Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Right on Time

First came the letter from Chatham. I need to call them, as I was so excited that someone, somewhere, wanted me, I immediately put down the letter, picked up my checkbook, filled in the amount for the tuition deposit, and had my daughter take it out to the mailbox. Stamp? Check. Sealed? Check. Send that puppy off! They should offer my spot to someone else.

Then came the call from Carlow. It was unofficial, I was told, but with a little pressure, I got a yes. An unofficial yes, but a yes. That was two weeks ago, and the official letter arrived Saturday.

Neither program offered money. That's a problem, as I'm already in debt to the point that I can only sign checks in red ink. It's not insurmountable, but it's a problem.

Every day, I've been sorting through the mail, slowly, and while praying, because the last two schools are ones who do have a bit of money to spread around. Today, there was a letter from Pitt. Five of the six of us were milling about, and I held the envelope in my hand, thinking--I really should send the kids out of the room. This is a windowed envelope. They wouldn't send an acceptance in a windowed envelope, would they? So, perhaps its a letter saying that decisions were coming soon. Or possibly an alert telling me that part of my application was missing. Or a rejection.

I looked across the table at my husband. He smiled. I said, "Don't." I didn't want him smiling when I started to cry. Sage walked behind my chair, and I hoped that he would keep on going. One less for George to shoo up the stairs when I fell apart. One less to try to console me.

I stuck my finger in the corner of the envelope. I opened it just enough to see the salutation. Anything else was under the fold, and I'd have to attempt reading it upside down or take it out of the envelope. There was a reply envelope. That didn't register. I didn't think, "This means a response is required." And there was more than just the one sheet. There was something besides the letter. That didn't register, either.

"It is a pleasure to inform you..." I got that far, then squealed. No, no--I don't think the first sound was a squeal. More like a hoot. Christopher said later that he was sure I was having a heart attack. A few minutes of guttural noise and yelping, and Sage started to dig around in the cupboard for a paper bag so that I wouldn't hyperventilate. The kids started to hug me in turn. Chris first, because he's going to Pitt, too, and he was hoping for my acceptance so that we could help each other some with rides. Sage next. Then Jade. George sat across from me smiling. Still smiling. I heard him say, for the first but not the last time of the evening, "I told you so!" Finally, I found my legs again, got up and rounded the table to hug him. Tight.

Oh, the second sheet. I couldn't read it. I had to hand it across the table to George so that he could tell me that not only did I get a tuition waiver, but a TAship as well. A TAship. They want me to teach. They're going to let me teach. Teach!


My mentor's response--well, that's for another post, perhaps. Let's just say that he, too, yelled, hooted, something, in my ear, while I sat there, barely able to get the words out, repeating something to him, though in this moment, I could not tell you what. I know I said thank you. Many times.

There's one app left out there. I'm not so much worried about that now. As a matter of fact, if I get a letter in the mail, I might not want to open that one. I told my husband, "I'm starting to feel like I live a charmed life. It's a little scary." And it is. I have to remember to balance that with an equal portion of gratitude, and I think that should take care of the humility issue.

One last thing: I keep thinking that I'm coming to the game late, but when I think about the writing sample that was the basis of all this, I know I came just when I was supposed to, probably not a moment too soon.

Till later...

Sunday, February 24, 2008


I have two folks in my life right now, my oldest (step)son and a very good friend, and though on the surface, it might look as though they have nothing in common, I have found a thread between them that makes my heart so very heavy, my eyes burn in trying to delve into them, speak from my soul to theirs silent words their ears will not hear.

They have so much potential, but they don't believe in it. Both of them.

I have found another, too. They have both lost a mother in a senseless way, and I'm all they have to stand in that place, to be there for them in the flesh and blood. They have their respective fathers, true. But I, of all people, know the importance of being mothered, no matter how adult one might be. My own "mother" is still breathing, still eating and shitting and sharing her woes with the world, but mothering me? I am a motherless child.

These two souls, my own tossed into the mix. How could I ever doubt the existence of a god, of the Great Spirit, of the Universal Creator, when I am always -- it never fails -- right where I am supposed to be, right where I might meet my co-adventurers.

So, what's my job now, Great Spirit? Are we to mother each other in absence of any better substitute? Will we flounder? Will we prevail? I've no doubt that we will learn.

Till later...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Creativity Can Be Messy

My New Year cleaning binge came to an end soon after it started. Five days of purging papers and old shoe boxes and dried up pens and pencils with no erasers has left no discernible mark on my surroundings. Things are as messy, if not messier, than they were before. The stack of folders with multiple copies of submitted MFA applications and fellowship hopes and yearnings still sits on the floor beside my bed. I'm sure I could reduce that six-inch stack to a couple of thin manila files that I could slip into the file cabinet.

I've often thought about writing fiction instead of non-fiction. I think it's a much more lucrative proposition, if one is in it for the lucre. The only time I really think about having a financially fulfilling career is in those times I start contemplating my messiness, and my fancy takes over, tells me life would be so much easier with a personal assistant.

I had a "what would you do if you hit the lottery" discussion with a friend not long ago. She had what sounded like a well thought-out list of all the vacations she'd take, the palace she'd buy, the sports car she'd drive. Me? I wouldn't move. I like our house and its location. I can take a vacation anytime I want. In the summer, I do so every morning when I pour my coffee and walk out onto the porch. I'd probably buy a lot more books, maybe even try to find a first edition Walden. I think we'd probably like to have another truck, since last summer I saw what hauling potting soil did to the carpet in the back of the van. Clothes? I have enough clothes. But if I'm flipping channels on the t.v. and hit on one of those organizing shows where a team comes in and completely reorganizes your house -- that, yes, definitely that, would be something I'd spend money on.

I'm already fortunate to have a part-time housekeeper, but she does heavy cleaning. She wouldn't know where to start with the messes I make. I would love to interview folks who are like-minded, find the perfect person who would set up the perfect filing system, clear out all my cob-web clutter and make those hard decisions, find the perfect places for all my muse-pleasing artifacts (like my broken monkey who's cymbals no longer crash together, who's lips no longer peel back to reveal creepy monkey teeth -- why my dad thought that nightmare-inducing toy was appropriate for a little girl who needed nothing extra to induce nightmares, I don't know) ... I've dreamed of her (or his) services long before I needed them so desperately. Full-time. Not just a breeze through and go.

I want to create, but I don't want to tie up the loose ends. I hate to edit, and I hate to organize. I like to cook, but I hate to do dishes. I love to garden, but drag my tools back to the shed? Maybe that's why I like Monk so much. I'd take all his idiosyncrasies if they came equipped with a personal assistant.

Till later...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Everybody wants to be loved...

Don't they? It seems like a universal truth to me. Maybe there are some who can take it or leave it, and there are those odd-ball in-your-face shock jock commentators who seem to live to piss other people off, but in general, don't people want to be loved? Or at least liked?

I do.

Thing is--and I'm sure my perception is a bit skewed here--I'm a tough cookie to chew. Sometimes even beyond the dunking stage. In the last week, I've been told that I have Utopian dreams and communistic ideals. I thought I was being complemented at first, but then I got the drift.

I was pretty much okay with things until I learned in this personality psychology course that we rarely have an accurate view of ourselves. I should have known that instinctively, I guess. I'm not stupid. But this presents some issues for me. I'm a writer. I write non-fiction, much of it from the first-person point of view. The issue for me is this: which is the real me? The one other people see or the person I know myself to be?

And more importantly, I ask another question in this particular moment. If others love me, do they love the me I am or the me they see? If they don't love me (or like me), would that change if I could invite them inside?

I don't know.

Till later...

Monday, February 18, 2008

What's Next?

It took me ten minutes to choose a mood on MySpace. I mean, what is a mood but how we feel about something. There are just too many somethings to choose one mood. I eventually settled for "indescribable," as there were no more adequate choices.

Life is so busy right now. I feel like the Martin Sheen character in West Wing, shifting gears so fast, you'd think I had a pack of state troopers behind me. And this situation I must attend to is so very different from that one waiting in the wings, I don't have time to develop a "mood" around it.

I'd love to keep whining for another paragraph or so, but it's time now for something else.

Till later...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Remembering Sue

I’ve had some old memories come back to visit today, and as for that sort of thing, one seems to give birth to another.

Some of the most vivid things I remember are times when I knew I was encountering some sophisticated act—something foreign to my hillbilly upbringing. Some I learned from Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt—such as what to do with your knife after you’ve ickied it all up cutting something or spreading something and you don’t want to put it down on a white tablecloth (not that I saw many white tablecloths). Other things, I learned from my friends.

Here’s one: Sue sitting in the bathtub while I tried on her mother’s make-up, telling me the order in which body parts should be washed, “or you’ll spread germs.” I didn’t get that. Why would it matter if I used the washcloth on my thighs after I swooshed it between my legs? But that’s what her mother taught her, and her mother was a sophisticate, a divorcee, head cashier at the local Riverside Market. It was 1978, maybe ’79, and Sue was still in Catholic school, damned to wear those green plaid uniforms but secretly envied by the rest of us girls. Sue had a weird nose but good cheekbones, and though she tried a little too hard to fit in with the rest of us public school kids, her bleach blonde mother (still wearing it in a beehive that late in the decade) was exotic, and we all wanted to hang in her immaculate fourteen by eighty.

Though we got away with a lot at her house when her mother was at work, we didn’t hang around much when she was home. She was incredibly strict, and, we learned, not afraid to use a backhand to enforce her rules. Sue still did her best to fit in with the lawless crowd, though. We all got an education the night she opened her mother’s secret cabinet. It didn’t take long for us to bait in the young, cute guys and feed them Pepsi with a few drops of Spanish Fly. A promise of unlimited Atari play did the trick, but Ms. PacMan was getting more action than we were—and besides, what would we have done with them had the aphrodisiac worked?

One of the last times I saw Sue was at Amy’s wedding. I didn’t recognize her. She was always slim, like her mother—whom we learned restricted her diet, as obesity was a sign of sloth. Standing outside the church, babe in arms, she had to have been two hundred pounds, maybe more. Her eyes were sunken in her the fat of her face, and even her quirky nose had lost it’s sharp upturn in the extra padding. I tried not to look shocked and I’m sure I failed miserably. We made small talk, avoiding the subject of the elephant she’d become. But, I saw her again late that summer—or was it the following year?—and she was back to her fighting weight. There was a mention of her mother’s nagging, how many sit-ups she started with and how many she still did every day and the stress of motherhood and the roll that she just could not get rid of, no matter how hard she tried. Sage hadn’t come along yet, so I listened, haughty and superior, knowing I was still bikini material. Though I’m not a pound over my weight at graduation, maybe even a pound or two lighter, I have come to know the ravages of motherhood. But that day, I just looked at her as though she were old. She was twenty-one.

Sue died twelve years later. I heard about it a few months after the fact, while I was firmly in my own state of inertia. Cancer. I don’t know what kind, or if she suffered, or what happened to her husband, her two children or her mother. So far as I was concerned, she was just plucked from the face of the Earth, and all I have of her are memories of our fist fights, her mother’s sex toys and a sense that she never quite fit in—which made a maladjusted girl like me feel a little better about myself.

Till later...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More of the Same

Still very firmly February.

Several snow squalls have moved over the mountain today, most of which I've watched with my feet quite comfortably propped atop pillows on my bed. I spend a lot of time in my bed in the winter.

At one point, we were under heavy cloud cover, so much that I had to turn the table lamp on in the late morning. The sun must have muscled its way through because it became so bright, so quickly that my husband remarked on it, from his post at the desk, at the same time I snapped my head around to the window. The snow was still coming down steadily, but it was as if someone turned bright overhead lights on, hundred watters, and lots of them. Wow doesn't easily slip from his tongue; he is not one to be impressed by mere gentle shifts in circumstance.

Then later, my daughter came to visit to use my computer, though I don't know why. She has a new one, not three months old. No matter, I was glad for the company, even if it was the wordless kind. Clack-clack-clack from the keys. Then the clack-clack stopped, and she was standing at the foot of my bed. "What is that?" I looked outside, or tried to. There could have been crisp, white sheets on all the windows. The wind had picked up, and the snow had continued, and all we could see was white. Not even swirling white, though I'm sure that it was. Just solid walls of white: no grass line, no outlines of trees, no horizon. White.

For all the snow, the wind has taken most of it from the fields opposite my current perspective. I'm back in the sitting room with yet another roast in the oven (this time, beef, not pork, and I'm doing my best with it, even though I won't let a smidge past my lips). A moment ago, the air could have been laced with gold, but now, another gust has blown through, and with it came more clouds, like old gray leather.

I desperately want, need springtime. Everything around me, even my roast, is in the waiting place. I am in the waiting place. I'm very weary.

Till later...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The dreaded "Where I'm at today" post

It's raining, coming straight down outside my windows. In February. That reminds me that I have yet to begin my global warming paper. Each thought or observation seems to lead me back to something else I'm neglecting. Things that make me feel responsible when I give them their due.

It is raining, and it is February, and I am home today, sick and miserable. I could use the time to plod through those many things I know I need to do in coming days and weeks, or I could sit here, lumpish, half watch cop shows and cruise my internet haunts, all the while feeling off kilter and less than serene. I could point to friends in crisis and my powerlessness to give them any real help, or the fact that my bones have been registering aches well above the acceptable level for weeks now, probably longer, and that my ego's taken an illogical hit since I have come down with the cold that the other five members of my family have mostly gotten over, same cold I thought I had slyly evaded (big joke on me) and tell myself -- no wonder you feel like crap today.

Or I could go deeper and say, "Well, Sug, you're one more day closer to forty and you still haven't had that talk with yourself you've been promising," or "You do know that your future is no more uncertain now than it's ever been, but you're sure making it out to be a big deal." I could dive deep into contemplation, and about the time I feel like I'm getting somewhere, feeling the pressure pushing things into place, it'll be time to put a roast in the oven for dinner, and it's just not worth a case of the bends to have to surface that quickly.

I think I need a vacation.

Till later...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Our National Drug - A Rant

"Our national drug is alcohol.
We tend to regard the use any other drug with special horror. "
William S. Burrows
(Thanks, SoberMusicians for the quote of the day)

I'm speaking at another town hall meeting in April. I fell asleep thinking about it, if only because it was the thing least likely to cause stress or cause me to jump up out of bed, full of inspiration begging to be captured. No, I just turned things over in my head, thought back to the last two town hall meetings, and tried to approach it from a different angle. I think I'll actually use notes this year.

The topic, by the way, is underage drinking. It's always the topic. This is rural Pennsylvania. One graduates very quickly from Pin the Tail on the Donkey (do kids still play that?) to Find the Keg in the Woods. Or, as I hear these days, Find the Right Road to Camp. With all we know about underage drinking, parents are still offering "safe places" to drink as an alternative to their kids so that maybe they'll avoid a serious drug problem in said kids.

The local police logs are full of reports detailing minors charged with "disorderly conduct." I understand, as one of my colleagues informed me, that this is code for underage drinking. Charging a drunken teenager with disorderly conduct serves two purposes: 1) it let's the cop play good guy (or girl, as the case may be), as a disorderly conduct charge does not bring with it loss of driving privileges, and 2) fines from disorderly conduct remain in the municipality, while underage drinking fines are dispersed between county and municipality, or something like that. I understand the concept, so I didn't take notes.

As a sober alcoholic whose past "special treatment" helped me to avoid some unpleasant consequences that, by virtue of their absence, damned near killed me, I'm opposed to anything that allows someone consuming the drug alcohol from avoiding those consequences. Were my kids to be caught drinking, I would expect that they be charged, even if that means money out of my pocket. I have ways of getting it back.

But! you say, Kids will be kids! And alcoholism is a disease! Of course, and what better teaching aid than discomfort? And no alcoholic I have ever met has sought help without the aid of pain to convince that alcoholic that help was necessary.

In an ideal world, there wouldn't be such things that can be substituted for the experience of authentic existence. I'm pretty radical on that point, and I'll reign it in for the moment and just say that -- if we are not at the point where we are ready to educate our society, aid the enlightenment of our society, if we must have these substances available for the pseudo-sophisticates who claim consumption as their right, then let's not forget that alcohol is every bit the drug that heroin or cocaine is. We wouldn't scold a house full of I.V. drug users and send them home to mom and dad. Kegger or a crack pipe, there's no difference.

Till later...

Friday, February 01, 2008

For Rebecca...

...because she was so kind to leave a comment and well-wishes. And also because my head and my heart seem to be in two different places right now, and I'd very much like to see a synthesis between the two.

I should be ecstatic, and I'll admit to ecstatic moments, but as Emerson lamented, they don't last. Mentally, I know that I'm headed in a positive, forward direction, and emotionally, I'm scared to death. My inner child is convinced that the play-date can't last, that some grumpy old grownup is going to come along and take away all the toys, scold, and end all the fun.

I've heard from Chatham, but I haven't heard from any other schools, and I haven't received any offers of funding. The money thing scares me. I'm having trouble working up any sort of optimism for the many fellowships applications I put in the mail. As an undergrad, I've been a star, ol' big fish in a small pond. Now, out in the ocean -- I'm imagining I'm nothing more than a minnow, and a minnow with warts on my fins--not good enough for bait let alone the foundation of a gourmet meal.

But then, the moments of ecstasy return. All fears aside, I'm doing it. I'm presenting at another conference, speaking at another town hall meeting, slowly filling the spring schedule so that I won't have time for excessive belly button gazing. Besides, it's NOT all about me!! My two seniors are at the precipice of their future as well. Christopher received his letter of acceptance to Pitt, which I had no doubt about (but he seemed to), and Sage is more than likely going to end up at PSU. I can understand women who devote their lives to motherhood without a lot of outside involvement. In thinking about their future, I can only go so far before I try to start planning it for them. I need something to return to when that realization comes home that this is their lives, and my part is growing smaller and smaller. So, right now, having my own thing to obsess about keeps me from falling to pieces, and having them to support and encourage keeps me from overly obsessing. It works out. The scales are in balance.

I'm grateful for the decision to take a few demanding classes my final undergrad semester. That, too, helps divert the fear and obsession. I can always pick up a book to read for a term paper, or study the endocrine system or work on that tricky introduction for my as-yet-in-pieces manuscript.

I'm in the waiting place, knowing one way or another I have a place to go, but still not knowing if I have choices. I suppose it doesn't much matter, so long as I don't have to make a choice today, right? So, I'll plug along, watch the rain and sleet coming down outside my window, pray that my husband makes it home safely since my efforts to get him to reschedule his day came to naught, and enjoy this day spent in my flannel nightgown, as I've a feeling my life this time next year will little resemble what it does today.

Till later...