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 3

and now i’m in seattle, and all of the visiting of schools is done.  the university of washington is a school i’ve been thinking of, on and off, but as i was shuttling up the east coast, the joy of the humidity plus the stress of coordinating one more visit was too much for me, and i never tried to make a visit to uw happen.  today, i’ve been wandering around my old seattle haunts, contemplating the dreaminess, beauty, craziness, sadness, and creativity that one finds here.  i am uncomfortable with the prevalence of mental illness and poverty as i walk around, and just want to sequester myself in bookstores, coffeeshops, and vintage things, which is of course ironic because i’m so interested in class and disability.  it is sunny today, but i think part of the discomfort is the grimy understanding that that person howling on the street corner could be you, and when it’s drizzling, it sort of feels like they are all you.  and of course i know that in new york, there are all those pieces as well, and it’s harder to just make it there, in many ways, but the time i lived in seattle was one of the saddest parts of my life, through no fault of its own.
anyway, after my last post, i quickly started to think of philadelphia as “the city of brotherly HOOOOONNNNK!”  getting the rental car was tremendously stressful, because we had to get out of a parking garage that was under construction, and thus had all of its signs pointing in directions to nowhere.  by the time we made it out, we were exhausted and stressed, especially considering the fact that we were also hungry.  so we got food quickly (getting honked at all the time) and then got on the highway to happy valley (getting honked at all the time).  we did not understand what lane to get in for the toll booth, so we got honked at some more, and in general the ride was high stress punctuated by quiet lulls.  every time things seemed to get into place, some minor disaster would occur, and there would be more honking.  in the middle of the drive, the gps took us to a starbucks that was in a weird shopping center, and t collapsed in an amazingly comfortable adirondack chair.  the adirondack chair life is something we both crave.  after some relaxing there, we went and got some gas, but that, too, became an occasion for stress and honking due to confusion about the location of the gas tank.

finally we made it to state college, which i decided must be like “stars hollow,” where “the gilmore girls” takes place.  our hotel was a decent chain hotel, with a friday’s out in the parking lot.  after unloading the car, we looked up vegetarian food, and there weren’t a ton of options, but a pizza place sounded good, so we went there.  i loved it in its salty, greasiness, but it turned out to be wrong for the pregnant lady.  we watched “friends” (on nick at nite, what!?) until we fell asleep.

the following morning, i went to my appointment at penn state, and was delighted by the kindness and enthusiasm of the professor i was meeting with.  she showed me around the impressive reading camp they were having (which made me think that: a) i am a terrible teacher and b) i was woefully ill-prepared in a practical way), and actually said out loud that she wants me to come to the program, so that was nice.  sometimes, though, i feel like i’ve tricked people when they say things like that to me after only a few emails and conversations.  anyway, i was impressed with the program and could be happy in it.
t and i met back up for lunch with a couple who i’d gotten in touch with via the lgbta grad association.  i’d emailed them and explained our situation, and was told that this couple had a similar situation.  they were kind and sweet and open, wonderful to talk with, and we learned a lot about family life in general, queer family life in specific, and how to connect with good doctors.  also, when i noticed that they both wore crosses, i asked about queer friendly churches, and soon the quakers were mentioned.  when i said i was a quaker, i was told that there was a wonderful quaker working at this bookstore/cafe, so we went there and i was introduced to a woman with vibrant and goofy energy, who i shyly and awkwardly greeted before t and i dashed away to get back on the road to the city of brotherly HOOOOONNNK! so she could catch her megabus back to new york.

my impression of the town and school was that it was quaint and old-fashioned, though with a definite college student presence.  later, discussing with t, who had been wandering around the town, the college student presence was very strong for her.

at the hotel, i’d bought t an extra megabus ticket for an hour later than our original booking to make sure she wouldn’t get stuck without one.  this was good, because we got there just after our original booking had left.  then, there were decisions about how much time the pregnant lady should stand out in the heat while waiting for the bus.  once we’d committed to standing out there, the bus wound up being about half an hour late.  i’d made an appointment for dinner with <a href=”http://robinmsf.blogspot.com”>robin</a&gt; and <a href=”http://chrismsf.blogspot.com”>chris</a&gt;, so i ran back into the station as soon as we saw t’s bus coming.

the city of brotherly HOOOOOONNNK! quickly became a maze of confusion transit options, and i wound up getting on the wrong one.  eventually i found robin, though, and we took the train to the house that her family was to move out of in a week.  ironically, the only other time i’d been to their house was right before another move.  my traveling dazedness made for some awkward dinner conversation, but i was treated to some delicious cheese and stir-fried vegetables, as well as a welcome popsicle.

then back to the train station where i settled in to a book before getting on my overnight train to boston.  it was an eight hour ride, which seemed perfect in theory, but since i could never get into a comfortable position for sleeping, and there was a teenager behind me histrionically vacillating between schmoopy phone calls with her boyfriend and angry conversations with her family who were on the train, i didn’t actually get much sleep.  but i think i slept through connecticut, so i don’t think it’s fair for me to really say i’ve ever been to connecticut.

i navigated the boston transit system much better than the one in philly, despite feeling exhausted, filthy, and unkempt.  i ordered breakfast at a diner with a young man who called me all those funny masculine names that i don’t understand (i don’t think he called me “chief” or “big guy” but it was things like that),  and while it was being made, i changed clothes in the bathroom.  i felt moderately less gross after that.  then, i went out into the heat to wait for the shuttle bus i’d been told about, but after waiting for an hour, i decided it must not run in the summer, and i got into a cab that had been sitting there the whole time.  the thing that stalled me the most from getting into the cab was that i only knew the name of the building i wanted to go to, not its actual address, but the cab driver knew what i meant.

boston college has free wifi for guests, which was nice, so i sat in a comfy lobby and de-sweated while i waited for my appointments.  i met with one professor who was very nice and then the really enthusiastic and friendly student who had organized my visit.  then, i got to sit in on the only class of this whole college tour– critical race theory, and wow is that something i want to do.  the professor of the class was poised and brilliant, and the students were open and also brilliant, engaging with the topic and each other in wonderful ways.

it’s hard because so many things i’ve experienced on this trip have not swayed me exactly from one school to another, but just further and further towards excitement about grad school.  i want to have those deep conversations and engage with people in the way that this trip has been opening up.  but there has not been one clear winner so far.

i took the megabus back to new york.  this megabus came to the regular bus bay, and so it was more comfortable than waiting in philly or new york.  but one megabus cruelly came and left 10 minutes before our bus was supposed to leave, and then the next bus came 45 minutes later, so i got into new york very late at night.  but t and her bff had delicious food waiting for me.

the truth is new york feels like love to me.  every person i know there is tremendously sweet and takes wonderful care of me, making sure i knew where i’m going and how to get there.  there have been few people angry at me or even angry near me.  sure, the subway rocks a lot, and the ground is disgusting, but i feel oddly buoyant and impermeable in new york.  it is clear, though, that t does not feel that way.  and that is fine.  i have such a romantic vision of new york, it is probably best to keep it that way.

my last bit of new york included visiting carroll gardens and getting swept away by cute shops and cafes.  i am easily swept away by cute shops and cafes.  the next day, t flew back to san francisco, which was very sad and i didn’t want to stop touching her belly.

i’d accidentally flaked out on some vague appointments because i got my dates mixed up, but i was able to reschedule one of them.  so after t left, i took the subway to another friend’s apartment away up in washington heights.  we set up my new air mattress on the floor and then went and got amazing pizza.  then we went looking for a place to get a key for me and to wander around central park.  sadly there was no key to be had.  but the wandering was nice.  eventually we went to columbia, where his office is, and i sat in the lobby eating snacks and using the internet late into the night.  this was funny to me, because i’m not looking at columbia.

the next day, i went to washington square and got a dosa and sat down at a park bench.  then i realized that speed levitch was giving a tour right next to me.  he was commenting on the sexualness of the arch.  i was amused because he spoke at new college a few years ago, and felt like this moment would have really impressed my 21 year old self.

then i went to the coffeehouse where i was going to meet an nyu student.  i sat in a seat near the front and watched the door.  i had the odd advantage of her google+ picture popping up on my email screen, unbidden, as i reread the email.  unfortunately it was arty and shadowed, so i only knew to look for glasses.  i saw someone with glasses go up to another young woman who shook her head no, so i went up to the woman with glasses, who barely registered me, i think because she thought my name belonged to a woman (this has happened a lot on this trip, btw).

we went back out to a park bench and she told me about nyu.  she was very serious but very friendly and answered all of my questions thoughtfully and enthusiastically.

i wandered around the area a bunch, slithering illicitly into bookstores (i’m not really allowed to buy books right now) as it started to rain.  one of my daydreams of new york life involves working in a bookstore again.  i miss it.

i met back up with the friend i’m staying with, so i could buy what he thinks are the best bagels in new york.  then, i went to my meeting with a cuny student.  we met in a two story diner with a waiter with a wry sense of humor.  the student i met with was very friendly and fun to talk with, and also very enthusiastic about the program.

i have a better feel for new york than i do for the two programs.  in some ways the websites for the programs are so vast that it’s hard to get a true handle on things.  but i’m excited about both, nonetheless.

and then yesterday, after 5 hours of sleep, i got up and went to my plane for seattle, stopping in salt lake city, utah, which was a shockingly pleasant experience.  the airport had a bike cop, easily accessible sharps containers, recycling, veggie burgers served by people who made sure i knew what was vegan even though i’m not vegan, and deep fried pickles.  land of contrasts, indeed.

so now i just have to decide.  admittedly, p.j. harvey’s rendition of peggy lee’s “is that all there is?” is sort of rambling through my head today.  there are schools i’m definitely, unquestionably excited about, but the adventure time is over and now it’s just negotiating applications and decisions, which is less fun than a trip up the east coast.  there are viable options for sure, but there was no clear winner, especially in the “where to live to raise a family” category of decision making.

i thought i would spend the flight to seattle poring over my notes and materials, but instead i’m kind of consciously taking a break from thinking about it, letting my subconscious shake some stuff out first.  we’ll see where it lands.  for now, i will just be here in seattle, thinking about my past, and planning for the wonderful wedding of two lovely friends.

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.”