Monday, April 23, 2012

Elysian fields


to the Elysian plain…where life is easiest for men. 
No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, 
but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind 
that they may give cooling to men.
Homer, Odyssey
  "In no fix'd place the happy souls reside. In groves we live, and lie on mossy beds, By crystal streams, that murmur thro' the meads: But pass yon easy hill, and thence descend; The path conducts you to your journey's end.” This said, he led them up the mountain's brow, And shews them all the shining fields below. They wind the hill, and thro' the blissful meadows go.
Virgil, Aeneid

I had a very vivid dream on Friday night that there were buffaloes running fast in fields of flowers along the side of rolling mountains.  As far as the eye could see, there were mountains covered in flowers, with occasional groves of trees.  The buffalo in front of me was in lavender, but there were also white and red flowers in patches nearby.  It was so beautiful and sunny.  I ran behind the buffalo on a flat strip of flower-covered land sticking out from the side of the sloping mountain. It felt so good to run! I felt fantastic, and so happy and light.  I ran faster and faster in the beautiful flowers.  A voice in my head said "Elysian fields," and then the dream ended.

Last night on Sunday I dreamed that someone told me, "Your writing is disconnected from the power source."  I was offended, and then I woke up in pain.

Back in the depths

My Sunday plans, wasted in an endo fog.  Didn't get the laundry or anything else done.  This morning, Monday, I wake up in pain and the painkiller fog.  How will it be possible to get this body to physically take a shower?  It is not possible.  Again, I force myself to forgive myself for this inability.  I let my boss know I need to take some sick time.  Again.  Then I can go slowly.  Then I can care for myself.  The hormones are making me sad -- a weird sad, where you know you're not really sad even though you feel sad.  I keep dropping things.  I always wish someone else could help me decide whether or not to take a pain pill, and when, or whether to just go for a half.  But no one else can say.  Now I am not on a pill but I feel so foggy anyway.  At Starbucks I decided I deserved one of those cute cake pops I had never tried before.  I imagine it's like holding optimism on a stick, with those cake pops.  I select a pale pink one.  It rolled off when I bit it and is now somewhere deep under my car seat.  I get to my office after much effort and I am the only one here.  Should I have taken a full sick day?  Is that more or less weird than making a stink about showing up at 11:20?  Has the worst of the pain come yet?  If it hasn't come, is it wise for me to have no painkiller in my system when the waters begin rising?  But how am I supposed to get any work done on painkillers?

This will pass.  It's the same boring thing every month.  Hoping for the worst of it to come quickly, because then it lets you out of its grip. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The fur traders

Amidst the endless sea of the knowledge that this job is not right for me and I will not be here forever, sometimes the clouds part and things get good.  Bosses who are professors don't necessarily know how to supervise and support employees.  But today my professor-boss got to storytelling about the fur traders in Canada and I learned so much.  He would say a word I wasn't familiar with, like "Metis" (sounds like meh-tee) and I would stop and ask him about it.  He would pivot and, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, open up a whole new avenue of the story/lesson, interweaving personal experiences with an actual historical timeline.

I like working among people who are haunted by their ancestors as I am by mine.  I like working among storytellers, and people who use the family history and the stories to piece themselves together.  I wish I had more family history stretching back beyond the big blank spot of whatever the fuck went down in Eastern Europe before the relatives got on the big boat in the late 1800s.  I am left to assume that things were not so good in Europe, but how am I to know?  I am reminded often, especially at work, that my people are relative newcomers to this land.  But I lack deep knowledge of what the "homeland" even was.  There is no homeland.  Or, this is the homeland, right or wrong.  Or, maybe we all just make ourselves, and the ties to the past are indulgent illusions.  But I don't believe that.  I believe the past is important.  The lack of history can be haunting, just like the presence of history.

The story we tell ourselves

Last night I was watching a kind of cheesy Oprah network show about the motivational speaker/life coach Tony Robbins trying to change this guy's life in 30 days.  He kept demanding that the guy stop telling himself the story he was telling himself about who he is and how he got in this situation (the guy blamed an old coach for his problems).  In the 30 days, he abandoned the old story.  He had to accept that his situation was his own fault and that it was up to him to change it.

Then he was GIVEN a job and a role as a coach, which was his dream.  Given!  So he never had to do the work of reaching out, facing rejection, and making those connections for himself.  The networking and putting yourself out there can be the very hardest part of realizing your dream.  It bugged me that this show makes it seem like it will just happen for you if you stop telling yourself the wrong story.  I know I would thrive in my career if given some help opening doors, or if given some opportunities.  I have that faith in myself.  The problem is I have no idea how to open the doors or get to the opportunities.

I try to network.  My network seems to also be struggling, and has no access to opportunities.  Does any one talk about class divisions in networking?  When your network is a mix of middle class and blue collar and low-income, what if networking gets you nowhere?  The poor guy on the show networked with a freakin celebrity life coach, and he got hooked up quite nicely after shedding some tears on the guy's TV show.   

Stories are powerful.  It made me ask, what is the story I am telling myself?  About my health, I too often tell myself the story that I am a woman with endometriosis, an incurable disease that makes it sooooo much harder to be healthy and thin and have a good attitude and stay on top of my life in many ways.  This story perpetuates my crappy attitude and laziness.  There is a bit of truth in it - endo does make you more tired, and it is hard to do all the things when you're in pain.  But I guess I should look out for not letting the morsel of truth keep me from realizing my dreams of health, etc.  It would be better to overcome/ignore the morsel of truth and achieve health rather than clinging to/serving the morsel of truth in some teen rebellion way to shove it in the face of the world like, "See?  See!  This hurts and it sucks and you don't have this and I do and it makes everything harder!"  Ugh, victim mentality!  It may have part of my body, but I don't want the endo to take over my whole attitude.

So, if you can't tell, I am attempting to be on a health kick (again) and try to foster (again) an uncharacteristically optimistic rah-rah attitude.  I was up in the middle of the night unable to sleep due to being sore from my exercise - but that's a good thing, right?  Yay.  yay.  Having to learn the lesson over and over and over again that good things don't happen without pain and sacrifice. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

I don't get it, #2

What is it with people these days wanting to paint chalkboard paint onto everything and write on it?  Like to write a grocery list or recipe on your wall, or a reminder to take the kids to soccer.  Or a quote about love or family or spring or some shit.  I don't get it.  (I also don't get bronzer, for the record.)

Like instead of nice art on my kitchen wall, I'm supposed to write in big chalk block letters "Buy cat litter" or "Monday Enchiladas!"  Huh?

Maybe this is one more chapter in My Big Fat Pinterest Lesson.  I ripped on Pinterest and thought it was stupid and encouraged women to be shallow.  Then I tried it, am totally hooked, and realize that you get to pick what you're interested in (you don't have to "follow" the people who post the chalkboard paint ideas or the endless fucking "thinspiration").  Too each her own.  Some people get off on chalkboard paint.  I need to not hate women who have different taste than I do.  Sometimes this is hard.




Friday, April 6, 2012

Ironing the rags

Lately it seems like the past is near.  Like the things that haunted past generations are trying to get their hooks into my own generation, into me.  I act out old patterns without meaning to, think old thoughts as instinct, and what was the past is still right here inside of me.  I am inscribed.

It started with my mother-in-law casually asking me if I packed my husband lunches every day.  That seemed odd and old-fashioned.  Two days ago, I felt my husband was not doing his share of the cleaning in preparation for a visit from out-of-town relatives.  I resented how it seemed to be my role, as the female, to prepare the house and be the hostess. 

Then there was yesterday's dinner with the relatives, an event so filled with heavy statements, lingering ghosts, and clues to the mysteries of my family that today on Good Friday I am still digesting what it all means.

Before people arrived, I cleaned the last things, straightened a pillow, put on the tablecloth.  I spun the patterned plates I inherited from my grandmother as I positioned them before each chair so that the blue carriage scene faced the correct direction.  I cut hyacinths and a daffodil from the front yard and placed them in a vase in the middle of the table.  My aunt and uncle had driven across the country for an Easter visit, so I wanted their first impression of my house to be a good one.

Before my mother and aunt arrived, it was me and the guys - my husband, brother, father, and 84-year-old uncle who hadn't seen me since my wedding.  The first thing my uncle said as I greet him is, "You've gained some weight!  It looks good on you."  It seemed like he expected me to thank him for the assessment of my body shape in front of three other men.  I said, "Okaaaaay . . ." and someone changed the subject as I fumed in silence. Suddenly, my breasts and stomach felt huge and prominent.  I wish I weren't so affected, so upset.  I wish I didn't know I would remember this for a long time.  I wish I didn't monitor my eating so he wouldn't think I eat too much - so he didn't think I deserved this larger body I now have.

I spent the night sucking my stomach in for this asshole who I only see once every few years.  As if that would disguise it - the obvious fact that I have gained a lot of weight, and it's visible and everyone can tell, everyone has known for some time now.  It's not my private secret just because no one else is rude enough to bring it up except my inappropriate 84-year-old uncle.

This rude comment coincided with a rather adult moment - the kind of old-fashioned, classic adult moment that centuries of women have been groomed to orchestrate: I am greeting relatives who have known me since infancy as a grown woman and as a wife, in my own home, as hostess for a meal.  I am proud of my husband and my house, and proud of the woman I have grown up to be.  Look at this happy life I have made for myself.  Look at the flowers from my own yard on the table. 

I stare across the kitchen at my elderly uncle, clutching his glass with two hands so he doesn't drop it, confessing that my aunt no longer trusts him to drive, asking for everything to be repeated because he can't hear.  I've gained weight, but he has new hearing aids.  Time marches on.  It's not worth it to make a scene by expressing my rage.  I am actually the one with power here - youthfulness and health.  I need to let this go.  

When my aunt and mother arrive, my aunt has my dad go re-park my mother's car so it is not so far from the curb.  As her husband follows her sister's orders, my humiliated mother tries to joke that she's being put in her place by her big sister just like the old days.

During the meal, my aunt reveals that in childhood my grandmother made her iron everything, even her father's undershirts, even the rags.  She didn't have to iron her father's underwear, but there was a particular way to fold each one.  After ironing, the rags could be folded and stacked - they wouldn't stack nicely if they had been wrinkled.  When my aunt grew up and got her own house, my grandmother offered to give her some of her rags and was mad when my aunt said that she didn't want my grandmother's rags. Imagine how much my grandma thought of her rags!  My grandmother who survived the Great Depression, who in her rural childhood wore dresses sewn from the fabric of flour sacks and grew up to live in urban Cleveland having these rags, this superfluous fabric, that she made her daughter care for and fold and stack.

My mother and aunt discuss how their childhood church - where they were baptized, went to school, gave confession, got married, and buried their parents - was recently going to be closed but the Vatican is making them re-open it.  They are much relieved that the Vatican has taken this step, despite the Catholic money problems stemming from all of the sexual abuse lawsuits.

I sit next to my mother, our similar soft bellies pressing against the dinner table.  She reminds me to bring an extra hardboiled egg with the deviled eggs I am assigned to bring for Easter dinner in three days.  It's an Eastern European family tradition to cut the egg into pieces and each person eats from the same egg "to keep the family together."  How pagan, I think.  She mentions ham, kielbasa, sweet potatoes for Easter dinner.  Garden of the Gods salad.  Usually there would be fried homemade pierogies, but this year my mother is making a renewed attempt to control her weight.  My brother asks if he's supposed to bring anything and my mother says no.

My aunt explains that when, long ago, my grandmother asked her doctor if she should quit smoking, he told her that it would be bad for her health because it would make her too nervous.  So she kept smoking.  My uncle says that quitting smoking was the hardest thing he ever did and every day he still thinks about smoking.  He talks about the navy.  On the boats, he worked in the laundry.  I don't say this but I think, the navy, that's where you got your tattoo, the tattoo that my grandmother always assumed you were a bad person for having, because people get tattoos in jail.  He asks my husband, "Did you ever smoke?"  In front of my mother, the only right answer to this is no, because in her eyes, only bad people smoke.

My mother expresses shock that my brother never told her he's been going to a physical therapist for weeks.  I mention that that very day, I had done as I was told and called her ten minutes after my doctor's appointment to let her know how it had gone.  My husband says, "Wait, what? You had a doctor's appointment today?" It is probably strange that I agreed to call my mother after my appointment.

I show my aunt and uncle the project I made in a Park and Rec. weaving class I took for eight weeks.  I describe how there were dozens of looms in the basement of an urban elementary school.  They ask if I still have the loom they gave me years ago, plucked out of their many looms and weaving projects and boxes of yarn that crowd their Cleveland living room.  I explain that I took this class so I could learn how to string it up.  "How to sley it," my uncle corrects.  He runs his fingers over the cloth, spreading it out and then re-folding it, examining how the ends are finished and the different patterns in the sampler.  "Houndstooth," we both say.  My aunt says she can't see one mistake in the cloth.  My uncle tells me it is very well-done, and I believe him.

Part of me wants to tell my mother what my uncle said to me about my weight, because I know she will understand precisely how it made me feel and we will gasp together in catharsis and validate each other's appalled reactions.  But I will not bring it up because I know it will actually hurt her to hear.  She will hate him.  And she has to serve him an eight-course Easter dinner in three days and share the hardboiled egg pieces with him and care for him as he sleeps in her house with his hidden tattoo. I look more like her every day, the shape of my body changing to match the round, comforting shapes of her body.

I hear her tell my husband as she's putting on her coat, "My mother would have loved you.  I so wish you could have met her."  Just before the group heads out the door, my aunt and mother are reminiscing about how their mother was so strict and about all of the Catholic school they went to, and my mom says, "People wonder why I never acted out or had a rebellious phase. I never had the slightest chance!"  But I know her too well.  I know she rebelled by eating what she wanted and savoring it.  By getting a doctorate and being more successful than anyone thought she would be.  By taking up space.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Is the world divided into women who do and don't understand WTF to do with bronzer?  Can anyone explain bronzer to me?  Is it only for pale girls?  What about blush?  I just don't get bronzer.