4/12/2014

Out of the Mouth of Babes

Our busy world keeps us from "doing the things that keep us in balance, healthy, and connected with our inner selves and our place in the world."  --Savor

I think the idea of balance and that we, as women, have the right to have it takes us by surprise. And forget about an inner self. We wouldn't recognize her if we saw her.

Our culture pushes the idea of women who are always on the go, and too often that's true. We're all so very busy. Our health, our well-being, goes on the back burner. It's not necessarily a martyr complex, although sometimes it is. 

The hardest part is believing we have the right to be in balance, to cultivate our inner self, and to let our inner and outer selves match. Much of the time, our grief, anger, fear is hidden, even from ourselves. We put on a mask, keep our mouths shut, and soldier on because we believe there is no other option.

Being weak, giving ourselves a break--forget about it. Even when our dearest friend calls us on it, we may scoff and wonder how we can possibly let go, of pretenses, of situations, of people, of choices.

The trick is to somehow realize that being human isn't being weak. We have the right to break under undue burdens. We can always duct tape afterwards. But if we don't allow ourselves the right to break when necessary, I think we rob ourselves of the chance to increase our flexibility, our empathy, our ability to bend.

So balance is the quest: a balance that lets us nurture our soul and our children's souls, that lets us be ourselves, so that we are not shocked and grieved when we hear one of our children say to her sibling, "Mom looks happy," with a sound of surprised awe in her voice. Because if it's been so long since our children have seen a genuine look of happiness on our face that it merits mention, it's been way too fucking long since we've been happy. 

4/11/2014

Nearly five weeks later...the fiercest of loves


Come Monday, Snapple will have been with us for five weeks--five weeks that flew by. She has integrated into the furry side of the family very well, and makes sure to love on us humans as she does with her furry brothers and sisters. Ouch. We are having to teach Snapple to not live up to her name--her little bites hurt.



Not that Val minds those sharp little teeth. 
They love to play.


As many pets as I have had over my life, 
it never fails to surprise me how deeply 
I fall for these critters,
how intensely I love them.


Watching Lily carry her puppy everywhere, 
the bond they are developing, 
is lovely. 
She has what she wanted: an animal that loved her the most.
And she adores the pup, looks out for her, feeds her, cleans up after her
without ever complaining.
Animals are so important for children.


When it's right, it's right, and you know in an instant.
Watching them as they met, it was immediate and intense.
Just like Bobby nearly three years ago with Dude.
The fiercest of loves are created with just a look.




4/10/2014

If Focusing Only on the Pleasant Bits Worked

Vonnegut, in Slaughterhouse-Five, has Billy Pilgrim talk about the Tralfamadorians' philosophy of ignoring the unpleasant times and focusing only on the positives. Pilgrim, however, is constantly being pulled back into the war and his times in Dresden. He is helpless to avoid it, although he compensates by creating a future with centerfold Montana Wildhack on a Tralfamadorian zoo where they live happily and procreate.  Wish fulfillment, lovely daydreams or schizophrenic visions?

I've taught this novel for several years, and each time, I try to deepen my knowledge of Vonnegut and his experiences and keep up with the literary criticism. I teach the novel through the lens of PTSD, and every semester, my confidence that this diagnosis fits both the man and the character grows. I don't reject any student's essay that argues against. I think we see things through our own experiences and we recognize kindred spirits when we run across them. 

I'm setting the novel aside after this semester, though, having decided to give it and me a break. Of course the work I've chosen to replace it with is even far more harrowing. That seems to be me: literature and art should make us feel raw, visceral. Grave of the Fireflies will certainly do it.

I cannot seem to escape the films or novels of my youth. They seared themselves into my psyche and I must continually take them out, turn them around, explore them. Break them down and build them up again. Break myself down, and work at rebuilding myself. And as I run across works new to me, I must study them, too, make sense of them. Drain every drop of feeling from it.

I'm not terribly interested in stories that wrap up with a neat and pretty bow, allowing the characters to live happily ever after. I'm interested in characters who suffer and bleed but still keep crawling forward, and in understanding those characters who don't, those who give up, like Pilgrim. 

Life in the disability community, teaching students year after year, and age have all combined to show me how messy and difficult life is. How broken we often are. And as Maya Angelou reminds, of how we can rise again.

4/06/2014

Ding Ding Ding: And We Have A Winner


I should have known something was awry when I got these heads, months apart, a year (2?) ago (time slips and I'm too lazy to look back through thousands of pictures to figure out how long these heads have been hanging at the foot of my bed staring at me). 

It should have been a huge red flag that something was wrong. A dear friend (who is great for giving me the necessary nudges I need) and I discussed it the other day on the phone and I took them down while we were still on the phone, trying to figure out why I would let them be there, staring at me, when I really didn't like them, hadn't liked them when I bought them. Frankly I was mystified at the time of the animal print obsession when it began and remain just as befuddled today, as Batman sweeps through the house the way the animal prints did, except I like Batman--we all love Batman, so it totally makes sense, especially when we've been collecting Batman for 25 years.  And we don't have near the amount of Batman that we do animal print.

The heads are still down and a Batman poster is up in its place. It's a little freaky, what with the hand reaching for me, but it beats the hell out of the heads staring at me.

                                                         Hand reaching...

Photo: Batman replaced the zebra and giraffe heads and the tiger eyes

Heads staring...


I even tried to make it work  for the blog.
Too many damned eyes.

I can kinda understand why I bought the heads in a "how many people would have these" way; sure, it's cool but what the heck do you do with them? Especially now that they are no longer hanging up? They are life sized, after all.



Okay, this is an option.


I'm ambivalent looking at them--glad that I gave myself permission to take them down rather than continuing to dwell in sunk-cost fallacy or the idea that taking them down would be admitting I was wrong to buy them in the first place. I had to accept it was okay to admit I didn't really understand buying them and didn't really like them there or anywhere.

In the end, I'll probably move them outside to the garden as part of some weird tableau or see if I can get Rick to hang them outside the front door so people know what they're in for as they walk up the steps. And by moving them outside, I would be one step closer to getting rid of them. I think we could count that progress.

To get here, though, meant recognizing and admitting I had a shopping problem--that I was using getting stuff to cover up unhappiness. It took several months to admit that and over a year living with depression to get there, and finally to getting help consolidating our debt and cutting up our credit cards so I would be forced to choose more adaptive ways of dealing with stress.

It's been two months without the cards. Can you imagine that? That's huge. As huge as taking the stupid heads down. 

Now if I can resolve my ambivalence on the heads and let them go entirely. What would that feel like, to give myself permission to let go of the things I'm not attached to and even dislike, the things that lost their value long ago? 

Those are good questions to ponder.





4/05/2014

Because Art Sometimes Hurts As It Should


We've been working our way through Studio Ghibli's films, with Totoro being one of our absolute favorites. None of the films have failed to delight and impress, though. One, Grave of the Fireflies, we knew we would have to watch without Rosie, so last night we did, since she was at a sleepover.

I held a sobbing Lily on my lap (no easy feat since she's an inch shorter than me) for almost all of the movie and then cuddled with her in bed afterwards, dissecting the film and the short story it was based on, examining with her why watching it (and reading it) was an important thing for us to do.

To be fair, we gave her repeated opportunities to stop the movie, but having started it, she wanted to finish it. We've been spending a lot of time talking about literature and art and what separates it from much of the popcorn fluff our culture spends its time with.

What is literature/art and why is it important? Why do we push ourselves to watch things that break our hearts, make us feel devastated for the very real people that these sorts of harrowing life events happen to? Why does it matter? When is it okay to step back from the stuff that hurts?

An extended question is why do I focus in my composition courses on fiction and nonfiction texts that do hurt? Why did I make my 1301 class sit through Geraldo Rivera's expose on Willowbrook State School and then on the followup documentary (30 minutes of its hour and fifty minutes)? Why do they write essays on disability and what society's responsibility is towards the disabled, how ageism, ableism, and privilege impact people? And why are we now working through euthanasia of the disabled? It's no easy slog--not for the students and not for me.

It hurts. But it's the kind of hurt that humbles. It's the kind of hurt that makes one want to be a soft place for others, to do no harm, to actively seek to stop harm from being done.

Lily watched a hard, hard movie last night and had her first experience with the incredibly inhumanity we can and do perpetrate on each other and her heart hurt and she felt what both the author and filmmaker wanted: that this cannot and should not happen again. That children should be protected and loved. That death and destruction are wrong. Killing people is wrong. Destroying cities and those who dwell there is wrong.

I was only a little younger when I was first really exposed through film and novels to war and what it does to people. And a little older when I first saw Gallipoli. The films and novels that showed me a side of humanity I wasn't aware of still haunt me and figure in my courses: Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Heroes. Gallipoli. MASH. 

I'm just as obsessed, just as mystified as I was when I was ten and began the journey into literature and art that seared the soul. I'll be adding Grave of the Fireflies to what I show my students because it's just that important. Just as searing.