driving lessons

i got my driver’s license last month.  i am 32 years old, have been teaching for the past 3 years, and am engaged to my pregnant partner, and i got my driver’s license last month.

when i was 12, i read that 50 simple things kids can do to save the earth book, and then immediately after it read kids can save the animals: 101 easy things to do.  i was finishing it in the car, and decided to become a vegetarian.  we’d been running errands all day, and my grandparents pulled into mcdonalds.  horrified, yet lacking creativity, i ordered my usual cheeseburger.  soon, i decided that i would cut out red meat and until the middle of my first year of college declared myself a “partial vegetarian,” eating fish, chicken, and turkey, but not beef or pork (that mid-first-year of college moment was when i decided to be a total vegetarian– now i’m more pescetarian).

the books made me more patient with the fluorescent light that took forever to turn on, in my great-grandma’s bathroom, and it made me an easily thwarted crusader for paper, rather than styrofoam for my school’s lunches.  (after a letter to the principal, i got called to the office for i think the only time of my entire school career, for a conversation that went something like this: principal: “i hear you want us to stop using styrofoam but instead use paper instead.”  me: “yes, please.”  principal: “well, the styrofoam is a lot less expensive than the paper, so we have to keep using it.”  me:  “yeah, i guess that makes sense.  thanks anyway.”)  i bought the greyish, fibrous recycled looseleaf paper, and used it religiously, horrified when the boy i had a crush on complained about it.

i had seen the old lorax movie many times as a child, and i knew i was someone who cared a whole awful lot.  i didn’t do everything right, but i did what i knew about, as much as i knew how to do it.  to this day, in my head, there is a dying person in a hospital bed during the nuclear apocolyptic endtimes, who’s life is either prolonged or ended by the extra lights i turn on in a house (but only lights… and refrigerators and cars… trigger this thought– computer use, temperature control, stereos don’t).  i was responsible for life to continue on this planet by my choices.

early in my sophomore year of high school, there was a horrible car accident involving some of my classmates, and one of them died.  we weren’t friends, but i felt the loss, because i thought she was cool but i was too shy to talk to her.  around the same time, one of my pen pals also lost a classmate to a car accident.

so, as i neared my 16th birthday, and people started to ask me about getting my drivers’ license, the combination of environmental responsibility and terror of dying a horrible fiery death took away all motivation.

when i was 19, i did try to learn.  my mom and i went out in her pick-up truck, cruising around some school and church parking lots.  but as soon as we went on the road and i saw another car (across the median, in the furthest possible lane), i pulled over and burst into tears.

i’ve never been clear on my relationship to driving.  as a passenger, i’ve tried as hard as possible to limit myself to trips people were making anyway, getting a ride to errands with people already going on them, or asking for a block detour to run an errand i need to run.  realizing how terrifying riding the bus can be sometimes, and then biking more, helped me get over a lot of the fear aspect, but there’s always been resistance.   i cannot figure out if it’s self-righteousness, fear, god, prescience, preciousness, or what.

then at the end of last school year, i had to make a choice.  i could either follow my amazing colleagues and the wonderful students at my school to a school that is entirely inaccessible by bus (up a giant hill, it is a 45 minutes walk from the nearest regular bus stop), or i could gamble on a move to another school– and it looked like it was probably going to be a middle school.  meanwhile, t was pregnant, and i decided that the responsible thing to do was to get a drivers’ license.

i hate that kind of responsibility.  that decision between “how do i help the people closest to me?” vs. “how do i help the whole world?” (and it sounds like parenting is a lot of that)  there have been times where i’ve wondered if my time waiting at bus stops was getting in the way of my world-saving time, but in general, i’ve always felt really good about my decision not to drive.

now, i have a drivers’ license.  i get up in the morning, get ready for work, and then drive through the woods to get to my job.  it is gorgeous.  sometimes there are deer.  sometimes there are turkeys.  it’s crazy to remember that i’m even in oakland.  my favorite part, though, is listening to music.  i’ve been resurrecting cds from my collection, bopping along to wonderful and hilarious selections, like the disney peter pan soundtrack, a lot of ani difranco, and the andrews sisters’ greatest hits.  i relish my dorkiness as others pass me.

but my exercise has gone way down.  i’m trying to fix that in other ways, but the balance hasn’t been reached yet.  and it’s stressful.  it’s really really stressful.  riding the bus, you aren’t in control of this giant thing and sometimes you hear scary people say scary things, but you can retreat into books.  you don’t have to be present and in decision-making mode the whole time.  one of my friends whose been teaching me to drive, outside of that context mentioned that she read a study about how people in modern american society all show symptoms of ptsd, and she thought that made sense.  i do too.  and during one of our drives together, i asked her if she thought a lot of it had to do with cars, because i do.  these giant metal death machines that move with the merest touch of a foot but that are fueled by greed and war should NOT be how the majority of our country gets around.  i am now one of those people, but i am not okay with it.

AND at the same time, i am remembering that a good part of the reason i didn’t want to drive was because i thought that there was a possibility i’d like it too much.  and part of me really does like it.  it is sort of fun.  it is sort of easy.  i get to pick my music.  it is fast.

in the first couple of weeks of the school year, t expressed concern that maybe i was drinking too much coffee because i was so stressy.  but then we realized that i’m actually drinking less coffee than last year.  and there are definitely plenty of things to be stressed about right now so i chalked it up to adrenaline.  but at the birth class last weekend, as the teacher was talking about endorphins, and oxytocin, and adrenaline, i started to put a lot of it together with my driving.  my fight-or-flight time is way up, and my exercise time is way down.  just like much of america.

*sigh*

“i want to blog this weekend.  i have so much to say!”

“about what?”

“well…  driving… and gender.”

“what about it?”

“well, i want to write it down first, because it gets all garbled when i try to say it out loud.”

in other incarnations of this post, in my head, i’ve had really good segues and connections between these issues, because parenting is part of why i’m driving and part of why i’m thinking about gender a lot right now.  but i ended that driving part pretty nicely, so i’ll use that dialogue and this monologue to change the subject.

“what are you having?”

the question is like nails on a chalkboard to me right now.  it is a complete overreaction, i know, but when i hear it, part of me wants to snap back an adolescent (adrenaline-filled?) response about how that very question goes against the very fiber of my being and all of my beliefs, and how could they ask me such a thing and and and and and!

i don’t know.  and i won’t know even when i do know.  and i still think it’s totally irrelevant to who this little person growing in t’s tummy will be.  unless they want it to be relevant, and i know there are times when it is vitally important for them, and that’s fine.

it’s hard when there is something that you believe in so strongly that is so counter to mainstream thinking.  i remember a woman at a school i worked at in seattle, who was so upset about a family raising their kids to be vegan.  “how can they impose their values on their child like that?”  i didn’t say it (i basically never say “it” btw, whatever “it” is), but i had this epiphany.  if you don’t raise your kid by your values, you are raising them by mainstream values.  you are saying that what the mainstream believes is fine and ok.  and maybe it is.  it might be.

and then in my case, it’s so tricky, right?  i don’t actively want to have a transgender child.  i don’t NOT want a transgender child, but i don’t plan on raising our kid to be trans.  binary gender assignments seem to have worked more or less okay for most of the population for quite awhile now, so i can’t assume that any bit of it will chafe on my child the way it has chafed on me.  but i really want to counter all of the messages about what is and is not okay to be that our society feeds to all of us all of the time.  that is vitally important to me.  and the idea that our favorite colors, things, and way of dealing with the world are pre-determined for us, now even before we pop out of our parents that have the right plumbing to pop us out, makes me itchy, scratchy, irritable, cranky, tired, and sad.

how do i make my child’s self as filled with possibilities as possible, without limiting it by deciding that that limitless is important?  how does my belief in that limitlessness limit my child in a world that believes so gosh-darn fiercely in those limits?  how do make sure to honor the possibility that our kid could be totally gender-normative, without just going along with the culture’s assumptions that that is how it will be?

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confessions of a professional grad school applicant, part 2

i started out, thinking that i’d write about schools two at a time, but that hasn’t really happened.  i’m really actually near the end of my trip now, but the insights changed.

as you probably know, i fell in love with UGA and athens. georgia, and did not fall in love with georgia state.  both of those responses were deep and gut-level.

we both spent a little bit of time in durham with j from the internet.  then t and i went and visited with her family out in rural raleigh, where we were well-fed and t and her tummy were well-loved, and then t and her dad and her dad’s girlfriend drove off to carolina beach and i stayed with j from the internet.

the following day, i got together with some of my loveliest friends from college, and they gave me the “pretend i live here and want to walk and bike to as many places as possible, where is the best place for me?” tour of carrboro.  they also brought me to this store in chapel hill with a shrine upstairs that made me feel like i was taking a tour inside francesca lia block’s fabulous glittery head.

that night my mom arrived from her trip along the blue ridge parkway from asheville, where she had been visiting to unsuccessfully escape the florida heat.  she was pleased to be in a house with cats.

she drove me to my appointments at unc-chapel hill and north carolina state.  i hoped she would find a place to park and wander, but the lack of free parking, understandable navigation, and cool breezes made it less of a fun adventure for her than i’d hoped.

my first appointment, at chapel hill, was with a professor who was meeting me with permission from his wife, who makes sure he spends enough time off and with the family.  i wasn’t sure how to read him from our brief emails, but he was very friendly and someone i could definitely work with, and the program sounds like what i want.  unfortunately, funding sounds like it’s very iffy and very year-by-year, which is not how i see my budding family thriving.  more recently, on the bolt bus from dc to new york, i quietly talked on the phone with a recent grad who talked to me about all of the pros and cons of the program, saying she was glad she went, she grew, and that the program is in a better place than it was when she started it– but that she had to spend some serious time educating some of the faculty about african-american and feminist issues, which is of course a red flag for me.

next i met with a faculty member at north carolina state.  t and i are much less excited about raleigh than chapel hill, so that’s the starting point for that.  i entered campus and immediately found a student yelling from the bible under a tree.  i walked for half an hour through north campus before i found the building i needed to be at and then found myself chasing up and down stairs to find the professor who was moving offices and to whom i’d accidentally sent a confirmation email with the wrong time on it.  she was very friendly and excited and convinced this was the perfect program for me.  after i left she connected me with more people and resources, so that’s awesome, too.  funding is slightly less iffy, but i’m just not sure about raleigh.  all of that area seems so spread-out and car-necessary, which is not at all what i want for my life.

then we drove to carolina beach where we spent time with t’s family.  one day, t’s dad took us out for a boat ride down the intracoastal waterway to the boardwalk area, and after we got donuts and walked down to the beach, i took off running, abandoning everyone to just get in the water.  having a pregnant lady in my life makes me think some about swimming and the womb, and the deep connection some of us feel with the ocean.  the next day, my mom kidnapped me for a day at the beach in front of her hotel.  there has been less swimming this summer than i would like, but that day made up for a lot of it.

we went down to florida to see more of t’s family and then we flew up to washington, dc.  as soon as i got off the plane, we hightailed it on the metro to the foggy bottom stop so i could meet with a professor at george washington.  he was wonderfully friendly and answered all of my questions, and the program sounds great.  i’m also really enamored with all the brick oldness of that area.  to me, birds of paradise are a little passe, because i grew up in florida, but old brick buildings are exotic and fascinating.  for t it’s the opposite.  i had another appointment, this time with a student, the following day, still feeling good about the program.

but one of the best things was the childhood support network that t has there, family friends who love her.  i think it would be really hard for us to find affordable housing, but we’d have people who love t around us, which is very important.

i took a train to delaware to visit the university of delaware in newark.  one of the things that struck me about dc, besides the old brick buildings was the comingled diversity.  i saw this on the buses in newark as well, but it had a grittier more industrial, poorer feel than the diplomats and doctors who bustled around me in dc.  the campus looks like what books and movies make you think colleges are supposed to look like, and i ate yummy food.  the professor there was wonderfully friendly and helpful, walking me up and down stairs and showing me all sorts of rooms and people and labs.  i think it could be a really good program, but between arranging the appointment and going to the appointment, t had pretty much vetoed delaware.

the next day, we took the bolt bus to new york.  before i met t, new york to me was the new york of crocodile dundee, dangerous, gritty, and full of angry executives in fancy clothes and angrier punks with leather jackets and enormously tall mohawks.  but the new york we always go to is the brooklyn loft of her bff, where we sit around and chat and eat for ours, and go on mini-excursions that are remarkably unstressful and always delightful.  this trip has been no different.  one day, i got together with a friend who went from student to faculty of cuny recently, and he gave me a tour of the bright hallways and closed darkened offices of the graduate center.  his partner had a bad experience at nyu, so she gave me the jaded tour of those blocks.  but my head is currently full of a fog of daydreams of a quietish new york spot for our family, and trying to make it work without feeling like a broke kid in a candy store.  it is entirely impractical, and reminds me of those crushes on dangerous boys in high school that feel so compelling and necessary to one’s blood at the time.  but like dc, what new york has is people who love us.  and although it’s fast in its way, it has yet to be overtly rude to us.

well, we are coming into philadelphia on our megabus, and then we are going to get our rental car for penn state.  it’s an odd time to visit, but so far this program seems to be one of the most promising for all of the bits of coziness, affordability, nice folks, and close to people we love.

Published in: on 16 July, 2012 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  

if, on a summer’s day, a traveler…

my computer lost its ability to connect to the internet a couple of days ago.  i’ve been traveling all over the place, using internet in hostels, homes, trains, and buses.  then, when we came to our brooklyn homebase, the apartment of t’s bff, i discovered i couldn’t connect to his internet.  then i learned i could connect to no one’s internet.

somehow, right when i was thinking of going on a solitary field trip to an apple store to get my computer fixed, my brain did something like:

busy saturday–> sunday’s free–>  go on sunday–>  quaker meeting!

so for i made a 2:00 appointment at an apple store and then looked up the closest quaker meeting to where i was staying– the brooklyn quaker meeting.  i learned it was just a couple of stops from where i was.

so this morning i woke up, went to the subway, went downstairs and sweated like crazy.  in the train stations here, i don’t even recognize what i feel as heat, but my forehead immediately starts streaming sweat.  i got off at the hoyt-schermerhorn stop, and started my walk.  fortunately, i started off in the right direction.  i passed the friends school family center, a teacher supply store, and the criminal court, and then knew i was in the right place, because i saw some foliage and a man walking a bicycle through an open gate.

i was enthusiastically welcomed into the beautiful old building by a young woman, and then walked up the stairs to the worship room.

before today i’d been to this meetinghouse, i’d participated in sunday morning worship at 3 meetings: whitby, england, in early 2001, san francisco regularly for the past 6 years, and the berkeley friends meeting once about a year or 2 ago.  possibly because of that, or because i’ve been in “soak up my surroundings mode” for the past few months, or maybe just because it’s how i’ve been in worship lately anyway, i spent most of the meeting contemplating my surroundings and the people in it.

one of the first things that struck me was that there were a few people of color there, who all seemed to feel at home, which is something that our meeting has continuously struggled with.

i also noticed that the doors never closed.  i liked the welcoming feel of that and didn’t think it was distracting, outside of the fact that i was distracted by everything anyway.

the other thing i noticed as i was scoping the room for my place to sit, and then afterwards, was that it had the old-fashioned benches, with the mysterious “facing benches” i’d mostly only ever read about.  i remember when i first started coming to the sf meeting.  the chairs surrounded an old braided rug.  i decided that the people closest to the rug must be the most insider type people of the meeting, so i sat on the fringes (and even though the rug is gone and i’ve been told the rug means nothing, i still tend to do that).  i couldn’t figure out the meaning of the facing benches at the brooklyn meeting, so i decided to just steer clear of them.

the meeting was good.  people spoke.  my mind was far too busy.  the children’s program made a cute quaker village out of cardboard boxes in the social hall.

… and then back to the subway for the apple store appointment.  i walked past some cop cars and some police officers and some more police officers and a newsstand and kept walking until i realized i must have missed the station, so i turned around and found it, right at the newsstand.   like on the initial ride, i sweated like crazy, but i eventually got out at my stop, 14th street.

i walked past the 16th street exit, and the 15th street exit, and then got out on the right side of the street but then accidentally walked up to 15th anyway.  i walked up to 9th and found myself at chelsea market with some time to kill, so that was fun.  and then i got my laptop fixed.  it took 4 minutes.

except then back at our homebase, it’s still not working.  so it might be the connection here.  but i know what he did to make it work there, so i will try it again with another connection.

after i got back, we went to the brooklyn museum.  and as per their tradition, t and friend took me up to see judy chicago’s the dinner party. and even though i’m not a lesbian anymore and i know that the vag doesn’t make the lady…  that may have been the most spiritual moment of my day.

or maybe i was just geeking out with my feminist b.a. in religion self, recognizing names and histories and references and connections.  proud of what i knew.  probably still thinking too much.

Published in: on 15 July, 2012 at 7:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

on wednesday, my 5th graders “graduated” from elementary school.  in what was technically a promotion ceremony, my students and the general education fifth graders at my school, one of the five elementary schools closing in oakland this year, charmed the crowd with their sweet spirits, huge accomplishments, and tearjerking songs and speeches.  it was a tremendously touching ceremony and if there were any dry eyes after the kids sang “true colors,” the principal fixed that with her speech, reminding us how these children have raised us as much as we’ve raised them.

last saturday, i went to a different graduation.  on thursday, it suddenly dawned on me that if i hadn’t already missed it, i could probably go to the graduation of the high schoolers i’d worked with two years ago.  out of my caseload of 28, about 20 were 10th graders, which meant that this would be their graduation year.

when i graduated high school, i was very smug.  it wasn’t a big deal to me, just a rite of passage to get past to get onto my real life.  and it’s difficult to say this in a way that won’t come off as smug or condescending, but in the past few years, i’ve learned so much about how hard graduating high school can be.  reading disabilities, bureaucratic hoops, cops watching, friends and relatives getting shot, no money for food, low expectations, and huge household responsibilities were not anything that i had to deal with in high school.  there were suicides and attempted suicides and alcohol-related car accidents and a sense of depression and ennui, and getting through and past all that was a challenge in its own way and i think high school is a challenge for pretty much anyone.  but in the end, the assumption was “of course you graduate high school.  that is what you do.”  but when i went to the graduation last week, i was immediately struck by a sense of deep pride and joy.  “we survived and conquered.  we fucking did it.”  it was a holy space.

and what was so exciting was that sense of “we did it.”  not “i did it,” which is i think what i thought of my graduation, but instead, “we did this together.”  in one of the graduation speeches, the speaker talked about her classmates as her rivals who were also her backbone.  yes.

the camaraderie among the faculty at that high school was huge.  when i went back to teaching elementary school, i compared the relationships forged at the high school as being like those on a battlefield.  and despite race differences and gang rivalries and all of those things, there is a deep bond between the students at the high school as well.

it’s funny, right.  the way that god is found in those places that hurt so much.  the pain is inexcusable.  causing that pain is inexcusable.  causing that pain with our inequitable laws, prejudices, and greedy fears is absolutely inexcusable.  the world needs to be better than that.  and so it’s ironic that those deep pain moments are the places where i see god the most.

though it also makes sense.  these “comfortable” lives of ours with on-demand tv and microwave dinners, that are based on the sweat of workers we don’t even think about and that smooth over oppression and negative emotion, cannot be the kingdom of god (or the gateway to the kingdom of god if you believe that heaven comes later).  neither are the experiences that would make for that deep sense of celebration for even surviving high school.  that is not the kingdom of god either.  but being in that place of togetherness and joy, if we could just keep that instead of working for trinkets and pushing past each other for what we think is ours, then those inequities and fears could stop.

this post seems equal parts white guilt manifesto, hallmark card, and sermon.  i believe what i’m saying and i also think i cannot put it into words without simplifying people’s experiences and without simplifying god.  i was excited about posting this, but now my lack of appropriate words makes me wonder if it’s worth it, or if it will just go into the collection of words written by good-hearted white liberals that repeat each other and are based on unrealistic idealism.

so i’m going to change the subject to something related but different.  now i’m going to start writing about the morality of lgbtq rights.   because i rarely post and this is something else i’ve been wanting to post and i think i can actually make a good point at the end of all of this.  and at least i know if i idealize the lives of lgbtq people, i’m idealizing my own life.

i’ve been thinking about lgbtq rights as a moral issue in a totally new way recently.  i suddenly realized what a moral nonissue the right to love who you want to love is, and how the focus on that takes a lot of the heat off of everybody, queers, queer-hating folks, and queer allies, to actually fix real problems in the world.  i suddenly started thinking about all of the things lgbtq folks could be doing with their precious and dynamic time, energy, and hearts, if they weren’t stuck being so busy defending their rights to love who they want to love.  again, i am totally idealizing a whole lot of things, but just think what could be done if people weren’t fighting so hard over their ability to hate, or to not be hated.

bah.  it’s coming out all wrong still.  it seems so vitally important, but the words are not strong enough.

i am thinking a lot about that part in huckleberry finn where huck decides that if helping jim makes him a bad person, well then, he might as well just get used to being a bad person.  and we sadly chuckle because we the readers know that he is actually a good person, he just thinks he’s a bad person.  and in the same way, all this angst about the morality of queerness is just totally beside the point of what life and morality is really about.  not that we shouldn’t fight for queer rights.  that’s not what i mean at all.  but the whole hatred of queerness thing just suddenly seems like nothing more than a colossal waste of energy.  god does not want us using our time and energy on justifying our hatred or our self-hatred.  that cannot be what this world is about.  the question suddenly reframed itself from, “queerness: good or bad?” to “why would anyone spend any moment of their time trying to convince people to hate others, rather than just helping people who need help?  who came up with those priorities?”

i want to ‘lectrify my soul.

yesterday at meeting for worship there were a lot of tears. and when somebody spoke/sang about the belief that there will be laughter even after people go, my natural tendency toward making people laugh when times are sad, went into high gear.

i wanted to tell the “hilarious” story of my first quaker meeting. i was an american tourist in whitby, england, and i had a cold. i tried to get tissues before the meeting started but nowhere was open, and that hunt took so long that i got to the meetinghouse just as meeting was started so i couldn’t find the bathroom. so i dashed in and sat there, for my very first hour of silence. except thanks to me, it wasn’t silence. the silence was regularly punctuated by my sniffles, as i tried to sink into the worship in some way. as i remember, there were multiple doors into and out of the worship room, and so even if i had felt brave enough to get up to go to a restroom at such a mysterious and holy time, i didn’t know where any of the doors led. so i just sat there. and sniffled. and felt american.

at the end of the worship time, the elderly woman next to me, kindly turned and told me that she wanted to offer me a tissue, but they were all up her sleeve and she wasn’t sure if that would bother me or not, so she hadn’t offered me a tissue.

what i got from reliving that story in my mind yesterday, was actually less about the funniness of the story but of the tissues we all have up our sleeves that we are too self-conscious to share.

but i didn’t tell the story or the lesson i had learned from it. there’s this flowchart that’s somewhere in our meeting’s seeker’s packets that gets referred to sometimes, and it’s about how to test whether to share a message. the part that i remember the most is that you can ask yourself if the message is just for you or for the group.

here is my embarrassing and guilty quaker confession:

what keeps me from speaking at meeting for worship, more than anything, when i have these “enlightening” moments is that as i start asking myself if the message is for me or the group, another piece comes in, which is, “am i willing to live by this?” and sometimes i’m not sure. sometimes the idea of living by my own grand advice that seems like it’s from god to the group, with me sort of tangentially involved, is so terrifying or exhausting-seeming, that i keep it to myself.

also, yesterday, i finished reading a pendle hill pamphlet by ben pink dandelion, “confident quakerism.” when i went to return it to the library, the library committee member behind the desk asked what i’d thought. and it was hard to answer, because i’d started the pamphlet months ago, read half of it, and then read the other half today. as i recalled, the beginning had been somewhat irritating, but yesterday’s reading had been useful. as i recall, the beginning dealt with some theological mistakes the author had made, and something in how they were presented had irked me. but there was a sentence near the end about how conversations about our spiritual mistakes breaks open things between people. in my conversation, i hypothesised that maybe our mistakes our better talked about than written about (and now i am writing about that idea). maybe they crystallize a little out of context, when you see them in print.

but it was interesting to read that yesterday, because besides theological mistakes, another place where stuff breaks up in important ways, is when people talk about race and oppression. i’m looking at ph. d. programs right now and i just discovered this week that there are education programs that have whiteness studies as part of it, and that has gotten me really excited. so i got all excited about that as a theological exercise, too.

but of course i don’t want to mix up an academic field with worship.

but probably the core of my belief system is that god is there when you are open to the truth. and frequently that is messy and awkward.

(and at the same time something i am continually learning is the boundaries of one’s own messy-and-awkward and others’ messy-and-awkward. as a writer who has very little filter, i must be mindful that others have filters and boundaries, and they are there for a reason.)

after meeting for worship, my girlfriend and i trekked over to ocean beach to see gillian welch, old crow medicine show, and emmylou harris pay tribute to warren hellman, the man who had started the hardly strictly bluegrass festival, a free music festival in golden gate park. i can never be convinced to go to the festival anymore because it is too crowded and full of alcohol and pot, even if i think it’s a good idea. but i liked the slightly smaller (though still robust) crowd of this event, the considerably rarer instances of people lighting up anything near me (though i did have this funny interaction on the phone with my mom between sets. she said, “we’re lighting a fire in the pit out here,” JUST as pulled out a pipe and lit it right next to me, and so i said, “yeah, someone’s got a little one going over here, too.), the explicitly respectful vibe of the event, and the beautiful escape valve of the roaring ocean just behind me. i was actually able to enjoy the music.

life is sadder than sometimes i’d like to admit. and it’s hard. and growth is hard. but there is god in the music and the laughter and the time shared together and the solitude of the ocean and the mistakes we make and our ability to open up about those mistakes. and if there’s not, there’s something really close, pointing to what god really is.

living through the dry, oaty bits.

the first week of 2012 has been full of paradox for me. or maybe not paradox, but big… confusion. big… holding of awkward truths.

objectively and retrospectively, i’m a big fan of breaking open. the change that comes after the world has shattered you and you come back. in the moment, though, it sucks. in the moment, while you are breaking or watching someone break or the world seems to be so irreparably broken, it just needs to stop.

at the same time, sometimes when things are breaking, things also slow down and get soft. circumstances beat at your heart but people who love you are gentle. when my dad died, i had a rotating circle of friends who shared my bed, cuddling me to sleep. right now, things are like that. our house is a house of dazed, sad confusion, but the guests give us love and laughter. as we keep watch in the dark, our friends are the lights.

that is one thing that is going on.

the other thing is the bus ride every day. every day i get on the bus at 6:18 am, close my eyes and open them again at about 7:05 on the last stop. usually i don’t fall asleep, but sometimes i doze a little bit in the middle. then at the end of the day, i stand in front of a gas station and wait for the bus to pick me up.

thursday in the late afternoon, with me at the bus stop was a family. a young woman, a young man, and two kids, one in a stroller. the adults talked about drugs and sex and the baby in the stroller screamed. then the woman took the baby out of the stroller and got in it herself. on the bus, the baby screamed, the young man got off the bus, both children screamed, the young woman hit them, they continued to scream. i’d just finished a day that included one student’s near-violent screaming meltdown that ended with his parents being called and him being picked up early.

friday morning, there was a woman on the bus talking to anyone who would listen. 20 minutes before my bus stop, she started yelling at me to wake up and then at the bus driver about how she was worried this woman wouldn’t wake up. i opened my eyes and grouchily told her that i wasn’t a woman and that i did this all the time and had never missed my stop. she apologized. then she apologized. then she apologized. i closed my eyes. then she told me about her heroin addiction, selling methadone, setting a car on fire, jumping off an overpass, and getting her leg amputated. multiple times. in multiple ways.

these moments make me want to stop, to move away, to live somewhere where it is not so hard. i think what i really need is to become less permeable, to stop carrying these things around. because really my job, as a teacher, is to make sure my students don’t become these people. that’s like, the biggest, scariest job in the world.

all the bus stuff has been rolling around in me for a bit and a clever blog entry title that i came up with was “wrapped up like a douche,” like the misheard version of “blinded by the light” and my desire to wrap myself cosily away from all the bad things in the world, like a selfish jerk… but that’s a little too self-deprecating and crude for a title.

and, lest you think the oakland city bus makes one give up all hope, last night, as i was going to see friends downtown, i walked onto a very crowded bus, and the first thing i witnessed was a girl, about 8 years old, singing to an appreciative woman who i could tell had been a stranger before this meeting, “happy birthday to ya, happy birthday to ya, happy birthday to ya.”

he’s both a fish and a mammal and i hope he’ll never change

one of the big questions i wrestle with lately is about the necessity of christianity for me. i think it will always be a question i wrestle with, because christianity has so many different facets and meanings. “clearly” i have no use for the angry fundamentalist christianity that seems to be what most people equate with all christianity, and i hope to never go back there again. but it has its ghosts in my psyche, raw nerves i’m still nervous about touching.

my girlfriend, who i’ve been with for four years and who i’m planning a life with, was raised, basically, areligious. and i live in urban areas and queer communities that can also be fairly areligious. and there is a pride there that makes sense in the face of the religion that makes it on the news, the religion that seems to wear ignorance as a badge of honor. the problem then, though, is that ignorance of religion becomes the opposite badge of honor. i am continuously upset by the angry war between the religious and the nonreligious, because i think they’re actually on the same side which is the side of anger and fear.

my areligious girlfriend and i try to be on the side of love. and if god is love, is religion necessary?

the answer, for me, is that it can be helpful. it can provide a framework and a discipline for transforming and growing love past something shallow and greeting card.

the challenge, though, is moving past my own shy fear of unpopular opinions and desire for happy family life, and trying to ethically and honestly live a life based somewhere in religion while living with, loving and honoring my girlfriend and her traditions.

you say “well hey, it’s about time” and i say “no, no it’s about love”

there’s a post i’ve been holding onto for months, maybe years. i’m actually sitting here trying to write it and have managed to get halfway through it twice before highlighting the whole thing and hitting delete. i think of it as the post that’s gotten in the way of writing here regularly anymore, but it just won’t come out either.

it’s about my confusion about accountability to myself, from others, and to my meeting. it’s about calling and that falling away or shifting and not knowing where it went and not knowing how to ask for support and feeling bitter that it wasn’t just offered and feeling guilty for wanting other people to follow all of my whims and fluctuations. it’s about my desire to be more aware of others’ whims and fluctuations. it’s about accidentally almost joining a cult. it’s about the death of a member of my clearness committee. it’s about diversity and social justice and the question of if quakerism really is for everyone. it’s about how still and all, the majority of my friends are white. it’s about struggling as a teacher. it’s about crying at the meeting retreat two years ago because i just desperately wanted to give all of my students the type of experience i was having right then. it’s about how i don’t understand the valuable experiences my students have. it’s about wanting to write more. it’s about wanting to be more of what i think a quaker should be. it’s about living far from my meeting. it’s about feeling far from my meeting. it’s about feeling close to my meeting. it’s about unexpected phone calls from members of my meeting when i am feeling low or am across the country. it’s about feeling distance and then suddenly feeling overly close. it’s about being a grown-up. it’s about trying to infuse my teaching with quakerism. it’s about leaving and coming back. it’s about bitterness and angst and self-recrimination. it’s about deciding. it’s about not deciding. it’s about confusion, sadness, and joy. it’s about days slipping by. it’s about living.

maybe now that that’s all out of the way, i can start focusing on god again.

my summer of prequels, sequels, and nonconsensual sorrow

Three very important books came out this year: Sweet Valley Confidential by Francine Pascal, The Carrie Diaries: Summer and the City by Candace Bushnell, and Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares. I’m a teacher and as the summer approached, I was thrilled as I anticipated ordering the three from my local independent bookstore. When I called in the order over the phone, my girlfriend put her hand over her face in embarrassment, but I was too excited to care.

Books about girl friendship are my thing. I’m not totally sure why. I read or heard somewhere that every good TV show has as its base a fantasy ideal and maybe as someone who was socialized female but was always unpopular and confused, the cadre of girls who have my back is my fantasy. And I also have a distinct childhood memory of daydreaming about the future of The Baby-Sitters Club. I was excited to have found a series about young girls because we both had our whole futures ahead of us and I could read about their futures as I lived out mine.

The Baby-Sitters Club was my big series as a kid, and I attempted to start a book group about them a couple of years ago but I wasn’t as much on the pulse of my generation as I hoped I was. Fans are putting out “Where Are They Now” articles about them and my friends email me links to those because they know I will be pleased. Last summer, along with the first Carrie Diaries, a Baby-Sitters Club prequel came out. It was fine but I didn’t find it more engaging than just picking up Claudia and Crazy Peaches or anything like that. I’m a big fan of the graphic novels that were published a couple of years ago and I wish there could have been more of them.

Even though I knew of no big Baby-Sitters Club related publishing events, I was still thrilled. I’ve known about Sweet Valley Confidential for about a year and anticipated a second Carrie Diaries book since the first one hardly even got her into New York. I didn’t discover Sisterhood Everlasting until right as the summer began, and that was the one that my girlfriend was genuinely excited about.

The summer started innocently enough. We were actually having beautiful weather and while my girlfriend was at work, I would take Sweet Valley Confidential out into the back yard and read it, stretched out on a towel, even though I do not have a girlish size 6 figure with blond hair, blue-green eyes, and a dimple in one cheek. It was completely devourable, in the exact same way as the original books were- overly dramatic, simply written, and with familiar stereotypical/archetypal characters. There was some surprise gayness, an ending that untangled a lot of the romantic drama, and a list of “where are they nows” for an epilogue.

We had a trip planned for a few weeks into the summer and my girlfriend was planning to save Sisterhood Everlasting for that trip. She would grin when she saw the book, anticipating the joys it would bring. I would grin in response, pleased to be the provider of excellent girly fiction. Eventually she just couldn’t stand it any longer. She decided to just read the book, even though we weren’t leaving for a week. “Bee lives in the Mission!” she told me, as we were cuddled up together in bed. I was trying to extend my girly fiction summer and was reading The Dud Avocado for the first time. I felt the bed shake with laughter. “She had to dig through the trash to find her phone!” So like our impulsive Bee!

And then the bed was shaking again. I looked over, and there was my girlfriend, tears streaming down her face. “This is a bad book,” she said. My vision of myself as Good Provider Boyfriend shattered and I felt like Puppy Killing Boyfriend. She kept reading anyway, and her hints about loss in our own lives and my periodic peeking over her shoulder led me to figure out the tragedy in advance. And I’m going to tell you one part of it, feeling guiltless because it happens very early in the book and because it seems so frustratingly unnecessary as you are reading it. That one part is that, yes, one of the sisterhood dies.

How can this happen? This girl is not Beth March, Walter Blythe, Hilary Whitney, all deaths that you see coming and that have some sort of noble martyrdom in them. This is one of those “What the fuck? Why is this author mean!?” deaths. My theory, looking over Trisha’s shoulder, was that it was for the rest of the characters to grow. But as I watched my strong beautiful girlfriend who has already mourned so deeply in her life already, my opinion was still that the author was unnecessarily mean, even as I tried to comfort us both with my theories that growth would be involved in all of this. I mean, I hadn’t let her read Commencement, and here I had handed her this razor blade apple of a book.

I finished The Dud Avocado and then a reread of Rainbow Valley and then dove into Carrie Diaries: Summer and the City. I have a love/hate relationship with the Sex in the City TV show and movies, baffled in some ways by where the love comes from, having a lot to say about the socioeconomic, race, gender stereotypes and messages. But I’ve seen it all and think of “the girls” as some old friends who I know well and who never change. I read Sex in the City as I was about halfway through watching the series a few years ago and I thought it wasn’t very interesting, except that Stanford Blatch had long hair (I have only since watched There’s Something About Mary). But I grabbed the first Carrie Diaries book as soon as I could and read it quickly. It reminded me of Ellen Conford’s books or some other poky, sort of boring and dorky, sort of scandalous, somewhat dated paperback I would get out of the spinner at the library in the mid-90’s. Like in the other book and the series, Carrie’s epiphanies are not that impressive, but she’s just charming, flawed, and likable enough to keep you going. The last chapters get interesting as she finally makes her way from the suburbs to New York and one of the other “girls” makes a surprise appearance.

Summer and the City is set almost entirely in New York City and reminded me of all the ways being eighteen and naive makes everything seem like an epic adventure. It makes me miss the epic adventures but not enough to be stupid enough to make them happen again. I’ve only been to New York City once and am planning another trip, so the romanticized glamor of New York, amidst fabulous Carrie fashion decisions, made the book a really fun read. Nobody died and more characters from the TV series show up, and I was pleased by this fluffy read as well.

Trisha was staying up late nights to finish Sisterhood Everlasting and in the end she declared it a good book. I stalled for awhile, reading High Fidelity before braving it. Finally, I did. I brought it to a coffeehouse one grey San Francisco morning, and as I read it my insides got chillier and chillier. I got angrier and angrier as I read, telling the author, in my head, that I and the characters had grown plenty before this book and this was totally unnecessary.

The real problem with the book was that Ann Brashares was writing about grief in all of its specific steps and stages from the point of view of three different characters, and it was all completely recognizable. It was a bad, cruel book because it dragged you unwillingly through the steps you already know too well. You see, it’s all about consent. I did not consent to be grieving in the middle of my summer vacation. And I didn’t want to grow. I just wanted pants magic.

And then, like always, it came. I’m a sucker. Each character grew and changed and lived on the page, and I was right there with them, like Bastian to Atreyu. We went through the mirror gates, we faced the Southern Oracle, and when we were done, we were able to wish and hope again. And even though I hadn’t consented to any of the sisterhood dying, it turned out it wasn’t a bad book, because it shook me up, cleared out cobwebs, and actually wound up being fun again, eventually.

Published in: on 4 August, 2011 at 6:45 am  Comments (1)  

it wasn’t about me but it hurt so much.

they never tell you how hard it is to call cps.

as a teacher, you are a mandated reporter. anytime you suspect abuse you are required by law to call cps. you are not the detective, you are told, they are. just call.

before i was a teacher, i went to numerous trainings about calling cps. one involved a graphic video, another role-playing, and over and over again, the mantra “if you suspect abuse, you have to call. don’t worry. just do it.” they won’t break up families, it won’t be an immigration issue, their job is to keep children and families safe, and together whenever possible.

someone i am close to had to call cps before i did for someone in their class. i told them over and over again they just had to do it, it was our job.

and it turned out it was even hard than we’d expected, in entirely different ways than we had thought.

and i’ve had to call three times now, and each time the experience is the same. you feel nauseous, scared and vulnerable, the connection is usually bad, and you are trying to speak these horrible truths clearly and loudly and you get a little numb because the connection is so bad you’ve had to say them over and over and over again. and then on the other end, “are you sure?” “did you ask this?” “have you talked to…?” “this is very serious.” by the time you get off the phone, you feel about 2 feet tall, clumsy, stupid. you doubt they are going to follow up, even though this is the second time you’ve seen bruises, and you feel angry and confused at those people who told you to call. because now it feels like if you weren’t there at the window witnessing these precious children getting beaten, you have no case, why are you even calling?

i’ve been wanting to write about that for awhile, and it’s not quaker-specific, but it is about trying to have integrity in a confusing world. and i haven’t written here much and i miss it.

i’m not sure if i prayed about it all, or even how to pray about it now.

it wasn’t about me but it hurt so much.

hmm… that sentence just about sums up last school year.

Published in: on 29 June, 2011 at 9:46 am  Comments (2)