My Phone, Myself

Like a fair number of people, I have a phone that allows me to send texts. This may be a bigger deal for me than for some, seeing as I still used a rotary phone as recently as 2007, seeing as I am writing this post with a fountain pen in my (handmade) notebook rather than composing directly on the computer.

I send a lot of texts. When I started texting, my phone struggled to understand me, inserting a lot of randomness into my notes … and a lot of deleted expletives. Yes, my phone thought I had a vocabulary like a stevedore. I would type “bookish,” it would come out “b****.” I would type “folkways” (yes really, folkways … hey, I’ve already explained that I use words other people don’t), it would come out “f***.” Clearly my phone and I had some serious disconnection issues.

Over time, of course, my phone has gotten to know me better. It no longer thinks I swear like a sailor. It still offers up wacky next-word options that I would surely never want to type. If I spoke the way my phone wanted me to, I’d be some kind of crazy, unintelligible philosopher, saying things such as, “I’m going on an adventure containing myself home.” Right. Because aren’t we all?

This morning, however, I realized my relationship with my phone has become a true luv thang.

I was typing an email to my sister and one of the sentences began: “I was missing … ” I was writing a very boring and ordinary exciting, “I was missing something important.”

Not for my phone I wasn’t.

I typed, “I was missing …” and my phone knew exactly what I needed to say, offering up: VONA!

I almost laughed out loud. “You know me, little Galaxy. You finally know me!”

Because of course, yes. Aren’t I always kind of missing VONA? Thank goodness our retreat is next week so I can get a fix!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

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A Little Slice of Happiness (SOLSC 22)

Tonight, this is me:

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There are a lot of things that I love.  I love walking on a street in an unfamiliar city and running into someone I know.  I love walking on any street and running into someone I know, but when I’m away from home, it’s that much more fabulous.  I love being read to.  I love watching students’ faces when the learning in class is on fire.  I love the way a well-written book can pull me so far in that I have to actively reorient myself when I come up for air.

I could just have this post be a giant list of things I love because, really: there are a lot.

But no.  I want to say one particular loved thing tonight.  I love meeting someone I’ve known for years but never met in person and discovering that she is exactly who I knew she’d be and entirely more winning and fabulous than I could have imagined.

Tonight I was tired-tired-tired.  This week had felt so very long and my head was pounding and all I wanted in the world was to go home, hide under my comforter and not answer the phone.

But I had plans.  I was supposed to travel from my quiet little south Brooklyn work neighborhood to the Upper East Side to have coffee with a friend.  And, had it been a friend who lives in New York, I might have had to give in to my headache and cancel the date.  But it was Julie Brock I was on my way to meet. No way I could cancel that date!

So very glad I didn’t cancel.  I had such a great time hanging out with Julie.  She and I met during the first Slice of Life Challenge in 2008.  She’s one of that original crew of slicers who helped me become a blogger.  She is fabulous and funny and has so many amazing ideas about education reform.  Talking to her dissolved my headache (with a tactical assist from some Advil) and gave me back the energy that had been drained by my work week.

One more thing I love: adding to the list of blog friends I’ve been lucky enough to meet in person!

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And now I really must sleep, but you can see more slices at Two Writing Teachers!

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A green all of her own.

Thanks to following Alejna’s ever-clever lead, I signed up to participate in The Great Interview Experiment over at Citizen of the Month. I tried this once before and was a total failure. I couldn’t get out of my own way and get any questions together … and I guess the blogger who was supposed to interview me had the same problem because I never got any interview questions. But when I saw Alejna’s bright, shiny success, I was inspired to try again.

Happily, Neil paired me up with Discovering Jade. The Chinese call Jade the Stone of Heaven.  Its color is described as being a green like no other. Yes, exactly. The first post I read seemed to be written straight out of my own head, and I thought: “Ok, yeah, this is going to work.”  Jade and I are really not at all alike, as it turns out … but we are, too.  I’ve had a pleasure reading through her blog and an even greater pleasure emailing her and figuring out questions to ask her and reading her answers.

You get to do that last part, too.  Everyone, meet Jade.

~~~

You started your blog as a kind of meditation to help you get back to your spiritual practice.  Has blogging been helpful to you in that way?

Blogging has really helped me get in touch with my spirituality. What I have come to understand about my own spiritual “self” is quite different from how I felt when I first started, and that has been very surprising. When I started this blog I was just extracting myself from an online Wiccan community/forum. I loved the folks there, but I sort of outgrew the interaction there and the responsibilities I had taken on. When I went my own way, I felt a little lost. That community was such an every-day part of my life, and I developed true friends there and I wanted something like that. I started my blog, and every day that I write something there I feel like I’m talking to an old friend.

You said that writing on your blog is like talking to an old friend.  I get that feeling, too, but I also get the voice in the back of my head that tells me I could say all the same stuff in my journal, so why am I bothering to put it online?  Is there something that particularly draws you to the public journal-writing that is blogging?

I think it was partly the community I was searching for — with an online journal I had the benefit of the few friends from the forums in which I used to participate; they could keep up with me (and I them) and comment/interact with one another via our blogs.

I have had others ask me this question, and that’s the answer I give, but… it doesn’t resonate with me as the whole answer. Honestly, there’s more and I don’t really know what that ‘more’ is. It seems like the thing to do; everyone’s got a blog. Major (and not so major) companies have blogs. My husband has a blog, and he doesn’t even write on it.

I have always kept a journal; during my angst-riddled teen years when my mom and I didn’t communicate so well, she read my journal and I often got into oodles of trouble for what she found there. I hated that, hated the invasion of privacy. Maybe putting my ‘journal’ on the Internet is my way of sticking my tongue out at my mom-back-then. My privacy can’t be invaded now if I’m the one spilling my guts. Maybe?

You write very frankly about Colin.  Has that writing also been a kind of meditation for you, a way of helping you process?

Absolutely. Writing about my experiences with Colin has helped me look at things from a bit of a remove. I try to think very clearly about the experience, or at least to represent it with as much truth as I can; that has forced me outside the experience. Sometimes that reinforces my feelings numbness and isolation, but more often it helps me see the experience as opportunities to understand myself better, and to accept whatever lesson I might choose to find there.

I read your Colin posts and my heart ached — still aches just thinking about them.  Do you think you could have blogged during that time, that blogging could have given you the same contemplative, safe, healing space it gives you now?

I don’t think I could have blogged during that time. It has really taken me a long time to get my head out of that trauma and pain. The pain itself never really leaves, but my thoughts are no longer clouded by the pain. Back then, I couldn’t see past how much I was hurting. I saw no life lessons, no opportunities for growth and spirituality. I saw only his selfishness, his brokenness, his mother’s failure to teach him to cope, my own inability to see his pain and help him. I was so busy finding fault and blame and both judging and being judged to use blogging as a healing tool.

I periodically find pages I wrote back then, shortly after his death. It’s unpalatable stuff. It isn’t even the sort of raw, sexy pain that makes for such emotional writing; it is just babble. Soul broken babble that I really needed to go through, but I wasn’t ready to accept that someday I’d be past it. Back then I couldn’t function enough inside to even start the healing process.

Do you think blogging has changed the way you communicate?  Has it made you more open, more of a storyteller, more willing/able to share about yourself?

Definitely! I have noticed that I tend to be clearer in my meaning now; I tend to be rather stuck up and snotty AND I’m full of opinions – sometimes that can really come across as downright unpleasant. I have learned to really think about what I mean to convey before I publish it, especially when commenting on other people’s blogs. I am really not shy in my personal life when it comes to sharing my opinion, but I have learned the value of not saying anything if I haven’t got something nice to say. I have learned that I can still be honest without being mean.

Blogging has also opened me up to really hearing other people. When you’re reading a blog, the other person always gets to finish; you can’t interrupt them. And maybe you’re thinking about a counter-point before you’re done but you have to get to the end before you can get on with your own point. That has helped me in my professional life and even at home with my husband.

I don’t know if it has made me more of a story-teller or more open about what I am willing to share. I tend not to talk about myself or my life with peers or co-workers (with the one exception of a very good friend with whom I work), and that hasn’t really changed with blogging.

Can you imagine a time when you’ll be ‘over’ blogging?  What do you think would make you feel finished?

I rather hope not. I know other bloggers who have experienced that, and honestly I hope never to. Writing is really what I do. I am not published and I’ve won no awards but I am a writer, from eyeballs to entrails. Part of the reason why I wanted to participate in this experiment is because I believe that everyone does have a story to tell, even if the audience is small. I blog for me more than anyone else; I published my blog online because of that community that I was missing, but I don’t think I’ll ever be done having a cup of tea with my blog, telling it about my challenges. The Internet might someday be ‘over’ me, though. 🙂

Your post about being ‘girly’ really resonated with me.  We come at ‘girliness’ from very different physical places (I am tall and big compared to your short and tiny) and from different choices around femininity (I strove to help people see that I was feminine while you were rejecting your ‘girlness’).  What did you do/change to help you start embracing your femininity?  What made you decide to start on that path?  What differences do you see in/about yourself now as a result?

This is somewhat hard for me to answer. The catalyst was probably my step-daughter; she was 12 when I started dating her dad and even though she was old enough to think for herself and had been taught to do so rather well, I constantly worried about what I might be unintentionally “teaching” her. Either in lessons she would internalise or in doing things that just weren’t worthy of her respect; I began looking at a lot of my behaviours and the ways I expressed myself. It was a subtle thing for me, but I was careful to make sure how I was acting around her wasn’t in conflict with how she was being raised otherwise. The general awareness of my own actions led to me examine that sort of expression, which in turn led me to begin questioning my behaviour and my thought processes.

I have also been studying and practicing some form of paganism (and now Buddhism) for several years; these paths lead me to that same questioning of myself. Wicca especially honours femininity and the strength inherent in women, but also balance between the forces of nature. I think I simply began accepting my own femininity to balance out the masculinity that I so readily embraced.

You seem very accepting of yourself — clear about your skills, your strengths, your feelings, your challenges.  And maybe my question should be: are you as self-accepting as you seem?  But the question I wanted to ask was: How do you do that?  How have you gotten to the place where that’s true?

I think I am as self-accepting as I seem, or at least how I have tried to portray myself on my blog. I am a perfectionist, so it should be understood that I have periods of self-doubt, of confusion and trepidation. But they don’t last. How do I do it? I mentioned earlier that I’m stuck up… My mom encouraged me my whole life to be myself, to stick up for who and what I am, and to make no apologies for myself. It’s a lesson that really stuck. My parents have always accepted my choices and have really reinforced the belief that if I know I’m doing it right then that’s good enough.

I am reminded of the saying: The people who care don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t care. Maybe I’ve got that wrong, but the truth for me is: I truly don’t care what other people think of me (as much as that can be possible); there are a few exceptions, people whose love and respect I desire but for the most part I feel as though if people can’t accept me for who I am then I don’t need them in my life. The standard applies to me as well – if I disapprove of someone else’s choices or lifestyle, then they don’t need me in their life. I try to be as accepting of others as I am of myself.

You write a lot about your work life … and sometimes that includes things that you maybe wouldn’t want your co-workers to read.  Do you worry that one of them will discover your blog?

I try to be very, very careful about the things I write on my blog in relation to my co-workers. I do have one co-worker/friend who reads my blog; when I write about work or the people in my office, I make an attempt to write about how I am feeling about an experience with them, instead of just griping about them. I’m sure I have done a bit of griping, but if any of them were to find it and take exception to what I have shared, I feel that I could explain to them that I was attempting to express my own experiences there, and that I have a right to do that. I don’t have the right to be mean about them, and that’s something I will try never to do.

As for the personal details I have shared about my own life, I don’t really worry about that. I wouldn’t feel obligated to explain anything to any of my co-workers (provided I hadn’t said something disrespectful about them); if they gleaned personal details and wanted to talk to me about it, I’d probably just encourage them to bookmark the page and check back often for updates before telling them to quit wasting company time talking to me about my blog. 🙂

I have a strong sense of you as a poet — not only because you have some posts that are clearly poems, but from your blog as a whole.  I am always and always trying to help my students (and myself!) find their way to the page, and you’ve written about writer’s block, too.  What do you do to ‘prime the pump’ when it comes to writing, to keep your writer’s mind limber?  Do you share your writing in a formal way (a writers’ group, public readings …)?

I am not part of any formal group – I am honestly quite terrified of sharing my work in that way. I can puke it all over the Internet, but if I had to hand it out to others to read or [gulp] stand up and read it myself… well, I’ve nearly wet myself just now thinking about it. I don’t even know if I keep my mind limber; I have books about writing, tools, writer’s kits, little games I play with myself to get my creativity flowing, but mostly it just comes when it wants. I wake up in the middle of the night with words that need to be written; at work, in the loo, while at the market – the most inconvenient times words steal into my head and stay there until I write them down. Sometimes I pretend to check my calendar during meetings, and really I’m typing notes about the things I need to write about later, just to get the thoughts out of my head so they will stop drowning out everything else. I am so disorganised as a writer, it’s no wonder I haven’t written anything of substance.

The best advice I can give anyone wanting to find their way to the page (as you very poetically put it) is to make a habit of writing every day. Like prayer or meditation or exercise, make time for it. My favourite exercise in writing used to be a box of trinkets I kept as a teenager: old jewelry, a broken chunk of concrete, one of those wretched troll dolls with purple hair, programmes from high school dramas I was involved in. The exercise was I would reach blindly into the box and pull out an object – then I would write about the object: where I was when I got it, how I felt the day I found it, why the object went into my box.

I surround myself with treasured objects: a small cat carved of Jade that my husband gave me the first year we were dating, Colin’s ashes, sand from the desert, dozens of symbolic objects. I see these objects every day and every day they put words in my head that must come out.

What attracts you to a blog, keeps you coming back to read after the first discovery?

Heart. And humour. The raw honesty that I see in my favourite bloggers is what keeps me coming back. I read blogs about drug and sex addiction, about other writers, mommy-bloggers talking about the challenges of parenthood (which is so incredibly alien to me), bloggers who knit, bloggers who are clinically insane… people whose lives don’t intersect with mine at all, with whom I seem to have nothing in common apart from the pain of being alive. These bloggers pour their souls into their blogs and offer it up with some sort of naked, crazy honesty and I simply want to read it because they cut their own hearts open and bled it all over the page for me.

Who is one person you would love to have read your blog and why?

Predictably, Colin. I would love to know what he thinks about what I go through these days. He was the first person in my life to really listen when I had something to say; and he often either deeply loved or intensely hated the things I said. In a lot of ways we brought out the worst in each other, and I sometimes wonder how he’d feel about all my big, deep pain. Or when I say things that are harshly cavalier about his death; he used to really hate it when I would marginalise my own pain and it’s something that I still do. I can’t help but poke fun at my own hurts, like jabbing my index finger into a bruise over and over again, and I sort of wish he could see me sticking my proverbial tongue out at him on my blog.

Also, I was really young and immature when we were together, and I’d like him to see how much I’ve grown up. I chase my own tail with the logic of being forced into growing up because of his death and wanting him to see how much I’ve matured.

When you get to be my age — old enough to be your unwed teen mother — what will you look back and wish your 2010 self had known/done/tried …?

Finished college (still the eventual plan!), pursued having a book published (that’s been the plan since I was four!), spending more time with my parents (this one I have a lot better control over). I’m glad you asked this question. I needed reminders about how not to let another year slip between my fingers.

Do you have a theme song?

I feel like I have a new theme song every few weeks, but Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock & Roll is sort of my favourite-favourite. I hear it and I remember all the best things about being a little girl. It makes me think of not being able to let go, of holding onto the one thing that makes the most sense to you, no matter what other options you have. Half the time I think holding onto what makes sense is the best thing to do when I’m confused; the other half the time I think I should let go of the very thing that makes the most sense, just to see if I survive.

Which makes me think of “I Will Survive”, which may sound totally corny. But honestly, that song comes up on the rotation and I have to stop what I am doing and sing it at the top of my voice. And maybe it is a cliché, but that song is really about owning yourself and your own choices; about not letting some fool man walk all over you and get away with it. It’s about surviving on your own merits – rejecting someone else’s vision of you and carving your own path without them. Something I feel deeply in touch with.

Is there anything you wish I had asked?  Anything you’d like readers to know to have a clearer picture of you?

I can’t think of a single thing.

Remember that wishbone I was choking on?

I just can’t seem to get it out of my throat, you know?  After my angry rant about The New York Times’  shocking discovery of Michelle Obama’s white ancestry, I thought I’d be able to shut up a bit, at least for a few minutes.  As if.  I was over at Michelle Obama Watch and saw this little bit of sunshine.*

First, let me just say that Megan Smolenyak is riding this train as far as she can, isn’t she?  Who is it that can help her understand that what she’s done isn’t interesting or cool?  Who is it that can help her see that her drive to uncover this ‘useful history lesson’ shows her lack of understanding about or sensitivity toward black people in this country more than it tells us anything about MO?  Who is it that can make her sit down and keep her enthusiastic mouth shut?

And then there’s Debbie Shields.  I can’t fault her for having a little frisson of excitement to discover that she’s related to MO.  But I’d expect to see that excitement die down as the reality of how she’s related to Mrs. My First Lady sinks in.  I’d expect her to have half a brain and not say something as unbelievable as: “I think it’s great. I would like to sit down and talk with her and share memories,  share photographs, stories.”

Share memories?  Share stories?  What kinds of memories and stories might those be?  Maybe they could talk about rape, about exploitation and white privilege?  Oh, good times!  I sure hope MO invites her over for tea and cucumber sandwiches real soon.  Maybe Shields should take a tip from her 17-year-old son.  If you click over to the Inside Edition story, you get to see a photo of Debbie and Brandon.  The caption claims that both are excited about the discovery of this familial link with the First Family, but Brandon’s face tells a very different story.

Can we let this go already?

No.  Let’s not.  Better than letting it go, let’s take reparations to a whole different place.  Whenever I hear white people argue against reparations, they say things like, “I didn’t enslave anyone.  I’m not responsible for what happened all those years ago.”  They talk about how there’s no way to assign blame, to determine who’s responsible.  Now, nevermind that individual responsibility has never been the issue when we as a country have paid reparations in the past.  And nevermind the issue of benefitting from the fact of the slave trade, benefitting from a culture that gave privilege to one group and steadfastly withheld it from another.  Nevermind all that.

Inspired by Smolenyak and the reporters at the Times, I think African Americans all over the country should personalize their reparations quests.  Yes, we’ll have to do a lot of homework searching back through our family histories to find the rapists and slaveowners in our pasts, but once we do … Well, let’s go look them up — historical records in hand — and ask for a little payback.

I need to get to work, find the Welsh rapist bastard responsible for my father’s family having this last name, and put in for generations of back alimony and child support.  And then I can start on my mother’s side of the family …

__________

* Sadly the video has disappeared.  Maybe Debbie Shields finally figured herself out and was embarrassed to have it up.  But there’s a description of the piece on HuffPo.

SOL: Um … a little help here, please?

Jorge’s talking. This is a good thing, of course. When I started this term, I thought he and Nyema would be the toughest students to reach because both were so closed off, so silent and blank-faced.

But suddenly Jorge is talking. For a couple of weeks now. It started after our mid-term conference. He began to give answers readily in class. He started making direct eye contact and laughing at my jokes. These days I could even describe him as an active participant … So what’s my problem?

Yeah. What’s my problem? Tonight I got to work early and went to my office. I turned on the computer and started piling up the books and papers I wanted to carry into class. And then there was Jorge, sneaking up behind me to grab my shoulders and give me a playful little shake. (He’s lucky I didn’t scream bloody murder and jump three feet out of my chair, my usual startle response!)

He backed off right way, and we started talking. He asked about my trip to Chicago and asked some other questions about traveling and about my work at my day job. I brought our work to the classroom and we talked some more.

Please know that this is more talking than I would have imagined having from Jorge in a year of knowing him. And I was happy enough to talk with him … but there was something uncomfortable, too. I don’t see myself sitting alone in the office chatting with him the way I do with Jeovany, the way I would with Billy or Raj if either of them were still coming to school (both have disappeared).

No, Jorge doesn’t scare me, doesn’t make me worry that he’s dangerous or anything … no … it’s just that tonight … well … he seemed to be flirting with me! This is just something so far from the possible, from the acceptable, from the expected. I mean, I am more than old enough to be Jorge’s mother (he’s 17) … and, in some really unfortunate story of ‘tween pregnancies, I could even be old enough to be his grandmother … he should not be flirting with me!

And, really, he’s not. Not intentionally. At least, I don’t think so. More, I get the feeling that he’s trying really hard to be more outgoing and I’m a safe person to talk to in our class … and he doesn’t really know how to talk to girls other than to be flirtatious.

Not that students don’t come on to their teachers. That happened when I taught high school a thousand years ago. I was fairly close to the students’ ages, and they had a hard time seeing the clear line between us. I could laugh off and tease away any overly attentive students simply because I was so close to their ages (still callous enough not to think I was hurting anyone’s feelings, not to think their crushes needed to be taken at all seriously). When I started teaching college and then adult ed, it happened a lot more, but it was easier to deal with then because we were all adults. A lot of times those guys were my age or older, and when they were younger, they weren’t painfully younger, so it was easy enough to handle them the way I would have if I’d met them at a party or a bar.

So maybe it’s not impossible that Jorge actually means to flirt with me, but I really think his behavior tonight was coming more from a place of just not knowing any other way to interact with a woman.

But what do I do with that? A student at my day job commented that it’s up to us, the staff, to teach him the social graces, that he really just didn’t know how to be with people and he needed our help. Well, ok, I guess. I mean, that makes sense to me … but how do I do it? I don’t want to create any uncomfortable situations for myself or for Jorge. I don’t want him to go back to not speaking at all. Most of all, I don’t want to be in any way encouraging, just in case he really is flirting with me!