. But more than ever, it seems like there’s some game being played by most of the world that no one quite knows the rules to. Trying to be a part of the working world is something like being a spy who doesn’t quite know what’s happening. Do “they” want confidence and experience? Fresh enthusiastic innocence? Cynicism that suggests immunity to burnout? Or do “they” want to steal your soul?

 

Yes, yes, I know. Melodramatic much? The trouble with graduating is that it’s bit of a crossroads, another test of how good I am at being my own odd self, and a test for determining what that self is made of. I’m not great at that kind of test. It involves a lot of waiting and imagining the future. Could I be happy in a publishing house where I am well-qualified to work but disagree with the commercializing of a child-centric process like education? Or would I be better off beating my head against the wall to get an entry-level teaching job where it is entirely possible that I will be eaten alive thirty seconds after the kids find out I have no idea how to manage a classroom?

 

Anyway…there’s the burning question that’s weighing down my thoughts at the moment. Fortunately, it’s not weighing nearly as heavily as the heat. My mind is in this humid, boggy place that is making me feel detached from almost every concern except that of how heavy my robes are for the ceremony tomorrow (answer: too). Impending pomp and circumstance is a strange torture ritual that is somehow highlighting for me the paradox of being able to feel both old and yet not grown up all at the same time.