Friday, August 21, 2009

Nerd Genetics

I was aware when I was in high school that I was a nerd. Really, how many teenagers could give you the hierarchy of all the kings and queens of the entire British Isles? What I didn't realize was that it's not something that you outgrow.

According to Wikipedia a nerd refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obsure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Oh, God, I really didn't need the confirmation, but there it is. While I hope that I have learned to throw a realistic cloak over my social awkwardness, I still find myself drawn to obscure, esoteric pursuits to the exclusion of most normal activities. (That may be one reason that I was hesitant to start blogging--the possibility that I might take it to some bizarre extreme.)

My friends, both then and now, are very sweet and understanding about my peculiar disconnect from reality. They even treat me like a normal person, but despite their kind efforts, I am frequently reminded that I am a nerd. There are those awkward moments when I hear myself making inane conversation because I know the moment calls for conversation but I have no clue what I should say! Then I scurry back to playing my brain games until something or someone forces me out again.

If I thought it was tough being a teenage nerd, I didn't reckon on what it would be like to be a middle-age nerd! I really didn't mind getting caught wearing two different color socks when I was sixteen. Now I have to adopt a whole persona that acts like it's cool to wear mismatched clothing and forget what day of the week it is. I'm aware that I'm not totally dysfunctional, but I have more than my fair share of moments when I'm not completely in touch with what's going on around me. If it weren't for the fact that I was exactly the same as an adolescent, I might think I was slipping into early senility.

Stressful situations, an abundance of which seem to fill my life currently, bring out my nerdy tendencies. It is so much easier to scuttle into my shell and play word games and read books about existential questions regarding consciousness (An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman--great book). Social is hard. Pretending to be normal is hard--pretending being the operative word. Someone pointed out recently that my tote-bag with its side pocket full of pens was exposing my inner nerd--if they only knew!

As if all of these revelations were not disturbing enough, I have had the dismaying realization that nerdiness may be genetic. My eldest son, who has always exhibited too many similarities to his mother, threw a birthday party this week for H.P. Lovecraft, dead sci-fi, horror writer. The party included streamers, partyware, and themed food offerings--including a Cthulhu cake (creepy tentacled monster creation of Lovecraft's). While I was delightfully tickled with his bizarre creativity, I had a thump-your-head-V8 moment when I realized I had given birth to a next generation nerd. Wow, I wonder what kind of karma you accumulate for that!

Empty Nest

The day before yesterday I went to visit an elderly relative who is dying. She is my husband's cousin by marriage. When I married into this family there was a bit of tension seeing as I was not Jewish and not White. Other than that they liked me fine. Several of the older women in the family welcomed me and made me feel as if this was going to be fine. Shirley was one of them. She herself was something of an interloper having been married before and not being Jewish. Even though she was accepting of me, Shirley was never easy to be friends with. She has always been very guarded and sometimes a little paranoid. I told my husband a while back that trying to be her friend is like hugging a porcupine. But I like her just the same. I tend to like difficult people. That's a good thing since my daughter is also extremely difficult in a different way. She is the poster child for oppositional behavior. Said daughter left for college in DC last weekend. She is four hours away. The separation was as full of drama as every transition HRH has ever endured or made us endure. It was not pleasant.

So yesterday I was in Whole Foods and suddenly was overcome by this terrible feeling of loss. I realized that it had to do with Shirley and my daughter. I teared up and this very nice lady asked me if I was OK. I do not do public displays of emotion so I was very embarrassed. When I got to the car, though, I started to laugh. Here I was tearing up over the loss of two of the most exasperating people in my life. I should be happy that my daughter is on her own. I mean raising her has been like riding a wild bull. And Shirley is 84 and having the end of life experience she has always said she wanted -- no fanfare, no heroic efforts. She looked peaceful when my husband and I went to say goodbye. I understand being upset about Shirley -- no one is ever really ready to lose someone they are fond of. But I could not at first understand why I got so emotional about my daughter. Then I realized that I am mourning the fact that I have exhausted all possibility of having that fantasy mothering experience we all want. You know the one where your every move is perfect and you have this magical, mystical bond with your sweet compliant daughter. Ah well.

I remember a boy from Northern Ireland who was my friend in graduate school at Vanderbilt. Mike used to say "You can't pick who you fall for." He was talking about romantic relationships. But I think it goes for parenthood too. We don't pick our children. They come to us and we love them. As soon as someone puts a child in your arms or in your life and says "This one is yours" a switch goes off and you are lost. My daughter is adopted and when they brought her out and we looked at each other, we came to an agreement. She promised to be my child, and in return for the privilege of being a mom, she reached in my chest and took out my heart. And then she proceeded to stomp on it. She didn't mean to. It's just what children do. When they get hurt you bleed, when they get sick you nearly die. When they turn into teenagers and say the things that teenagers say you are devastated. There is a casual cruelty of which only a well loved child is capable. They are so supremely sure of their parents' love that they don't feel the need to guard their words. I realized this the first time I reprimanded my daughter for saying something hurtful to me. She looked confused. Mommies' feelings don't get hurt.

I have never loved another human being with the intensity I feel for my daughter. It is the same love I felt coming from my own mother to me. It is the only way I know to be with a child, and it is the most painful experience I have ever had. I had my daughter out in public when she was about five. We were in an ice cream shop and Chloe was being her usual self. I was constantly having to correct and corral her. This required a delicate balance of firmness and cajoling in order to avoid a scene. There was an older Black couple sitting there and the husband kept looking at me with that smile that made me know he wanted to say something. Finally he said "You need to have another one so you don't love this one so much." I think he might have been right, although at the time I barely had the energy to deal with the one I had.

So she's in DC holding the better part of my heart in her hand. I have a picture of her walking away with her roommate. They walk away from us without any idea that we are frightened and worried and sad. If had known what my mother was really feeling when I left home I would never have been able to go. I think mothers are the strongest people on earth, and the best actresses. We let the most precious thing we have walk away from us to a place where we can't protect them and we smile while we do it. My mother did it more than once. That makes her a super hero. If she were still alive I would call her up and apologize (again) for all the times I must have stomped on her heart. But being Mama she probably wouldn't even acknowledge that it hurt.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Deep Space Anomalies

This week I feel almost as if I have fulfilled a childhood dream of being launched into space, but unfortunately something has gone very, very wrong. Instead of soaring through the stars, I seem to have been propelled into a losing battle with a black hole. School started back, and, despite rumors to the contrary, teachers are just as reticent as students to return. It has been particularly stressful this year since our system is going through a number of substantial changes. Lots of rethinking and replanning, not to mention lots of paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. This week has been crazy busy, and the 175 little darlings that have wandered in and out of my room have merged into a blur of t-shirts with questionable slogans and names like Kaitlin, Katlyn, Katelynn, Catelyn, Caitlin, and . . . well you get the idea. I have spent so many hours at work that I am now making less than minimum wage--an encouraging use of my master's degree! I moved way past exhausted somewhere around 9 am on Monday. I have discovered muscles that I didn't know I had and ways to make them hurt that I didn't think were possible. Who knew that glaring over the top of your glasses could make muscles in your neck seize up? So I find myself tired, in physical and emotional pain, and adrift amidst the darkness of a deep space anomaly. What could be worse? I could have the realization that it's only Wednesday!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


It appears that I am getting closer and closer to being that crazy old woman with cats. I putter around my house grousing at the world in general, the state of my finances in specifics, and my ex in expletives. No one listens. Well, occasionally the cats will deign to appear interested, but I know better--I may be crazy, but I'm not senile. . .yet. I've managed to work myself into a near-constant state of anxiety. What I really hate about it is that my brain still functions fairly well, and I'm quite aware of what I'm doing. I just can't seem to stop.

I believe I'm about to corner the market on imagining unique worst case scenarios--like being bitten by a rabid possum while putting garbage on my back deck or drowning in my shower or giving myself brain damage by pulling a five-pound trifle bowl off on my head. I'm up to at least a half dozen apocalyptic fantasies per day. I'm not sure why I feel compelled to borrow trouble as it were. Like most of us these days, I have the prerequisite amount of trouble and hardship--personal, work, financial, etc.--without imagining anything! But, no! I have to go and be paranoid and create bizarre possibilities for death and destruction. Okay, so maybe not death and destruction, more like miserable mayhem.

Regardless, there is obviously something wrong with me. My youngest son delights in telling me to chill. He has no idea how much I would love to do just that. If I weren't certain that I'd end up in the emergency room, I'd try yoga. Drugs just make me see things, like fluorescent green spiders. Many of the more common stress relievers are not possible or not working.

Maybe I should just face the fact that I'm nuts and enjoy it.

Here kitty, kitty!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Finding My peeps

I have been working really hard to come to terms with my appearance as I age. This is not as bad as it sounds. I actually look pretty good. But I used to be a dancer and weighed 117 pounds. I also used to be 22 years old, so I shouldn't be surprised. Anyway, I have been taking various aerobics classes at my new gym and trying to get used to moving a considerably larger and much older body around. Since I also have a very twisted sense of humor this has led me to burst out laughing a couple times in class. It's ok, though, since I'm taking zumba classes and people just think you're really happy to be there.

A couple of Sundays ago I stumbled upon an 8:30 am class taught by a professional dancer in her fifties. I went in and everyone came over and gave me what turns out to be their standard interview. It's like a secret little club over there and they don't let everyone in. It's made up of former dancers in their fifties. This woman's movement vocabulary is very similar to the one I was trained in (Graham, Cunningham, Dunham). It was wonderful to hear those words and see that my body remembered what is was supposed to do even if it took some adjustments to do it. To have someone say "feet in fifth please" rather than "ok put your right foot like this" is a relief and a wonder. To have someone know what fifth looks like and appreciate the need to modify it to third was beyond my wildest dreams. It was like when my daughter and I found the zumba class populated entirely by big girls. We walked in, everyone looked at each other and we all burst out laughing. It was great. We spent the class smirking at the skinny teacher and laughing. Most fun I've had standing up in years.

Anyway, I'll continue the search for my cohort.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Child of the South

My father celebrated his 74th birthday today. He's amazing; both he and my mother can run circles around most of the people I know--both physically and mentally. They work hard and enjoy the fruits of their labors in their own special way. Once they've put in a full day of work, they like to chill on their porch, reading or just enjoying the surrounding woods and wildlife. They endowed my sister and me with their love of reading and their enjoyment and appreciation of the beautiful southern landscapes that we call home. They gave us every possible opportunity to be unfettered southern children, at home with the sun and the wind and the woods. They inspire me in so many ways.

I am a child of the South--
rural child on the porch,
with lemonade and calloused feet,
grass-stained knees
and sun-bleached hair.
I hug warm breezes close
and slap laughing kisses
on each sultry, sun-blessed day.
I am my mama's child--
kitchen imp
with doughy fingers
and flour-dusted hair,
fashion queen
in lavender taffeta,
floppy high heels,
and jaunty hat.
I am Daddy's darling--
high priestess
held aloft on broad shoulders
to worship sun and sea,
precious cargo
tucked in with downy covers,
kisses, and whipsered prayers.
I am a child of the South--
rural child sleeping sound
with starlight and moonlight
in the magnolia-scented evening.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I've decided that I want to be as resilient as wild chicory. Every spring I watch those beautiful pale blue flowers bloom along the roadsides and wild places. Inevitably as they reach their peak, road crews come along with their monstrous mowers and strip them away. It always makes my heart ache a little to see them disappear. But I only have to be patient and give them a few weeks to regroup, and then there they are again, their periwinkle faces bobbing on their spindly stems.

I feel as though I have been run over by a mower or two during the last couple of weeks. A conference, a workshop, hours and hours at my desk scrambling to get ready for a new school year and a plethora of changes. I love teaching, but life as a high school teacher seems to become more difficult with each passing year. I can deal with the changing nature of the young people I teach--life changes and so do the creatures that inhabit it! It is often a challenge to translate the current adolescent mind and its accompanying angst, but that keeps the job interesting! What I have more difficulty with is the apparent illogic and ineptness of the policy makers in the field of education.

There is such a focus on student performance on high stakes testing that true learning often gets lost in the shuffle. These two things are not mutually exclusive, but I can't understand why it's not obvious to everyone that the focus has to first be on learning--then the testing takes care of itself. Many of the policy dictates that educators are dealing with right now have a tendency to be counterintuitive. We are often asked to use convoluted methods to tackle problems that would be better confronted head on. It can all be exhausting and potentially demoralizing.

So I think about chicory. It is so beautiful and seemingly fragile, but it doesn't give up. Maybe I should plant a twig or two on my desk as a reminder.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


I've been doing my homework--reading blogs, lots of blogs. What I'm struck by is the supreme self confidence with which people blog. They post the good, the bad, the mediocre, even the drivel, and, let's face it, we all descend into drivel now and again. It doesn't seem to matter what the content or quality; bloggers are remarkably self-confident and bold. They throw themselves and their ideas, itineraries, and ignominies right out onto the web for all to see. I am amazed, intrigued, and inspired. But not quite emboldened yet. Hence I am posting on a blog that has seen no traffic for about nine months. What can I say--I'm an inveterate coward. (Baby steps, Joy, baby steps!)

The repressed cultural anthropologist in me has become totally fascinated by the blogging phenomenon. This is human communication unlike anything we've ever known. It has created human communities unlike anything we've ever known. I am fascinated that individuals are allowing so much access to themselves, opening themselves up to a world of strangers in ways we seem incapable of doing face to face, even across our dining room tables!

While I find myself sitting here on the edge of the pool, unwilling to do more than swirl a toe in the water, I am absolutely enthralled by the swimmers--the fearlessness, the grace, the occasional antics. Blog on, blithe spirits, blog on!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fear of Writing

I still find myself overwhelmed by the sheer nakedness of posting. Joy does so effortlessly, a blithe author on the web. I find the whole process almost painfully arduous. Of course, it is this very fear of exposure that has kept me scribbling in notebooks and journals all these years--scribbling that is always tucked away in drawers rather than shared. It is very possible that I have never been published because I have never truly made an effort to be. Apparently I find that more palatable than not being published because my writing has been found wanting! Just to prove to myself that I can break bad habits, I offer up a scribbling to share.


Sometimes it's hard
to even contemplate
the commitment
of pen on paper.
It's frightening
to allow the flow of ink
to shackle you
to word and thought.
The bold gallop
across parchment
scatters shadows
and rends your veil.
It drags you shivering
and exposed into the light
and chides you
for your reticence.
No matter how weighty
the poetry or prose,
the letters are too spare
to hide the quivering soul
and the fiery mind
whose coupling
gave them life.