Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Mercury in Retrograde

The universe is continually devising innovative and unexpected ways of humiliating me. Last week, it hit my car with a bus while I was in it (school bus; grazed me) and knocked off my license plate and scratched the hell out of my bumper, but the car is drivable. And I need to call my insurance team and schedule an appointment for repairs.

The same morning that I got hit by the bus, I went home and collected myself for the length of two or three cigarettes, and my friend Chris was late to work to come over and sit with me for a few minutes. I had been on my way to Department Store to start a 7:15 a.m. shift, which I began, instead, at 8:20. I think when I was a younger woman with fewer callouses and fewer experiences with the metaphorical rug being pulled out, I would have been more shaken up-- perhaps would not have gone to work that morning. Now? It's just one more thing.

The same morning that I got hit by the bus, my son texted me while I was at Department Store and I read (during my break) that the electric company had shut off our power and posted a hot-pink sign on the door alerting us to that fact. So, I took a chance that a check would bounce and went and got cash, drove to the grocery store in my poor bald car, paid my electric bill, and it was restored within the hour. I was standing in my kitchen when I saw the utility truck stop in the alley behind my house. I could hear the guy humming as he opened the fence and walked into my back yard like he had a right to (which, I guess he does). I ducked past the windows. For some reason, I didn't want him to know I was at home. Probably because he knew my power had been turned off, and that's embarrassing. But he came around and rang the doorbell to tell me that the power was back on, so hiding turned out to be useless after all. And shame on me for hiding in my own house.

The same morning that I got hit by the bus, my mother's siblings and three of their spouses were in town visiting. So, that night at dinner, they asked me how my day was. I told them about the bus. They asked if my day got better after that. So, I told them about the power being shut off. Hiding it or not owning it doesn't make it less humiliating.

This leads me to sunny point c in my ritual humiliation by the universe (is this because Scorpios have birthdays right now?): This morning, I was working at Department Store. We have a new employee, a young woman, and we were talking to her this morning while we were unpacking all of the boxes and de-trashing merchandise, sizing and colorizing it to take to the floor. We have a close-knit team. We all really get along well and like and respect each other, so it's a really great gig. We all laugh a lot and harass each other and tell stories about dumb things we've done. I have done a lot of dumb things, so we laugh about that a lot. So, I said something about how Department Store has a generous policy about hiring dumb people like me, and my team leader said, "She isn't dumb. She has a master's degree, and I have to look up half the things she says. Only, I can't spell them, so I am sitting there saying them into my phone: 'Rogue... Ohhhhh.'"

Then A said, "We should all go to Jen's class sometime. I think we might learn something." She was laughing as she said it, but seriously, it would be fun to have them visit my class.

I said, "Can you please come tell my students that?"

So, our new employee (okay, forgive me, but I am just going to have to call her the new girl, because at Department Store, that's the vernacular) says, "Oh, do you teach the WACT class?"

My eyebrows nearly shot off my head. Before I could ask her how she knew and why she was calling it "the" WACT class, she continued with, "My sister's in your class."

The only thing that could have been higher on the Richter humiliation scale would be if one of my students actually got a job there and was working side by side with me. But actually, I can be bossier there than I can in class, so that might actually be fun. Kidding.

So, I said, "Who is your sister?"

Guess who her sister is? Yep. I said, "Oh, she's the one I called a Nazi!" and her sister replied, "That's not the first time she's gotten that."

It occurred to me, though, that I was glad I've already talked in class about working at Department Store. It's not something I hide or am ashamed of. But what if I were a more private person or more given to genuine embarrassment? I have been embarrassed in the past about working at Department Store. I have felt badly for my former students as they see me working there and wonder about the value of the education they received from me. And if this is where I am, what does that say about their own futures? I have also hidden on occasion from people, because I was embarrassed. Seriously, I've seen a couple of people and told my co-workers that I was going to hide until that person left, and then headed back to the stockroom. I don't do that anymore. In fact, now I give those people coupons. But I have wondered from time to time about how my students feel about the fact that their professor works at Department Store. But I also set my chin (metaphorically) and think, "Tough shit!" That is the reality we all live in. There is no sense in whitewashing it. One of the basic premises that I grew up with, and I don't think I am alone in this, is that we generally attend college and graduate school and do all those extra papers so we don't have to work at jobs like Department Store that pay so little. But my education does nothing to make me more qualified to work at Department Store, actually. As I have said, my mistakes come up a LOT in conversation. I am just lucky that they have been benign mistakes, mostly limited to sizing things incorrectly and then bitching loud and long about what a mess these jeans are and proceeding to size them all wrong, without realizing it. All the while, my team was trying to figure out why the hell the jeans were always still sized wrong. Whoops. And I'm lucky and grateful that they tease me, but they don't make me feel stupid or incompetent. It's just funny. Nobody got hurt. It was dumb, yes, but honestly, sizing jeans just confuses the hell out of me sometimes. But I have had spouses who have been less forgiving of dumb mistakes than my team is at Department Store, so I lurve them. And I appreciate them not linking my mistakes to me as character flaws.

So yeah, those have been my primary reminders of my very small and unimportant place in the universe. But it's not all bad. As I said above, in passing, really, my mother's siblings all came to town last week! Except one, who missed a connecting flight and wasn't really feeling well to begin with. It was amazing to see them all in the same room together.

I haven't seen that since my father's funeral. And I try really hard not to dwell on the fact that I may never see it again. It's a really odd thing to go from teaching a college class to walking into a room filled with your childhood memories. They all got up to hug me as I walked into the room, and I felt loved. It's hard to live away from family all the time. I have my mom and my kids here and friends I love like family. But last night after work, I was walking around the grocery store and it occurred to me that I am very alone. I have always felt like I have a support system here, but it's grown smaller as people have moved, divorces happen, people grow apart. I have been in a hermit-like cocoon for so long that even though I have not made demands on people, I have not contributed anything either.

I used to get angry with my mother for not keeping things together more when I was a teenager. I let my kids see me upset and crying. I am always very specific about what I am upset about though-- they know quickly that it isn't them, that it is temporary, and that I'm okay, but I need to cry at that moment. My mother cried a lot and then when I asked her what was wrong, she said it was nothing. A little given to melodrama, that one. That only confused me and pissed me off, so I don't do it to my kids. I confuse and piss them off in different ways that I'm not aware of and wouldn't do if I could prevent it. But just as I used to get angry with my mother for not keeping it together more, I now get angry with myself for not handling grief and blows and life very well since Karl died in 2008. I am both present and not present. I smile, I joke, I laugh, I cook, I eat, I tease, I love, but the only moments in which I am truly, 100% engaged are rare. I usually feel like I am holding something back, and even though I am aware of it, I don't really know how to stop. Psychologically, I understand that because of some accumulated losses and events, I don't really ever feel truly happy in part because I can't deal anymore with the complete annihilation that comes with losing what you love. And I think in part, I keep myself from becoming too engaged or too attached by shutting down and either feeling like I need to nap or go do something else rather than sitting longer with a loved one or going out with friends. I won't be sad about dying if I never completely embrace my life. And dying is inevitable-- having a happy life is not.  There are a couple of people with whom I come pretty close to being fully present for. But even with my closest intimates, I will duck into my phone for a game. In some ways, it is a way to check out, to have some alone time, but it doesn't make my closest friends very happy. Rightly so. But I do a lot of things for a lot of other people, so I am selfishly refusing to give this form of rudeness up. Yes, it is rude. Simultaneously, it's helping keep me sane, and that takes priority. If I'm not rude this way, I'll be ruder more directly, because I will get irritated as time goes on. I need a lot of down and recovery time from three times and a lot of interaction out in the world. I have come to realize that I am an introvert, and I need alone time to recharge myself.

I berate myself, though, for stupid things like not getting family pictures done every year, not baking anything pumpkin this season, for not keeping a cleaner home. Somehow I feel like people who can not only survive but also engage happily in hobbies instead of becoming zombified like I do-- it feels like they're doing it better. Not that it's a contest. But they seem to be better at living life than I am.

I have been wanting to write since last week, but I have some pretty intense work deadlines that I need to return to. I have good intentions about writing in the evening, but by the time I sit down, I just want to drink red wine and watch TV and not have to think so damn hard about how to do what at which job.
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There's more I want to write about, but not now, there isn't time. There really isn't even time to think about them. I want to write more about dating, about friendships, about the herbs and spices of existence that I don't have enough time to think about, but sometimes I still do. It is not lost on me that a populace that can't spend time thinking because it is too busy working for its basic survival, or too worn out when the work is done, is exactly what the 1% is going for. But just because I can see how I am being manipulated doesn't mean I can make it end.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Self Love (rated G)

A couple of weeks ago when I was cooking dinner one night, one of my kids mentioned that they had overheard that some of my students were saying things about me that were not very nice. They didn't know specifics, what was said, who said it. And that really did a number on me. My own child was not trying to make me feel bad-- he was both curious and concerned. I said something at the time about how students don't always love their professors, blah blah blah, but inside, I was crushed. Because now, every time I was walking into my classroom, I knew that people in that room don't like me and say mean things about me that my children then have to process. So, I wasn't very happy, and I wasn't very happy especially about my teaching.

I generally love teaching, but this was nagging at me. I finally had to shake myself and have a little come to Jesus meeting with myself. "Look at how many students you still keep in touch with," I told myself. I decided that I was going to have to approach the situation the way I approach dating:

"Lots of people would be THRILLED to take a class with me. You are LUCKY to be in my class. If you don't appreciate me, then that is your problem."

I'm not a perfect teacher, but damn, I am interesting, I am enthusiastic, and gosh darn it, I actually care about the little lambs. I suspect they say mean things because I scrapped the syllabus and started over. I'm not the most organized person. I extend deadlines and due dates. I confuse the poor things. Their second papers ... how do I say this gently? Ah, the way I phrased it to them: needed more attention and discussion before I felt comfortable assigning them more graded work. So, even though I had already given them the prompt and pre-writing assignment for their third papers, I suspended the deadlines for that papers so I could slow down and actually talk in some line-by-line detail about good and bad writing. I found four examples of bad student writing online and went through them one by one and talked about them. I find it is definitely better to critique writing samples that do not belong to anyone in my class. I am just hoping they can apply what I have said about those other papers to their own writing. But day after day, my students keep asking me when the third paper is due. One day I told them to stop asking me that and try to damn learn something, so now they ask me because they think it's funny (their rough drafts are due Wednesday, if you are curious too). So, my class and its execution are anything but conventional and linear. They send me these snotty, snipey little emails about how confusing everything is because of the syllabus change. Well, suck it up. I give them detailed feedback, I'm honest with them, and I try damn hard to be interesting. I don't really care about their obsession with deadlines and grades. Jesus, we are trying to break them of that.

Topics that were covered in class today were:
  • Michelangelo digging up bodies and performing autopsies to learn about how to sculpt the human form;
  • assessment tools and how the criteria for them are created;
  • House, MD and the formula the show uses weekly / Ira Glass This American Life;
  • qualitative research versus quantitative research;
  • political ads and how to develop criteria to evaluate their effectiveness;
  • Hook, by Blues Traveler;
  • Nazis;
  • the right to vote;
  • felons;
  • privilege;
  • the Disabilities Non-Discrimination Act;
  • No Child Left Behind;
  • Amendment No. 3 on the Missouri ballot
Yeah, that is a lot to absorb. And I hope that some of the stuff we talk about in class will take them years to unravel. I don't want to give them answers. I want to teach them HOW to question, how to link themes and ideas, and sort of how to *think.* I know that for me, having things mimicked for me helps me to learn them. At my copy editing job, I spent five hours sitting right next to my boss as she trained me on doing the end notes and works cited for our history books. She sat at the computer and explained things and talked for hours without looking up a single thing (except a few details we had to research). It was amazing. I absorbed maybe half of it. Then, I sat at the computer and took a whack. I had lots of questions. There are still entries that I can't figure out on my own. But the learning process is very exciting! I'm learning a ton. And it helps that she and I are both such big grammar nerds that we think the minutiae is fascinating. I learn from a combination of watching, explanation, and doing. If I thought I could get away with it, my ideal way to teach a writing class would be to use an overhead projector and actually go through papers with students line by line by line. Every day. Over and over. And then to have them write and revise. Do it again. Again. Because this is how I learned to write. By thinking about it carefully and constantly. Again, big grammar nerd. But they would all revolt and kill me after the second class. Even though, I daresay, if they cared and paid close attention, they would learn how to write over the course of a semester. But that method if writing instruction probably doesn't work for everyone.

I want my students to have a good experience in my class, but I actually find it very difficult to talk about how to write well. I start to lose my vocabulary for how to talk about it, because there are so many nuances and because so much of it is so complicated. I would have to tell you all of my thought patterns as I write and edit in order to teach you how to write. The best and worst advice I have for them is that I learned to write by doing it. A lot of it. And by paying attention to the suggestions my professors made. But I honestly can't think of many things that have interested me more in my life than words and reading and writing and how to do them well. So, I'm lucky. It comes, not easily, but sort of compulsively for me. 
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I just ran home for a quick lunch break and to say hi to the kids, because the younger two are out of school today and Monday. Thomas was home, so I mentioned to him that I am always happy to look at his papers before he hands them in. He told me he doesn't like how I edit them without his go-ahead. I told him my reasoning (see above) for doing so. He doesn't like it. Wow, I didn't expect to be proven correct so quickly about not everyone benefiting from that method of instruction.

You know I said above that I was hoping that my students will be able to apply some of what I have said about good and bad writing to their own assignments. I think this is also going to be one of the things it may take them awhile to unravel. But particularly about all of the stuff that I have thrown at them that is a lot to absorb: I have been repeating themes about rights, privilege, social justice, education, the pedagogy of the oppressed, manufactured consent, etc. In today's class, one of my best students demonstrated that it's going to take awhile for any of this to sink in (if, in fact, it does) by indicating that (paraphrasing broadly here) stupid people shouldn't be allowed to vote. It's more complicated than that, but it made me realize that a lot of the things I have been trying to say about social injustice and inequality and privilege is kind of going in one ear and out the other. When I was that student's age, I had similar ideas to these, and I told my class that. I told them that it had taken a process of years and experience for me to change my ways of thinking. The student honestly believed that this view is simply pragmatic. It is. Obviously it is. But I said, and I don't know whether this will sink in either, something to the effect of: "Remember how many people in the U.S. are college educated? The majority are not. But we cannot contribute-- via our complicity and dare I say lack of voting?-- to an infrastructure that leaves some adults illiterate and uneducated and then remove their right to vote their way out of it."

I might have also suggested that this student was being a little bit of a Nazi. 

But I look at them looking back at me sometimes and I feel like I have been speaking Greek and they are all afraid to tell me that I am not speaking English. 

It could also be that I talk so fast, they actually do *wonder* if I have been speaking Greek, and they are especially afraid to tell me, just in case I am actually speaking English very very fast.

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I woke up at 5:30 a.m. I am becoming a nocturnal being of the morning. Wednesday night, I had been thinking about Pride and Prejudice (the movie with Keira Knightly, in particular). This is in part because I have been listening to the soundtrack at work. And both of those things are in part because the actress who plays the eldest daughter, the lovely, gentle, and all-things-good Jane Bennett is Rosamund Pike. She also portrayed the cold and psychotic Amy Dunne in Gone Girl (did I actually really take the time to link to things once?), and I think I just needed to get the psychopath out of my head. So, even though usually I have been falling asleep before 9 p.m., I watched P & P and stayed up til midnight. Do you have comfort food books and movies and tv shows and music that you return to during times of stress? I do. Mostly books. My comfort foods are the Little House on the Prairie books, Pride and Prejudice (in all forms), Sense and Sensibility (in all forms), Little Women (in most forms, mostly the extended book), and Anne of Green Gables (in all forms). These books have all been instrumental in showing me who I wanted/want to be.

So, I stayed up til midnight watching it, but I really really needed it for some reason. Last night, I was also able to stay up a little later than usual for some reason as well, and I got sucked into a new program on Hulu that is called the Red Band Society. It's about a group of teenagers (astonishingly good looking teenagers) who are all chronically ill and all living, for the time being, in the same hospital. I had seen the name of the show, but for some reason the name really irritated me, especially because it was cryptic. Of course, I understand it now that I've watched it. But I was dismissive of the show for no good reason before I'd even seen it, and wow, it just sucker punched me right in the jaw. I was surprised, because not many new shows catch my eye anymore unless they have gotten really good buzz ahead of time. I wish I weren't so tired all the time-- I watch TV more than I read because I'm in less danger of falling asleep during it. However, lately, I've been falling asleep watching TV and that disturbs me because it cuts into my down time! I know tons of people who both read and watch TV and movies, so maybe you can relate to this: I seem to thrive more when I have a narrative my brain can turn and return to during the day. I like to mull over storylines and characters. It is soothing to me. And it actually gives my brain something to focus on besides anxiety and stress. Obviously, my brain is focused on work a lot of the time most days, but there are always those peripheral drips leaking in. And I'd rather them be about whether Olivia Pope should tone down her rapid-fire monologues a bit because they are losing their effectiveness with the constant repetition. Or whether Regina is going to get back together with Robin Hood, because she deserves a break. Those are much saner for me than, "Can I order pizza tonight? Will I have enough money to get through til payday next week if I do?" and that whole disastrous spiral of bullshit that not enough pondering in the world can change or fix.




Monday, October 20, 2014

Word Vomit

My ultimate goal every weekend is to get caught up enough on sleep and rest to be able to get through the following week. This is particularly challenging, though, because I usually work on Sundays unless I have specifically taken the day off.

I am not succeeding very well, in spite of falling asleep before 9 p.m. usually every single night. I rested Saturday, went to bed early, and Sunday almost killed me. I was at work at 7 a.m. and worked for six hours to move around departments of clothes, build shelves, climb ladders to retrieve tables, carry and push heavy equipment around the store. I am not in my twenties anymore nor even my thirties. I came home and collapsed for the next three hours. Even after I woke up, I was so zonked that I couldn't think straight the rest of the day. I went to bed at 8:30 p.m. woke at 10:30 p.m., was up til 12:20 a.m., then finally slept.

I woke up at 6 a.m. and showered and then lay back down again, because I was about an hour ahead of schedule. But I just couldn't get moving. I emailed my boss that I was running late, and still got to the office by 8:30, even though I didn't feel even remotely ready for my day or even my week. I sat down to an email about some work I did last week and mistakes I made because I was hurrying. My boss walked into my office to say hello, and I started to cry. I talked to her for a few minutes about the email, about how tired I was, about how useless I was. We quickly agreed that I should go home. So, I am trying not to think about the money that didn't get made today and instead hope that having the day off was enough to get me through the rest of the week.

I came home and cried some more. I called Heather because I knew that she would know with very little explanation how I was feeling. I am so tired that I can't do any of my jobs well, but I am too poor to quit one of them so I can catch up on life. Well, the teaching gig will come to its own natural conclusion, but then there is the little issue of making up that salary somehow.

My mom had called me Friday to tell me that her September rent check had bounced. This morning, while I was sitting on the couch and feeling numb and stupid and worthless, she called and let me know that for the second time in the past four or five months, somebody called social services. Somebody called in June or July, so I had to take time off work to go and speak with them about my mother's finances. And now that her rent check bounced last month, they have come around again. I called the bank, found out the balance, wrote the check to cover September, and asked about October's check. It was deposited ten days ago and hasn't bounced. I should call the bank back and just ask them if it has cleared, but I just couldn't do it today. And here I am just hoping that I'll have enough money for the goddamn cable bill again and any diabetes supplies we may need before my next payday. If nothing unexpected comes up, we should be good for groceries too, and the electric bill. My health insurance rates have gone up, so I really have to find new health insurance. As soon as I get more brain power, I'll get right on that.

After I went to my mom's and dropped off a check and updated her medications, I came home and took a nap. I got up and washed my dishes and cleaned off my counter tops while talking to the kids in the kitchen.

You know, the first time someone calls social services on you because they suspect that you are not taking good enough care of your old person, it's humiliating, panic-inducing, degrading. The second time, when you are home from work because of crying, and once again you are being told that you are not taking good enough care of your old person, you just want to cut open your own chest. Here are my financial records. Here is my work schedule. Here are my guts. Sift through it all. Take what you want. Let me know when you're done, and I'll just sew up my chest again and keep going. I don't have anything to hide. Everyone in my entire extended family knows that my mom helps out with the bills. It's not a state secret. I'm going to have to break down and go fill out forms for food stamps and reduced medical bills, because I don't see any answers coming down the pipeline. If I got rid of my health insurance, I could afford to quit one of my jobs. Of course, then I wouldn't have health insurance. And there are still things that I could lose to a catastrophic health event: My house, my car, everything. So, that leaves finding a better rate. Isn't our health insurance supposed to be going down?

Heather and I talked today about how we don't know what to do. Believe me, if I had some answers, I'd be implementing them. Today I entered the thought arena once again that I need to move, that I must go somewhere where I can find a full-time job. I am not sure where that is. When I was doing the dishes, Tommy was standing in the kitchen archway, looking across the house out the front door because he was expecting his girlfriend. He said, "Hey, Mom, next summer, can you get me a job at Department Store?"

I said, "Sure."

He continued, "I want to get a full-time job. I want to make some money."

I laughed bitterly and wiped out a big bowl with a regular towel I pulled from the laundry because I can't find my dishtowels right now. "Well, good luck with both of those things. You're competing against adults who want those things, and there really is no such thing as a full-time job anymore. But you can try to get a job, sure."

He looked non-plussed, even though he knows I was home washing dishes in the middle of the afternoon because I had a little crisis and couldn't stay at work. Sometimes doing a good job of keeping how hard this is from the kids means that they really have no idea how it's going or how the world works. But I didn't continue my rant. I just let the conversation drop. But this is how it's going to be, now, isn't it? I am soon going to be competing for jobs against my own kids, and they'll get the jobs because they don't almost die after six hours of physical work. And I want the kids to get work. I somehow persist living this fantasy that even though I am in this situation that I can't see myself out of, that my kids are going to go to college and get good jobs and have normal lives that include mortgages, car payments, and solvency. Even though I have no reason to believe that this will happen except that I don't really want to think about the alternatives.

I talked to my brother this morning, and we joked about combining households to save money. But it's not really a joke. Honestly, if we could find a way to be solvent and take care of my mom, I would consider a move somewhere with Matt and Heather and combining resources to live a little more securely so instead of two panicked households, we had one sort of solvent one. I am fine with the idea of a societal return to multi-generational housing, if that's what it takes. Instead of picking on adult kids who live with their parents and the parents who let them (because kicking them out will save everything-- new, decent paying jobs will materialize magically due to Tough Love. Dem kids just need more grit!), why don't we adopt this as a deliberate measure. We can spend tons of time running our own individual treadmills and keep trying to return things to the way they were-- each family living separately in their own abode, two parents who both have one full-time job. Or we can try to create a new infrastructure. It may not be a revolution, but I don't think my family is going to be the only family thinking about this. In fact, I'm probably late to this boat anyway. I will have to start looking into this and seeing what is happening on a grassroots level. I am a fan of the tiny houses movement, but that compartmentalizes and separates us, still. Maybe if we start combining households, three or four salaries will contribute to enough.

Obviously, I am overlooking the complications that would develop with multiple adults trying to share a household. It doesn't often work out well for college roommates or spouses, so can it work for siblings or adults who aren't related? There are some planned communities around this area that seem to work, but I don't know how harmonious they are, and I don't know how many kids (families) there are versus single adults.

But so far, every solution that I have some up with that involves me continuing to do this alone just terrifies me because none of them suggest any changes: I still have to work this Sunday. I still won't get time off at the holidays because of Department Store job. It is so funny-- when we give up wheat, we crave bread. I am craving time, time to think, time to reflect. The only reason I was able to eek out this rambling word vomit is because I had enough time off today to be able so sit and rest my head for a moment. The rest of the time, my brain alternates constantly between wondering how I can do a better job at work, thinking of what I have to get done for the rest of the week, counting the days til the end of the month and constantly doing mental arithmetic to make sure that we won't run out of money before the end of the month, wondering how I can get more down time, wondering what the best form of that down time is-- a nap? Washing the dishes? Cleaning the floor? Watching tv? Reading a book? Taking a walk? What single thing can I do with my small amount of down time to maximize the benefits of it? In taking care of myself in order to take care of everyone else, what does that entail? What do I need the most?

So, this treadmill of work, sleep, recovery, breakdowns, emergency breaks, work, sleep, recovery is going no where fast. I've got to start thinking out of the box, but first I need to rest my brain again so I can think.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

OK Stupid

One of the things that I don't blog about, well, haven't blogged about, is dating. But there hasn't been another point in time during which I have been both blogging and single. So, you can see how that math works out. But now, as it happens, I am both. I wouldn't categorize myself as dating at the moment. It's been a few months since I've had a date. For the past couple of years, on and off, I used to make time on the weekends to date. I was happy to travel to St. Louis, Columbia, Des Moines, Kansas City on weekends when I didn't have my kids. It was nice to leave town for a bit, fun to meet new people, and best of all, it didn't really impact my daily life. My daily life includes living in my home with my children. I have committed myself not to co-habitating again until my kids are out of my house. Considering that my kids in some combination or another may still be in my house for the next five years or so, it seems pretty safe to say that a serious romantic relationship would have some pre-set limitations. And I made this commitment on purpose to keep me from getting into anything too fast. So far, that has worked out nicely.

This fall, though, it became clear to me pretty quickly that I don't have time to date. I just don't. Even that fact doesn't mean I would rule it out-- but I can't go out of my way to make it happen. And I am not even successfully carving out enough time for myself, so making time for another person right now doesn't seem like a great idea. At least, in terms of a romantic relationship.

Wow, it's so hard to write about this. I am pretty frank about it in most situations. But for so long my blog has been sort of scrubbed clean of any discussion of sex or sexuality. I think I pretended to my mom (and other adult Mormons) for so long that I wasn't sexually active that I just grew accustomed to not talking about it. In fact, I don't know that my mother and I have ever had an honest or open conversation about sex. She was embarrassed to talk about it. She didn't let me watch the end of The Big Chill when I was in high school because Kevin Kline and Mary Kay Place's characters have sex so that MKP's character can try to get pregnant. She is single, she wants a child, they are good friends, and even though Kline is married, his wife Glenn Close orchestrates this deal (because she had an affair with Kevin Costner, whose bandaged wrists are the only thing we see, before his coffin is closed at the start of the movie). Anyway, those are very complicated and grownup themes, and my mother didn't want me to watch it. My mother also came downstairs and danced in front of the tv during Risky Business, because she didn't want me to watch it. It is nothing short of a miracle that I have been able to be open, matter-of-fact, and level-headed about talking about sex with my children.

I remember one Mormon woman I knew when I was engaged to my first husband. She said to me, "You know, premarital sex is only fun because it's forbidden."

I knew differently for myself at this point, and I remember trying not to stare at her in horror. I remember laughing about it later with my fiancee-- I know she meant well, but the only thing she conveyed was that, in spite of her three children, they were doing it wrong.

I still don't discuss sex with my mother, though she knows I date occasionally. One of the reasons I don't discuss it with her is that because I am single (and she is still Mormon), I presume that she thinks that it would be sinful for me to have sex. When I told my parents that my [eventual] second husband was moving into my house with me and the kids (before we were even engaged), my dad asked me if my [eventual] second husband was going to live in the garage behind the house.

It takes a very determined sort of naivety to ask questions like that.

So, deep breath, I am an adult woman, and I am sexually active. When I got my second divorce, at the age of 42, I had slept with two men. After my second divorce, it didn't really occur to me that I was allowed to date for awhile. But once it did, I joined OK Cupid and began online dating. I have learned a lot about dating that most women probably learn in college. I have learned a lot that makes me realize that dating a lot more probably would have kept me out of both of my marriages. Unfortunately, what I have learned about dating has only reinforced to me that marriage is a bad idea for me, and, probably, so is cohabitation. I like being the boss of my house. I just do.

But sex is an important part of my life. I think it's a fundamental bodily need. Sure, it can be denied. I'm not here to diss people who don't have sex or have committed to another lifestyle. But it's a bodily need that I have, so from time to time, I set about filling it. And I tested the theory that women can have sex basically whenever we want to. And after I proved that theory, I backed off for awhile and took a break from dating. I go through periods of disgust and disinterest with dating sights and particular men I've had the displeasure of communicating with. I also go through periods when I think it's really fun and that my forties have been the most fun I've ever had. I have a tendency to bifurcate, but I think that dating really is the best and the worst of times.

Because my time for a substantial romantic relationship is limited, I think I make both better and worse decisions. This means sometimes I sleep with people I wouldn't necessarily be good in a relationship with. And I do it on purpose, because I don't want a relationship-- I want sex. I know that makes me sound almost masculine, and it makes me sound like I'm using men for sex, but I promise, I've asked them about this, and they do not seem to mind. Go figure.

I'm not interested in trotting out the details of my dating life here so much as making fun of the guys I never date and never meet because they are such idiotic tools. So, I am probably going to post more about Internet dating, but out of respect for others' privacy, I will try to make sure nobody who comes across this (whom I actually like) would recognize himself.

Waaaaay too long. Don't read. TL/DR

When I think of all of the blog posts I've had rattling around in my head lately, I am sorry that I haven't had more time to write since last week. But I can't worry about those lost posts now-- just have to move forward.

It's been hectic. I have had some big deadlines-- so much so that I came into work Saturday afternoon for 4 hours and then stayed late on Monday evening. I worked Sunday too, but that was different work. Then, for Tuesday, I had deadlines on top of my deadlines, but now it has slowed down somewhat (thank goodness). This morning, my students reminded me that we don't have class on Friday because of the Fall Break. Phew! Just gives me some extra time to think and prepare, you know?

Lately, (sorry, interrupted by a phone call from my mom. For the second time today, she can't get her TV remote to change the channels. I suggested that the remote may need new batteries, and told her I would try to stop by on my lunch hour today to change them. As we have learned, the TV working is a Big Deal.) I have been falling asleep on the couch before 9 p.m. It makes getting up and going to work early in the morning easier, sure, but I'm starting to feel like I am existing rather than living. Is it the mental challenges of three jobs that are so completely different that is tiring me? Because I do work a little more than a 40-hour work week, particularly with Sundays, but that doesn't seem to be it. Even now, a little after noon, I am yawning my head off. (I am drinking water.) And I slept from 8:50 p.m. til 6:00 a.m. That is plenty of sleep. So, it's probably stress, but I don't know what to do to alleviate it. I hope this straightens itself out in December when my class is done and I'm back to just the two jobs.

Heather is home now (yay!), but this week I'm worried about my mom. Last week, poor thing, she had to have a pelvic exam to try to determine what a mass in her abdomen could be. When the doctor palpates, there is something there. He couldn't really get a handle on it through her exam, though, so tomorrow we go to the hospital for a CT scan or a sonogram-- I'm not really sure which. This morning the dr's nurse called to let me know that they did an overnight oximetry test on her to see if lack of oxygen could be contributing to her swelling-- nope, came back within normal parameters. But my mom is really swollen. Her legs are swollen, her stomach is swollen, her neck is really swollen. The problem with not being able to identify the cause of the swelling (we have checked thyroid, heart, lungs, sodium levels, kidneys) is not only that we can't find her any relief for it, but also that the cause might be more sinister than we had previously guessed. The mass in her abdomen could be nothing. It could be fibroids. But the swelling leads me to wonder whether it is tumors that are weeping. I've expressed these fears to the doctor, and he hasn't dismissed them. It could be nothing. It could be something. And I can't really do much about it either way until I know what's up (and probably not then either). When my father's cancer started spreading, the tumors wept until he was so swollen that we measured his abdomen to be 52 to 56 inches. Nurses would have to use a large needle to draw off some of the fluid, but that only makes your body try to replace it faster, so there are drawbacks. The entire process is extremely taxing on the body. There is a pill you can take to help with the swelling, and my dad was on it-- Lasik or something similar-- but my mom's sodium levels are too low for her to take it. Which also means that it isn't too much salt in her diet causing the swelling.

So, a hospital visit tomorrow morning means I had to find someone to take my shift at Department Store tomorrow morning: Any time off work is wages lost. Thanks, America!

None of this is what I want to be thinking/writing about, but all of the thoughts that have been rattling around in my head since last week are scattered like leaves-- fleeting thoughts about my mom's birthday last week, taking her out to dinner with the kids and feeling guilty that we can do that when I've been writing so much about poverty, having a lot of extra visitors last week, not having enough down time, watching television, the importance of having other narratives in my head, other stories than my own. I used to get those narratives from reading novels, but now I just fall asleep reading, so I turned to television, and now I'm falling asleep while watching, so the narratives just end up being lists of what I need to do when.
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The batteries have been successfully changed, and Pat's remote is up and running once more. Not only that, but I also laid out all of her pills for the week and called in her refills. I remembered to take the pork out of the freezer for supper tonight. This morning was almost a little catastrophe though. Christian was out of cereal. (Christian has diabetes and had already had a shot of insulin, so skipping a meal is not an option-- not that I'd advocate that for teens anyway, but in a pinch, another healthy teen could make it on a plum and a couple of glasses of milk. I could have grabbed McDonald's for him on the way to school except that the only thing he likes from their breakfast menu is the hashbrowns.) I suggested bread and peanut butter, but we were out of bread.

[Note: We were out because yesterday at lunchtime, there was a half loaf of bread, and I just didn't notice that we were out of cereal-- thankfully, this instance is not about poverty. It's about the kids are going to be with their dad for the next four days or so, so I was being lazy about going to the grocery store.]

I was debating whether to try to make him some pancakes or slap some peanut butter on a tortilla when I found some yogurts I'd bought for my lunches. I handed him two yogurts and a plum. That plus two glasses of milk (and maybe a spoonful of peanut butter) give him enough carbohydrates to get him through to his morning snack, though now I am wondering whether he is skipping that snack ... Need to ask him about that.

I was jittery over my lunch hour today until I got to my mom's. I can't remember the last time I've been this anxious about a test she is having done. I was trying to figure out whether it was too much caffeine, but I had a strong sense of foreboding. The strong sense that I was about to find out something, hear something, get a phone call, something in the mail, learn something or get an unexpected visit from someone I know. I couldn't pinpoint it. So, I drove over to my mom's and etc. Then I ran downstairs to where the tenants of her apartments were having a Halloween Party (put on by the management). They were having some kind of drawing for prizes, so I wove my way through tables and chairs to my mom, kissed her on the forehead, told her the remote was working and that the pills were laid out, that I love her, and I'll see her later. It's kind of rare that she is an activity she likes there (according to her) that I didn't want to interrupt her party-- if I had told her I was there before I took care of the batteries, she would have left her party to come upstairs, and I would have felt bad about that. It's such a balance of independence and nurturing-- how much of each is too much? Often, Pat seems to think that her problems outweigh the needs of everyone else in the world. She seemed genuinely surprised and disappointed both times she called me at work about her remote control. She really seems to think that I should be able to just run over immediately and take care of it. Now, to be fair, I could probably leave one job that's pretty flexible to run over there and change some batteries. But the other two jobs do not offer that option, so I do not offer it as an option for any of them, because how am I supposed to explain that inconsistency when she can't remember most days that I am at work at all? None of this is urgent-- but it is like a little daily irritant that takes up energy and time. I spend a lot of time trying to make up to her for her boredom by taking her out for rides, calling her extra, apologizing, taking her to dinner, hanging out at her place watching tv, or bringing her over to my house. But this is the problem: Because of her memory problems, sometimes she will not remember that last night we went out for dinner. Her boredom and loneliness are fresh to her every day. So, even though I do my best to keep it at bay, I can't stop those twin sisters of depression from stopping by and knitting her into their sticky web. I feel like I am on a treadmill, but it's going so fast that I'll just injure myself if I try to get off.

I have explained these things to Sam at times. Sam has more wisdom than I do. He shakes his head, he says, "Bat, Bat, Bat, you are going to kill yourself with empathy. You have got to stop it. You are just hurting yourself. You need to toughen up."

He's right. But what he doesn't know is that if I don't keep my receptacles open, if I don't retain my empathy, I will become so embittered that I won't recognize myself. [He actually does know this-- I was just using that as a narrative device so I could tell you, the audience.] [I need to stop teaching freshman writing classes.] I have enough little pity parties for and by myself already, so I'm more than happy to jump into someone else's misery for a little while if it helps me to help them better. But Sam's right. It's damaging. And this is why I don't teach junior high special ed [anymore]. This is why I am not a counselor, therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, nurse, or god help us, social worker, nursing home worker, hospice worker, or any of the other countless professions that you might think an empath would be drawn to. Those professions would eat me alive.

I am not trying to make myself out to be some kind of mystical empath, like Kes or Deanna, but I do have a strong nurturing streak. And it is also safe to say that at times, it has damaged me. Hopefully not more than the good it has done, though. 
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Unrelated: I need to figure out why my health insurance has gone up about $100 a month for the past few months (!!!) and start shopping for new health insurance. I know nothing about Obama Care and hid from the websites because at the time, my health insurance was reasonably priced. I haven't had any big health claims-- something is hinky.

Also unrelated: Today is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Day, and I have many friends who are impacted every single day by the grief of this loss. Much love to you all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

This morning, I awoke to discover that my get up and go had got up and went. I went to sleep last night before 9:00 p.m. because there was nothing more interesting to me than just going to sleep. Any person who has wrassled with depression will tell you that sleeping a lot is one of the signs that things are not great. So, I recognize these things, but it's not like it's a big shock that I'm not waking up singing these days. I slept in my clothes because my room was cold, and I didn't really care enough to take them off last night. The kids aren't too cold to sleep without the heat on yet, so I am playing Heat Chicken with the weather and delaying the regular use of heat as long as I can. I have turned it on in the mornings occasionally to take off the chill, and we can all smell the heater coming back, the slight smell of singed cat hair and dust signifying its slow wake.

I can usually fight past the depression or even simple ennui, even when I stay in bed til the last possible minute. Getting up and bathing and putting on my face are all part of the routine-- I don't even have to think about them much, but they help me transform myself into a public person. This morning I bathed, but then I stalled. I spent some time unclogging the bathroom sink. Then I cleaned it. I knew I should be getting ready, but I couldn't get myself to stop ignoring myself. So, around 7:30, I decided to call my boss and tell her I needed another hour to pull myself together. I took Christian to school, came home, still in my bathrobe, and poured some coffee, emailed my students to reschedule meetings that had been scheduled for this morning, read Bibi's blog, and started watching Once Upon a Time. Christian made the coffee, for which I am grateful, and I'm not sure what measurements he uses, because it was not very strong, but it was hot and wet, so I drank it. I remember the former Duchess of York, Fergie, saying once that the Brits don't have high standards for tea: If it's hot and wet, they'll drink it. I can be that way with coffee.

I canceled my meetings with students because I thought I could muster making four bibliographies today quietly in my office, but interacting one-on-one was more than I could really face today. I mean, yes, I could have done it, but it wouldn't have made me heroic or anything. They don't care. And I am so far beyond the idea of being able to do or have "it all" that doing or having "enough" is what I'm celebrating these days. ___________________________________________________________________________________

After 23 minutes of television, it was time to go and pull myself together to get to work by 9:00, which is when I said I'd be in. I considered calling back and taking longer, but I hit pause on the Roku remote and went into the house. I am wearing a long skirt today, because elastic. I'm not feeling like I'd have trouble fitting into my pants, but I literally thought it would be easier to put on a skirt, so I did. I'm actually wearing matching socks (my shoes have a hole in them though) and a sweater, and I made myself put on makeup. Sometimes if how I look matches how I feel, it just makes things worse. Even though, by my own criteria, I feel cobbled together today. I let my hair dry naturally, so it's curly and I just put it into a barrette. I hate my hair like this, but drying it and curling it (actually, to straighten and then control the curl) would have just made me later. I need a hair trim, and I need new black flats. But if I don't get either yet, I will save money, so I'm holding off.

So, I'm at work, students are re-scheduling with me, and one is coming at noon, so that's what I get for taking an extra hour this morning-- I will lose it at lunch time.

I try to be careful about using the word "need." I said earlier that I "need" a hair trim and new shoes. Well, in order to maintain a professional look, I do "need" these things. The shoes take priority over the hair, which can be worn back. But generally, I try to ask myself whether things are a want or a need. After looking at my own budget closely, I have been bringing coffee to work instead of stopping to get a 34 ounce gas station refill, because in doing so, I save $1.50/day. That is about $28/month. It's not much, but it adds up. Don't worry, I indulge myself in wine, instead. The other day, as part of the Humans of New York project, there was the story of this guy:  

"If they raise the subway fare one more time, I'm going to explode. I'm making nine dollars an hour. I walk home three hours from work every day to save that $2.50, because that's a half gallon of milk for me and my daughter."

Some of the comments on this man's picture and narrative are horrifying. Lots of people telling the man to a) get a bike to save time on the walking (which will also allow him to work extra hours and earn more money); b) get more education so he can get a higher-paying job; c) move.

There is a strong misconception in this country about sheer will. Sheer will *should* be able to make us move mountains! If you have the gumption, you will be able to make not only a decent income, but a great one! So, if you are not making one, then you lack gumption. Perhaps you were born with a limited amount of gumption. In that case, you are a less-worthy human being than all of the people who were born with gumption and a strong sense of personal responsibility, so you deserve to make your low salary. Because you are obviously doing it wrong to be in the position you are in.

Well, what about my friend Missy who has a Masters in the sciences and cannot work because of Crohn's Disease? Damn, she should just have been born with more gumption and personal responsibility so she could work through this.

Well, what about me? I have a Masters Degree, also, and I am making a whisker more than minimum wage at Department Store. I do earn more than that working at my other two jobs, but considering my experience and education, I should probably be earning more. Well, then I guess I should have gotten my Masters in something useful (see Missy with Masters in sciences above) instead of in English. Or, I guess I shouldn't have gotten married at age 22, after obtaining my undergraduate degree. I certainly shouldn't have had children or stayed home with them, because those decisions have undoubtedly hurt me financially. Oh  no, wait: What hurt me financially was divorcing my husband. Never should have done that.

I'd have much more earning potential if I had a better degree, not in English, and no children. Or, if I had stayed married, because divorce is sinful and wrong. I should also leave this economic area, because wages are so low. I should move somewhere where there are more jobs. OK, I'll just pack up my kids and my mother, and because I don't have savings, I should take out a loan from a local payday loan company. They'll give me MAYBE $500. That will definitely pay for a moving truck, first and last month's rent (which will be more in almost any city with jobs, so my higher salary will go to higher cost of living), security deposit, and gas for the move. And I will definitely be able to get a job somewhere else, because I have education, gumption, and personal responsibility. Problem solved. And if I point out any of the complications of uprooting my teenagers and elderly mother, then I should just shut up and take some initiative to make my life better instead of sitting around complaining about it all the time.

But the thing that makes me the angriest about all of the rhetoric about personal responsibility being the magic bullet that is going to fix things is the fact that these attitudes smack of emotional abuse. In cases of emotional abuse, the ground rules are not fixed. Rules shift according to the abuser's whims: Well, you must not have a good education. Oh, you do? Then, it must be your fault because of where you live. No? Then it's your fault because you are lazy. No matter what, it is poor people's fault. There is no way to win. There is nothing we can do to deserve NOT being poor except not be poor.

I also love the mantras about: bloom where you're planted, be happy with what you have, count your blessings, so many people in the world have it harder than you do; life isn't fair, nobody owes you anything. If mantras like that worked, I would have stayed Mormon and stayed married. If mantras like that worked, women wouldn't have the vote and it would still be illegal for blacks and whites to marry. But I can't afford to placate myself with pretty new baubles or vacations, things that might distract me from injustices around me, things that might make me less angry.

The thing is, my angry voice is only one of the many. My Facebook feed is inundated every day with stories and voices and injustices. Honestly, I think we do need a revolution, but history teaches us that that is not very likely to happen. But I sympathize with anarchists who think the whole infrastructure needs to be chucked and replaced. Because there are actual CEOs out there who think that access to free, clean, water is not a human right. And there are politicians calling who think that Ebola patients should be rounded up and killed. Let's not forget the people they exposed, also. Remember when people were crying for everybody with AIDS and HIV to be shipped off to Guantanamo Bay? We are becoming a human race bereft of empathy. It's hard anymore to know what I'm supposed to be fighting for, but it's okay because I'm too busy working anyway.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Today is hard. I don't even know how I got myself to work this morning, nor how I sat through an hour and a half of conferences with my students.

On Saturday, I slept in til 1:30 p.m. Thank goodness. I barely moved before then, so I must have really needed it. I woke up to a text from my sister-in-law. Before I go further, let me say that she is blogging about this and putting up links on my Facebook profile, so I think it's okay if I say a little about it here. My brother took her to the hospital on Friday night. "A suicidal watch kind of thing," she said in her text. Vintage Heather, downplaying the serious.

I am beside myself. I knew that she was having a rough time. Hell, their whole family is. She has been having a rough time, though, ever since I can remember, with really no end in sight. I have often marveled at how she has managed to hold things together, but I didn't see this coming. And I feel very badly that I didn't know how badly she was doing. Those statements I crossed out aren't completely true. I did sort of see it coming-- I just had the wrong person in the couple. I have been expecting to hear this about my brother. So, to rephrase, I feel badly that I did know how bad it was and couldn't do more to alleviate it. It's hard for people in lifeboats to rescue the people in the water.

The thing about gallows humor is that it is laced with truths. When I joke about my retirement plan being a large bottle of wine and a bunch of pills, people get nervous. And they should. I'm kidding, but I'm not. Heather kids, but she is not. She has been spending more and more time in her garage, sitting in the car, thinking about turning the key. And the shitty thing is how much the economy plays a huge role in What is Wrong and How Impossible it is to Fix. I'm worried about Heather, they took her phone away this morning. she has been nervous about being transferred to Denver, which is happening today. She's signed her rights away for 72 hours, but I don't know when that period begins or ends. I was very upset when they took her phone away from her, because now I can't check in with her. At least when she had her phone, I knew she was still there.

And I am so very happy she is still there. My god.

This is such a tricky thing to write about. I am trying to figure out what I'm thinking and feeling, but it is mostly images of hospitals and fear. Yesterday, I had to work and then after, I was supposed to go on a huge grocery run and then go over and take care of some things for my mother. I went to bed instead. A friend of mine I haven't seen in a long time was in town last night, and she came over. I told her about what was happening. I didn't even know that I needed to be held until she put her arms around me and I cried like a little girl.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Not Great At Titles

Goodness gracious it has been a busy couple of days! Yesterday morning, we learned that our truck was broken down, so I left Department Store about three hours early. Time to run to the grocery store for pet food and then grade papers and figure out class for today, along with their paper assignment. I was grateful for the extra time. After I got home, a friend of mine came over for coffee. We were talking about education-- his education in particular-- and I ended up asking him if I could tape record our conversation and share it with my class. Well, actually, I asked him if he would come visit my class. He didn't feel comfortable doing that, so I asked him if I could videotape us later (I was dressed for unloading pallets of boxes) talking about it. He said well, couldn't we just audiotape it? So, I found the voice recorder on my phone and hit record. We talked for a half hour. I played it for my class today, and their attention was captured: Not one of the students looked bored. Because of my friend's story, I was able to develop a paper prompt to encapsulate this unit I've been conducting, and I scheduled student/teacher conferences for the kids for next week. All because the Department Store truck broke down.

I had been planning to do another kind of heavy-hitting unit on privilege and women's issues, but I was feeling kind of overwhelmed by the education unit. It was pretty intense, and I need to lighten things up a little bit. So, another friend suggested that with November elections coming up, I should show them political commercials for various issues and candidates, so we can critique them. I love that idea, and I want them to make their own political commercials and write about them for their next paper. That will make four papers, and then they begin revisions for their portfolios, and then it's Christmas. Wow, I just fast forwarded about three months of my life! My friends Whitney and Theresa from work would say, "Slow it down, Jen." So, I'll slow down for my mom's birthday next week, Halloween, Sam's birthday (21!), Thanksgiving, and finals before we get to Christmas. But time does go hurtling by.

See how I am free to think about other things besides poverty when I have just gotten paid? Watch for changes around October 20. Speaking of October 20, my Uncle Burke is planning a trip for all of the siblings to come and visit my mom the last week of October. There are 7 of them altogether, and from what I can tell, everyone is coming.

My mother keeps saying, "I don't want them to see me like this"— referring to weight gain and swelling.

I say, "You don't know when you will see them again. Better like this than not at all."

My mother says, "But, what will they do in Kirksville for three days?"

I say, "Visit with their big sister they haven't seen in a long time."

The last time she saw them was about two-and-a-half years ago, in April of 2012. She fainted on the plane in Denver and ended up in the hospital, so we don't let her fly by herself anymore-- and I can't afford to fly out with her and take the time off work staying for her visit and then escorting her home. So, the mountain is coming.

This weekend, I want to go see Gone Girl. I read the book and it was entertaining. Apparently, they have re-written the end, though, so I may not know as much about it as I think I do. So, I told my mom I'd take her tomorrow afternoon. Then I told her I'd come over and visit with her after work, after 5 p.m.

Now, my mother's memory has not been terrific for a very long time. Once she got off all of her narcotics, it improved, but it has been declining again. The primary difference between her memory loss when she was just stoned all the time and now is that she was not aware of her memory loss then. In fact, she did not believe it. She is aware of it now, and it bothers her.

Possibly not as much as it bothers me.

My co-workers are used to hearing me say, "Hi, Mom, how are you? ... I'm at work. Remember that I work every day from 8-5?"

And she will sigh and say, "Oh, well, I guess if you're at work, I'll let you go. When are done with work?"

"Five."

"Okay, well, maybe I'll see you later then."

These conversations happen... well, daily. Sometimes she varies it a little. I called her at noon, and she just called me (she went two hours and 45 minutes!) to ask me what time I was coming over.

"Well, I have to work til five."

"Oh, you do. Well, I was just kind of bored and wanted to know if you wanted to go for a drive or something."

"Well, I would love to take you for a drive tomorrow."

"I thought you had to work."

"Tomorrow is Saturday."

"Oh, is it really Friday today?"

At exactly 5 p.m. on these kinds of days, she calls me right on the dot. I used to answer right away and tell her that I was leaving, and please to give me a few minutes. Now, I ignore the phone and either just go over or go home for a few minutes to say hi to the kids and try to transition between work and not work.

I don't understand how somebody can make me feel so guilty for having to work, but she does. She sometimes seems to think that I am just at work because I prefer work to her company, and that if I really wanted to come over, I could. And when I am not at work or at the grocery store or cooking dinner for my kids, she thinks that I should come over, so by the time I have a little time to myself when I'm not at work or a caregiver, I'm practically gasping. I have about two hours between finishing dinner and falling asleep. Two hours if I'm lucky. So, I don't really feel like I have that much time when I'm not in the service of others. This week (coincidentally since I began blogging), I have been feeling less put upon and sorry for myself. I mean, I do have three jobs, but I do most of them within the regular 40-hour work week. And yes, I tell myself that it's harder than having one job because I have to know and keep track of so many different things at each job. But then I stop and think, "You have *three* jobs. Really, that is pretty selfish, because a lot of people don't even have one." And I realize that I'm damn lucky. And I may not be as young and spry as I used to be, but then I go over to visit my mother and nobody can even walk up the stairs. So, again, I'm lucky to have perspective sort of hoisted upon me.

A dear friend is in town this evening from Virginia, so tonight I'm going to a buffalo roast. She has friends coming up from Columbia and friends here, and they are all going to the DuKum for a drink before buffalo. I am going to skip that part because I think it's actually really boring to go to bars (unless I'm eating, and I won't be). I don't drink and drive, so it's boring because I have to nurse a beer or boring because I'm the only one sober, or it's fun because I'm drinking, but I know I'll have a cold walk ahead of me after. Actually, I can handle the boredom, and I like the friends, but I need a little down time between work, mother, and buffalo. Since I have to work on Sunday for four hours, I have to be extra vigilant about getting enough alone time/down time. If I don't get it, I'll be wrecked out Monday and that will impact my entire week.

When I was younger, I would have told you that I was an extrovert, no two ways about it. I'm not shy. I am gregarious. I am friendly. I interact well with people (most of the time, I think), and I'm not afraid to talk in front of large groups of people. For someone with sort of iffy self-esteem, I can come across as extremely self-confident. But the older I get, the more I realize that I am a hardcore introvert. It irritates my friends sometimes that I basically refuse to go out and do anything because I want to stay home, but that is how I survive.



Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A leetle tired today. I stayed in bed til the last possible moment this morning. I have been dizzy the past two days, and I'm not sure whether it's sinus or a bug-- this morning when I was getting ready, I had a moment when I had to sit down and cover my mouth hard, my body covered in sweat. But I waited it out, changed my outfit, and went ahead and went to work. As the day went on, I didn't feel better. When I went home for lunch, I took a nap until I had to take my mom to the dr. at 2:00. She has a ton of swelling, and we have been trying to figure out the source for it for over a year. Today, he palpitated her and said her abdomen is harder than usual, hard to palpitate, and tender. This could indicate an enlarged uterus. I fixed him with my stink eye and said, "Is this a situation in which swelling could be caused by tumors weeping?"

"Not necessarily. Could be fibroids."

Yes, it could. She has had trouble with this before. So, we are going back next week to check it out further. I'm trying not to worry about it. We have checked out everything in the past year: Heart, thyroid, cholesterol, liver, sodium, kidneys-- she's still humming along. But her health problems never improve. Still swollen. Can't take lasix for it because her sodium is too low. And so it goes. She eats when she gets bored and thinks that is the cause for her weight gain, but it might be more complicated. She is on a number of medications that increase her appetite and make the weight cling to her. She wants to go on an all-liquid diet that her friend Mabel is on, but it is $250 a week with weekly meetings that are $100 a pop. I told her I'd see if her insurance will cover it, but the doctor warned her that people lose weight fast on this diet, and two years later, they are back at their original weight or heavier. That seems like an expensive diet to go on for results like that. She has seen Mabel have good, fast results, though, and I understand that. But she can't stay on a liquid diet forever, and right now, it just seems like a fad and a crock. Especially with the medications she is on and us not knowing the cause of her weight gain and swelling.

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There are not enough hours in the day. I have been thinking a lot about my class lately. I get like this sometimes when I'm teaching-- I tease things and try to figure out the larger point I want to make. I am trying to talk to them about education, who makes the decisions about it, who determines what and how they learn and why? I think this stuff is critically important, but I didn't when I was 18, and neither do they. I am trying to think how I can convince them to find this interesting or relevant-- I showed them the Matrix and talked about The Allegory of the Cave. I had them read Orwell's Politics and the English Language, and talked about Ricky's malapropisms on Trailer Park Boys.

One of my primary concerns is that they'll dismiss me because they know I'm really liberal. So, I always try to show them external sources for the information I'm giving them. But they are freshmen, so they are quiet, and it's hard to get a read on what they are thinking about it all.

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Christian went with me to hear a writer last night. We went and heard Saïd Sayrafiezadeh read from his fiction and memoir. I asked him to go with me at 7:05, and he agreed, which kind of surprised me, even though I thought it was something he'd be interested in. He asked if he had to stay the whole time, and I said, No, but please sit by the exit so you can leave quietly when you do. I had a student named Chris ask me that too, and I told him the same thing, and they ended up sitting next to each other. Christian LOVED the speaker. He wanted to buy a book and get an autograph and a picture (he suggested that I take a picture of them together, and then he told me I might want to put it on Facebook. I was seriously floored. I didn't have any money with me, of course, but our friend Jamie bought Christian a book. Well, okay, Jamie was carrying a copy of the book that I assumed the author had given him for escorting the guy around all day, so I asked Jamie if he were wed to the book. Jamie had actually brought the book for an autograph, so I felt ridiculous. Only for a moment, though, because Jamie has a way of making you feel right as rain in the middle of a fire-ant hill.

I introduced Christian to a few of my students, and he talked to one of my former students about the English versus the creative writing major. This was exciting for me, because Christian is very interested in literature, but he is worried that his father won't support anything but a more practical career (like computer science, but Christian has no interest in it or aptitude for it). I tell Christian that he has to live his life, that his parents can't do it for him, and I try to be neutrally supportive, but I can't help be tickled that his interests are so aligned with mine.
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What is new in your world?


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesdays and Thursdays always make me feel like I'm running all day. The day starts at Department Store unloading the truck, so I'm there by 7:15. Even if the truck is late (and it is always late, by an hour or more, these days), we have plenty to do to get ready for it, so I usually click into fast mode and start moving merchandise. That pretty much sums up what we do there: We move stuff. Of course, there is a lot more thought into where we move it to than that sounds like, but I'm mostly the brawn of this operation. I am not great at looking at a set of tables and T-shirts and deciding how to make them look better, but I can move the table and shirts for you. Anyway, compared to teaching, which mostly involves pacing for me (and hunting for my chalk), and compared to copy editing (let's face it: that's just sitting), Department Store job is pretty active. I have been back working on the since school started, whereas before I was primarily in charge of making sure all the signs in the store were accurate (a never-ending job), so it has taken me a few weeks to get used to how tired my body has been. I am getting less tired now, but these are definitely long days for me.

Also, today is payday, so I need to go grocery shopping after work. Usually, there is nothing that irritates me more, but since I have actual money today, I'm happy to go. Then, I'm going to hear a speaker at 7:30, so my evening is pretty much chewed up by groceries, cooking dinner, and the speaker, but that's ok tonight.

I used to be a night owl. I'd be up til 1:00 a.m. every night, just because. I mean, I was doing this right up til I started at Department Store. But I'm not a spring chick anymore, and if I tried to do this schedule on 5 or 6 hours of sleep, I... I wouldn't be able to do it. I'd get sick. I'd be so tired I couldn't copy edit. So, last night I was in bed by 9:36, and lately, even on weekends, staying up til 11 p.m. is pushing it. But even so, I napped for a half hour between jobs today at lunch. So, I'm starting to feel like I'm living to work instead of working to live. I need to find something to look forward to. It's more challenging these days. In the past, I'd plan a trip, even a little weekend getaway, but right now, things are too tight. There is a light at the end of all of this-- it won't always be this tight. But right now, I need to deal with the money in the bank, not the promise of a different future.

But it's amazing what you adjust to: Sometimes the thing you look forward do is that you are going to forego coffee for a few mornings, but then when you stop and get a mocha, it's a real treat. And actually, sometimes these days, the treat is taking the occasional Sunday off so I get a two-day weekend.

I just now remembered something I used to say for years when I didn't really have to think about how much money was in the bank: I buy used furniture and used cars. For me, the lap of luxury was being able to dine out (or order in) frequently, and go to the bookstore and not limit the amount of books I got at one time. I remember saying,

"I don't want to get to the point where those things don't feel like treats to me, because if those things are always treats, I'll always kind of be all right."

And to some extent that is true-- but dammit, I want my books and takeout, LOL. It's hard to get used to so little financial wiggle room, but water seeks its own level. You adjust. You get creative. You start to figure out why people buy in bulk.

Last winter, I was hanging out with my friend Jamie on day, and all we were doing was talking and listening to music or watching TV and drinking wine. He said, "What would you be doing tonight if money were not an issue?"

"This." I told him. "This is what I was doing when money wasn't an issue."

And that felt really good.

I'm not writing about any of the things I'm thinking about-- I have a million things jumbling around in there, tossing around like socks in the dryer, but when I sit down to write, a few of the socks go missing. It might surprise you how much I think about social justice. Because I am teaching a freshman writing class, I am always thinking about what is going on in our world, and how to link that back to critical thinking. Right now, we are critiquing education. I feel so passionately about the shit I'm talking to them about, but I don't know how much of it is sinking in. I asked them the other day what an allegory was. A pond of blank faces stared back at me. I had to bite my tongue from crowing, "I love freshman! You don't know anything!" But it is kind of a big responsibility to realize how little these kids know. And that my job is to try to teach them how to think. Talking about thinking is trickier than you might think because it all gets so meta that it gets hard to unpack it all.
I recall, though, that there are usually a few weeks every semester where I feel like my class is a big mess, a pumpkin with its guts coming out of its mouth, but by the end, everything sort of comes together. Usually. Hopefully.

But my brain is tired now, and I have more work to do, so I'll close for now.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Deer Crossing and other musings [Updated 9/30/14]

Today is better. I don't have any idea why. Nothing has changed significantly. But I do think that when my mom said that her brother wanted to know what was going on, she meant that he wanted to know the account and phone numbers to get her cable turned on. I texted him the information during my lunch hour, and set my mom up with her kindle (it has never really been used. we got it for her three years ago right after my dad died, but she has trouble with electronics and seeing tiny, all-black buttons on a black background is a problem) and the audio book of Outlander, which she is watching. I don't know whether she will try it out or not. If I were a betting woman or playing Pat Bingo, I'd say she will not. But at least I gave her the option to.

I feel good about these things, but I was already in a better mood. Some days, I am physically exhausted, or feel off-- stomach or head upset-- so on days when I feel energetic, no wonky upsets or back pain (note to self: Never again unload 5 pallets by yourself. Never. Again), I really notice it and it is easy to be in a good mood. As I told Sam today at lunch, "I'm not going to look a gift mood in the mouth."

This morning I talked with my students a little about examples of foreshadowing in The Matrix, telling them, "Learning how to read the clues laid out in front of you will ruin entertainment for you for the rest of your life, but it's a neat party trick."

Dissecting things can ruin them. So there endeth the conversation about mood.

It is difficult to feel blue on a beautiful day, though.




I love college campuses. I can't help it. I am drawn to living within walking distance of them the way some people are drawn to the ocean or the desert.

Regarding yesterday's post, well, of course I'm still thinking about it. But I think I should also point out my own good fortune. I am complaining about being broke and not being able to meet my bills, but I honestly think that I am at full capacity right now: An adult working three part-time jobs in America should be able to pay their bills. I know-- that is crazy. But one of the reasons I decided to start just writing about it is that I'm tired of feeling ashamed or embarrassed. I hate to admit that Republican rhetoric gets to me, but it does. It's funny that most of the people who seem to think that unemployed Americans are just lazy and opting not to work are the working poor like me, but I think they look at their own lives and wonder why other people cannot do the same. There are so many factors: Mental illness, lack of education, lack of support, lack of childcare, a youthful indiscretion that now makes employment both mandatory and impossible to get, illiteracy, lack of qualifications, lack of available jobs. I am also writing about it because the number of people I know who are experience this bone-crushing poverty even with two adults working in the household is far larger than it used to be. Perhaps it is the company I keep. However, what I am reading in the media tells me that I'm not wrong. But nobody wants to admit it. Because we feel that we have failed. Even though that is not true, that is how we feel.

Back to the good fortune though: My poverty is largely driven by my geography and my decision to stay in this location for my children. And also, now, for my mother, because another move would be very confusing for her and very difficult on her physically. We moved her one floor up in her apartment building last year, and that was a hard adjustment for her. I dread thinking of the other, inevitable moves that we're facing. But I am not in denial about them.

However, used to think that if I were in a larger city, there would be more job opportunities available, and they would come with salaries commensurate with my degree and years of experience. I have a lot of safety nets: I have friends and family, I have my education, my upbringing and experience. And for awhile, I thought I had the possibility of a career in a new location. However, I may be wrong about this being mainly about geography, given what I am hearing about the economy nation wide.

Even so, good fortune: I have three jobs, but they are also three jobs I *like.* I enjoy my co-workers like crazy. If you had asked me five years ago whether I would enjoy working with a bunch of women, I would have insisted that it was impossible. However, that seems to be specific to some of the jobs I had in the past. I work with the funniest, smartest, kindest people-- and almost all of us are struggling. But talk about resiliency-- these women make me laugh until I cry about the absurdity of the situation in which we currently find ourselves (by the way, Chicago Manual of Style says we don't have to worry about ending sentences with prepositions anymore, but I find it a hard habit to break). One of my co-workers at the department store (which I love. I absolutely love. Honestly, it is one of the best jobs I have ever had. I have learned exponentially about how to put together shelving, how to use and load machinery I have never seen or used before, but also, again, the people I work with are phenomenal) and I always say when we are clocking out, "Time to go to my other job now." But we are both in the same boat, and that makes it a little better. And there are a lot of other people in this boat.

If you know me in person, you can probably see me knocking my knuckles on my head while looking around, even though I know there is no wood in my office.

Other good fortune: The boys (of course, do I really even need to mention them? they are so important they seem beyond mention, but I do, because I'm a wuss who thinks I need to make sure everybody knows that); I have pets! In the face of this, I am keeping some furry purries warm, safe, and fed. Maybe I shouldn't have pets, but they predate my situation, so I'm not going to kick them out.

I own my house, I have enough food, I have electricity and running water. And I am not joking about being grateful for each and every one of those things, because I know people who do not have any of those things. Who no longer have cars, who are hoping it doesn't get cold too soon, who have to choose which meal to eat, and which day to eat it. I know them. I am friends with some of them. I see them, and I admire their strength for getting out of bed and putting on clothes and getting on with it every day. You see them too, but one of the things I've learned is that just as people who have money don't discuss it with those who do not, those of us who are cherry picking the bills don't discuss it with people who have disposable income. We don't want you to think that a) we have failed; b) that we want you to give us money. Please. Please don't do that and don't think that; c) that we want your pity. It's easier to pretend we are all on the same playing field. And boy does a departmental store clothing discount go a long way toward leveling that field.

It's funny, because when I didn't worry about how much money was in the bank, really, just sort of knew that I wasn't running out, because there was enough and I have never really had exorbitant spending habits, and it hasn't been that long ago, I didn't care as much about my appearance. I was much more willing to wear exercise clothes or sweats-- I didn't care if people thought I looked poor, because I knew I wasn't. Now, I dress up more, I wear makeup more often, do my hair more often, because I don't want people to think I look poor. Isn't that funny? I didn't realize that I was doing this until this morning.

So, I am going to write about this. Because I have a voice. And I am going to speak for me and I am going to speak for all of our friends and neighbors who can't speak about it. They need a voice. We need to express it. When I was in high school, I heard statistics like, "One in ten people are gay." We would always look around us, as if trying to guess which one of us it was, and it was almost as if it were a disease we were afraid of catching. Poverty is very much like that. And when it became safe(r) for gay people to talk about it, we discovered that they had been quietly living among us the whole time.

So are the invisible poor, my friends. So are the invisible poor.

One final note, because, whew, this isn't exactly a quick read, is it? When I read first read about this, it infuriated me. John Boehner says that

“I think this idea that’s been born out the last – maybe out of the economy last couple of years that, ‘You know, I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this, I think I’d just rather sit around.’ This is a very sick idea for our country.”

I want to put my hands around his neck and squeeze. Because I know he knows that isn't true. The article continues to pinpoint what makes me so angry about this:

But Boehner has offered a peek behind the curtain – the Republican argument isn’t about economics, so much as it’s about personal animosity. The Speaker and his allies seem to think there’s something wrong, and perhaps even offensive, about families struggling to get by.
It’s part of the same phenomenon that leads GOP officials to demand drug tests for those relying on the safety net. If you need a hand keeping your head above water, it may very well be the result of a drug addiction. If you want a job and can’t find one, the argument goes, the problem is almost certainly your fault – it’s because you’d “rather sit around” than work.
It stems from a school of thought that says many social-insurance programs shouldn’t exist because struggling Americans are lazy and simply don’t deserve public assistance.
My friends, a few years ago, I was listening to Car Talk on NPR, when an upset woman called in. She was upset because she had hit a deer and wrecked her car. However, the thing she was upset about was this: She wanted to know why there was a Deer Crossing sign at that point in the highway, because that is a very high-traffic area. She thought that it was irresponsible and dangerous to place the Deer Crossing sign there, and suggested it ought to be moved to areas with less traffic.

Blink. Blink blink.

John Boehner, sweetie, they don't put up the Deer Crossing signs for the deer.

Edited:  One of my former students asked me to unpack my analogy a little more (i.e., what the hell are you saying, Jen?), and this is what I said:
-->
He [Boehner] sees unemployed Americans and thinks that there must be jobs out there that they are refusing because they would rather sit around-- he doesn't acknowledge that lack of available jobs (or many other factors) and our whole political and economic structure is a bigger reason for unemployment, so the poor do need assistance. So, Boehner is behaving like the woman who thinks that Deer Crossing signs tell the deer that they can cross there, so such signs shouldn't be in high - traffic areas, not realizing that the sign is there to warn motorists that deer tend to cross there. Her objection to the sign is based on her thinking that the sign is somehow instructive or permissive for the deer themselves. My twisted analogy is that there is a somewhat warped interpretation of cause and effect going on in both cases.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Confronting a big societal taboo

Money is the last taboo. I am going to be covering topics like this and dating and sex. I have silenced myself for years because I felt I couldn't write about the things that absorb most of my attention. If you are uncomfortable with these topics, feel free to stop reading now. 

I have led a very privileged life for most of it. What has been eye-opening to me has been the discovery that before I was really poor-- and I define this as having to play a game I call "bill roulette" every month: Do I pay the electric bill or buy groceries and insulin?-- before I experienced this firsthand, I admit that I enjoyed my privilege. The eye-opening part is how much that I thought I would always have it. Ah, hubris. You get me every time.

This month has been bad because I haven't gotten my first paycheck for teaching yet. And because I am teaching, I am earning less at JCP. So anyway, my mom helps out a lot with groceries and this month we got hit particularly hard, so her money ran out last weekend. I had put money into my household account for electricity, but I moved that into my groceries account. So, my mom's cable got shut off. 

Quel disastre. I am not even kidding.  All and any attempts to get my mother to do word puzzles, read, crochet, jigsaw puzzles-- something besides watch tv-- have failed. So, not having cable is a pretty huge deal. I got out my cornucopia of other activities and asked her just to hold on til Tuesday.
Nope. She called my uncle this morning and asked him to pay the cable bill, and then she called me and told me my uncle wants to know what is going on. 

I don't know. I have three jobs and I can't make my monthly bills. I am stretched pretty thin right now, so I don't know that a fourth job is feasible.

So, I feel like a pretty big fuckup. Where did I make the wrong turn? Marrying at 22? Staying home with my kids for 7 years and no income? Staying in Missouri? Two divorces? Taking 6 months off to take care of my dad and not working and watching my client emails dry up? I went to college and got a master's degree. I foolishly thought for most of my life that I would always be privileged. I am glad I'm not. I am a humbler person for it. But I don't want my mom and kids to suffer for it.