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I am a college graduate.  I am officially employed.  Both are temporary.  Why does life (Life) never move at the speeds we wish it to?  Just last week, I had a baby.  I’ll be damned if I didn’t just turn to put something away, and here’s this behemoth of a man standing in my kitchen, taking up all the room, and saying thank you for the birthday gift.  His nineteenth birthday.  Who stole all that time?  Then there’s the baby.  She gave me advice today on what bra I should purchase.  Most of her comments began with, “Well, I like this style because…” while vaguely gesturing toward her slay-all-the-boys-in-range body.  I swear, it was only a night or so ago she poked me in the cheek and told me to move over so she could curl up in the big bed to get over a nightmare.  Was it only my imagination?

And here I am with a degree, feeling not a bit better schooled, but realizing that my brain doesn’t squeak like it used to.  I can hold my head steady when I have intellectual discussions, and have a sturdier spine to hold it there, instead of allowing my chin to genuflect toward someone else’s shoes because of their presumed superiority–because they have been Educated.  Check.  I joked with my husband that my degree has ruined me for normal life, this after spending five minutes analyzing a bumper sticker.  I can’t even recall what the phrase was, but after I had parsed it out, chased down all the possible definitions and innuendos, it was the stupidest thing anyone had ever committed to print, and I was actually irritated to be driving behind someone so dumb who would display it on the bumper for all to see.  I wanted to heap public humiliations upon the driver, and grudgingly accepted my husband’s refusal to pull up alongside the car so I could deliver my “You’re such a weenie–” speech.  Five years and *ahem* dollars invested, all for this?  Well, yes… and the ability to interpret the nuances of words, see the generational patterns of thoughts and opinions, and find my way through the stream of them.  Huh.

And then there’s the “job”.  I am being paid (very well, considering I’ve not had a paycheck for 10 years) to go into a building teeming with life, diversity, and youth.  I get to exchange ideas, encourage and develop budding personas, straighten the wayward paths of those who think they are the round pegs in the square world–or better yet, the sharp tacks surrounded by vulnerable rubber balls–and I have so much FUN.  Work ≠ Fun, I learned that a long time ago without college.  I keep waiting for the door to open and the principal to ask me to step out into the hall, that my ruse has been discovered, that “we don’t do things that way around here” will slip from his lips without hint of a smile, and that I will be home in a blink.  Did I mention they read Shakespeare?  By themselves, because we had poetry analysis to do.  Did I brag to you yet about the debate one class had about the reasons people cheat on their boy/girlfriends?  Given the time and freedom for conversations to meander during work time, this naturally formed discussion rivaled anything at the Lyceum.  There was rigor to their defenses, carefully worded attacks and rebuttals, and most of all, genuine thought and respect for others’ opinions.  It was a joy to watch.  And the Shakespeareans?  They’re performing scenes they think are crucial to the play, defending their choices, and suffering right along with the characters, because they ARE the characters.  How’s that for analysis?  If you ask them about it, they’ll say it’s been a blast, and way more fun than any English class they’ve ever had.  That probably means I made a mistake somewhere, because they were supposed to be working.   Oops.

Classes will be over this week for them.  Mine are over and beginning:  undergrad courses are nevermore, but grad classes have arrived, and with them the droning voices of the past delivering surprisingly current messages.  Who knew the answers for motivation had been covered by Quintillian two thousand years ago?!  Apparently everyone has forgotten his advice:  “the powers of boys sometimes sink under too great severity in correction; for they despond and grieve, and at last hate their work, and, what is most prejudicial, while they fear every thing, they cease to attempt any thing.”  How true, and how evident every day, when I look into the face of a student determined to keep his ears plugged into the rap lyrics that define his life (cops on the doorstep, mama’s boyfriend hustling down the fire escape, baby sister crying and the drug stash under the mattress waiting to be discovered…) instead of my rhapsing inelegantly about the benefits of literary analysis.  But I asked that student to analyze a film using his songs to identify key points and literary elements, and he was eager to share his beliefs about “shades of racism in everyone and everywhere in our modern society”.  His classmates were riveted during his presentation, in which he paused frequently to apologize for the explicit lyrics while rationalizing their intent was to “provoke anger, and through anger, change.”  He would not have understood my tears, so I held them, because people in his world do not cry from feelings of intense pride.

I have no idea what I am doing next week.  That frustrates and scares me, it angers and saddens me, because this has been such a fascinating, exhilarating ride.  I don’t want to be cast aside to the shores while that river shivers past.  I want to drown myself in it.

But sleeping past seven will be nice.

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Full Circle

(published in 115 Vernon, the Writing Associates journal of Trinity College)

Did you ever want the world?  Have the whole thing on a platter, just for you to pick up and grind your teeth into.  And it should be delivered, gift-wrapped, even.  Made out in your name, a tag with gilt letters, maybe in script or that Olde English-ey font.  Official stuff.  All tied up in a red bow, sitting out in the driveway one fine morning like they show in all of those luxury car commercials.

So the commercial world awaits you, while you commence the waiting aspect of this delivery-of-the-world scenario, since that’s your job.  You might as well get a standard-type job that comes with a paycheck, because even waiting can cost a few beans.  This job is probably entry-level, barely skilled but getting by slots that no-degree folks can fill on the spot without messing up too much.  Maybe you like it.  Maybe you find a keen interest in the secular divestment of offshore funds, or discover that underwriting is your newest temporary passion.  You move up, find some extra cash tossed your way.  Things are good.  Still checking for that package, unconsciously, like glancing at the top of your hair in the mirror or using the waiting time at the copier to inconspicuously vouch for the closure of your fly.

Time flies.  So do birds.  Maybe you get a bird, once you move into your own apartment.  Maybe your love interest brings along his or her own quadrupedal equivalent of a child, that you are not so much compelled as resigned to co-opt for the purposes of bliss and harmony.  It’s not so bad.  Lots of days, it’s good.  Really good.  And it’s okay that the package hasn’t arrived yet.  There’s not really a place for it unless they leave it down in the visitor lot, and then someone unscrupulous might tear off your gilded nametag and claim the luxury world as their own.  That would suck.

But nothing prepares you for the sight of your newborn son suckling his mother for the first time.  A chasm opens before you, and the selfish, narrow-sighted person you were sloughs off into it with a whisper of release, like a chrysalis loosening from the folds of your soft, elastic wings.  As you breathe you spread yourself out in all dimensions, including the invisible ones, invigorated with a purpose you had not felt since you were three, on the rug in your grandparents’ house by the beach, determined to make all the shells line up straight in a row even if the horned-shaped one kept wanting to roll off to another board.  There is a concentration in your soul that’s been missing so long you forgot it was ever there.  Determination renews your step as you take them two at a time, knowing that you will get the last of the department store items tucked away just as they should be before he comes home, to your home.

Your home might be mortgaged for twice its net worth, but it won’t matter much.  Unless you are “down-sized”, like some reverse-McDonaldian venture of backward acquisition.  Any clean dress on a pig does not change the genus, phylum, or class of that reeking pig.  So one day, over the bills but under the kids’ papers with assorted and noteworthy As and stars and stickers, there’s an ad for  a program, a college thing for adults who Want a Change.  The number’s toll-free, the website’s inviting and promises the courses you thought about taking but weren’t really interested in, just as a dodge to keep yourself somewhere between parental satisfaction and flunking out.  They look good.  Some of them look really good.  So you call.  Then you go.

And one day, a couple years down the road, you’re looking down the road at this line of kids and grown-ups and teachers all decked out in the pouf de rigueur, satin Black, mortarboard Cocked, attitude Chill.  And you think what a fine damn world it is.  And you can’t wait to get out there and take a huge bite, grind your teeth right into it and pull.  And you’re so glad you reached out to grab it.

Confuddled by Technology

I’ve begun the process of applying.  Again.  Some are for jobs, some are for money.  Some are even for jobs that pay money!  And some of them require an online application, using some whiz-bang technology that can take all my disassociated snippets of information and magically transform them into a coherent, polished package of arcane and intellectual superiority.  So they say.

Or they can just eat whatever I upload, which seems to be the case this evening.  After waiting anxious weeks to hear about an interview opportunity, I was told that my application was “Incomplete”.  That’s like finding out halfway through mass that you have no pants on!  So I checked the Whiz-banger, with an attitude somewhat resembling a haughty accountant.  Until I found out my page of “Documents and Files” was naked, bare, and the exact opposite of complete.  Mea culpa.

And so the frantic uploading of everything again, with fingers crossed and stomach knotted.  I’m afraid to look tomorrow.  What if it’s not there?  What if it is?  What if–now–they call me for that interview I’ve been dreading/anticipating all along?

Growing up is so difficult.

There are times…

–when I need to be drawing, when the visions that dance so clearly in my eyes cannot be rendered with words, which is all I have.

–when I need to be still, but the churning of my thoughts is like the sea spinning madly around the world, tearing mountains down to sand.

–when I need to work, thinking as I restart the solitaire board, “Just one more time.”

–when I need to be better at math, because then I’ll know how to calculate just how many minutes I’ve wasted.

–when I do the right things and ruin people’s lives in the effort.

–when I do nothing and bad things happen and I can’t even pretend that I care.

–when I am convinced it will never be all right and that there are not enough drops of blood in my veins to pay the debts that I have incurred.

–when I wonder what I ever did to deserve someone so compassionate that he’d give up his life for me, before I was ever even born.

–when I think I should step away from that group that has so befuddled the message that it’s probably hopelessly lost.

–when I’m so happy for my life that my grin makes my teeth hurt.

–when I wish I had a crystal ball so I would have it all figured out already.

–when I’m afraid to open my eyes because my dream is too achingly beautiful to lose.

–when I’m afraid to open my eyes because I think it’s really, really late.

–when the words I read make me jealous with desire for the brain that thought them up in that order.

–when I am so smart and no one even knows.

–when I know, and really believe for more than a minute or two, that I am worthy.

–when I look across the room and meet eyes looking back, and the music of the spheres reverberates in my soul.

–when I glance up and find out I am all alone.

List of Wishes

It’s the end of the list-making season, the time of year when paper and pen meld to procreate with greater or lesser success, depending on the financial fertility of the previous twelve months.  New car or new DVD?  Pony or puppy (and real or stuffed?)  What about the resolutions?  Those prophetic lists that foretell the pounds we’ll shed, the bfs we’ll be so good to, the fortunes we’ll mine from E-trade and L-otto; put them in a time capsule and in twenty years, they’ll be just like the new ones.

I’m making a list of wishes.  Not resolutions, because they are all unattainable.  Not desires, because they can’t be procured.  Just wishes.  I’ll share.

1)  a future satisfaction scope:  perfect for discovering whether the path you’re about to step on will lead to a more satisfied life

2)  a Night Mare:  for the lovely warm midnights when it’s just too wonderful to sleep, but there isn’t really anything to stay up for.  She’ll take you on a trot around town.

3)  a sentimentality snare:  useful when determination meets craven wimpiness.  Good for getting out of expired friendships, bad romances, and obligations that eat time.

4)  a conscience angel:  to take those niggling “I shoulds” and turn them into trumpet calls of good-deed-doing and compassionate acts.

5)  a synaptic response reader:  so I would know what people are really thinking of me

6)  couch cushion plant:  handy for the conversations that never happen, the friends that never get visited, the doctor’s appointments that last too long

7)  dragon rides:  similar to night mares, useful for transforming dull, interminable days into pleasurable mini-vacations

8)  willingness enhancer:  to be used with

9)  ambition amplification system:  would be great if adaptable for hanging by mirrors

10)  zero calorie, all-natural ice cream:  okay, maybe this is asking for too much?

There will always be natural disasters, poverty, and disease.  Children will die in horribly preventable ways.  People will live without love, good homes, enough money, education, or food.  Cancer will never be cured.  All countries will always be in debt.  But maybe, if we looked inside ourselves for these crazy, cool gadgets, we can make miracle moments happen.  I think that would be the eleventh thing for the list.

A little Monday mind-play…

Post-Apocalypse

In the after, there will be long walks through the trees, kicking the remnants of tarred over fields around as we forage for leftover bits of aluminum.  Not steel; worthless in ten years.  Rusty shit.

In the after, we’ll have hours to talk—you know, really talk.  What are your passions?  My dreams?  Do they matter?  Are they more simple, now?  They won’t involve technology, won’t include the latest model or version or upgrade.  Useless shit.

In the after, we’ll remember our vocabularies.  Not hyphenated-abbreviated jargonese.  How many words do you know for hungry?  Lonely?  Sadness and loss will become the new buzzwords.  Financial markets will be gone, replaced by kitchen door markets, watery reed marsh markets, woven willow basket markets.  I have a willow—want to trade?   Checkbook covers and charge cards make waterproof linings for the important shit that you’ll put in one of my baskets.

In the after, the natural light will be our guide, and the galaxies will renew their friendships with our enfeebled, neon-dazed eyes.  We will worship our elders, if we can find anyone old enough to remember how long to boil sap, how to make pumice from lye and sand, how to cure hides and sickness from stringy red weeds that grow deep in the woods.  No deep woods, you say?  That be some troublesome shit.

In the after, student aptitude will be measured by survival.  Critical thinking will include discerning motives in strangers, learning which prints to follow from the riverbank, and which to avoid.  There will be no exams.  There will be no retakes, either.  School?  We shall call it life, and our professor will be the world.  Scary, exciting shit.

Microscopic Views

So it’s been 9 months since I posted last.  Long enough to develop a fetus full-term.  Long enough to complete a school year.  Enough time to…

Wow, all the stuff I’ve been up to!  Everything except writing has taken place, it seems.

See the little tab marked “Thesis”?  That’s only one of the projects I completed since March.

Writing a blog post, after an absence, is a little like rehearsing a phone call to an old friend.  First lines are considered, fingers are crossed that you’ll really hook up with the answering machine, but in the middle of choosing the most witty one-liners to reassure your pal you still inhabit the earth (and wondering if he or she cares), you get the shock of the live-answering friend, and have to wing it.  So here goes:

I did get a lot of things done since March.  The garden is evolving, and is still an equal-opportunity arena for all things that grow (read: weeds flourish).

 

 

The stuff inside the boxes is intentional.  Everything else is God-spawned and squatting.  But that’s okay.  The weeds grow to at least five feet and look really impressive from the road.  And I broke the house record for canned green beans this year.  Woot.  The biggest challenge was teaching the native rodent population how to eat the ends of the pea vines instead of munching them off at the base.  Then again, when you’re only 4″ tall, I guess that’s a little daunting.  That is a grape arbor in the foreground.  My retirement fund will be invested into wine futures.  Good thing I don’t drink.

 

The next big accomplishment was completing my student teaching.  Living, breathing, and consuming education as a creator is a wholly different experience from being a student of the theoretical application.  I have never enjoyed myself so much as I did this fall.  I met people I will never forget, and some I will never understand.  There are alien worlds out there, and I mean that in the broadest sense.  Some regrets?  There is a young woman who will always hate Of Mice and Men, despite my best attempts to convince her otherwise.  I lost the trust of one student by airing a supposition as a fact.  And I did not spend enough time learning about their lives.  A temporary position, I think, necessitates a certain distance, a reserve that must be maintained because after all, I’m only a guest in the building.  Still, I’ve received so much more than I gave.  The greatest realization had nothing at all to do with teaching, or English, or high school.  Now that I am back in old pants and soft slippers, I can analyze my behavior and allow myself to believe in my capabilities.  That is very difficult; from the inside there is so much more that is visible and cringe-worthy.

 

The last bit of gloat is at the top of the page, the little tab marked “Thesis”.  (If you’re really interested, ask me for the password.)  I have written novels in nine months.  I wrote a hundred character sketches in three.  I really have given birth–and I think it was an easier process.  There is something very satisfying, though, about researching something at such a fundamental level that one can speak confidently about it.  I know, perhaps not all, but a fine chunk about how time moves through Shakespeare’s King Henry plays.  I know its habits, its characteristics, and its flaws.  I know what makes it tick, and what ticks it off.  Don’t, for example, try to rush it or bend it out of shape.  Time gets very testy.  Also, don’t waste it.  Don’t draw out your petty woes through ten acts, or your friends will turn on you.  Most of all, don’t presume you know anything about Shakespeare’s motives, plans, or ideas (but speak as though you do).   It was a long, frustrating, exhilarating process, and I’m glad it’s over.  I’m also dying to revise it, fix a few more words for better precision (greater precision?), better rhythm, slower build, greater tension, lesser confusion…  If I was a painter the medium would have to be oil, because there is always some better way to present an idea, a sentence, a phrase.

So what’s up for 2011?  Resume writing.  Graduation.  Job search.  And probably Master’s Program at Trinity, because I don’t feel finished.  I think that’s a good thing.

To you and your aspirations:  may they be worthy of the dreams of kings.  May they captivate your spirit and enchant your imagination.  And may they be obtainable, but elusive enough to keep you searching for satisfaction.   Happy new decade.